Mardi Gras 2016 in New Orleans – Day 1

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016

 

After we arrived in New Orleans around 12:30 in the afternoon and checked in at The Roosevelt, our room wasn’t ready yet so we headed to the French Quarter for lunch (more on where we ate in a future post!). While we were eating, we got a text from the hotel front desk that a room was ready for us. We finished our lunch, and as we headed back to our hotel, we tripped upon our first Mardi Gras parade!

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras Parades Watching the Krewe of Iris

This parade was the Krewe of Iris. (A Krewe is the group putting on the parade. It’s an organization, similar to a social club. Members pay to become members of the Krewe).

Parade watchers (us included) go CRAZY for the “throws” from floats, which include beads, cups, stuffed animals, and all sorts of other fun things (many are unique to each krewe).

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016

And people always look so pleased when they catch something!

Catching throws at Krewe of Iris during Mardi Gras

The Krewe of Iris is female only, so there were lots of girly touches, like this giant lipstick on a float:

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016

We got back to the hotel (as I mentioned, the hotel was RIGHT next to where most of the parades turn around on Canal Street,) we got our hotel room key and our luggage out of storage, and went up to our hotel room to unpack and get settled.

We had tickets for “grandstand seats” later that night for the Krewe of Endymion. (I mentioned in a previous post why we decided to get grandstand tickets for some of the parades).

But first, we discovered another parade on Canal Street just a half block from our hotel. This time, it was the Krewe of Tucks! (The tail end of the parade).

Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016

When I first started researching travel tips for going to Mardi Gras, I was dumbfounded by some of the jargon. One of the words I kept seeing was “neutral ground.” Usually that term was seen near the term “sidewalk side.”

Okay, native New Orleanians, please chime in here, but best I can tell is that the folks you see standing at the metal barrier gates are standing in the “neutral ground.”

Neutral ground during Mardi Gras Neutral ground during Mardi Gras Neutral ground during Mardi Gras

The neutral ground is the large median strip where the New Orleans streetcars would normally be running.

As far as I can tell, if you are in the neutral ground, you are basically stuck there the entire duration of the parade. Perhaps there might be breaks in the parades where the police might open the barriers for a short duration, but not that we saw. Since it’s basically a median strip, there are no restaurants or bathrooms. But, we did see lots of porta-potties set up in the neutral ground.

We were standing on the “street side.” I’m not sure if it was because it was close to the end of the parade, but we didn’t have any trouble getting close or seeing the floats well.

The parade ended and the gates opened and people started to walk down the streets while traffic was still closed off.

After Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 After Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016

Shortly thereafter, we made our way to the grandstand area for the Krewe of Endymion. However, we couldn’t get into the grandstands yet, even though the entrance time was indicated on our tickets. Apparently the previous parade was running REALLY late, and so the folks with grandstand tickets to THAT parade were still sitting there.

We found out that this is a recurring theme of all the Mardi Gras parades. They run late and long! I mean crazy long! I’ll talk more about that in a future “Mardi Gras tips” post! It’s all good, given that it’s such a fun atmosphere. Just something to consider if you’re trying to run a tight schedule during your trip (which, for the most part, we were not).

We were finally able to get into the grandstands a little bit later.

Mardi Gras Grandstands Ken and Melissa at Mardi Gras

Since the parade wasn’t at our location yet, we were able to get in some great people watching!

Crowds at Mardi Gras Parade Crowds at Mardi Gras Parade

Lots of families would bring these ladders for their kids at the parades, so they’d have a good vantage point. They were basically a ladder with a little bench seat on top.

Mardi Gras ladders for kids

And finally, the Krewe of Endymion started! I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here!

 

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

The parade followed a fairly predictable lineup, alternating floats and marching bands.

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

Like I mentioned earlier, people went WILD for the throws from the floats!

Catching throws at the Krewe of Endymion Catching throws at the Krewe of Endymion

Before buying grandstand tickets, I had read a lot of criticisms of them, including that it would probably be more difficult to catch the throws from the floats. I definitely found that to be UNTRUE. We went to three different parades in three different grandstands and we definitely felt “up close” enough to the parades to catch the throws!

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

We weren’t sure what these were at first, but we later found out that these folks, who would be carrying flames every few floats, are called “Flambeaux.” The flames were traditionally how the floats were illuminated at night. Although the floats have their own lights now, Flambeaux remain a tradition. It appears that a lot of regulars were “tipping” the Flambeaux with dollar bills, but I’m not sure about that part of the tradition.

Flambeaux at Mardi Gras Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

After several hours at the parade, it still wasn’t over, and we were getting hungry. So, we left the grandstands, went back to our hotel to change around and warm up (it was COLD during the parade!), and then we headed out to dinner. We snapped this selfie in the elevator in our hotel after the parade:

Post Mardi Gras Parade Selfie

We had dinner in the French Quarter, and then started to head back to the hotel. As we crossed Canal Street on our way back from dinner, I captured my favorite photo of Mardi Gras (and maybe one of my favorite photos ever!) The AFTERMATH of a day filled with parades:

Post Mardi Gras parades mess After the Mardi Gras parade ends Canal street after a Mardi Gras parade

The photos just make me chuckle every time. It’s like some post apocalyptic scene! Especially in that one photo where the girls are kinda huddled together. For what it’s worth, the streets were GLEAMING clean by the next morning (and every morning we were there). It was amazing.

