It has been on my bucket list to go to Mardi Gras in NOLA for what feels like forever, and this past year, I actually got to go! We literally went right before shit it the fan with the pandemic, but fortunately, we all came home virus free!
I went with my sister and best friend and we literally had the best time! We only went for few days, Friday morning to Sunday evening, the weekend before Fat Tuesday. If you have the opportunity to stay through Fat Tuesday, more power to you, however, that didn’t work with our work schedules. I will say, 3 days was plenty for us; we saw a few parades, ate way more food than necessary for such a short amount of time, wore more glitter and sequins than I ever thought possible, and drank loads of fun drinks.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMODATION MONTHS IN ADVANCE. Yes, I literally yelled it at you. I looked into AirBnBs and as I was looking, I would see them book up and I was looking in like September. Hotels often have minimum number of days and were out of our price range, but the AirBnB worked great. It came out to like $300 a person to be like 2 blocks away from Bourbon Street. And that was with 3 people, if you have 4, even cheaper. For Mardi Gras, the most important thing is location. Make sure you are walking distance from the attractions, because traffic is horrendous.
Book your flights in advance as well. This was expensive AF and there was really no getting around it. It ended up being cheaper for me to buy 2 one way tickets, so you may have to shop around.
Since, we were all flying in, we didn’t have chairs and blankets to set up to watch the parade so we bought tickets for the Grand Stands. It was actually really cheap, I think less than like $10 pp, and it worked out great because we just showed up and had prime viewing. This is obviously not necessary, but if you are lazy and short like us and don’t want to stand around forever just to see through peoples shoulders, I recommend buying tickets to at least one parade.
Look into luggage storage places near your accommodation. I know we couldn’t check in until a certain time and our flight was hours after we had to check out, so we stored our luggage for $6 per bag that way we didn’t have to deal with it and we could just go out and have fun.
Girls, use a fanny pack to store your stuff. We had no problems with theft, but I have heard pick pocketing is common in the crowds. Fanny packs were great because it kept everything close and easily accessible (and didn’t get tangled up in all your beads like purses would) and you can match them to your outfits, so bonus.
Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of Mardi Gras. Not only getting ready with my friends, but shopping for our outfits as well. My sister and I just hit up different thrift stores for the most sparkly ridiculous things we could find. So our outfit cost was like $20 total. We also bought jewels that stuck to your face. This worked out better for us than buying masks since masks are frankly annoying and cumbersome. It was pretty cold the first day or two we were there and the last day was sunny and warm, so make sure you can alter you outfits to the weather if need be. Also, wear shoes you don’t mind getting trashed.
Food and Drinks:
Maybe just because I am from California, which is very expensive, but I thought the food and drinks were so affordable, cheap even, which was surprising. You of course cant go to NOLA without eating your weight in food. We would just buy a few different local dishes and taste test each others so we all go to try more.
Also, Cafe Du Monde Beignets are famous so you have to try those! We walked to a mall away from city center and only had to wait in line like 10 minutes as oppose to the hours some do.
It wouldn’t be Mardi Gras without drinking crazy drinks! We had bracelet flasks to keep out budget on track (which worked great BTW), but definitely bought a few drinks. Sometimes the standard mixed drinks, but also tried Hurricanes, which were delicious.
On our last day, we went to a bottomless brunch and a) ate great local food and b) got hammered on mimosas, then went and partied on Bourbon. This was so much fun and the brunch as pretty affordable. I highly recommend doing this on one (or multiple) of your days there.
Mardi Gras is known for the thousands and thousands of beads thrown from balconies. First, don’t think you have to flash people for beads, just keep walking. Second, do NOT pick up any beads from the ground. The ground is absolutely disgusting, think frat house floor, but worse. We actually collected loads of beads over the days we were there and the last day went and threw all but our favorites back to the crowds from the balconies. We didn’t even think about this, but people also obviously bought beads to throw out, we just didn’t think of that in advance haha. Don’t think you need to keep all your beads and souvenirs, because they will just sit in a drawer, pick a couple favorites and have fun throwing the rest back out.
What to Do:
New Orleans is known for far more than Mardi Gras. I would love to say make sure you check out loads of other things, but honestly, I don’t recommend it. The crowds are absolutely massive because of Mardi Gras and it really isn’t the best time to try to get in a car and explore and book tours. We did lots of walking around beyond Bourbon Street, but that’s about it. I would LOVE to come back during off season and do some haunted tours and check out more areas, but during Mardi Gras, it really wasn’t feasible to do anything that wasn’t walking distance.
Of course Bourbon Street and the whole area surrounding as loads of bars, restaurants, shops, and just amazing architecture to look at! I loved all the Voodoo stuff. Do lots of walking into the surrounding areas (so wear comfy shoes) and check out the Garden Districts, French Quarter, the parks, and the cemeteries.
Ask locals for recommendations. Our AirBnB host was incredible and gave us loads of food and location recommendations. Utilize these types of sources if you aren’t familiar with the area.
Mardi Gras was incredible, and if you ever have the chance to go, GO! I think it was one of my favorite trips I have ever taken, and considering it was less than 3 days, it made it even more memorable.