Surprisingly, it’s been difficult to find a good consolidated list of information about Mardi Gras. For instance, where the best viewing stands are for the parades, which bars/restaurants have the best balcony options for bead throwing on Bourbon Street, and how crowded non-Mardi Gras events and venues (like the general tourist attractions) are during Mardi Gras. It’s a bit frustrating for the compulsive planner that I am, but alas, it will be just fine.
In the absence of solid information, here is what I’m doing to prepare:
- Booking restaurant reservations for just about every single meal during our four days in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I anticipate large crowds, and I want to make sure that we’re not stuck after one of the parades, starving and hopelessly looking for restaurants without a two hour wait. (I have no idea if that would actually be the case, but I’m just trying to prepare!) So, I made reservations for each day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For most of the restaurants, reservations windows opened 90 days in advance via OpenTable. So, I was on OpenTable each morning in early November booking the restaurants that we wanted for that day 90 days in the future! And I’m glad I did, because looking at some of those same restaurants now, many of them are booked! Only one of the restaurants we booked imposes any sort of cancellation penalty, so if some other restaurant happens to catch our eye and doesn’t have a wait (like for a lot of the hole-in-the-wall type places that don’t take reservations), I can just call the restaurant we reserved and cancel, penalty free.
- Booking viewing stands for the parades. Information I found online about the viewing stands has been mixed. Some people say that the only true way to experience a Mardi Gras parade is on the sidewalks in the throes of the huge crowds. That sometimes the beads and other trinkets that are thrown from the floats don’t even reach the viewing stands. But, even with that information, we’ve decided to buy tickets for viewing stands. Why?
1) Well, first and foremost, we love taking photographs. So, I wanted to make sure we had a decent vantage point for taking pictures of all the parades!
2) I don’t like the idea of having to arrive at a parade route 4+ hours in advance to save a good spot. I’d rather use that time to see other sites in New Orleans! Having tickets for a dedicated spot will allow us to arrive pretty much whenever before a parade starts and have a good viewing location!
3) I like the idea of having a place to sit if our legs get tired as the parade route passes. (I’ve found that some viewing stands are bleacher-like seats, while others are just platforms with no seating. I’ve been making sure to book the ones with bleacher seats! Even if people stand on the bleachers as the parade starts, we can still grab a seat.)
4) Although the grandstands will be filled with people, I figure it will be LESS crowded than the streets and sidewalks, and that we won’t constantly be getting bumped into or anything. That’s just not my cuppa tea.
I figure, if the parades really are THAT much more awesome in the midst of the crowds on the sidewalk, we can just cut our losses on the price we paid for the viewing stands and head down to the sidewalk.
- Figuring out the best Bourbon Street options. No float parades transit Bourbon Street. But, Bourbon Street is a hotbed of activity during Mardi Gras. Although it doesn’t sound like anything I want to hang out in EVERY night during Mardi Gras, I figured we can’t experience New Orleans during Mardi Gras without heading to Bourbon Street at least one evening. I’ve found a few options for balcony party packages on Bourbon Street. They’re not cheap ($150-$200 per person), but considering our hotel and flights are free thanks to points and miles, we figure it’s worth the splurge. They all include food and drinks too. I’m still weighing our options for the balcony party. Large balcony? Smaller balcony? A place with a courtyard to escape the crowds and indoor heat? You get the idea. I’ve contacted a few places and am still waiting to hear back from some of them before I make a final decision. But on the short list is Bourbon Vieux and the Swamp.
- Not renting a car. The last time we were in New Orleans together, it was part of a big road trip, so we had our own car. This time, we’ll just get around using public transportation and Uber or taxis. Although using Uber or taxis will cost us some money, we’ll save on hotel parking, other city parking, and of course we won’t have to deal with figuring out all the closed roads during Mardi Gras.
- Exploring other alternatives for parade viewing. I’ve checked Airbnb for folks that might be renting out space on their balcony for Mardi Gras, such as in homes along St. Charles Avenue for a lot of the parade routes, but haven’t had any luck. But, I thought I’d throw it out there to give people other ideas for what to try. I’ve also tried to find restaurants that have balcony seating along St. Charles Avenue that perhaps you can eat as the parade goes by, but I haven’t been able to find any information on options like these. Kinda frustrating!
- Learning more about nighttime parade photography. I’ve never quite been able to get the hang of photographing moving objects at night without blur or excessive grain. Since at least two of the Mardi Gras parades we’ll be seeing will take place at night, I want to make sure I’m fully up to speed on what some of the better camera settings are to capture the nighttime parades! Obviously a tripod probably won’t be an option, even having the extra space in the viewing stands, but perhaps a monopod could help. Better than trying to figure it out on the fly.