That was it for our first day in New Orleans! Man, it was a packed day considering we didn’t even land in New Orleans until noon!

Have you been to Mardi Gras? What were your favorite aspects?

A Quick Recap of Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016


We just got back from New Orleans the other night.  We have hundreds of pictures to sort through, pants that are tighter from all the food indulgences, and a newly developed sense of respect for all that New Orleans does to put on such a crazy celebration every year.  

Catching Mardi Gras throws

A full trip report will be forthcoming, of course, but I wanted to do a quick postmortem / recap while things are still fresh in my mind.

 

  • I had low expectations. To be honest, I was kind of anticipating that I’d have the following reaction to Mardi Gras: “It was okay. I’m glad I went, but I’m not in any real hurry to go back. At least it’s crossed off my bucket list.”

But Mardi Gras far exceeded that relatively low bar I had set! I was worried that people would be obnoxiously drunk, pushy, and/or rude. While there were definitely drunk people all around, the atmosphere was so festive and friendly. Even Ken says that the rudest person he encountered was “The 60-year-old lady filming a parade with her iPad and got mad when I had to walk in front of her.”

 

  • The floats far exceeded my expectations as well. I wasn’t sure if the majority of parade floats would be kinda hokey or silly. That maybe only the really “good” floats are the ones you see pictures of. But nope, all the floats were so fantastic! A photographer’s dream!

 

  • I seriously cannot believe how fast the city of New Orleans can get the streets cleaned up after parades. This is what the streets looked like one night after walking back from dinner. It looks like some sort of post-apocalyptic scene, no? Within a few hours, the street was sparkling clean. And I do mean sparkling. There were literally soapy suds left behind where the streets had been scrubbed. This took place EVERY night!
Streets after Mardi Gras parades
  • Pay attention to the side of the street you watch the parade from. We watched the Bacchus parade from the “even number” side of St. Charles Avenue. Well, it was freezing cold that night, the parade was about 3 hours late, and unfortunately there was some sort of problem with the parade flow. Instead of it being one big parade, there’d be a marching band, one float, and then nothing for 5 minutes. Then repeat. We were talking to some locals, who definitely said that it was a fluke. And it was definitely not what we had experienced while watching the Endymion parade the night before. That one was a solid flow of floats.  So, we decided to cut out early from Bacchus and go back to our hotel room to put on warmer clothes, and then grab some dinner.  But, we found ourselves essentially “trapped” on that side of St. Charles Avenue. We couldn’t find a place to cross the street anywhere, which we needed to do to get back to our hotel.  We finally found a crossing location at St. Charles and Poydras. The police would allow people to cross when there was a big enough gap in the parade. So, if you expect to want to leave the parade early, make sure you don’t need to cross any part of the parade route, or you may find yourself stuck for a while!

 

  • There was a lot less, ahem, flashing, than I was led to believe. I was expecting to see this left and right on Bourbon Street. While there were some occasional boobage, it wasn’t like what the media or pop culture led me to believe. Not sure if that’s a positive thing or a negative thing for some people interested in going to Mardi Gras!

 

  • We splurged on some tickets for a Bourbon Street balcony party one night. That was a LOT of fun. Once again, I was kinda afraid it might be too obnoxious, but it was great. People have such looks of genuine joy on their faces when you toss them beads from the balcony. It was great!

 

  • Remember all those meal reservations I made in an effort to avoid long lines and crowds at restaurants? Well, we kinda ran into some problems. The first night, we showed up at the restaurant where we made dinner reservations. They said, “reservations??  This is Mardi Gras, we don’t accept reservations during Mardi Gras!” And I was like, “Umm, nope, I have the reservation right here on my phone. Confirmed via OpenTable.”  Then there was always some confusion that ensued.  What likely happened is that the restaurants didn’t close off those dates for reservations until AFTER I had already made the reservations. And I guess OpenTable didn’t notify the restaurants to say, “oh hey, these folks already made reservations, maybe you should contact them?”  Anyway, it was somewhat surprising that we only encountered one long wait for a restaurant. Three of our dining reservations had that problem.  Luckily it wasn’t too much of an issue. Despite the crowds for Mardi Gras, restaurants had little to no wait, even the very popular ones. We tried to go to one restaurant (that didn’t take reservations anyway) and it was a 1+ hour wait, so we decided to just go elsewhere that didn’t have a wait. It all worked out just fine!  

 

  • Ken wants to go again, but bring nieces and nephews then. Kids get some REALLY awesome throws from the parade krewes! And kids have such a fantastic time watching the floats and catching all the fun beads and other trinkets!
Mardi Gras float at night

 

 

To summarize, we had a fantastic time! It was a great way to celebrate my 35th birthday. Funny enough, Mardi Gras falls on my birthday again in 2027, so maybe we’ll have to make a trip back then!  Mardi Gras has also given me a hankering for seeing other famous parades. I promptly started looking up information on another bucket list parade, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City! 2017 I think!