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Boobs and Booze, am I right? That’s what most people think of when they hear Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. As a local mom in New Orleans who celebrates Mardi Gras with her kids annually, below are tips on how to enjoy a family-friendly Mardi Gras.
For those of you who don’t know, I have lived in New Orleans for 10 years and I’ve been taking my kids to Mardi Gras since they were babies. I’m here to show you there’s more to a New Orleans Mardi Gras than what meets the eye, it can be fun for all, including the kids!
Things to Consider when Planning Mardi Gras with Kids
There’s honestly no wrong way to Mardi Gras. It all depends on your preferences and what works best for you and your family. To ensure you choose the right Mardi Gras options for your family, take the following into consideration.
When is Mardi Gras? Which week(s) will you Celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans?
Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, is not the week each year. It marks the last day before lent, 40 days before Easter. Therefore, you need to check the calendar to see the exact day of Mardi Gras.
In New Orleans, the majority of Mardi Gras events take place within the two weeks before Fat Tuesday. Different parades (krewes) run on different days and routes. Use Mardi Gras New Orleans website as a reference. This app does a wonderful job detailing all you need to know about Mardi Gras, including the parade schedule, krewe descriptions, history, etc.
Personally, I prefer the second week of parades, but they do tend to be a bit more crowded.
Would you Prefer Day or Evening Mardi Gras Parades?
Some parents prefer to do activities with their kids only during the day. If day events are a preference for your family, New Orleans does have Mardi Gras parades during the day. Please note that New Orleans Mardi Gras parades that roll during the day, take place on the weekends, Fat Monday, and Mardi Gras day.
Which Mardi Gras Parade Route and Neighborhood to Choose?
If your family-friendly New Orleans Mardi Gras vacation requires accommodations, it’s important to think about which Mardi Gras krewes and neighborhoods you’d like to experience.
Although most tourists choose to stay in the French Quarter, I’d highly advise against it, especially if you’re looking to have a family-friendly Mardi Gras.
The reason why people think of boobs and booze when they think of Mardi Gras is because of tourists. The only people showing boobs are tourists. And the majority of tourists are in the French Quarter.
Plus, most, if not all of the Mardi Gras parades do not go into the French Quarter. So you won’t necessarily be close to any parade routes if you choose to stay in the French Quarter.
Uptown New Orleans: One of the Best Neighborhoods for Mardi Gras Parades
One of the best places to see parades is in Uptown, New Orleans. Uptown is a local neighborhood in New Orleans known for its majestic houses. Since it’s where locals actually live, local kids attend the parades.
Luckily, some of the best parades start Uptown, with most ending downtown, which isn’t too bad of a place to see the parade. Despite downtown’s proximity to the French Quarter, the likelihood you see boobs here is minimal to non-existent.
And keep in mind, it’s okay to mix and match day and night parades (a lot of the day parades turn into the night) or view a parade from one neighborhood one day and another neighborhood the next. Each neighborhood has a different vibe.
What will be your Mode of Transporation during Mardi Gras?
New Orleans is a landlocked city; thus, parking isn’t necessarily readily available. And the parking that is available most likely will cost.
The good news is the city is relatively walkable, especially if you choose Mardi Gras accommodation close to the parade route. This will be the easiest way to enjoy Mardi Gras with your kids- staying relatively close to the parade route and walking.
If necessary, uber and taxis will be available but be aware, there will be surge pricing around parade times, so prepare accordingly.
Since we live in New Orleans, for the parades that aren’t within walking distance from our neighborhood, we drive. We already know that we may get stuck in traffic and may have to park a bit further from the parade than we’d like. It’s just a part of the process.
Our “Typical” Mardi Gras with Kids Plan
I personally pick the parades based on the throws they provide, and the neighborhoods they roll through. So believe it or not, the parades we choose to attend have not changed since having kids. We just do it a bit differently.
The New Orleans Mardi Gras Parades with the Best Throws
For the good throws (the goodies that the folks on the floats “throw” to the audience), my suggestion is Muses Krewe parade. They are an all-female krewe that rolls the Thursday before Mardi Gras, “throwing” beautifully decorated shoes.
This parade follows the traditional parade route through uptown, leading to downtown. On the Friday before Mardi Gras, I make a decision to not parade. So I either do a Mardi Gras ball with my husband or stay in and get some rest.
The Saturday before Mardi Gras is a big day in Nola. It’s the Endymion parade, the largest parade of them all, which rolls through the Mid-City neighborhood. This parade is known for having an abundance of throws, many that light up (imagine the items that are sold at a circus or carnival).
Although this krewe doesn’t roll until 4 in the afternoon, you will see people “marking their territory” days in advance. Yes, you read that right, days, with an s. Of course, I don’t expect a visitor, especially one with kids, to get to a Mardi Gras parade route days early, but plan to arrive on the route early afternoon.
Trust me, you won’t be alone. It’ll be a tailgating of sorts with tons of families out there enjoying Mardi Gras music, food, and fun!
And on Monday (Fat Monday) there’s Lundi Gras, where the kings of the New Orleans carnival krewes Rex, the oldest krewe still rolling, and Zulu, the oldest Black krewe, meet on the Mississippi Riverfront for a Fat Tuesday “pre-party” celebration of sorts.
This family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration offers food, music, and so much more. The event is free and locals, tourists, and kids are welcome to attend.
Then on the big day, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, the celebration kicks off with the Zulu parade at 7 a.m. There are two types of folks on Mardi Gras day, those who wake at the crack of dawn to start the festivities and those who sleep in so they can last all day for the festivities.
Those with kids tend to be the former since they’ll be up anyways. Luckily, if you’re a late riser, you can catch the latter half of the Zulu parade late morning as the parade lasts at least 3-4 hours. But if you want a higher chance of getting a revered Zulu coconut, go early.
