New Orleans- this notorious city is loud, rowdy, rough around the edges, and is one of my absolute favorite character-filled cities in America. Several years after I visited New Orleans for the first time I decided to catch a red eye flight the morning of Mardi Gras to spend 24 hours in the city and join in on one of the world’s most famous Fat Tuesday celebrations.
Arriving around 6:30am, I started the day out with coffee and a bag of scrumptious and powdery beignets from Café du Monde. Despite the surprisingly long lines for so early in the morning, the original French Market Coffee Stand's bag of flaky sweet pastries was just what I needed to wake up and start the festivities. After my breakfast of basically just sugar and caffeine, I headed out to catch one of the numerous parades winding through the city.
On the way I stopped and ordered a tall Pina Colada for the road (figured that I might as well keep the morning health streak going) and jostled my way through the crowd until I found an opening close to the road with a good vantage point of the massive floats and bands streaming past. The atmosphere was electric with everyone getting amped for the day as the multi-tiered floats filled with people throwing beads and other small prizes from the sides rolled past. Both children and adults seemed to be equally excited to catch the goodies being tossed out which varied from small toys to inappropriate beaded necklaces- they really managed to have something for everyone!
My one friend who was crazy enough to join for the 24-hour marathon arrived shortly after and we met up right before the costume contest. We grabbed beers and found a spot just before the competition began where people competed for the most extravagant and seemingly bizarre outfit. After a barrage of outlandish costumes paraded past on the central stage the crowd choose the final winners through massive applause and cheering.
Around noon we finally made our way down through the French Quarter. We continued exploring the city and collecting beads as the balconies along Bourbon Street gradually filled with more of the merrymakers.
We carefully paced ourselves with drinking hurricanes and hand grenades while doing a slow shuffle down the street to hit most of the bars and enjoying the festive environment. As anyone who has visited New Orleans can attest to, the city can be a rowdy place any day of the year. So of course it was especially crowded and rambunctious for Mardi Gras as the day wore on and events progressed. Yet despite the reputation that the city has for complete debauchery, which is certainly not unwarranted, the main streets seemed to maintain relatively tame as people were just there for a good time.
As the sun set, we found a good vantage point from one of the balconies to cheer and toss beads down to the people passing below. The crowds remained a steady stream until late in the night and we eventually made it all the way through the street before the end of the evening. The loud celebrations had died down a substantial amount, but were still going fairly strong when we finally caught a taxi back to the airport around 1:30am. Judging by the crowd at the departure gate, many others also did a short trip as the airport greatly resembled closing time at a bar by 3am.
Overall Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the famous colorful Bourbon Street in its over the top form of revelry did not disappoint and was quite the memorable experience!