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Do’s & Don’ts for Mardi Gras First-Timers

When those first strands of beads start flying over your head, you know it’s Mardi Gras. The debauchery, the weeks of partying, the fantastical masked revelers, the larger-than-you’ve-ever-known floats… If this is your first time celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all.

Our suggestion? Celebrate the chaos. Mardi Gras in the Big Easy is an experience like no other and is meant to be savored. But there are some important do’s and don’ts to fully enjoy it.  Here are our tried-and-true tips for Mardi Gras first-timers:

DO’s

DO Ride A Bike

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar, New Orleans’ largest public transit line, shuts down for the parades. Skip the pricey parking fees and avoid the massive traffic by renting a bike at several of the bike rental shops in downtown and the French Quarter.

DO Wear The Most Comfortable Shoes You Have

Once off your bike, you will be on your feet. All. Day. Long. You will also be walking long distances to get to your preferred parades, plus exploring afterwards. Your feet will thank you.

DO Download the Parade Tracker App

There are 50+ parades, with different routes, different timelines, different themes. Unless you are a genius-wizard-savant, you’ll need help tracking them. Local New Orleans news station WDSU created this handy app to do just that.

DO Get To Parades Early

Armed with the handy Parade Tracker app, show up 30 minutes to an hour before the parade starts. Crowds will grow to epic proportions once the first float is out the gate.

Zulu Parade

DO Designate a Meeting Spot

Before heading out, decide on a go-to meeting spot, in case you get separated from your group. Not only can cell phone service be spotty, it can be so loud and raucous that you may not hear your rings over the noise.

DO Go Beyond the French Quarter

Want to hang out with the locals during Mardi Gras? Head to the parades in Uptown, which are just as fun, but more family-friendly and mostly frequented by savvy locals.

DON’T

DON’T Show Up Without A Mask or Costume

The dress code for Mardi Gras? Whatever you want! Now’s the time to let out your imagination. No costume is too crazy, no concept too absurd.  In fact, dress up like it’s your last Halloween on earth. That’s what everyone else will be doing.  No room in your luggage for something awesome? Grab a Mardi Gras mask before the festivities.

Maskarade

DON’T Forget the Weather

It can get chilly this time of year, especially in the evening. So include layers in your costume plans.

DON’T Pick Up Beads or Doubloons Off the Ground

First off, only catch beads. Don’t pick them off the street.  With elbow-to-elbow crowds at some parades, you can imagine the unsanitary mess that can end up on the ground. Second, if you see a doubloon (shiny coins containing a krewe’s emblem) land in front of you – step on it to claim it. If you try to pick it up right away, you’ll risk getting in the way of someone else stomping on the coin to claim it. Ouch.

Don’t Just Dine in the French Quarter

Yes, it will seem as if the whole world is in NOLA. And, yes, they will all be hungry around the same time. So, expect grueling wait times at all French Quarter restaurants. Our advice? Venture to other neighborhoods for more local eats and less crowds. Our favorite ‘hoods include Marigny, Uptown and the Garden District.

Piece of Meat Butcher & Restaurant

DON’T Flash for Beads

This is the biggest misconception. Contrary to what you’ve heard, Mardi Gras is an all-ages, family-friendly event. If you want beads (who doesn’t?) dance, jump, yell, make eye contact with the float riders and you’ll soon be catching more than you thought.

DON’T Arrive Hungry

Eat a large breakfast before heading out. Plus, stash your backpack or fanny pack with some healthy, filling snacks to hold you over until dinner.

DON’T Forget to Drink Water

With all the cheering, walking, and dancing you’ll be doing, you will need to stay hydrated. The last thing you want to do is get lost in the crowd searching for some water.

DON’T Throw Away Beads

Caught one too many? New Orleans recycles beads! Look for special recycle bins throughout the parade routes that benefit various local organizations, including the Arc of Greater New Orleans, which assists adults with mental disabilities.

Bonus Tip: Book the comfiest rooms you can. You’ll need a sanctuary of relaxation at the end of the day. Book a stay at J Collection Hotels so you can recoup and get ready to face Mardi Gras all over again.