I’ve finally recovered enough from Mardi Gras to post an update! Four straight days of drinking too much, eating way too much, and sleeping too little warrant an extra day of recovery in my book.
Here are some thoughts and tips from this year’s trip:
See Some Live Music
I’ve seen live music in New Orleans before, as in dueling pianos or random bands in the French Quarter. But this time I made more of an effort to venture outside of the touristy areas and see some real live music. We saw the Rebirth Brass Band at the Howlin Wolf on Saturday night (we bought tickets ahead of time) – if you ever get a chance to see them, do it! The show was phenomenal.
We also spent Lundi Gras (the Monday before Fat Tuesday) near Frenchmen Street. We checked out a few different bars, but The Spotted Cat was definitely my favorite. They had great local bands playing and a pretty good drink selection. The only negative was the lack of draft beer – but the prices were so low and the music was so great it didn’t phase me. And they make up for it by having a great selection of local bottled beers.
Another great option for seeing live music is the Lundi Gras Festival at the riverfront. This free, family-friendly festival is put on by the Krewe of Zulu. The festival features three stages full of live music (including a kid’s stage) and lots of great local food and beverages.
Pay Attention To Timing
One mistake we made was not coordinating our flights outside of the parade schedule. We had no trouble getting a Lyft from the airport (once we found the pickup spot – it’s on the other side of the Travel Center, in the parking garage, in case you were wondering).
However, our hotel was close to the French Quarter, and several roads were blocked to traffic because a parade was going through the area. Not knowing any better, we got dropped off on the wrong side of Canal Street and ended up watching a good hour of the parade with luggage in hand, because we weren’t able to cross the street. Luckily I could think of worse things to do while waiting to check in.
When it was time to leave on Tuesday, we had trouble getting an Uber or Lyft back to the airport and ended up taking a regular taxi because that was the only option in the area.
Get A Balcony
If it’s your first time attending Mardi Gras, I’d recommend staying at a hotel right on Canal Street along the main parade route. And a tip – you don’t have to pay extra for a room with a private balcony (although this is a fun perk if you can afford it). Instead, look for hotels that have bigger balconies that all guests are allowed to access during the parades. This makes it a lot easier to see the parades and catch beads without having to fight the crowds! Plus, you have the added benefit of being able to run back to your room to use the bathroom or refill your drinks.
If you’ve been to Mardi Gras before and done the balcony scene, there are some good, less-expensive hotel options a few blocks away from the Canal/Bourbon Street area. We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites near the corner of Magazine and Gravier Streets. We got a good-sized corner room right by the elevator with a separate bedroom and a sofa couch. The hotel was a quick walk to Canal Street and the French Quarter.
In addition, the hotel had this great little bar – Stacks on Magazine. The bartenders there were very entertaining and kept the drinks flowing. One bartender even made us an awesome espresso drink mixed with brown sugar – just what we needed to keep going for the night!
Go Where The Tourists Are
If it is your first time at Mardi Gras, then by all means do all the touristy stuff. Walk all the way up and down Bourbon Street. Catch beads from Bourbon balconies. Go to the touristy bars and clubs with overpriced drinks.
Speaking of touristy bars, if you do find yourself on Bourbon Street, I recommend having a Resurrection Cocktail (and a Bourbon Beer while you’re at it) at Spirits on Bourbon – a bar that was made famous by Spike’s Bar Rescue.
And if you or someone in your group is feeling extra crazy, go for a spin in Edward’s Chair For a little extra money, you’ll get a shot poured down your throat by a gorgeous woman spinning you in an old-fashioned barber’s chair.
Or Go Where The Locals Are
Bourbon Street can be fun on your first couple of trips to Mardi Gras, but it does get old after a while. This time around I had a lot more fun hanging out on Frenchmen Street! We even ended up joining the Red Beans Parade – a second line – and danced our way through the local neighborhoods – it was an awesome experience!
I’d give the same advise for watching any of the big parades. While we usually catch the parades from Canal Street, this time we saw some of them roll through St. Charles Avenue. There were a lot more locals there and everyone was so friendly and having a great time.
Watch The Parades Roll By
Speaking of parades – I’d recommend catching as many as you can – especially if it’s your first time! For the best view, get there early, bring a chair and a cooler full of drinks and snacks (the parades can last for multiple hours). The parades feature big, beautiful floats (often with celebrities – see the Kiss float from this year below) full of people who will throw you beads, coins, cups, and other fun things that you can try to catch. The parades also showcase some awesome marching bands.
Eat Local Food
We’re the type of people that usually do some research before going on vacation and try our best to visit some good local restaurants. New Orleans is no exception. One of the best meals I had this time was a po boy from Johnny’s. I tried the olive salad po boy and my husband had the catfish po boy. The sandwiches were huge (mine made 3 meals) and they had awesome sides (pimento cream cheese chips and red cream soda).
A close second favorite was brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. We’ve been here before and always enjoy it. In addition to great mimosas, the buffet has an omelette bar with seafood omelettes. The sides are also phenomenal – grits, cheesy hashbrowns, mashed sweet potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, and on and on. And I haven’t even mentioned the desserts yet, but if you like pecan pie and bananas foster, you’ll be in heaven.
Tied for second was a quick dinner we had at Mother’s – a casual counter-service restaurant that served up some of the best fried chicken, grits, and red beans and rice I’ve ever had. Plus, the restaurant was right on the parade route, so it was easy to get in and out.
Insider’s tip: Most people visiting New Orleans for the first time want to eat at Cafe Du Monde. Unfortunately, you’ll notice the lines are ridiculously long. However, if you go later at night (we went around midnight) you can walk right up to the takeout window, order your beignets and coffee, seat yourself and enjoy. If the main location is still too busy, there is a second location in the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk Mall (a very close walk from the original location).
If you do find yourself in need of good food and don’t have the time/money/resources/soberness to go enjoy a local restaurant – I highly recommend Krystal near the corner of Bourbon and Canal streets. I know this fast-food restaurant is common in the south, but we don’t have them here in Phoenix. The little cheeseburger sliders are fast, easy to eat, and delicious.
Do you have any additional tips for Mardi Gras? Let us know in the comments!