Mardi Gras celebrations - you either love 'em, or not. There's a third choice, though: you've never been - it's either simply of no interest to you; or it's too far from where you live to make it worthwhile (to which I say "let me offer to awaken your sense of adventure"); or you've heard it's not really a family vacation. I've survived Mardi Gras celebrations, but I'll not claim to be an expert - I leave that to Louisiana natives. However, I am an expert at planning vacations, and if a family time at Mardi Gras is what you're looking for, I've got that. If you haven't booked your Mardi Gras trip for this year, don't start now. Let's get going on next year's trip.
This newsletter won't address the many questions you have about the festival itself (What's a krewe? What's a Mardi Gras Indian? What's a Zulu Coconut? Why do they throw things? What happens on Twelfth Night? Why are there so many questions about Mardi Gras that Juliet won't answer?). Instead, I'll plant the idea in your head that if you'd like to experience Mardi Gras, it's possible to do it with your family in tow, and they'll enjoy it too, and no one will be embarrassed. Yes, you can even bring your mom.
Technically, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday, is the last chance to eat drink and be merry before the onset of the Lenten fast. But one day isn't enough, apparently, so two weeks prior begins the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. In other countries, it's mostly called Carnival, but whatever the location of the celebration, the 'eat, drink and merry' part goes above and beyond, then culminates on that final day and night, the actual Mardi Gras. Enter: the family wondering how to enjoy the festival. Well, it is possible to stick with activities that avoid the debauchery (just a word, not a judgment call) of the dark of night, so here are some ideas.
- Tours. Being a tourist spot for most of the year, New Orleans is chock full of tours of many kinds - plantations, museums, cemeteries - that are suitable distractions during your visit. There are even museums and galleries that are specific to Mardi Gras history and lore. Take a tour of Mardi Gras World, an enormous warehouse where the magic begins. It's here that the floats are assembled from the ground up. Mardi Gras World is open all year with hands-on, try-on-a-costume, make-your-own-mask fun for the whole fam.
- Parades. Family-friendly parades abound. Most Louisiana municipalities participate in some form of celebration, generally the weekend before and/or day of Mardi Gras, so these family-oriented parades are not difficult to find and are a chance to explore other parts of Louisiana you might not normally take the time to visit. A few: Krewe of Bilge and Krewe of Tchefuncte (boat parades); Krewe of Barkus and Krewe of Mardi Paws (yes, for dogs and their owners, all dressed in crazy costumes); Krewe of Janus Children's Mardi Gras parade, no explanation necessary.
- Avoid the French Quarter. This is a general rule if you want to keep your trip to New Orleans 'G'-rated. You may see someone "acting up" outside of the French Quarter, but the police will politely remind them that they are in a family area, and if they don't stop, they can be arrested.
- Do Mardi Gras in 'not New Orleans'. As I mentioned, most of Louisiana participates, but also cities along coastal Alabama and Mississippi; Galveston Is., Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; San Diego, California; Orlando and Pensacola, Florida. Also, select cities in these countries: Brazil, Belgium, Italy, France, Russia, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, Spain and several Caribbean islands.
- Other things to do: a Mardi Gras Jazz Brunch on a for-real Mississippi River steamboat, complete with authentic NOLA cuisine, a second line parade, king cake and calliope concert. Or Family Gras, a huge free family celebration just outside New Orleans. The kids get to enjoy the traditional spectacle of Mardi Gras parades, plus New Orleans cuisine, local art at the Art Market, a Kids' Court with face painting and interactive games, and free outdoor concerts by both national artists and Louisiana's own. Laissez bon temps rouler!
'til next week.