1. Rex. This is the classic Mardi Gras parade at its best done by a krewe that does things right. Rex always uses original design to carry across a usually literary theme. Among its regular “signature floats,” look for the Butterfly King based on a design from Rex’s 1882 parade as well as His Majesty’s Bandwagon, the Boeuf Gras, the Royal Barge and of course, the regal throne float carrying Rex himself. Having first paraded in 1872, the King of Carnival’s annual procession is the longest running parade in Carnival. Rex is about tradition, style and elegance – a classic New Orleans Carnival parade. Mardi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 10 a.m.
2. Thoth. Now in its 67th year, the krewe has a great Egyptian motif among its first few floats. It is a big and festive parade. An ambitious Uptown neighborhood route takes it past several care institutions. Approximately 1,200 riders are on board a total of 40 floats ranking it, after Endymion, Carnival’s biggest parade. Sun., Feb. 15, St. Charles Avenue, noon
3. Mid-City. This is a good parade to study float design. Float builder Ricardo Pustanio works hard to give Carnival’s only all-foil floats a unique look. Last year’s theme, “50 Shades of Green,” wasn’t only innovative, but it was also the kind of theme that Mid-City can do best. On a sunny day the floats can be dazzling. Mid-City is Carnival’s fifth oldest continuously parading organization. Sun., Feb. 15, St. Charles Avenue, 11:45 a.m.
4. Zulu. This is the only organization that selects its monarch by popular election of its membership (see Persona, pg. 24). Now in its second century, Zulu, whose mission was to give local blacks a parade of their own, is big and brassy – and lately more on time. It is one of Carnival’s favorites. Mardi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 8 a.m.
5. Carrollton. With roots that trace back to 1924, this year will mark the 91st anniversary of the group from which the Krewe of Carrollton evolved 67 years ago. There is nothing flashy here, but the krewe owns its own den and floats and is certainly a staple in the Carnival menu. The first Sunday slot makes this a feel-good parade. For many people, seeing Carrollton, the fourth oldest continuously parading group, is a tradition that begins the Carnival season. Sun., Feb. 8, St. Charles Avenue, noon
6. Pontchartrain. Lately this krewe has had a creative approach to its theme by presenting a word game with each float offering a different puzzle, which is more fun than looking at a force-fed theme. Look for the Super Grouper float. Parading on the first Saturday of the parade season, this krewe kicks off the daytime parades. There is usually a good mix of bands. Sat., Feb. 7, St. Charles Avenue, 1 p.m.
7. Tucks. While some krewes get their name from mythology, Tucks was named after a bar, Friar Tucks, where a couple of Loyola University students decided to create their own parade, ostensibly because they couldn’t land positions as flambeaux. Not fancy, a bit naughty, but lots of fun. Sat., Feb. 14, St. Charles Avenue, noon
8. Iris. Parading since 1959, though the group was founded 42 years earlier, this is the oldest and biggest of the all-female parade krewes. Look for feathery maids costumes. The krewe, named for the Goddess of the Rainbow, claims more than 1,000 active riders. Sat., Feb. 14, St. Charles Avenue, 11 a.m.
9. Okeanos. Named after the Greek God of rivers, Okeanos, the god, would have felt at home in New Orleans along the father of waters. The krewe first paraded in 1950 to serve the St. Claude area of town but eventually moved to the Uptown route. Its Queen is selected at the coronation ball by lottery. There is nothing flashy, but this is a good, old-fashioned, traditional parade to enliven the Sunday afternoon before Mardi Gras. Sun., Feb. 15, St. Charles Avenue, 11 a.m.
10. King Arthur. Some of this parade resurfaces as the Krewe of Excalibur in Metairie. There are nice floats, especially early in the parade when signature floats carry out the Arthurian motif. Sun., Feb. 8, St. Charles Avenue, follows Carrollton
A three-way tie: Endymion is the biggest. Orpheus is the prettiest. Bacchus has the history.
Bacchus. Actor John C. Reilly will serve as Bacchus XLVII, leading a parade with the theme “Children’s Stories That Live Forever.” Bacchus always draws a huge crowd to gaze at it towering floats. Among the signature floats, look for the Bacchawhoppa and the Bacchagator. Sun., Feb. 15, St. Charles Avenue, 5:15 p.m.
Endymion. The only parade to march along Canal Street, the parade’s coming is a weekend-long social event. There is a lot to behold in this, Carnival’s biggest parade. There is no celebrity King (the crown is worn by a member drawn from a lottery), but there are many big names riding as grand marshals or celebrity guests. Look for the seven-part Pontchartain Beach tandem float that made its debut two year ago. The parade will have more than 2,700 masked riders. Sat., Feb. 14, Canal Street, 4:15 p.m.
Orpheus. Orpheus has the size of a superkrewe and the design elements of the old-line groups. It has great walking units, too, and is one of Carnival’s prettiest parades. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
1. Proteus. Don’t worry about mindless bead catching. Instead, appreciate Proteus for the floats – and the history. Born in the 19th century, Carnival’s only surviving nighttime 19th-century parade is something to behold for its design and its tradition. (Two years ago it staged a parade worthy of the history books as it saluted krewes from the past, though the march was mercilessly battered by rain.) Proteus is more than a parade; it’s historic preservation. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Avenue, 5:15 p.m.
