Mardi Gras Extraordinaire – True Dat!

Oh my gosh – where do I start? How do I even begin to capture the excitement, colours, costumes, people, floats, marching bands, elaborate masks, traffic? Did I mention the people? the traffic?  Welcome to Mardi Gras!

It was an education!  There were so many parades!  I had no idea Greek mythology was woven in the history.    What the heck does Krewe mean? FYI, Krewes are private social clubs that organize their parades, and hold fund-raising balls and parties.  I didn’t know that Carnival celebrations begin every year on January 6th (the twelfth day after Christmas) continuing through midnight on Fat Tuesday (english for Mardi Gras).  Did you know that the Mayor rides through the French Quarter on horseback at midnight on Fat Tuesday declaring Mardi Gras 2017 has ended? I didn’t either!

STAYING IN NEW ORLEANS

This conveniently located RV park put us within walking/biking distance to the French Quarter and the parade routes.  It’s common for RV parks to be located adjacent to train tracks and highways. But parked almost under an interstate?  That was an experience!

I’m afraid the older our dog, Gracie, is getting the less she likes loud noises and she was not a happy camper with so many screaming motorcycles and emergency vehicle sirens travelling over and around us. We swaddled her in her Thunder Shirt, kept the windows closed, lowered both the day and night shades and left the TV on – all in an effort to camouflage the outside noise.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PARADES

Saturday, February 25th
“Samedi Gras”
[pronounced Samdee Gras]

We walked to the Krewe of Endymion parade route which was starting at 4:30 p.m. This was just 1 of 3 scheduled parades in the Uptown and Mid-City areas that day! We literally HIT a wall of people on Bourbon Street and this was the 2nd time we were on Bourbon Street during our four day stay (the 1st and the last…)!

Bourbon Street – oh so young and ready to party!

Mardi Gras Tip #1
“There is much more to Mardi Gras than Bourbon Street!”

Endymion is one of the three Super Krewes which are defined by their stunning use of visuals and floats laced with new technology and celebrity Grand Marshals. Endymion gets its name from the figure of Greek mythology, the most handsome of men and the god of youth and fertility. Celebrity guests on this parade included KISS and KC and the Sunshine Band. I didn’t realize these celebrity floats were the ‘real thing’ until I saw it on the news!

Perched on a fence on the corner of Roosevelt Way and Canal Street these parades can slow right down – to the point that we thought this one had ended. Back at the RV – and watching the local news – we saw that we had missed the best of the parade! It was by no means over when we left.  This was also the parade that had a number of spectators hurt which temporarily halted its progress.

Mardi Gras Tip #2
“Download the WDSU 6 Parade Tracker app!”

While the parade routes and start times are available there are NO estimates of where and when they will be at any given time. And these parades are long – some taking 5-6 hours from start to finish! This free Parade Tracker app worked great – showing ‘our’ location and ‘the parade’s’ location.

Sunday, February 26th
“Dimanche Gras”
[pronounced Deemonshe Gras]

The Krewe of Bacchus Parade started at 5:15 p.m. and was one of four scheduled parades that day.

We purchased reserved grand-stand seating for this parade and we were sitting directly across from the dignitary stage housing the Mayor, the parade announcer and invited guests. This was definitely a bonus as all of the floats and marching bands would stop and perform. The bead throws were also more generous right here also!

View of the dignitary stage from our grand stand seating

Another Super-Krewe, the Krewe of Bacchus parade is revered as one of the most spectacular with more than 1,000 members and 31 animated super-floats such as those below.  Another 30+ high school and university marching bands usher in each of the floats so these are quite the parades!   The football themed floats celebrating the New Orleans Saints were also prominent.

BACCHAGATOR – float was too long to capture in just one photo!

Bacchus, the Greek God of wine, has been portrayed by celebrities including Raymond Burr, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston, William Shatner, Kirk Douglas and Dick Clark. This year’s Bacchus was Jim Caviezel from “Person of Interest”.

Mardi Gras Tip #3
“Splurge on reserved seating.”

It definitely enhances the experience.

Monday, February 27th
“Lundi Gras”
[pronounced Lundee Gras]

Monday was a quiet day – only 2 scheduled parades and we saw them both! The Krewe of Proteus parade started at 5:15 immediately followed by the Krewe of Orpheus parade (the last of the Super Krewe’s).

Founded in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus is the second-oldest krewe in Carnival history. Their floats still use the original chassis from the 1880’s. Based on Greek mythology, Proteus was the son of Poseidon.   Proteus was once known as the most miserly of the krewes in the area of bead throws and continues to be!  Beads were almost non-existent and you should have heard the complaints!

“ENCHANTED SLUMBER”
Can you spot the fishing net?

Founded in 1993 the Krewe of Orpheus is the youngest of the parades and takes its name from the musically-inclined son of Zeus and Calliope. Founding members included Harry Connick, both junior and senior. Their 1st parade in 1994 made history allowing both male and female riders.

