You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen pictures of it, you’ve even wondered what it would be like… but, you’re still asking yourself, what the heck is Fat Tuesday and what Mardi Gras activities are there to do in New Orleans? Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this blog, I share what you need to know about Mardi Gras, ways to celebrate and how to stay safe.
It’s one of those experiences I believe everyone should try at least once in their life. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it but, at least you can say you went.
If boob, booze and beads are not your thing, I also share where to go to be in the Mardi Gras action while enjoying it from a distance, without all the craziness.
In this blog, I share…
- What is Mardi Gras?
- When is Mardi Gras in New Orleans?
- When is the Best Time to Enjoy Mardi Gras?
- What to Expect from Mardi Gras
- Mardi Gras Activities
- How to Book Balcony Tickets
- Mardi Gras Hotel Packages
- How Old Do You Have to Be At Mardi Gras?
- Tips for Planning in Advance
- How to Be Safe at Mardi Gras
- How to Use Beads as Decoration at Home
Here’s your guide to celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans!
My First Time
I’ll never forget my first time in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I was 17 and my parents took me as a graduation gift. To reveal the surprise, they even threw me a Mardi Gras themed graduation bash before the trip!
After receiving a beautiful Tiffany charm bracelet, I opened a card with a hand drawn alligator and the words, “Who dat?” … Didn’t take long to put the two and two together. I’d be going to N’awlins ya’ll!
So solidified my fascination with Mardi Gras and all things New Orleans. However, the appeal began much earlier at Rio in Vegas. They did a “Masquerade Show in the Sky”, throwing beads to people watching from the balconies.
Catching the beads was such an exciting feeling. It made me wonder what it would feel like to experience the real Mardi Gras in New Orleans! Until then, I would live vicariously through my parents who took frequent trips there.
Growing up, Mardi Gras made frequent appearances in our household. They’d bring back bags of colorful beads and souvenirs for my siblings and I. I’d also see beautiful New Orleans style art pieces hung on the wall… Thinking back now, the fleur de lis symbol was everywhere. It may as well have been our family’s crest…
So, imagine my reaction when the day came to finally experience this magical place for myself! I had to see what all the Mardi Gras buzz was about.
Never could I have imagined that it would be even better in person! It was the best graduation gift they could have given me.
And just like that… my love affair with New Orleans began. And soon, yours will too… Get ready to carry around your drink in a cup, beg for beads and make a fool of yourself. Hey, no one will judge you. It’s New Orleans.. the party just keeps on going. 😉
What to Know About Mardi Gras in New Orleans
What is Mardi Gras?
In French, Mardi Gras stands for “Fat Tuesday” – Mardi (Tuesday) Gras (Fat). It’s a religious tradition that’s lasted thousands of years. Today, we know the celebration as “Carnival”. Who says we can’t have our cake and eat it too? literally
The 1st official American Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1699 when French explorers Sieur de Bienville (who a street is named for) and Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville landed in New Orleans. They called their landing spot “Point du Mardi Gras” and threw a party. The rest is History.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
As of this blog, New Orleans requires people to wear a face mask and have proof of vaccination or negative PCR/antigen test 72 hours prior to entering indoor establishments.
Check City of New Orleans’ website for more info. If you must wear a mask, why not be in theme?
When is Mardi Gras in New Orleans?
Those not from New Orleans tend to think that Mardi Gras is celebrated for a week or on a specific day. In actuality, it’s celebrated for much longer, starting on January 6th and ending on “Fat Tuesday” which alternates every year between February or March.
When is the Best Time to Enjoy Mardi Gras?
If you’re like me, you don’t need to be swept up in the craziness, rubbing elbows with crowds of people and getting sweaty to enjoy yourself. To avoid the crowds, the best time to go to Mardi Gras is before Fat Tuesday when there are fewer people but the same celebrations still going on. Not to mention, you can do all the Mardi Gras activities I’m about to mention as well.
What to Expect from Mardi Gras
I vividly recall how excited I was to arrive in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.
When you come to NOLA during this crazy weeks-long frat party, just know, there will be a lot of boobs, booze, and beads. But, there’s more to it than that. Lots of eclectic, fun people in creative costumes, themed parade floats led by “krewes”, people throwing beads, amazing food and music, locals getting in the spirit with their beautifully decorated homes… Everyone gets involved one way or another. It’s just one big jolly time. There are no shortage of Mardi Gras activities.
