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Mardi Gras Frequently Asked Questions

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Mardi Gras Frequently Asked Questions

Although many people around the world have heard of Mardi Gras, there are many questions that surround the event for people who do not live in New Orleans. Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions about Mardi Gras. Still have questions? Contact us and we'll be sure to answer you as soon as possible.


Visitor's FAQs


History and Tradition FAQs

 

Visitor's FAQs Answers

1. Is there an "official" Mardi Gras?

No! Mardi Gras is a holiday, just like Christmas and Easter. It belongs to everyone. Do not believe the claims of businesses who offer "official" Mardi Gras merchandise or an "official" Mardi Gras website. Using the term “official” is just a way for vendors to sell their products or services to those who do not know better. Products or websites are not licensed by the government for Mardi Gras. Each individual parade krewe is responsible for all of its merchandise. In some parts of the country, official organizations control their Mardi Gras celebration, but this is not true in New Orleans.


2. When does Mardi Gras start and end?

The Carnival season actually begins on Jan. 6, which is King’s Day (Feast of the Epiphany).

Fat Tuesday is never on the same day each year because Easter Sunday is never on the same Sunday each year. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday.

Most visitors plan to arrive no later than the Saturday prior to Mardi Gras day and stay through Ash Wednesday. Check out our dates page to see when Fat Tuesday will fall through the year 2023.


3: What is the weather usually like during Mardi Gras? What should I pack?

The weather during Mardi Gras can vary from very cold to very warm, almost hot. Sometimes it will change from one extreme to the other during the same day. It’s a good idea to layer your clothes since a chilly morning may turn into a warm afternoon.

Since you will be spending long days outside, pack comfortable shoes and clothes that can get somewhat dirty. Don’t forget to check the forecast for rain. If storms are predicted, then you’ll definitely want to bring a raincoat!


4: Where can I book a room with a balcony to watch the parades go by?

Nowhere. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most rooms with balconies are in the French Quarter, where there are no full-size, traditional parades. There are some smaller foot parades that go through the French Quarter, but because of float size restrictions in the area, no big parades go through that area.  There are only a couple of hotels along the main parade routes (like on St. Charles Avenue) that have rooms with balconies, and those are rented years in advance by corporations.


5: How much does it cost to go to Mardi Gras?

It's free! Not only that, but you'll leave with bags of Mardi Gras beads and throws. That's why we call it the "Greatest Free Show on Earth!"


6: I only have limited time. What is the prime time to visit during Mardi Gras?

The weekend before Fat Tuesday is the prime time to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras. This is the weekend when Bacchus and Endymion, two of the biggest parades of the season, roll down the streets of New Orleans. The streets are packed all day Saturday and Sunday with parade watchers. If you can stay longer than a weekend, Monday (Lundi Gras) and Fat Tuesday are also great days to experience Mardi Gras. Orpheus, another big parade, rolls on that Monday night, and the Zulu Lundi Gras festival goes on all day. On Fat Tuesday, walking around the French Quarter and seeing all of the costumes and masks is a unique and thrilling experience.


7: What happens if there is bad weather?

The parades roll in light rain. The officials will only postpone if the weather is predicted to be severe. The local TV and radio news stations (such as WWL Radio) broadcast the hour by hour updates.


8: Can I bring my kids to Mardi Gras?

By all means, yes! Contrary to public perception, Mardi Gras is a family celebration. Those of us who grew up in New Orleans feel guilty once our children have grown up and we continue going to every parade, because we used to use "taking the children" as our excuse! Bring big bags (even large garbage bags!) to hold all of the stuff they will catch. Throws often include toys, stuffed animals, beads and more.

The only place you should avoid with kids is the French Quarter (where no full-size parades pass anyway). We recommend seeing the parades when they begin on St. Charles Avenue near Napoleon, since parades can last until 11 p.m. near the end of the route. The Garden District portion of St. Charles is a family area where you will see many families staking out their parade watching position, having picnics, playing ball, and having fun under the beautiful oak trees. You don't have to worry about the streetcars, as they stop running in this area during Mardi Gras.

You may also want to consider taking your kids to the parades in the suburban areas like Metairie, which is only 10 minutes away from New Orleans. Metairie's Caesar parade, the Saturday before Mardi Gras weekend, is the parade Disneyworld features on Mardi Gras day. Kids love it!


9: What are the best ways to get around New Orleans once I've arrived?

The best methods of transportation will be via taxi, streetcar or rental car depending on where you're staying. Driving your own car and finding parking spots will be difficult.


10: When and where do the Mardi Gras Indians parade?

The Mardi Gras Indians only parade on Mardi Gras day and on Super Sunday (generally the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day in March).

