Locals with all their accoutrements. Photo: Corey Ann, Feature Photo: Hoggheff aka Hank Ashby aka Mr. Freshtags

Natives of cities like Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans seem born with Mardi Gras survival skills—what to bring, where to park, where to pee. Newcomers to Mardi Gras in the Gulf South are at a disadvantage, but this guide should level the playing field come parade time (February 16th this year).
Start Early

Mardi Gras may be about indulgence and debauchery, but you’ve got to be serious about your preparations. Die hard revelers actually sleep next to the parade route overnight or bring their frat buddy’s beat-up couch out to the median. This isn’t entirely necessary, but you should still get out to the route early to avoid some traffic and to secure a good spot. Use a tarp or blanket to stake out your space.

Be Prepared to Walk

Mardi Gras Revelers Smile for the Camera.
Photo: Bengt E Nyman

Wear your walking shoes. Mardi Gras parades—unless they’re very small—inevitably involve a hike from your car or hotel to the parade route. You’ll probably be standing for long periods of time, so that’s another reason to make sure you’ve got good footwear.

You’ll want good shoes to protect your feet from the inevitable broken glass, spilled beer, and unidentifiable liquids that accumulate on the streets.

Put Wheels on Everything

You’re not going to be happy if you have to walk a mile with your arms full of stuff. But an ice chest and folding chairs with wheels, or devise a method of rolling them. Many parade-goers also wheel ladders to the route so they can see over the crowds standing on the ground and catch beads more easily. Cup holders on items like chairs, ice chests, even ladders are clutch.

Bring Bags

Beads, trinkets, plastic cups, and more fly off of floats during Mardi Gras parades. Take a handful of sturdy bags with you to put everything in, and you might want to consider bringing a wagon to help you get everything home once the parades are over. If you run out of bags, get a grip and remember: beads might be shiny, but they’re just pieces of plastic.

Don’t. Touch. That Doubloon.

Doubloons depicting Willie Nelson and Michael Keaton.
Photo: howieluvzus

Some parades throw custom doubloons, shiny metallic trinkets that, for whatever reason, are a popular throw. Should you see one on the ground, do not, under any circumstances, reach for it with your bare hands. The locals step on doubloons and other coveted objects if they hit the ground as a quick way to claim them for themselves.

Putting your hand on the ground to pick something up that you haven’t stepped on first is a good way to lose a finger.

Check the Weather

Late winter/early spring means unpredictable weather for the U.S. Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras can be wet and cloudy, hot and humid, cold and windy, or all three. If you’re coming in from out of town, bring layers and check the weather before you head out to a parade. You should wear sunscreen even if it’s cloudy.

Bring Provisions

New Orleans at Night during Marti Gras.
Photo: Larry Johnson

If you’re standing outside all day, you’re going to need to eat and drink. Parades can be very lengthy events, and there’s not always easy access to restaurants. Plus, Mardi Gras is a celebration of indulgence; what would it be without rich food and copious alcohol?

Have a Pee Plan

Mardi Gras is so notorious for bathroom emergencies that New Orleans band Benny Grunch and the Bunch wrote a song about it called “Ain’t No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day,” which is funny ’til it happens to you.

Hitch your wagon to a clown. Photo: Infrogmation

Parade routes may have port-o-potties, but the lines will be extremely long so you should come up with a contingency plan ahead of time. Creative solutions range from building a makeshift bathroom in your truck bed to bringing a tent and a bucket. With that in mind, you should probably bring some hand sanitizer, too.

Wear a Costume

Mardi Gras day is a great excuse to act like a kid – or an idiot. Costumes are an acceptable way to get in the spirit, especially if you coordinate as a group and reference local or national politics/events/culture. Ironic cross-dressing is also popular.

Community Connection

Wanna know what’s sweet to eat at Mardi Gras? Pop over to MatadorAbroad to drool over Indulgence in New Orleans: A Guide to 7 Classic Desserts.