Rex rolls after Zulu, on a different parade route.
Tips for Planning a Family-Friendly Mardi Gras
Come with a Plan
Anytime you travel with kids you need some type of plan, this is especially true for a New Orleans Mardi Gras. You can’t spontaneously do a family-friendly Mardi Gras, with no plans at all, because there are too options and things going on at once. The last thing you want is to feel overwhelmed deciding everything on the go with little ones in tow.
Now, this is not to say, that you can’t have a plan and still go with what feels right when you’re out and about. At least you have some idea of what to expect.
The above section “things to consider when planning a family-friendly Mardi Gras” gives you some of the key decisions to make in advance and sets you up for a fun and successful time.
Parade with the Locals
As I previously mentioned, Mardi Gras is a family-friendly event where locals of all kinds bring their kids to some sort of Mardi Gras event. Thus, if you want to have a similar experience, celebrate Mardi Gras in the neighborhoods that locals live in, like Uptown and Mid-City.
There are suburban options as well. Metairie, New Orleans neighbor, has Family Gras Festival, which is a Mardi Gras weekend specifically designed for families.
Download a Mardi Gras Parade Tracker App
Things change quickly during Mardi Gras and there’s nothing you can do besides be prepared. Download a Mardi Gras Parade Tracker app to quickly view the parade schedule and route. There are several app options, just put in “mardi gras parade tracker” in your app store and you can select one.
These apps come in handy the most when the parades are actually rolling. It’ll show you the exact location of the first and last float so you can plan your schedule accordingly. This is super helpful when celebrating Mardi Gras with kids as they can be impatient and want to know when’s the next float.
Learn Mardi Gras History
There is so much history that surrounds the celebration of Mardi Gras itself, the various krewes’ history, how they make the floats and so much more.
✔️ Use this city pass for entrance into Mardi Gras World to learn about Mardi Gras ✔️
Be sure to check tour(s) availability before booking.
Chat with the Locals Up
Whether it’s your Airbnb host, VRBO host, or hotel concierge, ask the locals for the inside scoop on the parades. They especially can give you a feel of the vibe of the parade. It’s also how hidden gems are found (i.e. the best places to eat in New Orleans).
Arrive on the Route Early
I’m going to be honest, Mardi Gras parades can become very crowded. So if your family wants a good view of the floats and easy access to catch the throws, get to the parade route well in advance of when the first parade will roll on that route.
Pay attention to what I just wrote…”well in advanced of when the FIRST parade will roll on that route.”
I say that because normally several parades run on the same route. So you may really want to see a particular krewe but they roll last on that route. The likelihood that the route will be crowded with a minimum, if any, space available at the front is high.
Don’t Forget to Rest
You may not want to do a parade every single day and you don’t have to. Parades are three-plus hours and can be taxing, especially if you’re doing Mardi Gras with kids.
Your kids need you at your best. Remember, when in NOLA, you have to rest because NOLA will tire you out and it always wins. If you want non-Mardi Gras things to do on your rest days, check out this blog post.
✔️ Book a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour to easily explore New Orleans ✔️
Items that Make Mardi Gras with Kids Easier
A Stroller or Wagon
Normally there is a lot of walking involved with Mardi Gras as you normally have to park blocks away from the parade route. Thus, if you have littles in tow, you should bring a wagon or stroller. This comes in handy not just to transport the kiddos to and from the car, but to carry all of the throws to the car.
✔️ Sturdy wagon that can handle New Orlean’s street and Mardi Gras Parades ✔️
Drinks and Snacks
Remember parades are at least a three-hour commitment. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll be looking for food and drinks while out celebrating Mardi Gras. You may also want to consider eating immediately before coming to the Mardi Gras parade and potentially bringing a meal to the route with you.
If you don’t want to bring a meal for your kids to the Mardi Gras Parade route, no worries. There are plenty of food vendors. Be sure to bring cash, just in case.
This is debatable for infants. The parades can be loud as there are live marching bands and people yelling and screaming for throws. For our boy’s first Mardi Gras, when they were about 11 months, we brought them these noise-canceling headphones from Amazon.
✔️ Purchase noise-canceling headphones for your infant for Mardi Gras Parades ✔️
A Large Bag or Tote
Most kiddos RACK UP during Mardi Gras parades with a variety of throws, beads, and tows. Make it easy on yourself and bring a large bag or tote to carry all of your goodies.
If you happen not to have a bag handy, be on the hunt for the bags the krewes throw out. They can come in handy in a pinch.
Fun Things to Bring to a New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade with Kids
If you want to increase your chances of getting a special throw, like a Muses Shoe or Zulu Coconut, bring a sign. Now we’re not talking about a basic sign. We’re talking about something super creative that will catch the eyes of those on the float so they can give you the “good throws”.
Mardi Gras Ladder
Yes, you read it correctly, a ladder.
As I mentioned, Mardi Gras parades can get very crowded; thus making it hard for children to see and catch their beloved throws. A great hack is to get a ladder. For younger kids, parents attach a seat on top of the ladder for them to comfortably and safely sit (see the above picture.)
Mardi Gras Costume
If your kids love to dress up, Mardi Gras is the perfect occasion. You can easily find Kid’s Mardi Gras t-shirts and costumes at stores around the city- including drug stores, boutiques, beauty supply stores, and more!
Can New Orleans Mardi Gras be Family-Friendly?
If you’re thinking of doing Mardi Gras with your kids and you’re worried about the experience, don’t. Mardi Gras is a family-friendly event despite what you’ve been told. Follow these tips and you’ll have a great time with your family.
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