6 Things I Loved About Mardi Gras in New Orleans

New Orleans - Mardi Gras

When I was in college, I put going to Mardi Gras on my bucket list.  The opportunity to do heavy drinking and party with a lot of topless women was very appealing.

My circumstances have changed a lot since then.  I rarely drink now and I’m married, so picking up women just isn’t going to happen.

But I still wanted to go just to see what it was all about.

One of the advantages of moving to Houston last year is its proximity to New Orleans.  When the Mardi Gras season rolled around, I was just a five hour drive away.

So I finally got a chance to go this year.  And, wow, I was glad I did.

My hotel was only a block away from Bourbon Street and the French Quarter – a five minute walk to all the partying and festivities.

Now that I’ve experienced it, I can honestly say that Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a lot more going for it than beer and public nudity.

Here’s what I loved about it:

1. The huge spectacle

A big part of the fun about Mardi Gras are the parades.  At times, they can seem never-ending; they last for hours.

Countless gaudy floats pass by with people throwing beads by the handful (sometimes even the bagful) to the crowd.  They’ll also throw stuffed animals, toys, coins and other objects.

When the parade is over, broken beads, discarded cups and toys lined the street.  One tree’s branches were completely covered in beads.

It’s a massive event with people enjoying themselves and having a good time.  You can feel the excitement.

2. The uninhibited nature of Bourbon Street

During the day, Bourbon Street seems like your average street.  But at night it’s a packed with people and full of life.  It’s the main area for nightclubs and bars and where everyone seems to head to party when the sun goes down.

The street is closed off to traffic so people can walk freely about.  Partying and drinking flows out of the bars and onto the streets and back inside again.  This is where you’ll see women flashing for beads (it’s not allowed elsewhere).

Along with drinking, you’ll see a lot of stores selling sex. Lingerie and pornography stores and even places offering live-sex shows line the street.

I was in Amsterdam a few months ago and it was uncanny how much Bourbon street reminded me of its Red Light District.  At the time I thought that no American city would emulate that part of Amsterdam, but I was wrong.

3. Beignets, Gumbo, King Cakes and more

I’m not a big foodie, but I still like to try unique food items while I’m traveling.  And New Orleans has plenty of unique items to choose from – gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish just to name a few.

I stood in line for fifteen minutes in the rain waiting to be seated at the famous Café du Monde for beignets and coffee, but it was worth it – even if they piled on way too much powdered sugar.

Mardi Gras is also famous for its circular doughy pastries called King Cakes.  Inside each one is a small plastic baby (supposedly representing the baby Jesus).  If you get the piece with the baby, you’re king for the day and you’re supposed to host the next king cake party.

4. New Orleans itself

New Orleans is a strange amalgam of French, Spanish and American style.  All its influences and history give the city a blended architectural style that reminded me of multiple places I’ve been.

At various times I felt like I was in Western Europe.  Other times I felt like I was in Granada, Nicaragua.

You never know where you’ll end up when you walk around.  One minute you’re passing by a Voodoo shop and the next you’re walking along the Mississippi River.  It’s a place I wouldn’t mind getting lost in for a while.

5. Jazz, sweet Jazz

Whenever I travel, I try to find a Jazz club – I still remember one awesome Jazz bar I went to in Vietnam with great music.  It’s not always easy to find one though.

But you’d expect to be able to find Jazz in New Orleans.  After all, it’s the birthplace for the genre.  Plenty of bars and restaurants had the music on offer which made it easy to find.

It always seems like Jazz is best live.  There’s something about hearing Jazz live that makes me appreciate the artistry of music, the spontaneity it can have and the beauty it evokes.

There was other kinds of music too, not just Jazz.  Even the smallest bars seemed to have live musicians playing everything from Hard Rock to dance music.

6. The loose and relaxed atmosphere

Many cities have a “feel” to them, which I would describe as a general atmosphere you get based on the people, architecture and culture.

If I could describe New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I would say it’s this: relaxed uninhibited fun.

As long as you respected others and obeyed the law, it seemed as if it was anything goes.

People dressed up in all types of costumes.  I saw a small group of women walking around wearing wings and Viking helmets.

People could drink on the street, be loud and crazy without the fear of being hassled.

It was refreshing to see such a loose atmosphere and environment where people could get a little crazy and just go wild with the fear of being judged or hassled.  There’s something freeing about being able to express yourself without restrictions.
photo credit: Wally Gobetz

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Comments

  1. Oliver Benson says:

    Hi Steve, reading this just made me want to go to New Orleans, and it’d be even better for Wrestlemania when literally thousands of hardcore wrestling fans are going to be there.

    Sounds like you had a great time Steve! I’d quite like to know what you reckon about not doing what you would like to do. Like I remember reading one of your blog posts about you asking people to come travelling with you but they couldn’t and you felt like they should have. I guess it comes with being prepared to go – that you’re ready and you won’t end up with your life in shambles because of it.

