Parties, people, parades, and a whole lot of pastries make Mardi Gras in New Orleans one of the most famous festivals in the world. That’s why this colorful carnival is a bucket-list trip for many. In case you don’t already know your krewes from your king cakes, this Mardi Gras guide will make sure you’re ready to laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll).
What Is Mardi Gras?
“Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday,” but the celebration as we know it starts long before then. In New Orleans, carnival season kicks off in January with parades, balls, and street parties taking place almost every day. The dates for Mardi Gras change every year since it’s based on Lent and Easter, but 2020’s festivities run through Fat Tuesday, February 25.
While Mardi Gras might have a raucous reputation, if you’re traveling with kids, it’s actually a very family-friendly event. Generations of Louisiana residents return year after year, creating a fun and welcoming atmosphere for all ages.
What to Pack for Mardi Gras
You’ll notice that all roads in New Orleans seem to lead to Mardi Gras — and many of them will be closed for the parades. The streets in the historic French Quarter are mostly cobblestoned, too, so be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes.
Parade days are long and the crowds are large, so a smart packing strategy is essential. Skip the bulky backpack in favor of a tote or trendy belt bag to keep your belongings close. Bring a refillable water bottle and light jacket, as it can be a bit chilly in New Orleans this time of year.
What to Eat at Mardi Gras
Nothing says “Mardi Gras” quite like a king cake. Decorated in festive shades of purple, gold, and green, king cakes are layers of puff pastry with a cream- or jam-filled center. A small, plastic baby is hidden somewhere in the cake, and finding it in your slice symbolizes luck and prosperity. You’ll spot king cakes at most New Orleans bakeries, but there’s another pastry you can’t leave town without trying, a beignet. The best in New Orleans are at the famous Cafe du Monde. During Mardi Gras, wait times are long so opt instead to take your deep-fried dough to-go. Pack napkins, as the powdered sugar-topped delicacies are messy.
On the savory side, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to traditional Louisiana and Creole cuisine. Head to Willa Jean’s for finger-lickin’ good fried chicken and buttery, gravy-soaked biscuits. For a taste of Cajun and Creole comfort food, you can’t go wrong with a big bowl of gumbo at Dooky Chase.
Where to Watch the Best Parades at Mardi Gras
Most of the parades avoid the narrow streets of the French Quarter and concentrate along St. Charles Avenue. The floats you see at Mardi Gras are organized by private local clubs called “krewes.” It’s the krewes who throw beads, coins, and other souvenir trinkets into the crowds, so knowing which krewe you want to see plays a big part in where you watch the parades.
Some of the best Mardi Gras krewes to look for include the historic Krewes of Orpheus and Zulu, the all-female Krewe of Muses, and the Krewe of Bacchus, which usually features a surprise celebrity guest.
When to Book Your Mardi Gras Trip
Attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a must-do for many. That’s why it’s never too early to book one of your two resorts, Club Wyndham La Belle Maison and Club Wyndham Avenue Plaza. Every year, over 1 million visitors come to New Orleans to join in the festivities. If you can’t make it this year, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and snap up the best accommodation for Mardi Gras 2021. See you there, and don’t forget to let the good times roll.