Although the MoonRise Market team is based in Chicago, we’re actually from New Orleans. So when it comes to Mardi Gras, we know what we’re talking about.
And because we’ve been guides to several newbies over the years, we know that first timers generally have no idea what’s about to hit them. Carnival virgins tend to think they know what to expect because they’ve seen snippets of Mardi Gras on the news or in movies.
When people experience the biggest party on Earth for the first time though, they soon realize their notion of Mardi Gras was pretty inaccurate. For one, there are far fewer boobs on display than they imagined. And some learn the hard way that you’re much more likely to get arrested for peeing outside than you are for blatantly revealing your private parts to the general public. It’s a topsy turvy world down there, folks.
So, to make sure that you maximize your bon temps (good times) and minimize your chances of getting down with OPP (Orleans Parish Prison), keep on reading…
1. Ain’t No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day
As lax as the atmosphere in the city might be, New Orleanians don’t look too kindly on visitors relieving themselves anywhere they please. That being said, it can be damn near impossible to find a place to pee during Mardi Gras festivities. And when you imagine all the beer being drunk, you’ll have some idea of what a challenge this really is. Don’t believe me? There’s even a song about it…
The good news is that there are several churches and schools along the parade route that pride themselves on clean porta potties, plentiful toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I used to post up across the street from one that sold $5 wristbands that got you all day access and I always considered it a very wise investment.
2. Back That Ass Up…for the Marching Bands
Mardi Gras is such a glorious visual spectacle, you’re probably going to want to be front and center at every parade you attend. We get it. But when the marching band’s various adult chaperones come down the street and tell you to back up to the curb, DO IT.
New Orleans marching bands are on a whole other level – these kids are legit professionals when it comes to marching and grooving. And they certainly don’t have time to adjust their tight formations or killer choreography for Tipsy McStagger and his drunken comrades, who are standing in their way.
If you’re not paying attention, you very well could get smacked upside the head by the business end of a trombone, and that’s no fun for anyone. As my college gal pals and I used to say, “When the man says take the curb, you take the curb.”
3. Know Your Local Boozing Laws
You’ve probably heard tell that alcohol laws in New Orleans are a little bit different than the rest of the country. That is absolutely true, but it’s important to be clear on what they are.
- The drinking age is 21 but many places will let a parent purchase an alcoholic drink for their child who appears to be nearing the legal age.
- Bars have no required closing time, so there is always somewhere open. Some shut at a certain hour but many just close when the crowd thins out. There are others, like Ms. Mae’s, that are known for being open 24/7.
- Open containers are allowed in New Orleans, so you can drink on the street and even get your bevvy poured into a “go cup” if you’re leaving the bar before you”re finished.
- You are not, however, allowed to drink from a glass bottle on the street. But if your bottle is disguised as a regular ol’ water bottle in the likes of a Cool Capsule, you’ll probably be all right.
4. Location, Location, Location
If you’re with Mardi Gras veterans, they’re likely to already have spots they return to year after year to watch the parades. But if you’re on your own, it’s important to think about what kind of experience you want to have.
Contrary to what movies may have you believe, Mardi Gras parades do not ever take place in the French Quarter (besides, of course, The Krewe du Vieux but that’s a whole other story) because the floats are ginormous and would never fit down those tiny, European style streets.
Many do come near the Quarter though. And the closer to the Quarter you get, the more tourists there are and the wilder the scene is. If you’re looking for unbridled flashing-filled craziness, head to the CBD or Warehouse District to watch the parades. If, however, you prefer a slightly more authentic and chill scene that’s a mix of families, college kids and regular local adults getting their party on, head farther Uptown to watch.
5. No Beads Are Worth Being a Jerk
Sitting on your couch in someplace other than New Orleans during some time other than Mardi Gras, the thought of knocking down a child for plastic beads probably sounds ludicrous and downright evil.
But you ought to be prepared for the fact that you very well may become possessed by a wild bead addiction when you feel the sweet rush of your first catch. Once you get a taste, you want more and you’ll do anything to get it.
But remember: It’s never OK to steal a bead from a kid; it’s not right to knock someone’s picnic table over; and it’s certainly not kosher to push an old person out of your way. Basically, it’s never cool to be an asshole at Mardi Gras. Most of the people there are locals who do this every year and are very chill about it, so try to respect the folks around you and you might even make some new friends and/or get invited to an post-parade party around the corner.
6. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
One of the biggest newbie mistakes you can make at Mardi Gras is overdoing it early on. Unless you’re 22, you’re probably going to need to pace yourself or you’ll burn out early and not be able to enjoy each day to the max.
The following things save lives at Mardi Gras: water, food, naps and breaks. Try to down a bottle of water at least every 2 alcoholic drinks, eat something at least every 4-5 hours and know when you need a disco nap or just a couple hours to sit down in a quiet room…or on a folding chair like my friend, Melan here.
7. Wear Whatcha Wanna
OK, I know I’ve been laying out lots of rules here but the one aspect of Mardi Gras that is an absolute free-for-all is your attire. You can wear literally whatever you want and no one will bat an eye.
If you don’t care for costumes, rock your jeans and t-shirt and you’ll be in good company. Also, feel free to don a costume ala Halloween – bonus points for well-coordinated group costumes. Or, just put on a bunch of random, colorful stuff and you’ll fit right in.
I also enjoy the old stand-by, lazy man’s route to being comfy yet festive: the ubiquitous purple, green and gold striped polo. These are the official colors of Mardi Gras, so you can’t go wrong if you put together a simple outfit in these hues.
This is just a very basic guide to surviving and thriving through your first Mardi Gras. The fact is that most of what you need to know, you can only learn through experience.
And any way you play it, your first Carnival will be an experience you’ll never forget.