The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was held on Feb. 24, 1857, and 160 years later they continue to grow. In my seven years spent celebrating Mardi Gras, not once has a local urged me to take a tour of Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World. I took it upon myself to make a trip of it this year, just in time to kick off the parade season.
“As a native New Orleanian, I was shocked that I’ve never experienced the tour at Mardi Gras World. It really gives you an in-depth view of what it takes to create a parade,” said Kelly Massicot, a New Orleans native and “Health Beat” columnist for New Orleans Magazine. “I learned so much more about Mardi Gras in one hour.”
Tours at Mardi Gras World are held daily and begin every 30 minutes. By the time we made it into the studio located in the Port of New Orleans, the tour was stalled by a few moments to accommodate for those held up by a passing freight train. Despite the slight tardiness, the smiling faces greeting us at the desk clued us into the facility’s unwavering hospitality.
Our tour began with a game of dress-up. In their large, black theater room, colorful, glittering costumes and hats were neatly hung up for us to try on to our liking. Around the room were some character props to take cheesy pictures with — which we did — including a statue of Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet, a sparkling tiger and wide-mouthed busts of jesters, kings and queens.
After the dress-up session, we enjoyed a short film on the history of Carnival in New Orleans. We learned about the origin of super krewes, Blaine Kern’s introduction to working with the parades and the beginning of some of the city’s most popular parades, like Zulu and Muses. After the short and sweet history lesson, we were treated to slices of King Cake.
Our friendly guide then led us to the warehouse, which is where all of the true Mardi Gras magic happens. The artists at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World have just 365 days (and often even less) to create thousands of props and hundreds of floats. Each year the floats’ themes and color schemes are different from the last, and while we learned that many of the materials are recycled, there’s still a ton of work to be done. Not to mention, the studio is also contracted to create props and floats for Disney in Orlando, as well as the NFL.
Step-by-step we were able to preview some of this season’s star props creation. We witnessed the Styrofoam sculpting, the papier-maché lining, priming and painting, and walked down a massive aisle of nearly completed flowery floats for the Krewe of Orpheus.
“It’s amazing what they can do with a huge piece of Styrofoam. They take this plain block of Styrofoam and turn it into something truly magical. I will appreciate the floats a lot more this Carnival season,” said Massicot.
Be sure to take a tour with Mardi Gras World this season for a new appreciation of the festivities. Visit MardiGrasWorld.com to