Frequently Asked Questions about New Orleans Mardi Gras

If you have dreamed of attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans we have answered some of the most popular questions to help you!

What is Mardi Gras? / Why is Mardi Gras celebrated?

new orleans mardi gras

New Orleans is home to the most famous Mardi Gras in the world! What is Mardi Gras? How to explain one of the world’s biggest party. Mardi Gras is a season long party period where millions of people around the world take part in some sort of public celebration which is usually a street party or parade.

It Is associated with the Catholic tradition of celebration before the onset of LentMardi Gras is a Catholic term that is the name for the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. 

What does Mardi Gras mean? Mardi Gras is the French word for Fat Tuesday, meaning the last chance to each rich food before Lent starts. Carnival is a festival of debauchery and gluttony, and Fat Tuesday was the last chance to ‘fatten up’ before Lent, which is 40 days of sacrifice and fasting before Easter.

Is Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras the same day? Mardi Gras, Shrove TuesdayFat Tuesday and Pancake Tuesday are all different names for the same day. It just depends on which country you are in, as different countries use different names.

When is Mardi Gras? / When does Mardi Gras Start?  / Why does Mardi Gras fall on different dates each year?

mardi gras faq

When is Mardi Gras? The thing about Mardi Gras is that it is unpredictable! Right down to its date! Unlike Christmas the only predictable thing about Mardi Gras is that it will always land on a Tuesday and that is because just like Easter the date depends on the moon.

Easter is always on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. So easy-peasy to remember right! Just kidding, just remember that Mardi Gras is always 41 days before Easter Sunday. It can be as early as the 3rd February or as late as the 9th March.

How long is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” is technically just the final day of carnival and lasts 24 hours. A day that is an insane culmination of carnival season that’s full of parades, parties, music, dancingfeasting, self-expression and lots of alcohol.

However, the name Mardi Gras is misleading, because like Christmas, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is more than just one day. It is a whole season, a month or so of parties that leads up to Mardi Gras Day. The main celebrations are concentrated for about two weeks before and the day of Mardi Gras.

No one does Carnival quite like New Orleans. Starting on the Twelfth night, January 6thNew Orleans Mardi Gras season kicks off with an exclusive masquerade ball. The carnival season is filled with paradescostuming, drinking, eating and merrymaking that grows more intense as Lent nears.

What’s the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans?

mardi gras faq

What is the history of Mardi Gras? What is the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Well Mardi Gras origins trace back to Europe. It was the French that brought Mardi Gras to their colonies in Louisiana at the turn of the 17th century.

The first official US Mardi Gras occurred in Mobile in 1703,  and arrived in New Orleans shortly after its founding in 1718. About a century later New Orleans Mardi Gras had established krewes, street parades, a carnival King and had begun the tradition of throwing colourful beads to the crowd.

Where is Mardi Gras located in New Orleans?

Mardi Gras is not held in a specific location of New Orleans, because there are so many parades and parties in different parts of the city. The most popular areas to go is the French Quarter, which is famous for the vibrant and wild celebrations. However there are some great celebration in suburban areas like Mandeville or Metairie.

What are King Cakes?

king cake

New Orleans Mardi Gras is full of lots of time-honoured traditions like the King CakeThe New Orleans King Cakes comes from their French counterparts. The King Cakes are decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar icing.

Hidden inside every King Cake is a tiny plastic baby. When the King Cake is cut up whoever receives the piece with the baby must throw the next party. New Orleans sells over 500,000 king cakes and another 50,000 King Cakes are shipped outside New Orleans.

What are Krewes?

If you’ve ever been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras and wondered who are the people that ride the floats. They are the members of KrewesKrewes are the heart and soul of New Orleans Mardi Gras, and an important part of a tradition that is old as the New Orleans Mardi Gras itself. Krewes date back to early days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the 1800s.

Krewes are private non-profit social clubs who are responsible for organising all the official New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations. All 70+ parades that occurs during Mardi Gras and masquerade balls and parties, are organised and funded by the Krewes.

Today, New Orleans Mardi Gras has dozens of Krewes each with their own traditions. What binds them generally is that each Krewe must host a parade with floats, and a ball. Most importantly they must make the New Orleans Mardi Gras their number one priority and motivation.

What are super krewes?

krewes

The Super Krewe are more modern krewe organisation. Their floats are often are much bigger and more modern and mechanical then the traditional parades. The Super Krewes also throw wild parties immediately after their parades instead of throwing a ball. Super Krewes will also feature celebrity carnival kings.

The Super Krewe Parades start the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day and begin with Super Krewe Endymion putting on a huge parade. The following night features another huge paradefrom Super Krewe Bacchus.