2. Le Krewe d’Etat. This is the only krewe in which the throne float is ridden by a dictator rather than a king. The krewe has all original floats and its own house-made flambeaux torches. This is one of Carnival’s most popular krewes, featuring good design, biting satire and great walking groups. Fri., Feb. 13, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
3. Hermes. Hermes will be celebrating its 76th presentation as a parading organization this year. This is the krewe that, in the 1930s, expanded participation in Carnival and would be the first to introduce neon lighting on floats. The parade is always visually exciting; it’s always one of Carnival’s most glamorous.
Fri., Feb. 13, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
4. Muses. If fan base were the sole measurement this krewe would be number one. Having begun in the year 2000, Muses has had a major impact on Carnival by dramatically expanding female participation. It also increased the quality and quantity of marching groups and is rich with innovations such as its decorated high-heeled shoes. Though its floats are a little boxy, this witty all-female krewe is a must-see.
Thurs., Feb. 12, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
5. Chaos. Chaos is a chance to experience what a 19th century satirical parade was like. The design may be antique, but the satire is topical. With deep roots to the old-line krewes Chaos provides satire in the spirit of the former Momus parade. Thurs., Feb. 12, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
6. Babylon. Neither the theme nor the identity of the person playing the role of King Sargon is revealed by this group in the tradition of the old-style Mardi Gras. (Note the proper name is the “Knights” of Babylon, not “Krewe.”) If you’re obsessed with oversized floats this isn’t for you. If however, you want to see a classic parade, see the Knights. This parade, which has smaller floats beds, like they used to be, and a theme that tells a story, is a Carnival classic. Thurs., Feb. 12, St. Charles Avenue, 5:45 p.m.
7. Sparta. Sparta is one of the few krewes that owns its own flambeau torches. Watching the lighting of them along Napoleon Avenue could be like watching the igniting of the Carnival parade season. This is usually the best of the first weekend’s night parades. There are lots of nice touches, such as the mule-drawn King’s float and the “shadow captain,” a boy dressed like the captain (in Sparta’ case, one of Carnival’s most enthusiastic participants) and riding behind him to represent continuity. Floats are usually nice and visual. Sat., Feb. 7, St. Charles Avenue, 6 p.m.
8. Ancient Druids. Parading on the Wednesday before Mardi Gras, this group, made up of parade bosses from other krewes that want to have fun without the headaches, can be very good. Its leadership certainly knows how to put on a parade in the sprit of the old Carnival krewes, including maintaining the secrecy of its members, monarch and theme. Wed., Feb. 11, St. Charles Avenue, 6:30 p.m.
9. Nyx. This will be the fourth year for this all-female krewe. Rain played havoc with the first two marches. Last year it got a break.
In Greek mythology, Nyx was the Goddess of the Night. The krewe has added sparkle to the Wednesday night before Mardi Gras by creating a double-header with the Druids parade that precedes it. Nyx is, no doubt, influenced by Muses, one of Carnival’s biggest contemporary success stories. Ridership for this new krewe filled quickly so, like Muses, Nyx is expanding its niche. Wed., Feb. 11, St. Charles Avenue, 7 p.m.
10. Morpheus. This krewe closes a long parade night on the Friday evening before Mardi Gras. Its website promotes itself heavily to out of town riders who might be experiencing their first parade. Seasoned leadership could make this and up-and-coming group. Fri., Feb. 13, St. Charles Avenue, 7 p.m.
11. Pygmalion. Following Sparta, the two provide a casual Saturday night double-header without the crush of the following week’s crowds. There are usually a few themed floats and many, many maids floats from which there are usually fewer throws and more waves. Sat., Feb. 7, St. Charles Avenue, 6:45 pm.
BEST SUBURBAN PARADES
Caesar. Though there has been some upheaval to the parade season in Jefferson Parish, this krewe has been a survivor. It is Jefferson’s best parsed. Look for the signature Hydra float (it’s pretty cool) as part of the only krewe named after a Roman Emperor’s 34th procession. Sat., Feb. 7, Veterans Boulevard, 6 p.m.
MOVING ON OVER
As of last year, three West Bank krewes have now shifted to the St. Charles Avenue route: Cleopatra (Fri., Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m.), Choctaw (Sat., Feb. 7, following Pontchartrain) and Alla (Sun., Feb. 8, following King Arthur). The move shows the decline of the suburban Mardi Gras and the growth (and perhaps over-growth) of the Uptown route. One good sign is that Jefferson Parish has upped the standards for its parades: Each must have at least 200 riders and 10 floats. So, while the number of parade may be decreasing, the quality could be increasing.
ABOUT THE KREWE OF FRERET
Last year we saw the debut of the reconstituted Krewe of Freret. We were glad to see the parade back. Our only complaint is that the parade was used too much as a forum for a candidate for council, even so far as the captain wearing one of the candidate’s T-shirts during a TV interview, and the candidate himself being made King with a sign sporting his name in big letters and looking very much like a political sign. This walked closely, certainly in spirit, to the no commercialism prohibition in Mardi Gras. Other than that, we’re thrilled to see Freret back, congratulate its organizers and hope that one day we can see the parade back on at least a portion of the street after which it is named,
Best date to remember Feb. 9: Mardi Gras, 2016