22 Tips for Mardi Gras Beginners

Moving to New Orleans took me by surprise in many ways. One of the biggest surprises was Mardi Gras. Before I moved here, I thought that there was one parade on Fat Tuesday and that it took place on Bourbon Street. I never could have imagined seeing children at the parades, and I was convinced that you had to expose your body to receive beads of any sort. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For those of you who may be new to our city and laboring under some of the same misconceptions that I was, this post is for you! I’ve compiled 22 tips to help you navigate the Mardi Gras season like a pro!

Getting Prepared for Mardi Gras

1. Take some time to research the history of Mardi Gras. You’ll find that many of the things you’ll see and experience are derived from centuries old traditions. Learn about the Flambeaux, who led the way of Rex at the City’s first Mardi Gras parade in 1718 and haven’t missed a Mardi Gras since. Discover the Mardi Gras Indians, how they came to be and what they mean to the community. And those plastic coins you’ll see people swooning over? They’re known as doubloons, each unique to their particular Krewe, and for many, they’re the most coveted “throw” around.   NYX Throw | New Orleans Moms Blog

2.  Also, be sure to learn a little bit about the Krewe you’re going to see. Each has a unique history, every parade is different, and many have a “signature” throw that is considered good luck to receive. If you’re well informed you won’t be confused as to why you just caught a toilet plunger or a roll of toilet paper off of a Mardi Gras float, and you certainly won’t give that coconut away. 

Going To A Parade

3.  Consider planning your parade experience in advance. There are multiple parade routes. The main ones are Uptown and, to a lesser degree, Metairie, but Mid-City, Slidell, Chalmette and many other smaller towns have their own parades, too. Figure out where you want to watch and how far down the route you’ll be. Spots toward the middle or end of the route won’t see a float until an hour or two after the parade starts to roll, so plan accordingly. To stay on top of where your parade is located in real time, you can download an app (we love WDSU Parade Tracker) using state of the art GPS technology that allows you to pinpoint exactly where the lead float is. Another amazing resource is the Arthur Hardy’s Parade Guide

4.  When it comes time to arrive, you can find schools, centers or businesses who will open their facilities and parking lots for a fee, which can be a great way to ensure shelter in the event of inclement weather, restrooms with running water and a close/safe place to park your car. (Trust me, the city’s Port-O-Potties are not fun to navigate with little ones. We are actually putting off potty training until after Mardi Gras! HA!) The $10 entrance fee for a potty band at a Church or school is well worth it!

5.  Just in case, pack lots of sanitizer, WetOnes and bring your own toilet paper! You’re welcome!

6.  Picking a location to watch the parade is crucial. If you have children, you do not want to plan to watch a night time parade in the CBD or even Lower Garden District. They will not reach you until well after bedtime. For us, we like to stand on Napoleon around St. Charles. It’s very family friendly and you’ll be on your way home before the start of the parade reaches the CBD. That being said, it’s still going to be a very long night. The later it gets the more people have to drink and the more inappropriate the environment becomes for children. Some think it’s best to stick with daytime parades if you have very young children.  Mardi Gras Ladder | New Orleans Moms Blog

7.  Particularly with the larger parades (basically anything from the Saturday before Fat Tuesday onward), space is at a premium, and many will camp out overnight to stake out the perfect spot. Be courteous of other parade goers if you’re planning to camp out. Only take the space you need. This year, your ladders need to be six feet back and you can’t chain them together (thank God). Don’t be offended by people walking on your tarp. Space is limited (and it is public property after all), and nobody means any disrespect. It’s just the nature of the beast. 

8.  Parades do have a scheduled start time, but tractors break down, things get behind schedule and often, they’re late. Enjoy the time with your family, and make sure you’re in a position to do so. Bring a football, a well stocked cooler and take advantage of your time together. When planning food for the day, a bucket of Popeye’s, a bag of Zapps and a King Cake is all you need!

9.  Once the parades start rolling by, be sure to pay attention to the floats, not just the riders throwing loot from them. Each parade has a theme that is kept secret until they roll and each float is a piece of the theme. The parade tells a story as they roll by. Some are silly, some are satire and some will warm your heart.

