Despite what you may have heard, Mardi Gras is not just a giant street party filled with bare-chested women and crowds of drunken men leering at them. In fact, many New Orleans residents will take exception to the way that the event has often been portrayed in the media. Mardi Gras is actually a great family festival (as long as you avoid certain areas).
The main focus of the celebrations is the parades, which begin two weeks before Fat Tuesday. Each parade is put on by a Krewe which spends all year and thousands of dollars building and decorating their elaborate floats. The most famous Krewes like Zulu, Bacchus, Endymion, and Rex have their parades on the weekend just before Fat Tuesday, but the times and routes vary so be sure to check a parade schedule to find the best ones.
One of the most popular places to watch the parades is around St. Charles St. and Napoleon Ave. Many local families have been coming here for years and they show up early for a full day of picnicking and barbeques. If you want to avoid huge crowds, head to the suburban area of Metairie where to parades tend to be more kid-centric. The Mystic Krewe of Barkus puts on a dog parade that is a must-see for children and adults alike.
No matter where you go, be sure to bring something to keep all the “throws” you’re bound to collect (those cloth grocery bags work great). Each Krewe has their own unique trinkets they throw out, everything from toys and stuffed animals to elaborate medallions and painted coconuts, and of course beads. One thing to remember about the medallions: they are highly prized and experienced parade goers tend to stomp on them to claim ownership, so watch your fingers!
Another tip: most restaurants and hotels along parade routes only allow their bathrooms to be used by patrons. Be sure to scout out public restrooms before you need them, although many restaurants also sell all-day tickets that include food and use of their facilities.
The only place you might want to avoid if you’re with children is the French Quarter, where the spring-break adult party crowd tends to congregate. But no big parades actually go through that area anyway due to vehicle size restrictions. So don your masks, eat some King Cake, and find a good spot to watch all the amazing festivities. Your kids will never forget it!
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