I lived in New Orleans throughout February and March of 2022. This meant I lived there and got to experience the first Mardi Gras since the pandemic. And like you can probably imagine, everyone was all too excited to g
et outside and celebrate carnival.
If you’re going to be living in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season, then I’ve got a few recommendations for you to survive and enjoy your time.
Learn the schedule
The Mardi Gras schedule typically runs from the beginning of the year all the way to March 1, AKA Fat Tuesday—the wildest day of them all.
Throughout this time, you’ll see many parades and floats across the city, all with their own themes. Like Krewe de Veux, which is known for being more risqué and covering hot button issues like politics and COVID, but in a satirical way. There’s also Muses that is famous for giving out fabulously decorated shoes to only a few select attendees every year (fun fact: two girls right in front of me BOTH got shoes, and I was ridiculously jealous!).
To keep track of the parades, because there are A LOT of them, I recommend using the app Parade Tracker. It shows you the entire schedule of parades, and each parade has a tracker on it so you can follow along to see where it is on its path. Just a heads up, the parades move very, very slowly…
Don’t even think about driving
If you drove into the city, then find a safe space to park your car and leave it there. You won’t be needing it.
New Orleans is a very walkable and public transportation-friendly city, so you can get wherever you want to without driving yourself. Whether it’s a bus, streetcar, or uber, you can easily get to where you want for a reasonable price.
Plus, the streets are very confusing and riddled with crisscrossing one ways and stumbling drunk parties, so you’re much better off letting a local or an expert drive you.
Make sure to dress up
When you go to a parade, you’ll want to dress up. I’m talking about covering yourself from head to toe in as much green, yellow, and purple as you can manage. And the more glitter, sequins, feathers, and beads, the better.
And if you think you’re overdressed, you’re not.
I wore jean shorts with green tights, a feathery boa, lots of beads, and a facemask for my first parade. I thought I might be wearing a bit too much, but the second I stepped outside my door I saw a man wearing a sparkling gold suit, complete with a purple cape, riding by on a bike. Yeah... I was not drawing any attention to myself in this city.
This is your chance to go all out and wear the wildest outfit of your dreams. Think of it like Halloween on steroids.
Don’t buy beads
I didn’t buy beads at all during Mardi Gras. Instead, I caught a bunch from passing parades and Bourbon Street balconies. I even gave a ton of beads away, but I still wound up with dozens leftover on March 2nd along with other fun parade keepsakes like a fake boob, toy alligator, and Mardi Gras playing cards.
When watching the parades, you’ll want to be vigilant when folks are throwing things from their floats. Sometimes they can throw heavy items, like a whole bag of beads. And if you’re not paying attention, it can easily clop you upside the head. Trust me.
Also, don’t flash the floats.
The parades are typically family-friendly floats (except for Krewe de Veux), so they give out beads to everybody for fun. If you want to flash for beads, then you’ll want to head to Bourbon Street.
Even on Bourbon Street I managed to get plenty of beads from kind people on the balconies. A lot of men wanted to see more of what I had to offer, but I just told them no and moved on to the next group. Often, people are just excited to throw you beads, whether or not you show them anything.
If you can find a balcony, stay there
There are plenty of balconies along Bourbon Street and parade routes, but most of them are full or blocked off for a private event. So, if you can find one that has room for you, then hold on to that golden spot for as long as you can.
Being on the balcony gives you the vantage point to see all the excitement and entertainment on Bourbon Street. You can watch people dressed to the nines stumbling down the street, dancing, drinking, and enjoy carnival. Being on the balcony also lets you throw beads to those down below which is very fun.
What to do on Fat Tuesday
Fat Tuesday is THE Mardi Gras day. It’s when parades begin at 8 o’clock in the morning, and locals dawn their crazy costumes.
Like I said, Mardi Gras is like Halloween on steroids. But if you head to Frenchman Street on Fat Tuesday, it’s like another world.
Me and some friends went there dressed in our normal attire, complete with green, yellow, and purple. But when we got to Frenchman Street, we were absolutely blown away…
Everyone around us was wearing extravagant costumes that were plucked straight from their imaginations. We saw people dressed as flamingos, a whole brigade of men dressed as lunch ladies (complete with hair nets, cigarettes, and moles), and even a women dressed like a sun goddess. It was unreal.
