Jan 9, 201307:53 AM
Nola Newbie

Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer

Figuring Out Mardi Gras for the First Time

This post is the first in a series I am calling “Haley’s First Mardi Gras.” The series might last a while because I am quickly realizing that I know nothing about Mardi Gras in New Orleans.


I’ve been in New Orleans since early August, and while it’s taken some adjusting, I am really starting to feel like a New Orleanian now. I’ve started doing true New Orleanian things, such as seeing Kermit Ruffins live and wearing coats in 55 degree weather. I even got my first speeding ticket from a traffic camera.


But now Mardi Gras season has begun and nothing has made me feel more like an out-of-towner. People keep talking about the parades they’re going to be in and what they’re going to wear and what they’re going to throw. I keep hearing about all the king cakes that are going to be eaten and where to buy the best one. All of this information is new to me. I don’t think I know what I’m getting into.


I was the most shocked when I brought up Mardi Gras to my hairdresser during a haircut last week.


“So are you excited for Mardi Gras?” I asked her.


“Oh yes,” she said enthusiastically. She sounded like she was going to start to tell me something else, but then she stopped herself and said, “Oh, if you’re going to get your haircut around Mardi Gras, you should give yourself some extra time because there’s going to be a lot of traffic. Just… think ahead.”


What was that? I have to think twice before scheduling a haircut? What kind of holiday is this?


We continued to talk about Mardi Gras - which locals actually call Carnival, another thing I need to figure out - and my hairdresser told me all about the balls and the never-ending king cakes and the likelihood of getting a parking ticket.


“Yeah, it’s not Mardi Gras unless your car gets towed!” she said with a laugh.


I didn’t understand what my hairdresser was telling me. I have to think before getting a haircut? I should already have tickets to a ball? MY CAR COULD GET TOWED???


These questions and more have been filling my mind for the last week because I totally underestimated how Mardi Gras in New Orleans would be. Before I moved here, I knew Mardi Gras in New Orleans was a big deal. Some of my friends had traveled to here for Mardi Gras and I had heard their stories. But I thought it was just something that happens on Bourbon Street that tourists love and locals celebrate, but it’s just like any other holiday.


I thought wrong.


Mardi Gras takes over the whole city of New Orleans. In other parts of the country, the holiday season stops after New Year’s Day, but here it seems like the usual holiday season is just the opening act for Mardi Gras season. There are king cakes and decorations to buy in every grocery store. There are Mardi Gras commercials on TV. Everyone has a favorite parade and  a detailed plan of where they watch it, how they get to it and where they go when they need a restroom.


Don’t get me wrong. I am excited for all the Mardi Gras festivities. I can’t wait to go to my first Mardi Gras parade and see what I can catch. I used to love getting candy as a little kid at parades, but apparently candy is for amateurs. Here parade participants throw cups, beads and other fun trinkets.


I am pumped for Mardi Gras, but right now I am a bit overwhelmed with cluelessness. Expect to read many more posts from me while I try to navigate Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And if you see me in the next few weeks, feel free to offer your Mardi Gras advice. I will definitely need it.  

Reader Comments:
Jan 9, 2013 09:46 am
 Posted by  A J.

This year will be our second. A few tips from a sophomore:

1) Mardi gras is a marathon, not a sprint.
2) That means wear proper shoes.
3) No glass or cans on the parade routes, and tell your guests.
4) Bourbon Street is for tourists. Avoid during Carnival, unless you are on a balcony looking down... at the tourists.
5) Neutral ground or sidewalk side (and set up days early if you plan to stay awhile)
6) Endymion Day.
7) Krewe du Vieux.
8) Randazzo's.
9) Chutes and ladders.
10) Park that car somewhere safe and legal, and if you absolutely have to drive, know the parade routes.

Jan 9, 2013 10:41 am
 Posted by  nolaconcierge


You sound more like a senior!

These are great tips!

Jan 9, 2013 12:48 pm
 Posted by  Molly K

And remember, ladders must be as far back from the street as they are tall!

