The Bucket List: Y’all come to Mardi Gras with the family

7 Feb

No ta-tas? No problem. Mardi Gras can also be a family affair. Photo: City of New Orleans

One of my fondest childhood memories are the many New Orleans vacations we took to visit family and celebrate Mardi Gras. A kid from Chicago, I had never seen parades manned by carnival “krewes” or grownups as excited as me about the colorful, tacky loot flying off the floats. I had also never been so proud of the many beads around my neck or in my colorful go-cup, vying year after year for the number one catcher of swag against my expert bead-snagging cousins. The jazz music was brassy and bold, the king cakes a sugary sweet relief from the impossible heat of Aunt Bev’s shrimp creole, the purple-gold-green color of everything so gaudy and grand. It was spectacular.

Today, I’d love to share that same Mardi Gras experience with my own children. Now, I know you’re likely thinking drunken revelry and hoo-hahs flashed for beads is hardly a place for children. And, yep, that happens, especially in the French Quarter, which is absolutely, drop-down bananas during Mardi Gras. But radiate out from there to countless other family-friendly carnival parades for the chance to show your family what Mardi Gras is all about.

If you do make it New Orleans with the kids for Mardi Gras, here are my tips for the full-press family party:

  • Avoid the French Quarter: The scene is ridiculously crowded, even for the adults who want to be there. Instead, head to nearby Uptown and Metarie or even to the other side of Lake Ponchartrain for Mandeville, Covingtion and Chalmette.
  • Get familiar with Mardi Gras history in advance: Did you know that Mardi Gras has been in existence in NOLA since 1857 and that the date changes yearly in connection with Ash Wednesday? Read up and share with the kids or stop by Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World for behind-the-scenes tours of float making and more.
  • For the love of NOLA, eat king cake: bakeries all over the city sell this Mardi Gras staple, including Sucre, Cake Café, Randazzo’s Bakery and even Tastee Donut!
  • Download the Mardi Gras parade app: the new Experience Mardi Gras app lets you track a parade a day in real time. Trust me, you want this info so you can avoid traffic and know exactly by when and where you need to be on a route.
  • Know the value of your parade treasure: small, singular-colored strands aren’t nearly as cool or sought-after as more elaborate metallic and multi-colored beads with objects. Krewe-specific, limited-edition beads and plush toys as well as glass beads and fiber optic beads are among the hottest finds.
  • If you are taking young kids to the Uptown area, the best bet is to find a restaurant or business that sells wristbands to allow for use of the stands and clean bathrooms for kids. Otherwise, potty time is a nightmare. If you don’t do that, you can buy a Mardi Gras ladder—it’s a secure seat on top of a ladder (with wheels for transport). Personally we avoid Uptown too—large crowds and increased gun crime the past few years. My kids like day and nighttime parades. We try to get close to beginning of route, otherwise the waiting is too much for them!

The Bucket List: Y’all come to Mardi Gras with the family mardi gras , New Orleans vacation

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