Having lived in New Orleans in the mid-1980s, I’ve been to my share of Mardi Gras parades. That said, I just came back from the biggest Mardi Gras weekend since Hurricane Katrina blew through The City That Care Forgot and I have to admit that I learned a few things (or at least remembered some things I’d forgotten). In no particular order they are:
1. New Orleans is back as a world-class destination. While there are still many neighborhoods that remain devastated, all the things that make this town such a great place to visit—the food, the music, the friendly people—are still here and as enjoyable as ever.
2. Everybody you meet during Mardi Gras seems remarkably happy. If we could just find a way to bottle this joie de vivre, no one would need antidepressants.
3. Try to explain Mardi Gras parades to someone who’s never been there (like my friend Pasquale, above) and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. Better to just take them to New Orleans and let them experience this wonderful madness for themselves.
4. It doesn’t matter how old you are: The moment that first parade float rolls by you’ll be instantaneously transformed into a 10-year-old kid as you beg float riders to throw you cheap plastic trinkets.
5. While many Mardi Gras krewes (the organizations that put on the parades) are essentially closed to outsiders, there are several that offer memberships that allow out-of-towners to ride aboard their elaborately-decorated floats. Two of the biggest are the krewes of Orpheus (the parade Pasquale and I rode in) and Zulu.
6. If you end up riding in a parade and need throws or are just looking for cool Mardi Gras souvenirs, go where the krewe members go: Beads By The Dozen. Their elaborate showroom in suburban New Orleans is filled with all the cool trinkets you would have caught if it wasn’t for that 13-year-old’s quicker reflexes.
7. Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide, which is filled with parade schedules and other useful information, is a must-have reference. Pick one up at various locations around town or order your copy online before you go.
8. As far as I’m concerned, the 479-room Intercontinental New Orleans—which is located right on the route of many of the biggest parades and just two blocks from the French Quarter—is the place to stay during Mardi Gras. The fact that the hotel also has comfortable grandstands out front to watch the parades is an added bonus.
9. The crews that clean up after the parades are amazing—you go to bed with streets littered with every imaginable form of refuse and POOF! you awake to find the place looking like nothing ever happened.