Boobs, booze and beads – three things that come to mind when you hear the words Mardi Gras. One of the world’s best parties, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, is home to more than just X-rated frat-boy fun.
This year Fat Tuesday falls on February 16th but when I was there, reveling in ten days of Carnival craziness leading up to the big day, I discovered that this free street festival has many faces. From the colorful and very PG-13 parades Uptown, to tacky tourist traps in the French Quarter, there isn’t just one Mardi Gras experience.
By day, in residential areas of New Orleans (Uptown, Algiers or Metairie) parade-goers were lined up along the route, staking out their spots before the floats rolled in. A great parade spot is determined by where you can park and where you can pee.
Dressed in purple, green and gold feather boas, locals arranged fold-up chairs, coolers filled with snacks and home-made ladders for the kids. Everyone, from toddlers to university students, was enjoying the spectacle, eating cotton candy and spraying each other with Silly String. The vibe was familial, the energy positive and safe.
As the parade approached, costumed men riding atop floats threw beads. The crowd went crazy. They waved their arms and hollered, jumping to catch the cups, foam footballs, coins, doubloons and other trinkets.
Part greed for beads, part self-preservation, the crowd kept their hands up and their senses alert. When a pack of heavy plastic beads is hurled full-speed and mistakenly makes contact with your face – it hurts, so it’s best to keep your hands up and your eyes open.
Between bead tosses, high-school marching bands kept the crowd entertained with big brass instruments, sequin costumes and choreographed dance routines.
During Mardi Gras season, there were some 60 parades like these, held across the city. Most of the super parades, organized by Krewes called Endymion, Bacchus or Zulu, take place over the last few days leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Although public drinking (from ‘go-cups’) is allowed at the parades, nudity is absolutely not. For this crowd, flashing would be highly inappropriate, not to mention illegal.
If you’re looking for boobs and flashers, Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, is stereotypical Mardi Gras at its best. While locals steer clear of the area, tourists on a bender flock en masse.
It’s sleazy, sloppy, over-crowded and dirty with 24/7 alcohol but, for a Mardi Gras first timer who likes that vibe, it’s a crazy trip! Though Mardi Gras in the French Quarter lives up to its party-hardy reputation, other parts of New Orleans promise a cleaner, more local vibe…beyond the boobs.
Have you been to Mardi Gras? Share your tips and advice… post a comment below.