The final countdown has begun to “Fat Tuesday” around the world. But only in New Orleans can you celebrate with the true flair of a party-ragin’ Cajun. There’s plenty to do during one of the biggest annual celebrations in America. And in a multilingual city with a rich French colonial history, there are myriad options for Carnival fun. It’s no coincidence that The Big Easy is sometimes referred to as the “most unique in the United States,” and this annual bead-begging bash shows exactly why.
A direct flight from New York to New Orleans is about 3 hours. From Los Angeles it’s just 1 hour more. And from Washington, DC, it’s only a 2 1/2 -hour jaunt, all of which makes it easy to jump right into the Mardi Gras mix. Once you arrive in New Orleans you’ll want a comfy place to rest up and energize from the day’s travels. Here are a few suggestions for enjoying Mardi Gras in New Orleans that will fit almost any budget.
WHERE TO STAY
Nestled in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Le Pavillon Hotel prides itself on a rich history of elegance and luxury. The property is only 5 blocks from some of New Orleans’ most popular clubs and restaurants; it’s also within easy walking distance of many New Orleans attractions such as the Superdome, home to the 2009 Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. But convenience of location will cost you. A regular king-size room is about $359 a night for the weekend leading into Mardi Gras; that price drops to $229 and $169 in the days following the big festivities.
If you’re looking to do New Orleans big but with less costly fanfare, the Clarion Hotel Grand Boutique may be the place for you. The property is also in the French Quarter. Want to watch a parade in your bathrobe? Not a problem! The parade route follows directly in front of the hotel, on historic St. Charles Avenue. Being just steps away from all the action will cost you, though; a king-size room runs about $250 for the night. The price drops to $130 a night right after Fat Tuesday.
The AAE Bourbon House Hostel is one of the most popular hostels to stay in during Mardi Gras. The hostel boasts free round-trip shuttle service from the local train and bus station, which is only minutes away, and a driver typically picks travelers up every 15 minutes. The property also provides a complimentary pancake breakfast to knock out those early morning hunger pangs (or hangovers). Prices to stay here vary; expect to pay $30 a night for a multiple occupancy room, and as high as $220 a night for a private room. It’s best to book early because vacancies fill up quickly!
WHAT TO DO
The most obvious events in New Orleans to participate in are the parades streaming through the streets of the French Quarter and Central Business District. Throngs of people from all over the world will be sharing in the excitement and energy of Mardi Gras. Alcohol will be plentiful, as will be the number of people throwing and sharing beads — the unofficial trade and barter currency that can be exchanged for playful “favors.” But there are other curious attractions that comprise the massive celebration.
Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo
Located in the French Quarter, right on Bourbon Street, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo offers an introduction to the spiritual history of New Orleans. The shop carries candles, books, and trinkets, and offers patrons palm readings.
French Quarter Tours
There are dozens of French Quarter tours to explore the historic area’s 100 blocks. Because the French Quarter is so rich in history, it’s recommended that you explore this stretch of town with a local New Orleans tour guide. Also keep in mind these New Orleans tours.
New Orleans French Market
For an open-air shopping experience, the French Market may have what you need. Founded in 1791, the market is the oldest public market in the country. You can find locally grown food, as well as arts and crafts … and music. On weekends, musicians play live jazz at some of the local restaurants — don’t be surprised if you hear musicians break from the pack, playing their instruments throughout the market.
WHERE TO EAT
The Big Easy’s boisterous bacchanalian environment, combined with seasonably warm temperatures, will not only keep you on your toes during Mardi Gras but also have you craving some down-home Creole cuisine.
Café du Monde
Since its start back in 1862, Cafe du Monde has been known for its beignets, a popular pastry first introduced to New Orleans in the 1700s by French colonists. Wash this French-style doughnut down with the café’s popular coffee au lait, a half-and-half mixture of coffee and milk.
One of the first eateries to open in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Cochon has since snagged several awards for its traditional New Orleans Cajun cuisine. Chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski specialize in savory combinations, with ingredients such as local pork, seafood and poultry. Cochon gets rave reviews for its oysters, brisket, pork dishes and rabbit, too.
Mahony’s is the home of the po’boy, the traditional submarine sandwich that’s a fixture of New Orleans. And at Mahony’s there are about 22 different ways to enjoy it. Every sandwich meat is featured here, from shrimp to bacon. The combination of fried meat with savory sauces, embedded in a doughy bread exterior, is sure to give you fond foodie memories of your trip to Mardi Gras.
– Colin Campbell
Colin Campbell is a multimedia journalist with more than 25 years of news experience working throughout the United States. He’s currently a correspondent at Press TV, where he’s reported from the White House, Congress and various US departments, and at Arise TV, live reporting on daily current events. In his spare time, he likes renovating his home, working out, playing Capoeira, following global affairs and traveling (of course).