Note: This story has been updated. Mardi Gras 2020 has had some tragic events. It’s spread an ill feeling over the whole season. It’s also reminded me of some other survival tips that I perhaps should have put in the first draft of this survival guide. So, as it’s Lundi Gras and tomorrow is the big day, here are a few more tips that may keep you and your loved ones safe this Mardi Gras.
Night after night Mardi Gras parades fill the streets of New Orleans, often bringing the city’s functionality to a halt. Though Mardi Gras can be one of the biggest parties of the year, it can also bring the biggest headaches if you don’t know how to navigate the ins and outs of the revelry. By following the advice from past Mardi Gras veterans, you can make the best of your Mardi Gras holiday.
#1. Parade Tracker App
“Don’t assume Mardi Gras is just on Bourbon St,” says Melissa Miller, a hotel and tourism professional. While Bourbon St. is infamous for its revelry, there are parade tracker apps that can guide you to all the other parades around the city. The three most common ones are the WDSU Parade Tracker, the WWL Mardi Gras Parade Tracker and the Fox 10 Float Tracker. Not only do these let you track where the parade is, but they show you the route, schedule and theme of the parade ahead of time, as well as predicted weather.
#2. Before Going to the Parade
Never [wear] flip flops!” urges New Orleans local Kelley Chauvin. You’ll want to pack light for the parade, but you’re going to be walking and standing for a long time, sometimes through mud, so you’ll want to wear comfortable and safe shoes. Cargo shorts or pants, depending on weather, or a simple string backpack are perfect to store your belongings and beads. If you can, only bring your ID, credit/debit card and some cash, and store it in a wallet or in the casing of your phone. If possible, bring a folding chair with you so you can take a rest from time to time during the night. While you want to stay hydrated, you may want to forego eating anything heavy before the parade as most bathrooms along the parade route will either be closed or for customers only, leaving you only with a port-o-potty, which no one wants to use.
#3. Going to the Parade
Nearly all of New Orleans’ 300k population will be going to these parades, so you want to make sure you get there before they do. Make sure to leave no less than two hours early. Parade traffic builds up quickly and parking is truly a nightmare. In fact, in spite of surge pricing around parade time, it might be best to take an Uber or Lyft, or at the very least get a ride so you’re not the one who has to worry about driving and parking.
#4. At the Parade
“Don’t cross the parade line!” says Mariah Sinclair, a long time veteran of Mardi Gras. Stay on the sidewalk or the neutral ground. While the crowds may push and overflow onto the street, even stepping in front of people who were already there, it’s safest to stay off the street for both yourself and the parade. Marching bands and dance groups need the room to perform, and police will push you back where the crowds need to be.
“Don’t pick the beads up from the street,” suggests Michelle Shambly, a New Orleans local. While it’s mostly frowned upon to pick up beads off the street, the main concern is cleanliness and hygiene. But, if there’s a really good parade throw on the ground that looks clean enough, you should make the decision for yourself if you want to pick it up.
“Don’t expose your boobs for plastic beads you can buy anywhere,” warns UNO Master’s Graduate Grecia Medina. While there is a reinforced stereotype of lewd behavior from both men and women in return beads, these actions can often get you arrested for indecent exposure. As proud of your body as you should be, this isn’t the time or place to showcase your beauty.
#5. Be Kind
Don’t get pushy. Be nice, be courteous, apologize if you bump into someone and recognize that everyone feels just as cramped as you do. Letting tempers flare over a few accidental nudges will not only ruin everyone’s experience, but the ensuing fights can land you in jail.
Finally, don’t get greedy. There are dozens of parades over the near month-long Mardi Gras season. You will have ample time to get more than your fair share of beads. Also, you don’t want tons of heavy bags of plastic beads taking up space in your home, hotel or luggage. Catch a few good pieces, especially if they’re unique medallions or thrown by the celebrity King or Queen of each parade, but give the rest of your loot away. This will endear you to the people around you, as well as stop you from becoming overburdened with cheap plastic things you could easily buy in any tourist shop.
#6 Don’t Stand in the Street
Entire streets are closed off for parades, and it can be a fun and surreal experience to walk up and down Veterans and St. Charles, enjoying the huge block party before the parades. Once the parades are rolling, though, please stay on the curb, the sidewalk, or the neutral ground (median). Floats often vary in size, so you’re never sure how much of the street they will take up when they pass, so just to be safe, stay off of the street.
#7 Don’t Approach the Floats
Most parades have between 10 and 20 floats or more. You may be tempted to get closer to the floats with hopes of getting more throws, but please don’t do this. Floats are big, loud, and riders can only throw and give out so many items. If you feel you’re not getting enough throws, don’t worry, you will get more throws over the month long season. And if you don’t, it’s not that big of a deal as once you get home, you’re just going to put your loot in a bag somewhere and never do anything with it. Enjoy the parade, catch what is thrown, and calm down.
#8 Seriously, Don’t Stand in the Street
You really should not be standing in the street. While standing in the street puts you in danger, it also can be a risk for the various bands, dancers, and marching crews. Often these groups have chaperones who follow alongside them, telling people to back up so these crews have space to perform. If they ask you to step back once, adjust where you’re standing and enjoy the performance. If you’re CONSTANTLY being asked to step back, maybe you should sit parades out until you know how to listen to instructions.
#9 Don’t Rush the Floats
If the parade stops for any reason, don’t use this as an opportunity to approach the floats begging for more beads and toys. Mardi Gras is already a crowded event, so forming a mosh pit for the chance to get shoes, purses, coconuts, or any other throws puts both yourself and those riding in floats at risk. It’s also just bad form. Stay on the side and catch throws as they come. If not catching these items will literally ruin your life, perhaps you should look into joining these krewes and/or make them yourselves.
#10 DON’T STAND IN THE STREET
I cannot say this enough. There is little reason you should be in the street during a Mardi Gras parade. Chaperones tell you to stand back for a reason. Float riders throw things away from the floats for a reason. If you are right up against a float, it puts everyone around you in danger, and no parade loot is worth getting hurt over. If you HAVE to cross the street during the parade, wait until there is a sizable gap between floats and walking groups, then quickly and safely cross the street, but even this I would advise against.
Mardi Gras is a fun activity that can be for the whole family. However, some behavior is not only looked down upon as bad form, but also puts yourself and others in danger. Someone being hurt at a parade is no small deal. Even if you aren’t hurt, knowing someone was killed due to bad parade behavior just half a mile away sits with you. Recognize this bad behavior and adjust. This will keep you and your loved ones safe, as well as ensure you will all have a happy Mardi Gras.