There are a lot of ways to celebrate Mardi Gras, and if you limit yourself to a New Orleans Carnival, you’ll miss out on a lot of moon pies, Mardi Gras history, and the mystic traditions that only Mobile, Alabama can offer. As the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras celebrations, Mobile is a must-visit destination for experiencing the revelry of the season—after all, this Port City has been perfecting the tradition since 1703. That’s almost 320 years of Mardi Gras if you’re counting.
Every year, around one million revelers descend into downtown Mobile for its more than 40 parades and other events. Featuring dance-inducing marching bands and elaborate, themed floats manned by masked mystic societies, these parades roll through downtown with specially designed routes that offer parade-goers a chance to catch both the excitement and spectacular throws more than once.
Unlike Mardi Gras anywhere else, Mobile is home to Joe Cain Day, a day full of festivities that celebrate the man who revived Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile following the Civil War. Considered the founder of Mobile’s modern-day Mardi Gras, Joe Cain’s legendary tale includes a solo march down Mobile’s streets dressed as Chief Slackabamarimico, where he delighted onlookers with his whimsical display of revelry and inspired a return to carnival celebrations that would evolve and grow over the next three centuries.
Celebrated on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Joe Cain Day commemorates his historic march with a people’s parade and the hilarious charades of Joe’s “Merry Widows,” who argue over who was Cain’s favorite and afterward break into celebration while tossing their highly coveted, signature black wares. Enthusiastic marchers from all walks of life follow his widows to Joe Cain’s original home for a street party before marching in the people’s parade procession. A joyous occasion for Mobile’s visitors, friends, and families, Joe Cain Day is a bucket-list must for all Mardi Gras enthusiasts.
This year, Mardi Gras kicks off in Mobile with its first parade on Friday, February 11. The season extends with numerous parades, parties, and balls all the way through “Fat Tuesday,” March 1, and includes the celebrations of Joe Cain Day on Sunday, February 27. Mobile’s Carnival is a family-friendly occasion, where visitors are invited to find a spot along the route and prepare for catching all manner of throws and trinkets in addition to the city’s most famous airborne prize, the moon pie. Tips for newcomers include bringing a bag for hauling your loot and getting creative with signs that serve as target for your throws. Feel free to grab a drink—during Mardi Gras, it’s safe to walk around with beverage in hand.
Mobile makes it easy to visit with plenty of available parking and a variety of accommodations. Between parade days, make plans to start or continue your Mardi Gras adventure with a visit to The Mobile Carnival Museum. The museum features 14 galleries, video presentations, a pictorial hallway, and an interactive float area all in a restored historic mansion. For more itinerary ideas, Mobile Mardi Gras facts, and a full Mobile Mardi Gras schedule of parades and events, visit Mobile.org.