Mardi Gras is a celebration that fills New Orleans with life and a hefty party atmosphere. From January until the end of February or the beginning of March, the celebrations, traditions, and centuries' old rituals draw tourists from all over. For locals, navigating the streets and the city's biggest floats and parades is easy. They also know which pubs and restaurants to frequent, when to avoid the crowds, and how early to line up for each event or live music concert.
For newcomers, Mardi Gras can be overwhelming and might seem entirely unfamiliar. Parade and music schedules help, but knowing one's way from the Garden District to Bourbon Street isn't always easy during such a tourist-filled time in Louisiana.
To further prevent any hassles when visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, here are some tips on what not to do.
What To Avoid Prior To Parades
There are many things one should avoid during Mardi Gras that begin even before the celebrations start. Knowing what not to do before arriving will help any trip go more smoothly, especially when it comes to arriving early and knowing how to act.
Don't Bother With Beads
It's incredibly common for newcomers to load up on beads before any big parade during Mardi Gras. What many people don't realize is that there will be plenty of chances to catch *free* beads during the parade, that don't cost a penny. It's also not uncommon to notice the locals avoiding bead stands and vendors because they, too, know that there will be many chances to catch these flashy necklaces. What Mardi Gras attendees can do, however, is dress up in fun and fancy ways. Some people opt for elaborate costumes in the colors of Mardi Gras, while others stick to traditional carnival attire.
Don't Take Chances At Being Late
It's not uncommon to see locals lining up along the parade route very early. The same rule that applies to the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade applies here: Arrive way, way earlier than you think you'll need to. Parade sidelines fill up very fast, and police have been known to push back lines of people in order to make room for floats and entertainers. Lining up early will avoid all of this, especially for those who are driving themselves to the parade. Grab a beignet and some coffee and prepare to wait - it'll be worth it!
- Pro Tip: Splurge on staying at a hotel that's along or within walking distance of the parade routes.
What To Avoid During Parades And Celebrations
During celebrations, Mardi Gras has a multitude of atmospheres. Some are very family-friendly and perfect for those bringing children, while others are more adult-oriented. At night, the parties continue well after midnight depending on where one goes.
Don't Get Crazy In The Streets
When it comes down to it, Mardi Gras is a celebration built on several centuries of history. While some do act uninhibited late at night on Bourbon Street, this behavior is usually frowned upon. For tourists especially, it's best to keep one's behavior in check and avoid littering, loitering after the streets have been cleared, using anything but the bathroom for restroom breaks, and generally just engaging in any activity that a family wouldn't want to round the corner and see. Yes, Mardi Gras is a party - but it's not a free-for-all, especially for tourists.
Don't Just Join A Parade
There are some unspoken rules when it comes to joining certain parades and float lines. A general rule of thumb is that spectators should hang back on the sidelines unless they see other locals joining in on the fun. Since parades and floats are created by the Krewes of New Orleans, it's important to respect their work and presence in the parade. If they give the okay for others to join, that's one thing - but don't just assume it to be the case with every float or parade.
Don't Forget There Are Parades Outside Of The French Quarter
A common misconception that many tourists have when attending Mardi Gras is that the parades only happen at the French Quarter. This isn't the case, and newcomers might be missing out on some of the best celebrations if they don't take a chance with other parade routes. Additionally, other routes might be far less crowded, allowing attendees to really get a feel for local life during Mardi Gras.
Don't Assume Restaurants Won't Have Lines
Reservations should absolutely be made beforehand when it comes to Mardi Gras. In some cases, weeks in advance. There will be crowds, and everyone will be looking to grab a bite after most of the parades - so don't assume there will be open tables.