Unexpected Eccentricities 

10.  You may think that you’re getting the hang of things come Nyx Wednesday and Muses Thursday, but starting with Endymion Saturday, all the parades are on steroids. People camp out immediately after clean up on Friday night. Space will be beyond limited and if you didn’t camp out, be prepared to travel light because you’re going to be squeezing in somewhere. Once the weekend before Fat Tuesday hits, it’s a day long experience, not a per parade experience. 

11.  This is New Orleans, so don’t be shocked when you see small children propped atop tall ladders, coolers stocked well with both juice boxes and beer and complete strangers meeting in the streets discussing where they went to high school.Super Dad | New Orleans Moms Blog

12.  If you’re looking to join the locals in placing your kids in a ladder, you can buy the kit at most local hardware stores. To really look like a seasoned Mardi Gras veteran, spend some time with your family painting your ladder and adding little tweaks to it to make it unique to you! Also, do not leave the ladder unattended. If you place your children on the ladder, you’ll need a hefty adult to stand on the ladder to try to anchor it and keep the kids safe(r). 

13.  Don’t expect to be able to leave the parade early if you’ve parked on the route. Consider yourself locked in once you arrive. If you need to leave early, park blocks away and consider the parade route when trying to get home, as you will not be able to drive across the route at any point.

14.  Clever posters made especially for each parade can significantly help your chances of catching the “good’ throws.

15.  Feel free to dress as crazy as you like. Everything from Mardi Gras colors to full on costumes are status-quo.

For Your Comfort and Safety

16.  Protect your children from the beads. Most of the riders try their best to throw gently when they see children, but stray beads do come and when they hit, it hurts! Be vigilant! Staying towards the back is not a safety zone. The male riders especially like to test their throwing abilities. The back can sometimes be even more dangerous.

17.  Wagons are a necessity. They provide a welcome place for the kids to rest, store beads and drag sleepy kids back to the car. I also enjoy a hefty jogging stroller because you can turn it around if your baby is asleep and it provides a secure place where your he or she won’t get hit by errant throws.

18.  If you must cross the street in the middle of the parade, be sure that you don’t cross in the middle of a marching band. This is for your own safety. They’re accompanied by parents performing a crowd control function and they won’t hesitate to physically grab you and throw you out of the way if necessary. Beyond that, disrupting their path is disrespectful to the band members, who march over 6 miles in each parade while playing music. Most of the bands participate in multiple parades too. Give the kids the respect of enjoying their efforts and not cutting across them.

19.  At the end of the season you can donate your beads to ARCGNO or St. Michael’s Special School and all those beads you worked to snag will go towards a good cause.

Mardi Gras Trash | New Orleans Moms Blog

20.  It’s completely acceptable to drop your trash on the ground if there isn’t a trash can near or if the one by you is completely overflowing. You’ll see street sweepers and an impressive show of man-power out on the route literally minutes after the parade ends and they’ll take care of whatever you leave behind.

21.  Once the parade is finished, there will still be lots of loot on the street. Don’t pick it up! It’s bad luck. (In that same vein, many locals won’t touch beads that land on the ground for any length of time…there is no “five second rule” with respect to throws).

22.  Finally, and most importantly, you can find some of the New Orleans Moms Blog Contributors riding this year! Give us a shout out!

I’m riding on Nyx (Float 9/Sidewalk Side), Megan will be on Nyx (Float 17), Angelina will be riding Cleopatra (Float 22/Driver’s Side) and Jennifer will be riding in Muses (Float 17/ Driver’s Side/ Bottom). We look forward to seeing you on the route!

Old pros and locals … anything to add?

Mardi Gras Collage

, , , , , ,

13 Responses to 22 Tips for Mardi Gras Beginners

  1. Susan February 13, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    I only disagree with your comment regarding trash. I beg of you NOT to throw your trash on the ground. Even though you say it gets cleaned after a parade, a lot of that trash ends up in yards. Having that litter bug mentality is not good practice. We always bring trash bags and take our trash with us.
    Your tips are awesome and enjoy. I am lucky that my “little one” is now 23 and a 23 year veteran of Mardi Gras.

    • Karen January 30, 2016 at 9:38 am #

      I agree with Susan, awesome article, but let’s teach personal responsibility. Littering isn’t an acceptable social norm. You could pack a trash bag, dump your trash in it, and leave the knotted bag next to a trash can that can easily be picked up by the sanitation department.

