The month of February found us in New Orleans. We have been to this city numerous times, but never for Mardi Gras. We checked off that bucket list item and it was WELL worth it!
We arrived in Belle Chasse, LA (across the Mississippi River on the west bank from the city) about a week before the holiday started. And by holiday, I truly mean holiday. The city was alive with color, people packed the stores like it was Christmas, schools closed for the week, and the post offices were also closed for Fat Tuesday. Businesses along the parade routes allowed working at home or just closed completely. The woman at the grocery store was shocked our son was not coming home for the holiday. I kindly informed her that this is only a holiday in New Orleans, not for the rest of the country.
Typically we took the ferry across the river. It’s a 5 minute ride and costs $2 (plus parking) and drops off across the street from Harrah’s. It’s about a 4-5 block walk to Bourbon Street but you do not have to wait until you get there to get your adult beverages. Apparently Louisiana allows open containers in your vehicle as many people grabbed one (or more) for the ferry, one for the road when departing the ferry, or just went through one of the many drive-thru daiquiri locations in the area. There are also plenty of businesses along the route to Bourbon Street to grab a frozen drink or from a curbside vendor selling beer.
We hit some of our favorite spots including Acme Oyster Company for po’boys and chargrilled oysters, Grandma’s for THE BEST bread pudding, and The Original French Market Restaurant and Bar (twice) for gumbo, bisque, fried alligator, fried catfish, and again….chargrilled oysters. Our final evening in the city we enjoyed shrimp and grits, crawfish étouffée, and a fantastic band at B.B. King’s Blues Club.
The parades seemed to be continuous and amazing! We attended Mystic Krewe of Hermes, Krewe of Tucks, Krewe of Endymion, and Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Forgive me but I am a bit of a history buff and love this stuff….
Hermes was founded in 1937 and is New Orleans oldest nighttime parade and has beautiful, brightly colored floats.
Tucks was started in the 1960’s and is bathroom humor including a huge commode float. In addition to the beads that are thrown, you can also expect thrown rolls of toilet paper.
Endymion is by far, the most popular parade with AMAZING floats. The parade started by honoring the police, the military, the parade ambassadors, and the Budweiser Clydesdales. Each year “Endymion Squatters” stake out their spots along the parade route DAYS in advance. This year the ambassador was Robin Thicke along with other celebrities such as Tim McGraw and Styx. The superkrewe’s 2020 theme is “Dynasties,” with each float featuring an historic ruler or symbol of a past kingdom. This parade was expected to have 66 floats and is hours long. On a sad note, unfortunately someone was hit and killed by a float and the parade was cut short at float #14.
Zulu was founded in 1909 and touches on the African American culture of New Orleans. Parade-goers vie for the most coveted of all parade throws, hand-painted coconuts, AKA “The Golden Nugget”. Controversy occassionally surrounds this parade as participants dress up in black and white face paint.
Before we headed to the city, people warned us “Be careful!” “It’s dangerous” “Watch out for pick-pockets”. Let me tell you, the party-goers were out there to drink and have a ton of fun! This was not just a party for the young….as there were just as many older people as there were young people. I just could not envision my Mom partaking in thigh-high boots, a mini skirt and beads! Natives are proud of their city and their traditions. Everyone just wanted to have a good time and were respectful (notice the photo-bomber in the picture with me and my sister-in-law, Amanda…just having a good time). We did not see one fight, one rude person, one pick-pocket. It was so fun people watching and seeing how some people earned their beads. For the most part, the participants on the balconies would still throw you beads, even if you are a prude. We felt very safe as there were police everywhere, who basically acted as babysitters for the city. When I mean everywhere, it was not uncommon to see 12-15 officers in a one block area.
Earlier I mentioned I am a history buff and this city visit would not have been complete without a city tour to learn about the city and her history. On our final day we explored the New Orleans City Park sculpture garden. Beautiful…although most sculptures left me wondering if I truly don’t have an appreciation for art. This park is 1,300 acres and 54% larger than Central Park. I had beignets just because my mom and dad made me feel guilty for not visiting Cafe Du’Monde.
We visited one of the many cemeteries in New Orleans. I don’t know what it is but I find such beauty in them. I wonder what these souls were like in this world. I marvel at the beauty of their tombs. I love the angels and Jesus’ looking over their tombs. I also learned that the above-ground tombs were started when the city had an outbreak of yellow fever in 1853, killing nearly 8,000 people in one summer. The above-ground tombs allowed the cemeteries to put “shelves” in the tombs and each shelf would hold a body. During that time, the Catholic Church did not allow cremation. The bodies would stay on the “shelf” for one year and allow nature to naturally cremate the body. After a year the body would be moved to the bottom of the tomb and create space for another body.
We passed through the different districts and marveled at all the beads hanging from the trees. The only thing that removes the beads are hurricanes so they prefer the beads. We passed by the beautiful colleges. We passed by the grandiose mansions. We continued our day walking to St. Louis’ Cathedral in Jackson Square. Unfortunately there was a wedding about the take place so we could not visit inside. In the end, we ended up at Pat O’Brien’s to listen to the piano players and enjoy the music and our adult beverages.
If you have never been to New Orleans, we highly recommend a trip. In the past we have enjoyed an airboat swamp tour through the bayou and explored the WWII Museum (phenomenal). And if you have been to New Orleans, but never Mardi Gras, you are really missing out. The history, the music, the food, and a few things that you will have to see for yourself.