I think at this point everyone who knows me well has heard that I traveled to New Orleans last week. It was my first Mardi Gras, and I had the time of my life. If you missed it, that’s ok. There’s always next year.
Since I can’t share Team Creep’s personal stories, here’s what you should do when you go to New Orleans for Carnival:
1. Find a friend from New Orleans. You get instant street cred just by saying “I’m with my friend Brandon; he’s a local.” People won’t try as hard to rip you off. You will know you can’t walk around the neighborhood near the bar you’re in because you will get shot. Also, you’ll be able to visit all the good bars where the locals hang out, instead of being subjected to the mass of teeming flesh that is Bourbon Street night after night. We saw an awesome, free concert by DJ Mannie Fresh on Lundi Gras because we were with a local who knew to take us to Maison on Frenchmen on that night.
After you find a local friend, make more friends. Almost everyone in New Orleans over the Carnival season is looking to have a good time. All the people who aren’t up for it either don’t come or clear out for the week. You’ll meet some great people. Exchange numbers and ‘friend’ each other on Facebook so you can see them again next year.
2. Drink Hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. This was one of my favorite moments during my week in New Orleans. Pat O’Briens has a beautiful outdoor courtyard and lovely, relaxing restrooms with supportive attendants. And did I mention the Hurricanes? They’re dangerous, so start with one. Go from there.
3. Dress in costume. Our local host made us dress up in costume on Saturday, and we had more fun than everyone else. Even though someone screamed, “IT’S NOT HALLOWEEN!!” at one girl in our party. Dressing up (especially on Mardi Gras Day) is part of the fun. And if you get weird looks, just say, “I’m going to a costume party in the Quarter later.”
What should you wear? Get weird in something French Colonial (think: Marie Antoinette), marine-related (mermaids, pirates, sea creatures), revealing (you’ll fit right in), or creative (I saw a homemade Homer Simpson, Nightman, and some excellent political commentary). Compliment people on their costumes and take pictures.
4. Watch some parades. Not all of them. You’ll get tired of them around the 10th time you’re pelted in the head with a bag of beads or a really heavy throw. But the first (and second) time will be magical! Go to Bacchus and Endymion and, if you can wake up early enough on Tuesday, go to Zulu and try to catch a hand-painted coconut (if you make it to Zulu and into Mardi Gras night, I applaud you). When you get something cool, give it to one of the kids nearby. They especially like the plush animals and light-up stuff.
Don’t take too many pictures; take mental pictures, instead, and don’t miss out on potential eye-contact with the celebrity guests on the floats. We were feet from Will Ferrell, Adam Levine, and Andy Garcia. Secure a place to use the restroom nearby, and you’re set.
Keep an eye out for your host’s favorite high school bands. When the chaperones or the cops tell you to back up to the curb, BACK UP. I saw a woman get slammed in the face with a trombone slide. They are not messing around. And for God’s sake, wear layers. And bring a poncho (Yes, really. You’ll thank me when the two-hour rainstorm is preventing you from leaving the bar at 10am in the French Quarter). People are not lying when they say the weather changes quickly and constantly in New Orleans.
5. Stay calm. You will see an inebriated 40-year-old yank plastic beads away from a sad-looking child. You’ll be shocked how quickly 10-cent plastic beads become the bane of every drunk adult’s existence. Someone will shove you as you’re trying to walk down Bourbon Street. Some lady will almost choke you out trying to snatch the boa you got from a float. These are ridiculous things for adults to do, but it’s Mardi Gras, and you can’t let the little things harsh your buzz. Take it all in stride and let the good times roll!
6. Wake up early on Mardi Gras Day and stay out late, no matter how crap you feel. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to hate yourself if you miss out on all the music and awesome costumes people bust out on Fat Tuesday. Caffeine is your friend; you can worry about recovering later. Walk around, take in the scene, start drinking.
7. At least once, throw some beads from a balcony. You may be apprehensive (I was), but it’s an experience you won’t forget. Again, don’t underestimate how much 10-cent plastic beads can change the life/mood of every adult walking on the street below you.
You’re going to have to go to Bourbon Street at least a couple times while you’re in New Orleans, so you might as well be up on a balcony and away from the crush of the crowd. When you get up on a balcony, be sure to say something positive like, “You look good, girl!” to make your subjects–uhh, I mean new acquaintances–feel extra special. People will throw you beads. Try to catch them, then throw those, too. Just remember:
8. You don’t need to do anything you don’t want to and you don’t need to feel bad about anything you did do. Seriously. I didn’t show my boobs. And you don’t have to, either. Or do show your boobs, and be merry! This is a time to cleanse yourself of sin before Lent (or just to be sinful if you’re not Catholic), so you’ll be in good company no matter what you decide to do. Unless you’re a man, and you want to take your pants off. Don’t do that; you’ll be arrested.
9. Eat delicious food. Going along with the “it’s a marathon not a sprint idea,” you have to keep yourself nourished (kind of) to survive the week. Thank your host if she’s feeding you delicious jambalaya. Eat a Po-boy. Eat shrimp, eat gumbo, try turtle soup. We went to an awesome Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters. We drank a lot of champagne. If there’s a buffet, the answer is always “yes.”
10. Listen to some good music. My favorite night was the aforementioned Mannie Fresh concert on Lundi Gras. He was up on stage on the third floor three hours past closing time. Before he came on, we listened to two lovely jazz bands (Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses and Dirty Bourbon River Show; the latter’s lead singer poured bourbon into the crowd at random). The music will be good, people will be dancing. Stay out late; that’s when all the fun stuff happens.
11. Do something other people aren’t doing. Do those alcohol-infused ice-pops look delicious? Have one. Do you want to look at the water instead of going to a parade? Take a drive down to Lake Pontchartrain. Do you want to visit a museum? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s Carnival, there will be time for indoor art later. Once you’ve done something different, head to the Quarter and do what everyone else is doing. This isn’t the time to be an elitist.
12. Have fun. This isn’t going to be a problem, but make sure you are prepared before you leave for New Orleans so you can have the best time possible. Prepare your body by eating well and getting lots of sleep. Once you arrive, be safe, be aware, take care of your people, meet new people, share your coffee. Have a Happy Mardi Gras and let the good times roll!
Thank you to everyone (Brandon, Angela, Irene, Jenny, Dave, Tara, and many others) for a fantastic week! See you next year!
Photo credit: Christine White, Jarrad Fontenot, and some dude on the roof of Pat O’Briens