This year’s parade included 30 floats, 1200 crew members and 32 marching bands. Just some of their notable floats included the Dolley Trolley, the horse drawn bus that was used in the opening of Hello Dolly with Barbra Streisand and the Smoking Mary which is a six unit float resembling a steam locomotive.

Float #15 – I didn’t catch its name…

Celebrity guest was Brett Michaels.   Harry Connick, Jr. was the krewe’s celebrity monarch.

Again, we purchased reserved grand-stand seating. While the location was not as good as the previous night it was still better than the 15-deep clusters of people lining the miles of parade route.

Tuesday, February 28th
“Mardi Gras” aka Fat Tuesday

Four parades today and we chose the Krewe of Zulu parade which started at 8:00 a.m. This was the only parade route that came very close to the RV park so we carried our chairs and cooler and sat with the throngs of thousands! We didn’t head out until 11:00 a.m. – and we were right there when the 1st marching band and float came around the corner! All of the parades are long and slow…

We spoke with some locals who had been on the parade route since 6:00 a.m. with their families.  And,  they had quite the set-ups with tents, BBQ’s grilling sausages and turkey necks, outdoor cookers boiling crawfish, corn on the cob and beer – lots of beer!

…eat me a mess of boiled crawfish…

1915 heralded the first use of floats, constructed on a spring wagon, using dry good boxes. The float was decorated with palmetto leaves and moss and carried four Dukes along with the King. That humble beginning gave rise to the lavish floats we see in the Zulu parade today.

Zulu’s 2017 Mardi Gras theme was “Stop the Violence”

King of the Krewe of Zulu Parade
Every parade has a King and Queen!

THE COVETED “THROWS”

The most popular throw are the beads and there are MILLIONS thrown from floats and balconies. Traditional Mardi Gras colours of green (equals faith), purple (represents justice) and gold (signifies power) are most common but there are emblem beads, stuffed animals, signature beads, light up medallion beads, plastic cups, footballs, doubloons and t-shirts. The most unusual and coveted is the Krewe of Zulu painted coconuts!

Everyone is waving their arms, hooting and hollering to get the attention of the float riders to catch some loot. Some are thrown out by the handful and some by the bagful. Some floats have very generous bead budgets while others obviously do not. Some of the beads are whipped at you (especially from the football floats) and hurt like hell if they hit you.  I can vouch for that – I still have a fat lip!  People are scrambling all around you to catch the same set of plastic beads that you’re after.    They even clamber through and under the grand stand seating to pick up the loot that has fallen through the cracks.  We saw people holding out long-handled fishing nets and small children wearing their bike helmets (very smart).  It’s chaotic and fun!

Mardi Gras Tip #4
These things are heavy – bring something to carry your loot in!

We saw wagons, bundle buggies, IKEA shopping bags, green garbage bags and suitcases – overflowing with free loot!

GETTING AROUND THE ROAD CLOSURES

Parades = road closures = crowded streets = no parking.

We took the truck out only once (on Sunday afternoon) and we went in the opposite direction of the scheduled activities. The rest of the weekend we either walked or rode our bikes and that was definitely the easiest way to get from Point A to B. The road closures actually worked to our advantage as we could travel any direction on those roads and not worry about the traffic.

Mardi Gras Tip #5
Bring your bikes or rent them from the City’s newly launched bike share program.
Locks are required!

MARDI GRAS MASKS

In the beginning, masks worn during Mardi Gras allowed wearers to escape society and class constraints. When wearing a mask, carnival goers were free to be whomever they wanted to be, and mingle with whatever class they desired to mingle with.

Today, everyone wears masks during Mardi Gras. In fact, float riders are required to wear masks by law to protect their anonymity.   On Fat Tuesday, everyone is free to wear masks, adding to the excitement and magic of celebrations throughout the city.

The Mardi Gras Mask Market is always the weekend before Fat Tuesday and is held in the French Market.   Some of them cost a few hundred dollars and others were more reasonably priced.   Unfortunately, photos were not allowed at a number of vendors.  While we didn’t buy any masks I sure enjoyed looking and trying some on!

IT’S WORTH EVERY DOLLAR!

Typical attendance for Mardi Gras is about 1.4 million.  With that many people you can charge just about whatever you want and people will pay.  And, we did!

Staying in the French Quarter RV Resort cost $250/night. The. most. expensive. ever!
Grand stand seating for 2 nights cost $212.50.
I saw parking prices as high as $40.
Sausages cost $10.
The beer was a reasonable $4.00!

Well, this is a really long blog but this was also quite the experience!  A lot of people had mixed feelings when we said we were going to NOLA for Mardi Gras.  We also heard stories like “buy a cheap pair of shoes and then throw them out”.  “Your clothes will get filthy.”  “It’s dangerous – be safe.”

Maybe staying off Bourbon Street helped make this visit pleasantly memorable.   In any case, it was worth every penny.

Mardi Gras Tip #6
Leave your camera at home!

I didn’t get any great pics of the Endymion parade with my Canon.   In fact, I can’t seem to get great night photos using my camera.   My i-phone7 took all of the night shots posted here!

True Dat!

 

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