    I guess, because of the experiences I’ve had that sometimes you simply can’t do what you want to do or it would be ill advised to do it. For example, because I went to Tenerife on my own in summer and I had to come home, people have been telling me that because I tired and failed to do it, I’m too young and inexperienced to go out and try it again. And I suppose that’s another reason why they didn’t want me to go to New Orleans on my own either.

    I’d really like to know what you think Steve from your own life experiences.

    Kind regards, Ollie :)

    • Hey Oliver,

      New Orleans was great. I’m sure it would be crazy during Wrestlemania too with all those people.

      I wouldn’t think of your summer trip as a failure. You wanted to go and you actually did. Not many people get to that point. Even if you did come home early, you still went. I don’t know what made you come home early, but you can always see it as a learning experience – it doesn’t mean you can’t try again and do it successfully.

      Sometimes circumstances get in the way of travel. I try to travel as much as possible, but if something more important comes up, I do that instead.

  2. Hey Steve,

    glad you had a ball – the king cake thing comes from the French tradition ‘Galette du Roi’ – which we do every year (we invite friends round, the youngest hides under the table and shouts out names to distribute the slices of cake and the person who finds the ‘fevre’ is the King (actually we put two in and also have a Queen)).

    New Orleans sounds awesome – plenty of cultural influence – I’ll add it to my list ;-)

    • I’ve never heard of having a Queen along with the King in the cake. But as I was researching this, I found that different places have different ways of doing the King Cakes.

      I figured it was a French tradition since New Orleans has a big French influence – you can even find signs in French there.

  3. I felt like I was there with you whilst reading this, Steve!

    There seems like such a mixture of cultures – how do they keep it all alive?

    And finally – would you go back?

    • I’m definitely going back to New Orleans. In fact I might go there this coming weekend since I have some time off. By then, Mardi Gras will be over, but I want to explore other areas of the city anyway.

      I’ll probably go back to Mardi Gras again, but I have a whole year to decide that for sure.

  4. Reminds of when I was in Crete one Easter. The Greeks had fireworks going off from the roofs, everyone was passed a candle and there was big bonfires in the squares in front of the churches. The next day everyone was roasting goats outside with the old men eyeing up the sweetmeats.
    I think the big celebration done as a community with deep tradition and lots of energy is what it is and something not to be lost.

    • Roasting goats? If I didn’t know it was a special day, I wouldn’t expect to see that.

      That’s the fun of travel. Sometimes you can go when local festivals are happening and not even expect to see them.

  5. Hi Steve! I love your highlights and explanations. While we have never been to Mardi Gras, we have been to New Orleans and loved it. The feel of the city is like no other in the US (sadly, my travels are limited). It is truly unique. Bourbon Street is always lively, and I was once on stage at The Cat’s Meow after being cajoled onto the karaoke stage. What fun!

    Thank you for sharing!

    • You went on stage at the Cat’s Meow? I walked past there and it seemed pretty lively. Well, all over Bourbon Street is lively especially around Mardi Gras.

      New Orleans is definitely a unique travel spot. I’m glad I went.

  6. “When I was in college, I put going to Mardi Gras on my bucket list. The opportunity to do heavy drinking and party with a lot of topless women was very appealing.” Things haven’t changed as much as people think they have, have they? Hahaha.

    I want to see the spectacle, as I’ve never really seen anything similar, growing up in Norway and all, but it might be a few years before I head to the states. We’ll see I guess.

  7. I went to Mardi Gras when I was 13. I have family there so we went out for the celebration. It was a blast. I had my first kiss from one of the guys in the parade handing out beads along side the float.

    I’ve been to the city several times. Since I’m not a drinker and not a huge fan of crowds, I enjoy Bourbon Street more during the day. Going around the heart of the city is a little freaky since you look up to see boats moving beyond the levee walls.

    Thanks for bringing me back in time!

    • That’s a very touching story. You wouldn’t think of Mardi Gras as a place for families, but I saw quite a few there – just not on Bourbon Street late at night.

      I’m glad I could take you back in time.

  8. Sounds crazy but cool. I’ve never gone because I’ve been worried its too crappy. Not to sound elitest. We have a similar party scene in downtown Orlando like every Friday, but your post definitely makes it sound a little more enticing.

    Either way, interesting post. :)

    Rob

    • Orlando does get crazy. I was there several years ago for Spring Break. Well, actually I was in Daytona, but I went to Orlando briefly. I can’t remember if I went to the downtown area or not, but people there could party.

  9. Hey Steve,

    I sounds like you had an amazing time! I want to go one year just to experience the environment.

  10. Hey Steve great article about New Orleans! I’m from there and you did a great job of writing about my city! I am glad you enjoyed yourself!

    • I’m glad you like the post. New Orleans was such a great city to visit; I had a great time there. I’m looking forward to the next time I can go.

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