  2. Andrea Hernandez February 13, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    This will be my first Mardi Gras so thanks for the parade tips! I am really looking forward to it, I’ve been hearing about it for months but no one had actually taken the time to break it down like you did here. Definitely downloading the WDSU parade tracker! Thank you :)!

  3. Jamie February 13, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Susan. I understand your concern. I did mention that this was if/when the nearest trash is full. Never would I condone this behavior in any other forum, however, the nature of Mardi Gras is not neat and tidy and there isn’t always a place to dispose of your trash. When you’re traveling with young children, the last thing you have is an extra hand for your garbage bag. I want the newbies to know that trash pick-up is one area that the city of New Orleans is more than efficient. Don’t kill yourself trying to haul your trash out.

    • Susan February 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      If you’ve got “an extra hand” to bring in the stuff that turns into trash, you’ve got “an extra hand” to at least bag it and place it by the trash can. NOT leave it for someone else to pick up. I understand having your hands full, but I still think we should all make an attempt to keep our city clean.

      • Carrie February 14, 2014 at 11:59 am #

        It just makes your area messy- I usually throw our empties back in our own ice chest and bring them home to recycle them. You can also just bring a couple of plastic grocery bags to keep your trash in, to keep your area tidy and toss your little trash bag near the full trash can when you leave. They sometimes turn into little trash heaps, but that’s better than having trash all over your spot. The street cleaners and clean up crew only go on the parade route, not the side streets, so if you toss your trash on the other side of St. Charles, for instance, it won’t get picked up by the clean up crew, which are actually prisoners, btw.

  4. Chris July 30, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Bringing the whole family – 9 and 11-year-old – to Mardi Gras 2015. How old is too old for ladders? Everything I see indicates my two are too old to use ladders. Your site is great help!

  5. Jeff January 12, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

    A couple extra tips:

    1) Except on Boubon Street, the standard decency rules apply. It’s expected that there will be kids in the crowd, so keep your clothes on.

    2) if you bring your kids to Boubon Street, well, we tried to warn you. You may have some explaining to do when you get home.

    3) violent behavior and large crowds don’t mix. You’ll be spending the rest of Mardi Gras season in the paddy wagon. This is America, and you have the right to a speedy and fair trial, but “speedy” means next month.

    4) obey the cops. They have the keys to the paddy wagon.

    5) No matter how drunk you get, don’t puke on the cathedral. You’ll be begging to go in the paddy wagon once He gets through with you.

  6. Richard January 13, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Chris – 9 and 11 are probably too old for the ladder seats, but you might consider step ladders with a bar across the front. Those work really well for bigger kids.

  7. Tammy January 13, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

    My added tip would be to wear rain boots and bring ponchos and a variety of weather gear. Our weather is so unpredictable. Also, the rain boots help with the dirty or muddy areas you may encounter. Bring a lot of tote bags to carry away your throws. Riders love to throw toys and stuffed animals to the kids, especially at the truck parades. We even bring a fishing net with small mesh so we can reach out for those special throws from some of the floats in Rex or Zulu. A small first aid kit with head ache meds etc is a good tip too. Happy Mardi Gras!

  8. Teri February 10, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    I will reiterate Tammy’s suggestion regarding the rain boots. Really ANY kind of sturdy boot is the best footwear. You may have water/mud puddles to walk through, beer and other beverages will be flowing freely and may accidently spill on your feet, people will have wagons that may accidently roll over toes and you’ll be doing a lot of walking, so any footwear that will protect your feel is a must. Cute shoes that expose your feet are a no no.

    Also, please keep a sense of humor and go with the flow. People mean no harm so if someone steps on your foot, spills something, bumps into you, screams too loud, catches beads that were meant for you…just have fun and go with it. If you have a strict code of conduct and high expectations of other’s behavior, you will have a miserable time.

  9. mindy February 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    This was our first Mardi Gras and we are sucked into the city now more than before. I don’t think we’ll ever leave now.

  10. Lauren January 22, 2016 at 8:23 am #

    Always tuck a note with your child’s contact info in their jacket. I usually just write my phone number on their arm just in case we get separated. Most of the night parades throw light up bracelets/necklaces/toys, but it’s also nice to arrive with some glow Sticks for bracelets and necklaces, it makes your little ones easier to spot and keep track of in the dark.

Leave a Reply

seven − 4 =