Never in my life have I felt so underdressed. And even still, everyone was so kind and sweet, and they all just wanted to have a good time and share in the creativity they all exuded. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I truly don’t think there is anything else like it.
If you plan to go to Mardi Gras, then start working on your costume for Fat Tuesday ASAP. You definitely don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind experience that will allow you to show off your creativity and imagination with so many likeminded people.
Indulge in the New Orleans drink specials
New Orleans is famous for producing wild, and inventive drinks, like the Sazerac and the Hurricane. I recommend trying these at least once while you’re out and about enjoying Mardi Gras festivities.
The Sazerac is like an old fashioned, but with an added twist of absinthe. I don’t really like absinthe (it tastes like black licorice), but I love this drink. It’s a New Orleans staple, so it’s important to try. And if you want a taste of pure absinthe, I recommend heading to Old Absinthe Bar which has been serving up drinks on Bourbon Street since the 1800’s.
The hurricane is a rum-based drink that is very popular in New Orleans. It’s loaded with rum, punch juice, and cherries. Lots of people will tell you to get one from Pat O’Brien’s, but I suggest otherwise. Pat O’Brien’s is such an old, authentic bar with a gorgeous beer garden and a dueling piano bar, but their hurricanes are just not good. They’re a sugary, watered-down concoction that they slop into your plastic cup. Try anything else there and you will have a much better experience. For a really good hurricane, head to Lafitte’s Old Blacksmith Shoppe. It’s one of the oldest bars around, and it’s a regular stomping grounds for Nicolas Cage, Jason Alexander, and ghosts.
Lastly, you should try the Grenade. I’m not sure this drink needs much more of a description with a name like that… But this sweet, green beverage will have you feeling mighty fine after just a few sips.
Be careful though, it’s recommended that you don’t have more than five in one night! You can find these guys all over Bourbon Street at Tropical Isle locations. This company is also known for their ‘Shark Attack’ drink that is just… an experience.
And the best part of all these drinks? You can drink them in the streets! As long as your beverage is in a can or plastic cup, you can just waltz out of the bar with it. It’s completely legal to drink in the streets in New Orleans, even beyond Bourbon Street. Just make sure to finish it before trying to get into another bar!
The only option for late night pizza
If you need a late-night bite during your Mardi Gras festivities, I highly recommend getting a slice of pizza. But be weary! There are plentyyy of businesses offering pizza slices, and they want you to pay $8 for a mediocre slice of cheese pizza.
After searching and searching all up and down Bourbon Street, I finally found the one. The one company that actually sold GOOD late-night pizza at a reasonable price! So if you’re feeling hungry, and you want your morning-self to be happy, then head to Vieux Carre Pizza and get any of their pizza slices to tide you over. You are welcome.
Take lots of pictures so you can remember it
You and your friends may have a hard time remembering all the details from Mardi Gras, but taking lots of pictures will help you reminisce. Ask friendly-looking people (not vendors) to take photos of you in front of the parades and on top of balconies. Your Instagram will thank you later…
But just be careful that if you take photos of street performers—like ladies holding snakes or men doing magic—that they may harass you for payment. Just be ready!
It goes without saying, but please don’t wander around New Orleans alone, especially at night. There are some areas that are not safe, and are best to just avoid.
Make sure you travel with friends, or if you don’t know anyone then strike up a conversation with a group at a bar or parade. In my experience, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. I went to a parade by myself when I first moved to New Orleans, but immediately made friends with a group of people at a parade, and we stuck together all night.
Safety in numbers, y’all!
Where to stay
Hotels and Airbnb’s are very expensive during Mardi Gras season, but why only visit for a few days when you can live there instead?
During my time, I lived at an apartment with Landing. They offer flexible leases for their modern, furnished apartments. Choose to stay for one or two months, or as long as you want!
Get the chance to witness all of Mardi Gras while living on your own terms. And trust me, your friends will all want to visit and enjoy it with you!