The downside of Mardi Gras is the hoards of people, puke in the streets, and reckless abandon of social norms. It’s basically Vegas if Vegas took its shirt off. 😉 If you don’t mind any of that, then you’ll love joining in.
Ladies: Stay safe. Keep reading for my safety tips.
Mardi Gras Activities in New Orleans
Sometimes it can be hard to know what Mardi Gras activities there are to do in NOLA if you’re not a local. From my experience, there are lots of things to do both inside and outside the French Quarter.
- Mardi Gras Parades
A big highlight of Mardi Gras is the colorful and extravagant parades. There are so many different krewes and each have their own interesting story.
One of the featured krewes (and where many of Mardi Gras’ traditions in New Orleans started) is “Krewe of Rex”.
What to Expect at Mardi Gras Parades
If you’re just hooked on beads then, you’re not experiencing true Mardi Gras. When the krewe members are tossing trinkets off the floats and you’re lucky enough to catch them, these are called, “throws”. Different krewes have different “throws”.
For example, some give beads, some give hand painted trinkets and ornaments… Don’t be surprised if you receive a hand painted shoe, coconuts or any unique item.
Many parade goers make a point of trying to collect a “throw bucket“. You can create your own or buy one if you’re having your own party in your hotel room or at home.
Parades Aren’t Just in the French Quarter
While most people think that the parades going on in the French Quarter are the only ones happening, that’s not the case. All of the districts and surrounding neighborhoods have their own parades.
For the best parade experience, read these tips.
Mardi Gras’ famous colors, purple, green & gold traces back to 1872 at Krewe of Rex’s 1st parade.
Purple = Justice | Green = Faith | Gold = Power
Source : Mardi Gras New Orleans
- Balcony Mardi Gras party
Crowds not your thing? Me neither!
When I go to Mardi Gras, I enjoy people watching on the streets (so many amazing costumes to see) but when it gets too busy and I’m tired of seeing that same guy’s bare butt hanging out of his jeans every time I walk by, I like being able to have VIP balcony access.
Not to mention, who doesn’t love being the one holding the beads everyone wants! Right?? It’s also nice to have AC when it’s hot and sunny out.
How to Book Balcony Tickets
Tickets are pricey at $200-250 a pop but, it’s worth it for the comforts and amenities that are included like open premium bar, private restrooms, Creole cuisine and limited guests. At a time like Mardi Gras, that is priceless. Not to mention, the best views in the city! Photo worthy!
How I Booked
Through my hotel Harrah’s, I was able to book balcony tickets at Cornet Restaurant right where all the action on Bourbon Street is. Or, you can book for yourself here.
Want free perks for booking a Mardi Gras hotel package?
Try a special Mardi Gras hotel package! Lots of great hotels like JW Marriott offer them! Earn perks like free cocktails and masquerade masks. You’ll also get an extra 2,000 points just for being a Marriott Bonvoy member. It’s free to sign up here. Claim your points after sign up.
- Attend a Mardi Gras Ball
Most of these balls are exclusive, invitation only events and only open to members of the krewe or invited guest. However, in recent history, select krewes have opened tickets up to the public like Endymion and Orpheus. Check with your hotel concierge for more info.
- See where the Mardi Gras floats are made
Mardi Gras World in New Orleans is a 300,000 sq. ft. facility for tourists to explore. Take a self guided tour, learn the history of Mardi Gras and get inspired!
- Shop Mardi Gras Masks and Souvenirs
You’ll find cheesy shops all over French Quarter selling beads and masks but, if you want a real special spectacle, head to Mardi Gras Mask Market for cool beads, masks, hats, & other unique NOLA finds.
- Enjoy a Mardi Gras Tradition – King Cake
One of the biggest traditions of Mardi Gras is getting a King Cake.
There are so many great places to try all over the city! If you can’t make it to Mardi Gras and want to get some at home, order from famous New Orleans bakery Gambino’s who makes some of the best in the US. Free shipping included.
Yes, there’s a baby Jesus inside the “cake”, which is more like a doughy bread or pastry. Whoever finds it in their slice is queen or king for the day. 😉
How Old Do You Have to Be?
Of course, to go to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, you can be any age. I’ve seen kids in strollers with their parents in adorable matching costumes. However, a lot of the adult stuff (balcony party packages, bars, casinos, shows, etc.) require you to be at least 18, if not 21 and older.
