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While I was loving Mardi Gras from the local perspective, I was also craving a bit of the cheesy traditional one I’d seen in photos all my life. Thus far, we had yet to step inside the French Quarter and I couldn’t shake the feeling that Mardi Gras was “happening over there…” though where there was, I couldn’t be exactly sure. Luckily, Olivia and I had a Sissy Sunday Funday planned that would bring us right down the madness of Bourbon Street.
We kicked things off with a boozey brunch at Stanley’s, a New Orleans institution. We ordered a bottle of champagne and an orange juice and mixed DIY mimosas right there at the table, much to the amusement of our waitress. Have I mentioned New Orleans is more or less a do-what-you-want-when-you-want free for all? No? Because I’m pretty sure one day I watched a bunch of half-naked co-eds partying in the back of a pickup truck with open containers drive down the freeway and receive a friendly wave from the Louisiana police car they passed on their way. I’m pretty sure you can get a ticket for just thinking about not wearing your seatbelt in New York state.
Feeling festive and full after, we strolled towards Bourbon Street. Warning me we’d need more liquid courage before tackling the crowds, Olivia grabbed us some to-go cocktails from a nearby pop-up liquor stand (damn I love this city!) and off we went. Though my pictures don’t show it — I think I was actually too gobsmacked to take out my camera at the most Kodak-worthy moments and these photos are from the more tame outskirts — it was wild. Clubs throbbed with dance music, drunk tourists in cheesy t-shirts posed with strippers, and beads were flying everywhere. I think it was around 3pm. Flashing seems synonymous with Mardi Gras but this was the only area where I saw any kind of public nudity — it’s simply not done in the other family-friendly districts during festival season. And even here, I wouldn’t say I was so much flashed as I was assaulted with questionable judgement. The most amazing part was, we were there when a parade was going on, so it was actually fairly empty for Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Sunday.
We found solace in the Carousel Bar, another NOLA classic, where I had the most delicious amaretto sour of my life. When we first sat down I concluded I was a little too tipsy, as the bar was spinning. Then I realized the bar was actually spinning, slowly — it takes an hour to do a full rotation (and I was probably too tipsy, as well). I loved this bar and can’t recommend it more highly — I’ll definitely be stopping by on a return trip to New Orleans.
But we didn’t linger — we had VIP tickets to the Mardi Gras Parade Premium Viewing Stands! These stands were a Viator exclusive I was psyched to score. Having spent a few days throwing elbows with the crowds, I was excited to get the celebrity treatment for one of the parades. And what was it exactly, that made these stands so special? BATHROOMS. Okay, allow me to elaborate. Free, easy access to clean, private bathrooms. Basically, the hottest commodity at Mardi Gras. Sure, there were other benefits, like catching more beads, the flexibility to come and go as we pleased without worrying about losing our spots, a different perspective for photos, and reasonably priced food and drinks on site… but it was really all about those bathrooms.
And what would be more appropriate for the Baackes girls to have VIP seats to than the Bacchus parade?
Bacchus is another one of the super krewes, and thus they even had a celebrity appearance in the form of House‘s Hugh Laurie. But it was the people in the stands who made a big impressions. The day before, I had bonded with Louisiana locals while watching the parade in Mid City. This time, in the stands downtown, it was all tourists who’d flown in from all over the country to join the revelry. We chatted with a spunky older couple from Florida who were bringing beads back to their grandkids, and also to a pair of Texans who has flown in on their own plane spontaneously the day before. At some point the Texans got a little too cozy, and so we backed away slowly and made a dash for the other side of the stands.
I absolutely loved our experience in the stands and would recommend it to anyone looking to splurge on the celebrity treatment for one day of their Mardi Gras experience. My only regret is the fact that we didn’t take advantage of the view earlier on as well for the day-time parades.
Though I hadn’t been interested in catching beads from any other krewe, I suddenly got into the spirit at Bacchus. Because we were on the same level as the krewe members rolling by, it was possible to make eye contact with them and make a personal plea for the best throws. Though superstition says it’s bad luck to pick up throws off the ground, our Floridian friends politely asked a few security officers and passing band members to throw them up coveted beads they had missed during pauses in the parade– and they kindly acquiesced!
Having learned our lesson with traffic, we walked all the way back to my sister’s apartment once the parade was over. When we arrived, my sister’s roommates were winding up to go party in the French Quarter. While she was still suffering from the day before and nodded off to bed, I couldn’t pass up the chance to truly party like a tourist and decided to join them. It turned out to be a great choice — though I was exhausted as well, partying along the cheesy bars of Bourbon Street with the masses was one of my favorite Mardi Gras memories!
By the time the Monday of Mardi Gras rolled around — also known as Lundi Gras — my body was beginning to protest, and so was my inbox. I took the day off of festivities and even skipped the parades, a decision I deeply regretted when I learned about the ocean theme of the Krewe of Orpheus procession I passed up. But ah well, duty had called. But note to self: prepare better next time. I did make it out to a few hours of a show at One Eyed Jack’s, another local Lundi Gras tradition and New Orleans hotspot Olivia’s boyfriend clued us into. Thanks Oliver!
When my alarm went off at 7:00am on Fat Tuesday, I was grateful I had called it quits when I did the night before. It had stormed through the night and when I stepped outside I gasped — in addition to the drizzling rain that didn’t look like it was going to quit anytime soon, it was also freezing. I couldn’t believe just two days before we had been in sundresses, and now we were breaking out the parkas again. But nothing could keep us from the Krewe of Zulu.
Despite the early wakeup call and the offensive weather, there was still a decent crowd. We walked to our favorite parade spot on St. Charles, where we had watched the Thursday and Friday krewes, and easily elbowed our way to the front. Others may have flashier floats or more elaborate designs, but Zulu has spirit — and coconuts. The traditionally African American krewe is famous for their highly coveted coconut throws, each of which are individually painted at parties leading up to the event.
Olivia was pretty hyped up on catching coconuts, and even though I was less so I admit the enthusiasm spread when I caught the very first one. From there things got a little excessive and thankfully I had a backpack with me because we ended up with eleven! Knowing how big a deal it is to catch even one typically, I think the bad weather worked in our favor by thinning out the competition.
Krewe of Zulu is followed pretty immediately by Krewe of Rex, and while it was tempting to stay and watch the final superkrewe of Mardi Gras, our appendages were officially frozen. We made an executive group decision to stop at my sister’s place to drop off our coconut bounty and throw everything we were wearing in the dryer for a good ten minutes. Best decision of Mardi Gras!
After that, we hit the streets! We joined a band-led bar crawl that brought us to Frenchman Street, which is kind of the local version of Bourbon Street. While the bad weather definitely put a damper on things (we called it a day way earlier than usual because let’s face it, partying in wet socks is just not ideal) I otherwise could not imagine a greater Fat Tuesday.
Mardi Gras is a serious party. Until I experienced it for myself, I couldn’t have imagined the half of it. And I hope I get the chance to keep doing so over and over again. By my count, Mardi Gras easily ranks up there with the best festivals in the world and should undoubtedly be on the bucket list of any traveler. Best of all? Anyone can join in — Mardi Gras is for everyone! The people of New Orleans really know how to celebrate in a joyful and creative way, and I think the rest of us have a lot to learn about the good life from our friends down in Southern Louisiana.
So until next time, Mardi Gras, laissez les bons temps rouler!
Have you been to Mardi Gras? If not, is it on your bucket list?