The Mardi Gras day routes are not published anywhere, but they happen in and around their inner city neighborhoods. Some sources say that you will see the Creole Wild West tribe at the corner of LaSalle and 2nd Streets sometime between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. after the Krewe of Zulu passes by. Other tribes meet at the corner of Claiborne and Orleans following the Zulu parade.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council always has their Indian Sunday on the third Sunday of March, around St. Joseph's Day. Their festivities begin at Noon in A. L. Davis Park (at Washington & LaSalle Streets) where the Mardi Gras Indians once again dress in their feathers and suits, and take to the streets to meet other "gangs."

For the Indian Sunday parade route, visit our Supersunday page.

Also, the Tambourine and Fan organizations traditionally hold thier "Super Sunday" parade on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph's Day, with the event beginning at Bayou St. John. In recent years, there has been yet a third Super Sunday called Big Sunday that falls in April during the open weekend between French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest. No specific details are available on these events at this time.


11: Why does Mardi Gras fall on different dates each year?

The date of Mardi Gras changes every year because it's connected to Easter, which can fall on any Sunday between March 23 and April 25. Mardi Gras is always scheduled to take place 47 days before Easter.


12: How can I get tickets for the parade reviewing stands on St. Charles Avenue?

For grand stand tickets, go to neworleansparadetickets.com. Be sure to bring a bag to store all the beads, trinkets, coconuts and doubloons you’ll catch right off the float, as the parades roll just a few feet in front of you. There is no better way to enjoy Mardi Gras in comfort and convenience than right on St. Charles Avenue! Private access to portable restrooms and plenty of food and beverage are available in the immediate area.


13: Do I need to buy Mardi Gras beads and merchandise before my visit?

Not unless you are going to be a rider on a float. If you plan to watch the parades during Mardi Gras, you'll catch so much you won't be able to carry it all!


14: How can I find out what this year's Mardi Gras theme will be?

There is no official Mardi Gras theme since there is no official Mardi Gras. However, each parade krewe decides on its own theme each year, which is often kept secret until the parade. Their costumes, floats, some of their throws, and their "official" Mardi Gras poster (if they have one) reflect this theme. After 9/11, patriotic themes were popular.

Most of the krewes are named after figures from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, but some are named after the neighborhood where they parade.



History and Tradition FAQs Answers


1: Are Carnival and Mardi Gras the same thing?

Don't confuse Carnival and Mardi Gras! Carnival refers to the period of feasting and fun that begins on Jan. 6, The Feast of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.


2: When was the first Mardi Gras??

The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on Feb. 24, 1857 by the Krewe of Comus. They began the tradition of presenting a parade with floats and following it with a ball for the krewe and their guests.


3: What is the significance of the Mardi Gras colors, and where did they come from?

Rex, the King of Carnival, selected the Mardi Gras colors and assigned meaning to them in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.


4: Why are masks worn?

By law, float riders must always have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for everyone else, and the elaborate masks that some wear add to the fun.


5: How is a king chosen?

The method of selecting a king varies from krewe to krewe. Some krewes hold random drawings, while others invite a celebrity guest to be their king. Rex, the King of Carnival, is chosen by the School of Design, who sponsors the Rex parade. His identity is revealed the day before the parade.


6: How long have "throws" been around?

The tradition of float riders throwing trinkets to the crowds began in the 1870s, and continues today. Typical throws include beads, cups, doubloons and stuffed animals.


7: How does Mardi Gras benefit the New Orleans economy?

Economic impact reports indicate that Mardi Gras generates over $1 billion in annual spending.


8: How is the City government involved?

City governments are not involved in coordinating Mardi Gras parades. The governments issue parade permits, but that is the extent of their involvement. Krewes independently schedule and coordinate their own parades.


9: Who organizes and pays for Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras parade krewes are private, non-profit organizations whose members get together year round to plan their parade's theme, costumes and unique throws. Each Carnival Club, as they are known, is individually funded by its members. They support their krewe through dues, sales of krewe-related merchandise to their members, and fundraising. Mardi Gras parade krewes sometimes have corporate sponsors.

The city of New Orleans is not involved in coordinating Mardi Gras parades; their only involvement is to issue parade permits to each individual Mardi Gras krewe that schedules and coordinates its own parade.


10: Who first broadcasted Mardi Gras LIVE on the Internet?

MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, of course. We organized and presented the first live Mardi Gras in 1995 and continued sharing this with our visitors for several years with companies like Microsoft and REAL Media. The live events showcased on MardiGrasNewOrleans.com have been covered by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, TImes PIcayune, Morning Advocate, San Diego Union Tribune, Texas Monthly, and the Discovery Channel among others.

The first year, we presented the Orpheuscapade, and soon offered live chats with celebrities, interviews with costumed revelers on the streets, and video from atop hotels in the Garden District.