1. Rex. “Lore of the Ancient Americas” is this year’s Rex theme. Providing something that’s totally fresh in parade themes, the tableau will speak of native mythology, legends and images. The krewe works hard at developing an original theme and displaying it brilliantly on its floats. Among its regular “signature floats,” look for the debut of the new Butterfly King (Float 5) based on a design from Rex’s 1882 parade. 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 Ave., 10 a.m.
2. Thoth. Now in its 65th 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. Sun., Feb. 19, St. Charles Ave., 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. This year’s theme: “Apocalypso, Dancing until the end of time,” is a bit dark, but on a sunny day the floats can be dazzling. Mid-City is Carnival’s fifth-oldest continuously parading organization. Sun., Feb. 19, St. Charles Ave., 11:45 a.m.
4. Zulu. This is the only organization that selects its monarch by popular election of its membership. Like any old-fashioned politics there will sometimes be a fight. This year’s runner-up, Jay Banks, challenged the outcome but ultimately gave in, so now lawyer Elroy A. James can reign without rancor. (If I were a betting man I would look for Banks to be Zulu next year.) 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 Ave., 8 a.m.
5. Carrollton. Though its roots trace back to 1924, this year will mark the 65th anniversary of the group parading under the name Krewe of Carrollton. 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. 19, St. Charles Ave., noon
6. Pontchartrain. Lately this krewe has had a creative approach to its theme by presenting a word game; each float offers 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 Sat., Feb. 26, St. Charles Ave., 2 p.m.
7. Tucks. “Tucks Gets Culture” is the 2012 theme of this krewe known for its irreverence and its Animal House feel. 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 white flambeaux. Not fancy, a bit naughty, but lots of fun. Sat., Feb. 18, St. Charles Ave., 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 maid costumes. Sat., Feb. 18, St. Charles Ave., 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. 19, St. Charles Ave., 11 a.m.
10. King Arthur. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, this krewe refers to itself as “New Orleans’ Friendliest Mardi Gras Krewe.” While we cannot quantify that, we suppose that it speaks well for the krewe that friendliness is worth noting. Some of this parade will be previewed as the Krewe of Excalibur in Metairie. There are nice floats, especially early in the parade. Sun., Feb. 12, St. Charles Ave., 1:15 p.m.
A three-way tie. Endymion is the biggest. Orpheus is the prettiest. Bacchus has the history.
Bacchus. Comedian Will Ferrell will serve as Bacchus XLIV leading a parade with the theme “Bacchus Salutes the Louisiana Bicentennial.” Bacchus always draws a huge crowd to gaze at its towering floats. Among the signature floats look for the Bacchawhopps and the Bacchagator. Sun., Feb. 19, St. Charles Ave., 5:15 p.m.
Endymion. The only parade to march along Canal Street, the parade’s coming is a weekend-long social event in Mid-City, though one that was lost last year because of a rainout. Endymion’s theme is generic, “Happily Ever After,” yet there’s 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, this year including country stars Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy. Newsguy and regular New Orleans visitor Anderson Cooper will also be among the riders. Sat., Feb. 18, Canal St., 4:15 p.m.
Orpheus. Brett Michaels and Cyndi Lauper will ride as Orpheus’ Celebrity Monarchs. (After all, girls just want to have fun.) Orpheus has the size of a super krewe and the design elements of the old-line groups. It has great walking units, too. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Ave., 6 p.m.
1. Proteus. Don’t be concerned with catching throws when watching this parade. By the time it passes on Lundi Gras night you should have way more than you need anyway. 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. Proteus is more than a parade. It is historic preservation. Lundi Gras, St. Charles Ave., 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. All of this krewe’s floats are traditional; it even features housemade flambeaux torches. This is one of Carnival’s most popular krewes, with good design and biting satire. Fri., Feb. 17, St. Charles Ave., 6 p.m.
3. Hermes. Hermes will be celebrating its 75th season 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; always one of Carnival’s most glamorous. Fri., Feb. 17, St. Charles Ave., 6 p.m.
4. Muses. Having begun in the year 2000, this organization 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-heel shoes. New Orleans native actress Patricia Clarkson will be filling the newly created position of Honorary EveryMuse. This witty all-female krewe is a must-see. Thurs., Feb. 16. St. Charles Ave. 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 in the old-line krewes, Chaos provides satire in the spirit of the former Momus parade. Thurs., Feb. 16, St. Charles Ave., 6:30 p.m.
6. Babylon. Neither the theme nor the identity of the person playing the role of King Sargon are 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 the parade for you. If, however, you want to see a classic parade, see the Knights. This old-style parade with smaller float beds (like they used to be) and a theme that tells a story is a Carnival classic. Thurs., Feb. 16, St. Charles Ave., 5:45 p.m.
7. Sparta. 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 and riding behind him to represent continuity. Floats are usually nice and visual. Sat., Feb. 11, St. Charles Ave., 6 p.m.
8. Ancient Druids. Parading on the Wednesday before Mardi Gras, this group, made up of parade bosses from other krewes who want to have fun without the headaches, can be very good. Its leadership certainly knows how to put on a parade in the spirit of the old Carnival krewes, including maintaining the secrecy of its members, monarch and theme. Wed., Feb. 15, St. Charles Ave., 6:30 p.m.
9. Morpheus. 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. 17, St. Charles Ave., 7 p.m.
10. Pygmalion. Having moved from first Friday evening to first Saturday, in the slot formerly occupied by Pegasus, gives this parade a better presence. Coupled with Sparta, which follows the two, provides a casual double-header without the crush of the following week’s crowds. Sat., Feb. 11, St. Charles Ave., 6:45 p.m.
NEW TO CARNIVAL THIS YEAR
Mistick Krewe of Nyx.
In Greek mythology, Nyx was the Goddess of the Night. This new all-female krewe will be adding sparkle to the Wednesday night before Mardi Gras, 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. We will be watching. Wed., Feb. 15, St. Charles Ave., 7 p.m.
BEST SUBURBAN PARADES
Alla. Best of the West Bank. Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, this is perhaps the best of all suburban parades with a pedigree that traces through retired float builder Blaine Kern. Good floats. Good band. Also, a good name: Alla is an acronym for Algiers, La. Sun., Feb. 12, noon
Caesar. Look for the signature Hydra float (it’s pretty cool) as part of the only krewe named after a Roman Emperor’s 33rd procession. Sat., Feb. 11, Veterans Blvd., 6 p.m.
Zeus. Now in its 55th year, this is the krewe that began the suburban parading tradition. Mon., Feb. 20, Veterans Blvd., 6:30 p.m.
Best date to remember.
Feb. 12, Mardi Gras, 2013.