fat tuesday

5 ways to make the most out of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras

The pre-Lenten celebration known as Mardi Gras may have a well-deserved reputation as a lively, multi-day party in New Orleans, but there are actually several ways to experience this legendary annual event, regardless of how you prefer to celebrate.

Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday,” consists of an entire season of festivities, starting in the beginning of January and running until Lent. Like Easter, the date for Mardi Gras changes every year (this year it’s scheduled for February 13, 2024). Advanced planning is a must since hotels and activities can sell out quickly.

Mardi Gras

To help get you started with your Mardi Gras plans, we’ve put together five great ways to take part.

Queer Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

The LGBTQ+ community has longstanding ties to Mardi Gras. The first official gay krewe (an organization that stages Mardi Gras parades and events), the Krewe of Yuga, formed in the late 1950s. Today, queer groups and individuals are much more visible in the festivities, with multiple krewes as well as gay carnival balls — including a masked ball held by the Mystic Krewe of Satyricon and a leather ball hosted by the Lords of Leather krewe. Additional LGBTQ+ krewes include Armeinius, Petronius, Amon-Ra, Krewe of Mwindo and the Krewe of Stars. PFLAG New Orleans maintains one of the most detailed krewe listings with contact information for all of the organizations.

Another important event on the queer Mardi Gras season calendar is the Fat Monday Luncheon, which debuted way back in 1949 and is considered the oldest organized LGBTQ+ event in the state of Louisiana; it takes place at Arnaud’s restaurant. The Bourbon Street Awards, meanwhile, takes place on Mardi Gras morning and gives prizes for the best costumes, with categories including Best Leather, Best Drag, Best Group and Best Overall Costume.

Party hardy Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is, by nature, a festival, so it’s no surprise that there are lots of festivities. The city hosts three major parades in the days just before Mardi Gras Tuesday — Krewe of Endymion on Saturday night, Krewe of Bacchus on Sunday night and Krewe of Orpheus on Monday night before actual Mardi Gras day. Large-scale parties take place after each, with celebrity musical performances. Be sure to check the dress requirements for any of these events, and prepare to stay until early the next morning.

Participatory Mardi Gras

mardi gras

Visitors can actually participate in krewe activities like locals do, if they plan well and have some luck with availability. All krewes are private clubs, so you’ll need to pay a fee to apply for membership, and it’s a good idea to shop around and see which organizations are the most attractive to you (see earlier section about queer Mardi Gras groups).

Sober and family-friendly Mardi Gras

mardi gras

Sure, there are lots of parties and excitement during the Mardi Gras season, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a welcoming time for families and for people looking for a more peaceful experience.

Travelers looking to avoid the alcohol-infused aspects of Mardi Gras can find designated “sober zones” that provide parade viewing opportunities along St. Charles Avenue. That same street is where many families with children meet to view the parades.

Upscale and tranquil Mardi Gras

mardi gras

Several hotels along the parade route erect their own parade stands, so that hotel guests can enjoy the colorful visuals while avoiding the crowds — and many also organize themed parties. The always-hip Virgin Hotels New Orleans (https://virginhotels.com/new-orleans/), for example, hosts a Twelfth Night Kickoff Brunch at Commons Club, its onsite restaurant, as well as a “Chewbacchus” themed drag brunch with Trixie Minx and a Lundi Gras Bounce Brunch.

The Kimpton Hotel Fontenot, meanwhile, offers special ticketed Mardi Gras viewing parties on its open-air, second-floor terrace, complete with food, drinks and swag bags with beads. Nearby, the InterContinental New Orleans is where Rex, the King of Carnival, toasts his Queen and the Rex Court.

mardi gras

Another memorable way to celebrate Mardi Gras is by reserving a table at a restaurant that celebrates the event. Antoine’s (https://antoines.com/), for example, offers a Mardi Gras prix fixe menu complemented by a themed cocktail menu, while Arnaud’s is home to the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum.

Another great way of taking in the Mardi Gras vibe is by checking out the “float houses” — homes around the city that are decorated for the season.

New Orleans and Company, the city’s tourism office, publishes a helpful guide to Mardi Gras every year.

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