Actually the title to this is a little misleading because there is nothing about New Orleans Mardi Gras that’s needs survival. It’s like saying how to survive Christmas or Easter or your birthday. It implies that there is something negative about it that you have to be careful about.
But I guess that would depend on where you are and how you go about celebrating. I could have said how to have a fabulous time at Mardi Gras but I think just the term Mardi Gras implies fabulous time, I mean that is really why people celebrate it, no?
How to Survive New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris Revelers on Frenchman Street.
Thinking that it’s something to survive could mean that just by stepping out your door and throwing yourself into the Carnival crowds signifies that you are taking your life in your hands. Which couldn’t be any more further from the truth than New Orleans is from the Danube.
Anyway, on with it. Much of what the world knows of Mardi Gras is a production of the news media which loves to show conflict, danger, debauchery, and other things that could illicit shock out of the masses.
You know when they show images of Mardi Gras, usually down in the Quarter, it’s of people dressed in weird costumes yelling something stupid and falling over each other drunk and such.
What they don’t show are the crowds uptown populated mostly by parents with their kids wobbling on rickety wooden ladders their hands outstretched and screaming for a necklace of beads or a plush toy thrown from a passing float. Have you ever seen that? Well, maybe on local media but NEVER from the AP or NBC or any other global network. No, that would not make a story of horror, judgment or shame, the daily fodder on which feed the big news conglomerates.
The idea of New Orleans Carnival is so distorted by the national media that when I ask an out-of-town friend or family member to come down for Mardi Gras, I very often get a look of disdain, a deep drawing in of the breath with eyes widening and usually a statement akin to, well, thanks, but I’m just not ready for that at this point in my life.
It’s as if I’ve asked them to come down to attend a dinner party at Caligula’s court. Then I have to explain that Mardi Gras is for everyone, all ages. What they know of it are the scenes on Mardi Gras night down in the Quarter where even I would not go, and frankly I don’t think I ever have. I say “I don’t think” because I don’t really remember everything I did in my college days.
So here are some pointers:
- To avoid the crush of crowds during the Fat Tuesday parades go uptown on St. Charles avenue, this is where mostly families hang out. However, if you are into seeing really great costumes head downtown on Canal Street and the French Quarter in the morning. Otherwise, pick a spot on St. Charles.
- One of the problems in the past is the lack of bathroom facilities. But the city, adverse to having revelers pee on citizens front lawns, has wisely started putting up honey pots. Because if you are outside for hours at a time drinking beer, water or anything else you will have to go, so make sure you know where one of these heads is.
- Some folks bring food and sandwiches with them. But there are enough places along the route, popup vans that serve food that if you want to roam free unencumbered by a cooler or knapsack you can easily do that.
- In New Orleans you can carry alcohol and drink it completely out in the open, but I would avoid using bottles. Cans and plastic containers are the best.
- I would advise women not to carry a purse with them, but if you are carrying a knapsack the purse can go in it. I’ve never had my pocket picked or been harassed by anyone ever, and I’ve been in the Quarter and uptown on Mardi Gras with no problem. However, this does not mean it will never happen so it’s wise to be careful.
- Avoid Jackson Avenue at St. Charles if you can. At the same time I’ve been there when the Zulu parade comes by and have never had a problem. But it is thick, thick, thick with people, so if you don’t like crowds you will not like this.
- If you see the parades downtown they put up barriers so you can’t get close to the floats. Why they do this I don’t know because no where uptown do they put up barriers.
- Don’t drink too much. That’s all I’m gonna say. Why make your day miserable when you don’t have to.
- On Mardi Gras day it is easy to park on the St. Charles to the river side of town because the parades come from the lake side of Napoleon. So whether you are coming from downtown or uptown you can get on Tchoupitoulas, Magazine or Prytania Streets and find a place to park close as you can to St. Charles.
- Some folks park uptown near the parade route which starts on Napoleon, goes down St. Charles and then onto Canal Street. They might watch the Rex parade at some point along St. Charles and then walk all the way to downtown. Yes, it’s a long way, but people do things on Mardi Gras that they would never do otherwise.
- Be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
- And my last bit of advice is, if you like Bloody Marys the Pirates Alley Pub and Absinthe House in the Quarter along the St. Louis Cathedral serves a killer one.
Happy, happy Mardi Gras!!!