My only regret about going to New Orleans is that we didn’t go in February.
Because it’s Mardi Gras at that time of year.
To make up for the fact we were missing the biggest party of the year, we went to Mardi Gras World to see where all the fun begins. And we learnt a lot about the Mardi Gras tradition… so I thought I’d share them all with y’all.
21 things you didn’t know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans
1. It’s the time to eat King Cake. This is a brightly coloured cake that is baked with a tiny plastic baby hidden in it. If you find one in yours it means that you have to host the next party… the next day at your house! (During Mardi Gras the locals party for two weeks straight.)
2. It’s all about the costume. The more flamboyant the better. If you look colourful and silly then you’ll fit right in. If you don’t wear a costume, you’ll stand out as a party pooper.
3. It’s expensive to ride on a float! Floats are organised by ‘krewes’. To join a krewe you have to pay an annual membership, kind of like joining a golf club. Some of these fees can cost thousands of dollars a year. But in return you get to ride on the float and go to the annual Mardi Gras ball organised by your krewe.
4. But if you don’t feel like paying krewe fees one year you can take a break. Only for 12 months though. A friend can pay your fees in replace of you and ride on the float that year.
5. Krewe fees don’t just go towards creating the floats. They also go towards the Mardi Gras ball, hiring extra police during the Mardi Gras parade, and hiring cleaning crews to clean up after the party’s over.
6. It’s near-impossible to form a new krewe. You have to have more than 500 people in your krewe to even register for Mardi Gras. Not only this, but you have to have 14 floats created and ready to go before the council will even consider having you in the parade.
7. There are 53 krewes. And no surprise that not that many more seem to be forming, considering the above fact!
8. The oldest krewe was formed in 1872.
9. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an old tradition. The first parade was held in the city in 1837 and originated from the French. But it was in 1857 that the first krewe formed.
10. You won’t see any branding on any of the floats. It’s illegal for any of the krewes to have corporate sponsorship, so it’s one of the few places in the USA where you won’t see any advertising. That’s a reason for celebration in itself!
11. It’s all about the ‘throws’. The krewes throw out trinkets to the crowds as they ride by on their floats, and the crowd screams in excitement for the throws to be thrown their way. It’s all part of the festival fun. (But it sure leaves a lot of rubbish on the streets afterwards!)
12. The Zulu Krewe was formed in 1909 to mock the stately white Carnival krewes. The Zulu Krewe still exists today and if you catch one of the Zulu coconut throws it gives you bragging rights for years.
13. The French Quarter is where the rowdy party’s at. Expect nudity and drunkeness. If you want something a little less wild, go outside of this area and there are plenty of activities for children. Although it’s party central, the French Quarter can be somewhat of a tourist trap – the locals don’t seem to go there for their Mardi Gras celebrations.
14. There are Mardi Gras Indians. The Mardi Gras Indian tribes have ‘face offs’ on street corners. This involves a dance of chanting and singing. The Mardi Gras Indians’ costumes are elaborately feathered and beaded. Traditionally they can only be worn once during the Mardi Gras season and they normally take the entire year to create.
15. The rain doesn’t stop the party. Even in a downpour, a parade during Mardi Gras is unlikely to be cancelled. So expect to get wet. And if you’re on a float, expect to get very wet.
16. In fact, not much stops the party. The only times Mardi Gras has been cancelled is during the two world wars and during an outbreak of Yellow Fever in the late 1870s. Even in the year following Hurricane Katrina Mardi Gras was still held.
17. A typical Mardi Gras route takes between four and six hours to complete.
18. A Mardi Gras krewe has the same route and parade time each year. They can only roll through it once and then it’s all over for them until the following year.
19. After Hurricane Katrina, many of the Mardi Gras storage warehouses, located all over New Orleans, flooded. The water painted the streets with multi-coloured paint.
20. Around 300 floats are made for Mardi Gras each year.
21. Mardi Gras means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French. The festival’s finale and the main day of Mardi Gras is on Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before lent. But the festivities and parades begin two weeks before then!
Have we missed anything off our list from what we learnt at Mardi Gras World? Let us know!
What you need to know about visiting Mardi Gras World:
How to get there: There’s limited parking at Mardi Gras World but you can call them on 504 777 3328 for a free shuttle to come and pick you up from downtown and the French Quarter.
The address is 1380 Port of New Orleans Place, which is located on the south end of the Convention Center.
Cost: Tickets cost US$19.95 for adults and
The ticket price includes a one-hour tour, a piece of king cake and the chance to dress up in a Mardi Gras costume.
When to go: Mardi Gras World is open 9:30pm – 5:30pm, 7 days a week except for Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Easter Sunday and Mardi Gras Day. Tours leave every half hour.
The Tourism Board of New Orleans gave us two complimentary tickets to Mardi Gras World but, as always, our views are our own.
Carmen: With a peaceful backdrop of the Mississippi River in New Orleans lies Mardi Gras World, the place where all the props for the biggest party of the year are made.
Dave: Before being given a tour of the warehouse, we tried on some Mardi Gras outfits to get into the party mood.
Carmen: Then we were given a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the artists turn regular styrofome into works of art. Surprisingly, just 20 artists work in the studio, designing and creating more than 300 floats for the Mardi Gras festival each year.
Dave: Designers come up with the concepts and sketch their designs, sculptors create them and the painters bring it to life. There’s also carpenters, wood workers and builders busy at work on the floor helping to assemble the floats.
Carmen: Walking around the giant warehouse – which is one of many storage facilities throughout New Orleans – I couldn’t help but think these artists had a pretty awesome job.
The end result is stunning and it’s easy to see how the Mardi Gras tradition has been around for more than 150 years.
Dave: But it’s not just Mardi Gras the artists design props for – you can see their work in many theme parks around the world including at Disneyland and Universal studios. Chances are that if you’ve been on a rollercoaster in the US, Mardi Gras World could’ve designed the props.
Carmen: Well it’s been really interesting learning about Mardi Gras. And for me, it just seems to represent New Orleans – it’s colourful, it’s friendly, and it’s all about the party!