Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a well-deserved reputation for wild, drinking, good times. However, from a local perspective, is quite different than what is portrayed elsewhere. New Orleans travel plans often include Mardi Gras, and if you have a family, you will need to consider a few things.
Mardi Gras day downtown New Orleans is pretty rough and hectic, unless you have a hotel room. This is because no business lets non-customers in to use the restrooms, the restaurants are crowded and there is no place to rest. The crowds are massive, and on Bourbon Street almost dangerous because there are so many people. This is certainly not the place for families.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Tourists to New Orleans should remember that Mardi Gras Parades go on for about a month prior to the actual "Fat Tuesday."
True, most of the parades occur on the weekend and Monday prior to Mardi Gras, but there are some really enjoyable parades prior to that weekend. These are often more "family-friendly" particularly if you know where to see the parade.
If you are planning to go to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras, you should decide what type of party atmosphere you like. If you are hard-partying, then go the weekend of Mardi Gras. This is the big party, if not, then plan another time, even perhaps a surrounding city.
New Orleans Travel Tip: When planning your reservation, remember that most hotels book Mardi Gras weekend in 4 day blocks. You cannot go for just a night or two, unless you find a hotel without this restriction, or go a different date.
If you are planning a family trip, Mardi Gras can be very family friendly. There are parades in Orleans Parish (considered the New Orleans Parades) and in outlying areas (Baton Rouge, Covington, Lafayette and New Roads.) The most family-friendly Parades in Orleans Parish are viewed in the uptown area, along, traditionally, Jackson Avenue. This is the beginning of the parade, it starts earlier in the evening (because it takes 2-3 hours for the parade to make it downtown), and there are generally more families.
Many New Orleans families are on St. Charles Avenue somewhere between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. If you go into this area, you will find family picnics and bar-b-ques all along the parade route. You will find children being pulled along with supplies in decorated wagons. You will find several-deep Mardi Gras ladders. Smaller children are perched on special seats bolted onto ladders, to make sure they're safe and able to see the parade.
New Orleans Travel Tip: A "Mardi-Gras Ladder" is a special seat bolted atop a regular ladder. Instructions for making one are here.
You should bring several large bags to hold the beads. Also, plan for a meeting place if you get lost, or better yet put identification on small children. A big problem for families along the Mardi Gras Parade route is bathroom facilities. This is a big problem. Many restaurants and hotels reserve the use of the bathroom facilities for patrons only. They provide wrist bands for guests. It's a good idea to stay at a hotel on or near the parade route, or to purchase an all-day ticket at a restaurant on the route. Many restaurants have tickets for each parade that includes food and bathroom facilities.
The problem for tourists is usually getting to the family-friendly parade watching spots. This is particularly true if you are staying in a French Quarter hotel. It can be almost impossible to get a taxi back, the streetcars don't run, and there is limited parking. This is a residential area, and there are very few hotels here. A rental car may be your best option, but unless the hotel has a drop-off and pick-up, it can be quite a hassle.
New Orleans Travel Tip: One idea would be to stay at a hotel on St. Charles Avenue the day a parade is scheduled. Several are listed here.
However, if you are staying downtown or in the French Quarter on Mardi Gras weekend, the traditional parades for Saturday and Sunday nights, Endymion and Bacchus, can be quite family-friendly on Canal Street anywhere from about Decatur Street and all along Convention Center Boulevard.
A great Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans may involve arriving in New Orleans the Thursday before Mardi Gras. You can enjoy all the revelry in the French Quarter, and plan on leaving on Lundi Gras, the Monday right before Fat Tuesday. This way, you can make the four night minimum, avoid the busiest crowds, see the parades on Saturday and Sunday night, and leave before the largest crowds make things difficult. Lundi Gras is the Monday immediately preceding Fat Tuesday. There are traditionally very few Orleans Parish parades this day. It is a great day to plan the end of your trip in that leaving New Orleans is easiest this day.
New Orleans Travel Tip: Remember that the police sweep the streets at midnight on Mardi Gras, officially closing Mardi Gras and stopping the party. If you were to miss Tuesday, you do not miss too much after midnight activities.
Another great trip would be to stay in Lafayette, La. and see its Mardi Gras. Baton Rouge has a Mardi Gras but Lafayette's is bigger, although New Roads, La is known for its family-friendly Mardi Gras.
One of the longest parades on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans is the 'truck parade.'. This parade is not of an official 'crew' but made up of individuals who make a float and join in the parade down Canal Street. This parade is usually Tuesday afternoon and lasts for hours. There are no bands, just float after float of bead-throwing revelers. It can be quite crowded and is not particularly family-friendly.
Even if You don't make it to town during Mardi Gras season, you can always visit
Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. (1380 Port of New Orleans Place, 866-307-7026 ) As they say "Mardi Gras World is the most unique attraction in America's most uniquely attractive city. It's a world of wonders, created for you by the people who bring Mardi Gras to life every year-the artists of Blaine Kern Studios. The colors, the lights, the music, the joie de vivre. It's all here in one magical place where you can peek behind the curtain and see Mardi Gras in the making. You haven't truly experienced Carnival until you've explored Mardi Gras World. Since 1947, Blaine Kern Studios has been as much a part of Carnival as the parades New Orleans loves. In fact, we create most of those parades, from concept through completion. We're the world's leading makers of floats, sculpture and props."
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