Are you excited to experience Mardi Gras the way the locals do? Here are 7 tips that you should follow.
- Tune in
A great way to prepare yourself is to get an insight into some of the things that make New Orleans and Carnival special. You can start by listening to Louisiana music: Simple music compilations such as “Nothing But a Party: Basin Street Records’ New Orleans Mardi Gras Collection” and “New Orleans Party Classics” (Rhino), or extensive as the “Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans” (Shout Factor) are worth checking out.
Alternatively, you can tune in to the community radio station WWOZ. Documentaries such as “Always for Pleasure” and “All On a Mardi Gras Day” can help you learn more about New Orleans’ street culture. These documentaries take a closer look at cultural treasures such as brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians. If you are looking to celebrate with the kids, consider renting “The Princess and the Frog,” an Oscar-nominated Disney animated film. They will be interested in its old-school animation and Louisiana soundtrack.
- Check out local media
Local media outlets provide a wealth of information, which includes guides to help you better navigate both the festival and the city. “Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide” – currently in its 40th edition – is widely considered the “go-to” guide to the festival, thanks to its dissection of parades and profiles. The Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate newspapers have very informative websites. WW-TV provides a useful “parade-tracker” app that is available for download. For your daily dose of New Orleans music, tune in to the WWOZ community radio. You can find plenty of Carnival related news and assistance through Offbeat, the monthly music and culture magazine, and The Gambit, the alternative newsweekly.
- Don’t drink…Okay, drink responsibly
Drinking too much – particularly those high octanes cocktails like Hand Grenade or Hurricane – will surely drain your wallet, energy, and even sense of awareness. Many locals take it slow, particularly along parade routes, and occasionally have a beer or cocktail as they take in the festivities happening around them.
- Respect the locals
While the people of New Orleans are generally known to be amongst the most hospitable people, the constant debauchery and immoral behavior exhibited by tourists, and not to mention the “Girls Gone Wild” videos, have dampened their receptiveness towards visitors. The Carnival experience is often ruined by tourists urinating and/or vomiting on the sides of buildings, exposing breasts on Bourbon Street, screaming outside their Airbnb rentals in a serene neighborhood, and fighting unnecessarily in the streets. Being interested in learning about the region’s culture and customs is much better than having preconceived notions shoved in the face. As a matter of fact, New Orleans is all about keeping an open mind. The residents are much more willing and excited to discuss the ways of the city rather than defending them.
- Identify your avenues of opportunity
For a long time, Bourbon Street, St. Charles Avenue, and Canal Street were the three streets most commonly associated with Carnival. Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue were most associated with length parade routes. However, in the past few years, several new streets have been offering plenty of entertainment options such as Central City’s historic Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, Uptown’s Freret Street Corridor, St. Claude Avenue, and Bywater’s Dauphine Street – extending downriver from the French Quarter. There is also the French Street scene that is currently blowing up. It is a five-block stretch of bars, music clubs, restaurants, and an art market – for a few more months.
- Don’t forget the live music
It can be easy to get too much absorbed along the parade routes or in the French Quarter with all the revelry and reverie going on. However, it is a sin to visit New Orleans and leave without checking out the live local and touring music acts. The Family Gras Festival in Metairie (running from January 29 to January 31) will provide families plenty of pre-parade music to enjoy. The lineup for this year includes The Band Perry, Fifth Harmony, Johnny Rivers, Dr. John & The Nite Trippers, Imagination Movers, and The Monkees 50th Anniversary Tour.
The headliners for the King Cake Festival (January 31, Champions Square) will be Flow Tribe and the Bucktown All-Stars. The Zulu’s Lundi Gras Festival (happening at Woldenberg Park on February 8) will feature acts like Rockin’ Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters and the Rebirth Brass, and the festival will also feature lots of kids music. Get tons of Mardis Gras throws for cheap.
- Be careful, aware, and safe
It should go without saying that whenever tens of thousands of people are visiting a city for any festival, there will always be a looming danger. With that being said, it will be important to practice common sense. Always stay close to your group, bring a portable and plug-in charger, identify easy-to-find rendezvous points, let your family and friends know where you will be or meet, memorize phone numbers of cab-companies, and always stay in places that are properly lit where other people are gathering.