Can I join a Krewe?

Most Krewes are open to the public and offer open membership. Several Krewes are from various organisations like the firefighters, teachers etc. But some of the Krewes are highly exclusive and secretive. These secret societies have been part of Mardi Gras in New Orleanssince day one.

The majority of Krewes charge a yearly membership fee and require their members to participate in fundraisers and other events to raise money. All the money these Krewes raises, goes into the construction of floats, costumes and purchase of throws.

What are throws and how can you get them? What is with the Mardi Gras Beads?

What’s with the Mardi Gras beads? If you’re a spectator, be prepared to be showered with items One thing all Mardi Gras Parades have in common are that the Krewe riders will throw trinkets to the crowd. The most famous throw is of course the Mardi Gras beads.

Krewe members throw items ranging from colourful Mardi Gras beads, doubloons, toys, plastic cups and more. This was done to symbolise the rich sharing their wealth. The Zulu Krewe throws coconuts which are considered to be the highest prize thrown in New Orleans Mardi Gras.

What are Mardi Gras Indians?

new orleans mardi gras

Mardi Gras Indians are another unique New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. These New Orleans Tribes were formed by the African American communities in the mid-1880s. Who in the earlier years were excluded from the celebrations and used to have their own celebrations mocking the krewe royalty.

The African American Krewes decided to honour the native Indian tribes who used to help shield runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indian Krewes dress in elaborate feathered costumes to honour the native Americans.

There are over 50 Indian tribes in New Orleans who each have their own chief and hierarchy. The Indians grace the streets of New Orleans in a friendly competition over which chief is the prettiest. The tribes have names like the Golden Eagles, Flaming Arrows, the Yellow Pocahontas etc.

Is Mardi Gras family friendly? / Can I bring my kids to Mardi Gras?

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Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras is family-friendly event that is full of family picnics and BBQs. Children come out to watch the parades and float riders have plenty of toys and stuffed animals to hand out to the kids.

Maybe don’t bring the kids to the French Quarter and Canal street where the celebrations are a little wilder but uptown or upriver areas have a more family-friendly atmosphere for viewing the parades.

What are the Mardi Gras colors?

new orleans mardi gras

One look at the topping of the King Cake and you see that the New Orleans Mardi Gras coloursare purple which symbolises justice, gold which symbolises power and green which symbolises faith.

These colours where chosen by the Rex Krewe back in 1872 to honour the Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov who visited New Orleans to celebrate carnival and the local people of New Orleans were required to display these colors.

What are the Best Mardi Gras Parades?

new orleans mardi gras

There are more than 70 New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades held on different days during the New Orleans Mardi Gras Season. The Rex and Zulu Parades held on Mardi Gras day are two of the most popular parades that one must see when attending New Orleans Mardi Gras. 

Krewe du Vieux Parade is a very popular parade that is very satirical and political in nature, and features elaborate floatsEndymian is hugely popular parade from one of the biggest ‘super krewes’ that must be seen. 

Krewe of St. Anne & Krewe of Julu Parades, are two wacky parades full of wild characters in weird costumesThe Krewe of Muses throws hand-designed glittery shoes of all shapes and styles to delight of the crowd.

Why not check out some of the awesome all-girl krewe parades like the Cameltoe, Lady Steppers, Pussyfooters and the Sirens, who are always famous for incredible costumes and dance moves.

There are plenty of small and quirky parades that are worth attending like ‘tit Rəx which features mini-floats that are hand pulled. Then there is the Krewe of Barkus that features marching dogs. Also there is a sci-fi theme parade by Krewe of Chewbacchus.

What is the weather like during Mardi Gras?

The weather can vary from cold to warm and almost hot. It can also be dry or wet.  So it is a good idea to be prepared for all weather and bring a raincoat just in case its wet weather.

What are the Mardi Gras Balls?

Every year more than a hundred Carnival Balls are held in New Orleans. The majority of balls are invitation-only, however a select through are open to the public.  Mardi Gras balls have been around since Louisiana was a French colony and originally were exclusive events that could only be attended by New Orleans high-society.

High-society balls are very aristocratic. There is no such thing as a ticket and if you’re not a member you can’t attend. These balls are full of rituals and traditions. Debutantes are also introduced to society during the ball.

Super Krewe Balls were also created so that all members of society could attend a Mardi Gras Balls. The three super krewes known to put on the best balls are Bacchus, Orpheus, and Endymion. The Krewe of Endymion hosts their ball after the parade and feature celebrity performers and tens of thousands in attendance.

How to dress for Mardi Gras?

collars

Fun Mardi Gras fact is that in New Orleans it is a law that all parade participants who ride a float must wear a mask or they are breaking the law. This Mardi Gras tradition was created to allow people to escape their social class and mingle with whoever they want.

