During the week before Mardi Gras, New Orleans has parades rolling every day until Fat Tuesday, which lands on February 13 this year. With all of the excitement in the air, parades can often be overwhelming. Luckily, some experienced New Orleans residents have contributed their advice on how locals manage Carnival season.
We interviewed three long-time residents who have either spectated or participated in Mardi Gras parades throughout their lives in the city. Whether this is your first Mardi Gras or if you’re brushing up on advice, here are 18 tips on what to do before and during a parade, and on Mardi Gras day.
Before the Parade
1. Find a spot, get there early, and camp out. “Make it a potluck,” says Melinda Shelton, a long-time resident of New Orleans. “Bring something to eat, lots of finger food, king cake, snacks, water, soft drinks, and adult beverages. And don’t forget the hand wipes, chairs, ice chest, and step ladders.”
2. Come prepared with a first-aid kit. “Someone is always looking for a Band-Aid,” Shelton says. “Someone will get a blister, lose a flip flop. Come prepared.”
3. Bring sturdy, comfortable shoes. “What happens when you step on the beads? They roll,” Shelton says. Accidents can happen “very, very easily” during Mardi Gras.
4. Check the weather. If you’re out all day, prepare for temperature changes between the day and night. “And always have a poncho,” Shelton says.
5. Park smart. “If you get towed, you probably won’t get a notice, but your car will be among many under the Claiborne Underpass,” Shelton says. “You can expect to pay over $300 to get your car back. It’s cheaper to pay $30 and park where it’s designated.”
During the Parade
6. Don’t go for the long stretch. “When I watch a parade, I go places where other people are not,” says Amanda Helm, PhD, who rides and walks in several Mardi Gras parades. Helm suggests choosing a spot along the shorter parts of the route, avoiding main arteries such as Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue. Another option is to see the parade at the line up. “You don’t get as many throws, but its fun to see the before show.”
7. Work for your throws. “When I’m throwing, I love it when the crowd does something,” Helm says. In particular, she and other krewe members looks for creative costumes and signs that “get what the parade is about.”
8. Know how to handle a tussle. Tussles happen when a throw from a parade is tossed into the air and two or more people grab it at the same time. If you make eye contact and the person seems cordial, “you get a tight grip and pull nicely” until someone gives, says life-long New Orleans resident Delaney George. But if things get more serious, the right thing to do is not to fight about it, because “it can get ugly. There have been fights during Mardi Gras, especially over Zulu coconuts.”
9. Get good at ducking. During Mardi Gras you risk the chance of getting hit in the face with throws, beads in particular. “You always need to be aware of the things that are being thrown,” George says. “But if you get hit in the face with a coconut, keep it.”
10. Don’t yell and scream obnoxiously. It doesn’t work. “Sometimes I pick out someone who’s not screaming or asking,” Helm says. ”And it’s fun to watch them get surprised like ‘oh? What? Me?’”
11. Don’t forget to say thanks. “Whatever [krewe members] are handing you is something they paid for with their own money, or it’s something they’ve made,” Helm says. “So when you tell them you want something [specific], it’s pretty rude.”
12. Move around during a parade. “Don’t park yourself in one spot and just see what comes by there,” Helm says. “Chase something once in a while. Don’t be afraid to stop moving when you see a music group, or reach out and make friends. You have to be willing to get off you program and get into something new.”
13. Have a plan for the things that you collect. “I take my [excess] beads to recycling centers,” Helm says. “Unless it has a cool medallion that’s specific for a krewe, I never save it. If it’s a handmade thing, I usually save it.”
Mardi Gras Day
14. Explore the city on Fat Tuesday. “Locals don’t hang out in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street,” Shelton says. “We head to our local establishments (a bar-and-grill) or have a party on our porch.”
15. Carry an instrument (if you have rhythm). If you get the feeling that its okay to participate, “join in,” Helm says. “Most of the time a tambourine is a safe bet.”
16. Look for walking krewes and small groups that are open to a party. “If you go into the Marigny, you’ll see a bunch of these local parades and groups,” Helm says. “They’re just a group of friends that got a boombox, or a group of people that have friend in a band, and they’re just having fun.”
17. Enjoy the costume culture. On Mardi Gras day, you’ll catch Mardi Gras Indians and Skull and Bone gangs earlier in the day, Helm says. You can also find live music, like the society of St. Ann in the Marigny, and you’ll see big groups of people that are masking and costuming following those bands.
18. And have fun. “Have on some glitter, a little makeup, a halloween wig or mask—or, if not, you’ll find something down there,” Shelton says. “Go meet up, dance and party, and have a good time. And that’s Mardi Gras the way it’s supposed to be.”