Jan 9, 2013 01:46 pm
 Posted by  caitlin

born and raised...
don't set foot in the quarter from thursday-mardi gras day
get a mckenzie's king cake--no icing and no filling
use saturday afternoon of mardi gras weekend to regroup---endymion always breaks down and takes forever (though if you have never seen it before, it might be worth it)
tipitinas upt usually has a good band sat night, used to be better than ezra every year without fail
bacchus sunday is by far the best night
if you have out of towners get small laminated business cards (or write on their hand with permanent marker) your address and a cab number
do not try to use the bathroom on the side of the street, you'll get arrested.
DONT GET ARRESTED. they do not care about you until ash wednesday, you'll be sitting there for a long time....

Jan 9, 2013 02:13 pm
 Posted by  brucehirstius@hotmail.com

Carnival is the season which opens with the Street Car ride of the Phorty Phunny Phellows.
Mardi gras in only one ay, Shrove Tuesday, the last day of freely eating meat o certain ays during Lent, which begins on the day after Mardi Gras, which is Ash Wendsday.


Jan 9, 2013 02:24 pm
 Posted by  back4more

Native. What Caitlin says but will add:

1. Muses - and try to get a shoe.
2. Manny Randazzo's king cakes, but be prepared to go early in the day/wait in line. When they're done, they're done.
3. If St. Aug's band is in the parade, it's worth going.
4. Make sure you set up bathroom location if you're doing the parades on Mardi Gras day. It's a looooonnnngggg affair and there will be much drinking involved.
5. Saving spaces days in advance is illegal and it annoys the hell out of everyone else.
6. Throws are not worth getting into a fight over. Usually.
7. Locals NEVER flash anyone in order to get anything. Drunk people, however, are another story.
8. Bring a large container to put your throws in. The riders try to outdo one another, and there's so much swag now.
9. Expect to see a lot of anti-Goodell floats this year.
10. Have fun. It's always a good time...as long as you've read the parking signs correctly and set up the toilet facilities in advance.

Jan 9, 2013 03:27 pm
 Posted by  Ann

Sit back and enjoy! It sounds as though you cannot go wrong. Please explain about the ladders!?! We northerners are quite naive.

Jan 9, 2013 04:30 pm
 Posted by  marko

As a sophomore, I don't tell people what to do. I leave it to the pros, but my impression is that if you don't have a specific place to set up a ladder, and if you don't have a seat on top of that ladder and a child who really needs that seat...don't bother!

Jan 9, 2013 04:34 pm
 Posted by  marko

I mean don't bother with the ladder - still go to watch the Carnival parades, and see some of the parody ones too. Also, bring a camp chair. You can sometimes get a good spot and drop those down, but show up early and know where you are going to be allowed to use the restroom.

Sometimes you can go to a very popular parade and not get any throws, and then you can go to truck parades and be up to your ankles in beads. You start to wonder what's the big deal with beads and hold out for better throws. These are keepsakes, display pieces you are going for...not candy. Plenty to eat in every direction during Carnival.

Get your hands on a bead bag or bring double Target bags in a pinch.

Jan 10, 2013 03:24 pm
 Posted by  back4more

Ann, ladders are our own private viewing stands. When we were little, our parents nailed a seat across the top of a regular ladder, so that the kids could sit and see the floats. Primarily, it's so the riders would inundate us with throws, because we're little and cute. The parent stands behind you on one of the rungs, so the ladder doesn't tumble over.

Lately, people have taken the kid part out of the equation. I agree with Marko - if you don't have kids, don't clog up the route with ladders!

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Nola Newbie

Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer


Haley AdamsHaley Adams has lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Missouri, Indiana and France, but she now calls Louisiana home. After graduating from Indiana University in December 2010, Haley moved back to her home, Columbia, Mo., to work for Inside Columbia magazine and mooch off her parents. After a year and a half at the small city magazine, Haley moved to the South to be the web editor at Renaissance Publishing in August 2012.

In addition to managing MyNewOrleans.com and Renaissance Publishing's social media, Haley is the editor of New Orleans Bride, as well as an associate editor for Renaissance Publishing's other publications.

When Haley is not at the office, she is probably trying a new restaurant, looking for places to shop or exploring the South with her boyfriend, Chris, and their dog, Leila. You can reach Haley at (504) 830-7259 or haley@myneworleans.com.




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