If you are wondering what kind of Mardi Gras outfit should I wear? On Mardi Gras Day a costume is a must and anything goes. It can be comical or whimsical doesn’t matter but if you don’t dress up then you will look out of place so check out some cool carnival costumes here on Amazon.

Or often people dress up in the Mardi Gras Colours of Purple, Green and Gold like these on Amazon. Or just accessorise and wear a cool carnival mask like these cool ones on Amazon.

If you are attending one of the Mardi Gras Balls then you should dress up for the event as most have a fancy-dress requirement. Also make a note that it is still pretty cold in New Orleans during Mardi Gras so dress warm.

Do I need tickets to Mardi Gras? / How much does it cost to go to Mardi Gras?

No it is free to attend Mardi Gras! And the best part is that you will leave with bags of Mardi Gras goodies! However you do need tickets to attend some of the Mardi Gras balls and also for the seats in the viewing stands around the city.

What is Flambeaux?

flambeaux

Flambeaux is the plural for flambeau and it is French for flaming torch. Before New Orleans had adequate lighting they night-time parades used torchbearers to provide light. Today the tradition is continued with natural gas burning lanterns.

What is the drinking age for New Orleans?

The legal drinking age is 21!

How to get to New Orleans?

By Plane

You  can fly to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). It takes around 30 – 45 minutes to get from the airport to the New Orleans CBD or French Quarter. For quotes on flights check here.

By Car

Drive to New Orleans via I-10, I-55, U.S. 90, U.S. 61, or even across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway on LA 25, then US 190. For quotes on car rentals check here.

By Bus

Greyhound and Megabus service New Orleans from Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave.

By Train

Amtrak trains service the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal which is located at 1001 Loyola Ave, in the Central Business District.

By Ship

It’s not generally considered “transportation,” but it is possible that you can cruise to or from the Port of New Orleans

How to get around during New Orleans Mardi Gras?

The best way to get around New Orleans during Mardi Gras is on foot because there are just such huge crowds. To get around the city we recommend driving or catching a cab, uber or use Lyft.

Where to stay for New Orleans Mardi Gras?

When it comes to where to stay for New Orleans Mardi Gras, location is important! And you must book your hotel as early as possible because they book out quickly! Also expect that you will be paying inflated rates. You want to be staying close to the parades so have a look at the different parade routes of each Krewe here, or alternatively download the parade tracker app.

The majority of people are interesting in seeing either the Uptown or French Quarter parades. A good rule of thumb is to stay closer to St Charles or Canal, as it will be easier for you to get around. Other good streets are Royal Street, Decatur and Magazine. But you want to be able to easily walk to and from the celebrations because traffic is a nightmare and you can use your own bathroom.

For hotels located close to the Uptown parades with a ‘New Orleans feel’ stay at The Prytania ParkPrytania Oaks and the Queen Anne Hotels, which are all located in the historic Lower Garden District, close to parades.

Other hotels on or near the parade route include Sheraton New OrleansSt. Christopher HotelHoliday Inn SuperdomeHotel IndigoPontchartrain HotelPelham HotelThe Royal Frenchmen Hotel and BarAce Hotel New OrleansHenry Howard HotelThe Quisby or 1896 O’Malley.

There are also lots of great options for those who want to stay in the French Quarter including The Maison Dupuy HotelHotel St. Helene, Royal FrenchmenHotel ProvincialLe Richelieu Hotel, or Royal Sonesta New Orleans. For a really cool experience book a room with a Bourbon Street facing balcony so that you can throw beads to those down below.

If you are struggling to find good options in the Lower Garden Districtthe Garden District or the French Quarter then don’t panic! There are still plenty of other great options. Look around Uptown, or the Warehouse District or the Central Business District. For a quieter but still exciting experience consider Faubourg Marigny and the Baywater neighbourhoods. New Orleans is a fairly small city and a great place to walk around when the weather is nice.

Anyway check out some great accommodation deals for New Orleans here.

Take a Tour!

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is, without a doubt one of the most colorful and mind-blowing celebrations in the world! If you don’t want the hassle of organising a trip or  you don’t want to experience it alone then check out Tour Radar which has loads of cool itineraries for different New Orleans Mardi Gras Tours.  Don’t let another year go by without experiencing this iconic event!

Also if you look at Viator they also have some awesome New Orleans Mardi Gras tours, day trips and other cool things. There are food tours, walking tours, cooking lessons and fun activities and adventures for the whole family, definitely worth checking out!

Before you go!

Never travel without coverage! We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance. Being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

Read Our Ultimate Guide To Attending New Orleans Mardi Gras.

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