152 Days, 3 Hours, 54 Minutes, 37 Seconds

by Jett Middleton on April 1, 2012

At the time of this post, you have 152 days to get ready for Mardi Gras 2013!  If you like to party like a Rock Star, here is some information you’ll need to know:

Don’t wait until January!

Waiting to make reservations usually isn’t a good idea if you have definitely decided to enjoy Mardi Gras in New Orleans. You might get lucky, but there is no guarantee. If you’d like to gamble, and do not want to reserve the minimum night stay required at our hotels, you can wait until those hotels that have not sold out relax their minimum night stay requirements. But there is no guarantee this will happen. You definitely don’t want to come to New Orleans looking for a room.

Plan Your Transportation!

If you are driving in for the day from a suburban hotel, remember that the French Quarter during Mardi Gras weekend is closed to vehicular traffic. Only French Quarter residents and hotel guests with special parking passes can get by the police barricades. Off-site commercial parking lots are expensive and fill up fast, so get there early! Make sure you know how far away your hotel will be, and remember: taxicabs are more difficult to find at this time of year.

It is a good idea to get a map of the city, and study the areas you’ll be visiting. New Orleans is a “checkerboard city”–safe neighborhoods can be within blocks of unsafe areas. Your hotel concierge or front desk can help you with route times, traffic and parking.

If you stay in an outlying hotel, don’t depend on them to supply you with transportation to the French Quarter or the parade routes. Although some have shuttles to New Orleans, they are often not in use during Mardi Gras season. Traffic during Carnival is unbelievably congested, and standard routes are often barricaded to redirect the traffic flow.

Even public transportation can be difficult–bus and streetcar routes and schedules often change during Carnival season, so plan ahead, and make sure you know when and how to get there and back!

If you want to save yourself some walking, bring a bicycle. Bicycles provide a great means of transportation in areas where cars are not allowed or parking is too difficult. Just be sure to be cautious when you get into the big crowds, and bring a chain to lock up your bike when you’re not using it.

Dress in Costume!

It’s the one season of the year when you can dress up as anything imaginable! There are contests for costumes in every part of the city, and the crowd-watching is as much fun as the parades! Bring an inexpensive camera, one you won’t fuss over, or need to protect.

And for you HISTORY buffs

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, naming it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his men realized it was the eve of that festive holiday. Bienville also established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to those that form our current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the “Boeuf Gras Society” was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed alone on wheels by 16 men–later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls–the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras “Carnival” appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans. Mardi G

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches, or “flambeaux,” lit the way for the krewe’s members, and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity. In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed theMistick Krewe of Comus, invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans, with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous, and to this day, Comus still rides!

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second “Krewe,” the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed, with the first account of Mardi Gras “throws”.

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance, and even printed “Carnival Edition” lithographs of parades’ fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course–themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small and detail could not be clearly seen; but beginning in 1886 with Proteus’ parade “Visions of Other Worlds,” these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color, doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers’ work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache’ artist Georges Soulie’, who for forty years was responsible for creating all of Carnival’s floats and processional outfits.

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival–Rex–to preside over the first daytime parade. Honoring visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, they introduced his family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

In 1873, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France, culminating with Comus’ magnificent “The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species,” in which exotic paper-mache’ animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin’s theory and local officials, including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act,” making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, which it still is.

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies. Since all of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members, New Orleanians call it the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”!

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