Somehow, by the grace of Mom, I was able to sneak into a balcony we had booked tickets for when I was 17, (You had to be 18). Obviously, I didn’t drink alcohol, but did enjoy the best food and scenes New Orleans had to offer. You don’t have to be 21 to enjoy Mardi Gras.
How to Plan in Advance
Some people who go to Mardi Gras are die hard. I mean like… order multiple moving boxes of beads from a wholesale supplier months in advance dedicated. To have the best experience possible, you have to think ahead.
But, don’t get discouraged if you’re unable to plan months or even a year in advance. You can snag a last minute booking. Check out Hotels.com for availability. There’s also great shops in the French Quarter to get last minute masks, costumes and accessories.
- Book your hotel early
A lot of hotels & accommodations book up by December. You’ll want something that’s in the heart of the city for convenience. Book as early as the August before Mardi Gras. Read my New Orleans blog coming soon for my hotel recommendations.
- Purchase your balcony tickets before they’re sold out.
What to Wear to Mardi Gras?
Check out my NOLA fashion blog coming soon for New Orleans outfit ideas and what to pack for your trip!
- Order Mardi Gras themed custom swag for you and your crew
- Bring the Mardi Gras atmosphere from the outside, in with party decor for your hotel room
Hotel Room Decor
- Plan your costume
Now, I make my own costume months in advance. However, in the past, I’ve rented mine from local costume shops in New Orleans.
– Southern Costume Company, NOLA
– Fifi Mahony’s for headdresses
If you want to plan ahead, Amazon also has costumes.
- If you plan on throwing beads to people, get them before your trip. I recommend a wholesale bead supplier for the cheapest price. But, for reliability, Amazon will do just fine. And if you don’t use all the bags of beads, you can return the unopened packages.
What place can you go in NOLA that’s open 24/7, year round?
Café du Monde
Read my New Orleans blog coming soon for more fun things to do!
How to Be Safe at Mardi Gras
Like any big city, there are a lot of dangers to be aware of. They’re not gender specific related attacks. Men can be equally vulnerable. I read articles, one in the news where groups will attack a couple on a date, they’ll go to shine the guys shoes distracting him while the girl is not looking, slip something in her drink.
But don’t worry, you can still have fun responsibly while staying safe. Here are some tips to avoid being the next statistic…
- Hold on to your drinks
Something that makes NOLA even more dangerous nowadays is that roofies are at an all time high. Get a drink cover. There’s a cute one on Amazon called Nightcap Drink Spiking Prevention Scrunchie. You take it off your wrist or out of your purse, slip it over the cup and you’re good to go.
- Stay in your group
- Avoid walking if you can
Take an uber, taxi, or streetcar at night. Streetcar run till 11 PM. Schedules & info here.
- If you’re taking an uber, make damn sure it’s the same uber you ordered
When they pull up, ask them first, “who are you here to pick up?” and confirm the license plate.
- Walk on the side of the street without cars to avoid pop up attacks
- Avoid looking like a tourist
Know where you’re going in advance, don’t pull out Google Maps for directions in plain sight.
- Don’t go out with a purse
- I think this goes without saying but, try to avoid getting drunk and avoid drug dealers. That’s where the bad story starts.
Don’t be an ass. You’re a guest in the city and there’s no reason to lose all sense of decorum. Don’t litter, don’t pee in the streets, be respectful to businesses and locals.
How to Use Beads as Decoration at Home
You’ll be coming back from Mardi Gras with loads of beads, I guarantee it! A cute way to keep them as a keepsake and decoration in your home is to put them on display inside a fillable clear glass based lamp.
And there you have it! Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I hope you enjoyed this blog and got some useful information on Mardi Gras activities and safety tips so you can plan your trip to New Orleans! For more ideas on fun things to do, where to eat, where to stay and all that jazz, check out my New Orleans blog where I share 30 activities to do inside French Quarter and outside New Orleans!
Would you go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? If so, what sounds like the most fun for you? Balcony party or street scene? I’d love to know in the comments below!
If you’ve already been to Mardi Gras, let me know what your favorite experience was!
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Thank you so much for your continued love and support! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
Until next time… Sending you lots of love.
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Love this! Thanks for sharing!
Your 1st trip! How exciting! I’m so glad you got some helpful info and hope you have a great time! Thanks for reading Henry!
Great blog! I’m still a Mardi Gras virgin, so this is a great help for me to know what to expect for my first visit to a NOLA Mardi Gras.