Laissez les bon temps rouler. That’s Cajun for let the good times roll. It’s more than just a motto here in New Orleans— it’s a way of life. Experience Carnival and Mardi Gras like a local with us.
Carnival season kicks off on Twelfth Night, January 6th and culminates with Mardi Gras on February 25th. Navigating Mardi Gras ain’t easy but between the historic parades and deeply rooted traditions, the city blazes with a kind of magic that can only be experienced in New Orleans. Keep reading for tried-and-true local tips from John Price, fête pro and General Manager of The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery.
Let the party begin. In 1872 the Krewe of Rex presided over the first daytime parade of Carnival and, to this day, remains honored as the King of Carnival with the final parade of Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Every year, locals kick off Carnival season on Twelfth Night with the streetcar ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows from Carrollton Station all the way down St. Charles Avenue. The first walking parade of Carnival is led by the Krewe of Joan of Arc, named after the patron saint of the city, and is known locally as Joanie on a Pony.
John’s Tip: “Krewe of Joan of Arc is my personal kick-off to Carnival. I crack up at the guys dressed as sheep following behind Joan the Shepherdess and the uptown version “Phunny Phorty Phellows,” is also a hoot. Everyone gathers around the streetcar barn on Willow St. in Carrollton to wave them off on their annual streetcar ride down St. Charles avenue announcing the start of the parade season for Carnival.”
Leave the kids at home. The Krewe du Vieux Parade is for the adults.
John’s Tip: “Krewe du Vieux rolls through the French Quarter and the Marigny in the evening, made up of timely, creative political satire – some of the most brilliant you’ll ever see. I start off with a cocktail at R Bar on Royal and then head to Frenchman to watch the parade. Pro Tip: Grab a drink to go, bars will be jam-packed.”
Stake out your place. It’s time for the daytime parades.
John’s Tip: “Everyone has a favorite parade and place to watch them. I love watching the daytime parades like Krewe of Pontchartrain and Choctaw in Uptown, around St. Charles and Napoleon. Keep in mind parades roll downtown, but the uptown side of the street is open for pedestrians. The neutral ground will be full of families, tents, ladders with seats for kids, and it can be tricky to get across to the downtown side. So, you have decisions to make. If you stay on the uptown side, buy a wristband from the Academy of the Sacred Heart, they have great porta-potties which you’ll find vitally important. If you decide on the downtown side, head to Fat Harry’s. They have a full bar with good food, and you can get in and out with ease. Note, it’s cash only, but there is an ATM inside.”
This one is for the dogs. Featuring hundreds of dogs dressed in themed costumes, the Krewe of Barkus puts a beaded paw forward for man’s best friend.
John’s Tip: “Head to the French Quarter for the most loveable of all our parades, Krewe of Barkus, and wave in the costumed pups. Or head to the Garden District to catch King Arthur. I like to hang out around The Delachaise Wine Bar on St. Charles Avenue. A nice glass of champagne, some shrimp Clemenceau and you’re living your best Mardi Gras life. Oh, and go ahead and order the duck fat fries, because it is Mardi Gras and all bets are off.”
John’s Tip: “One of my favorite parades, the Krewe of Muses, an all-women’s Krewe, throw fabulously decorated shoes if you’re lucky enough to catch one. My highlight of this night is the St. Augustine Marching 100 marching band. They are soul-stirring and you are reminded that New Orleans is a city of great music.”
John’s Tip: “Most of New Orleans will head to The Krewe of Endymion, a true Super Krewe and one of the biggest and flashiest parades of the carnival season. Endymion rolls through Mid-City and up Canal street all the way to Mardi Gras World. Watching the parade from Canal is the easiest for visitors but be ready for massive crowds.”
John’s Tip: “One of the most exciting nights of Mardi Gras is the Krewe of Bacchus! I like watching it right near the hotel on Tchoupitoulas, as it passes right in front of The Old No. 77 Hotel. The Bacchagator and King Kong are iconic floats and the laser show are spectacular. It is not to be missed. This year, the King of Bacchus is Robin Thicke. Rest up for this night, it’s going to be a long one as the parading doesn’t stop until nearly midnight. I get a beautiful daiquiri to go from Compère Lapin… The wait for drinks might be long, but that’s how we all make friends in New Orleans – waiting in lines for food and drinks.”
John’s Tip: “My absolute favorite night of carnival, bar none. I head Uptown to St. Charles and Napoleon to catch the Krewe of Proteus and Harry Connick Jr.’s Krewe of Orpheus. Proteus is the third oldest krewe in Mardi Gras, founded in 1882 and it is dazzling. Pro Tip: make your way to the neutral ground on Napoleon for these parades – the view down the avenue of the flambeaux, and the famous Smoky Mary train is pure New Orleans Mardi Gras magic.”
Today’s the day. With an endless number of ways to experience Mardi Gras, how will you celebrate?
John’s Tip: “Prepare to get up really early. Do you parade with Zulu and Rex and cheer the King of Carnival? Or do you head into the Tremé just before sunrise to meet up with the North Side Skull and Bone Gang to wake up the neighborhood? This 200-year-old tradition of spreading the message of peace door-to-door begins at 5:00 a.m. and leaves from the Backstreet Cultural Museum. And trust me, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before… that’s where you’ll find me. This is New Orleans at its most culturally authentic and beautiful. Be respectful, we are guests in this culture.”
John’s Tips provided by John Price, General Manager of Old. No 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans. For a full list of Mardi Gras events click here.
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