Berkeley, California (EastBayDaily) — Widely celebrated for its extraordinary music and eclectic cuisine, New Orleans is best known for Mardi Gras, a hedonistic, multi-week bash that precedes the Catholic season of Lent. For several weeks, revelers celebrate Carnival with parties, decadent balls, and boisterous parades. Even with this popular holiday quickly approaching, though, it's not too late to plan a trip to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras celebrations held this month and in February.
Laura Martone—a New Orleans native and the author of Moon New Orleans—offers several tips for making the most of the Big Easy's Carnival season:
1. Know Your Timing—Although Carnival season officially starts on January 6, most travelers come to experience Mardi Gras weekend, which extends from the Friday before Fat Tuesday through midnight on Fat Tuesday itself, the day before Lent begins. This year, Mardi Gras will fall on February 12.
2. Fly Direct—While southern Louisiana boasts several regional airports, travelers will likely save time and money by flying directly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and taking a $35 cab ride into the city.
3. Choose Smart Accommodations—Though it's possible to find cheaper hotels in suburbs like Metairie, doing so may require renting a pricey car and enduring long commutes to reach the main festivities. Travelers will save time by staying in a more convenient neighborhood, such as the Central Business District (CBD), and using inexpensive buses and streetcars to get around.
4. Consider Unique Places to Stay—For intimate B&Bs throughout New Orleans, travelers should consult websites like the Bed & Breakfast Inns of New Orleans and New Orleans Bed & Breakfast. For additional possibilities, such as couch surfing and vacation rentals, visitors can check out websites like Craigslist, Vacation Rentals by Owners, and HomeAway. During Mardi Gras, many residents rent out rooms and cottages; though travelers may find good deals this way, they should make such arrangements as early as possible and beware of unscrupulous landlords.
5. Research Information About Mardi Gras—For details about parade routes and Mardi Gras traditions, visitors can consult websites like Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Day, and Mardi Gras New Orleans. Also, WWOZ 90.7 FM offers insider information about second lines and Mardi Gras Indian events.
6. Use Social Networks—Travelers can use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks for last-minute hotel deals, ride-sharing possibilities, and other ways to save time and money during peak travel weeks. In addition to sending out alerts to friends and followers, travelers can view the status updates of organizations like the New Orleans CVB, which routinely posts information about upcoming events.
7. Strategize During Peak Travel Weeks—Visitors should prepare for intense crowds, especially in the French Quarter; to stay safe, arrange regular meeting spots with friends and keep a close eye on wallets and purses. In addition, travelers should arrive at parade routes early; bring their own snacks, beverages, and portable chairs; and choose a spot close to a public restroom. It's a good idea to make restaurant reservations whenever possible—or opt to dine at odd meal times.
8. Don’t Miss the Parades—Travelers will encounter dozens of parades in Uptown, the CBD, Mid-City, and suburbs like Metairie. On Mardi Gras weekend, first-timers should plan to see the five major krewes: Endymion on Saturday, Bacchus on Sunday, Orpheus on Monday, and, on Fat Tuesday, both Zulu and Rex.
9. Learn About Mardi Gras History—While in town, stop by Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the art of crafting vibrant Carnival floats. Additionally, anyone curious about the legendary Mardi Gras Indians will appreciate the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which features the world's largest collection of costumes, films, and photographs from jazz funerals, pleasure clubs, and Carnival-related groups.
For more advice on planning a trip to New Orleans, read this interview with Laura Martone or visit her American Nomad blog on Moon.com. Visit 8Tracks.com to hear a New Orleans inspired playlist of songs hand-picked by Martone.
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About Moon Travel Guides & Moon.com Moon Travel Guides make independent travel and outdoor exploration fun and accessible. With expert writers delivering a mix of honest insight, first-rate strategic advice, and an essential dose of humor, Moon guidebooks ensure that travelers have an uncommon and entirely satisfying travel experience. Moon not only guides, Moon inspires. Based in Berkeley, Calif., Moon is published by Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Visit Moon at http://www.moon.com.