It isn’t a difficult feat to visit New Orleans and, without knowing a soul, stumble into what turns out to be a wild and wondrous party. If you prefer to have a plan of attack during your stay in the Crescent City, there are a few tips to keep in mind when seeking out a true local’s perspective of Mardi Gras.
Get to Know Your Concierge
Not only is your hotel’s concierge paid to know what guests should see and do, he or she is also a resident of the city. Strike up a conversation with your concierge and tell him you are interested in what the locals are doing during Carnival. Informing him of your interests in music and film will assist him in recommending events appropriate to your sense of humor, as some events can be a tad on the risqué side.
Hit a Neighborhood Watering Hole
A bartender on Bourbon Street may know the city well, but if you venture off the beaten path to seek the spots where the locals drink, you could find yourself sitting between invaluable fountains of NOLA knowledge. Mardi Gras day in the French Quarter is an experience in itself, but making friends with a local over a round of beers (on you, of course) could score you an invitation to a house party or primo parade-route positioning in neighboring areas of New Orleans, such as Mid-City or Uptown.
Subscribe to Local Social Media Outlets
If you are arriving in New Orleans just before Fat Tuesday, begin your socializing now by finding interesting and connected residents on Twitter and Facebook. Searching for Twitter hashtags such as #kingcake, #MardiGras, #NOLA and #NewOrleans will provide an excellent starting point, and then you can follow individuals with common interests. On Facebook, “like” the pages of traditional (and not-so-traditional) media outlets, such as The Times-Picayune‘s NOLA.com, Gambit, Uptown Messenger and Offbeat Magazine. The page for iconic New Orleans radio station WWOZ 90.7 FM also offers a colorful peek at local music and Mardi Gras happenings. The station’s disc jockeys are breathing treasure troves of information.
Beg, Barter and Deal
There’s a reason visitors want the insider’s scoop on Mardi Gras festivities, and there’s a reason you can’t find most of this info on official tourism sites. While New Orleanians love when the city is thriving and bursting at the seams with visitors, they also like to keep it local and party where the tourists are not. If your concierge is still trying to direct you to a too-calm-for-your-tastes jazz brunch, and the neighborhood bartender isn’t coughing up the details you seek, keep in mind that a deal can always be made. Your drink-slinger has a tough job; show your appreciation by tipping him or her generously, and then try asking your questions again. It’s not that they don’t want to be helpful, but when there are 30 other patrons to tend to, it doesn’t hurt to stand out from the crowd.
There are exclusive parties where you cannot even purchase a ticket unless you know a guy who knows a guy. If you happen to come across one of those aforementioned guys, your money may not be any good. However, if you possess an item of interest or unique talent, this could at least entertain your prospective ticket seller. It is not unusual to hear of deals being made with trades of food and coveted parade throws. Do you have a Muses shoe or a Zulu coconut from past years? You probably have a ticket into any party you want to attend.
Look At The Locals
If you leave the fanny pack and enormous DSLR camera at home, lace up a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and tuck away some cash, you are already beginning to play the part of a New Orleans local. Armed with the tips above, check into your hotel, toss your luggage in a corner and don’t return until the sun comes up. You will be too busy celebrating Mardi Gras like a local and living life like a local.
Let Them Eat King Cake
King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras delicacy that can be delivered to your home, but is best enjoyed on the parade route. Yes, it is messy and you will get colored sugar everywhere you do not want it to be, but if you allow a nice level of stickiness to develop on your hand, use it to your advantage to catch those slippery parade throws mid-air. A few classic cakes to consider are baked by Randazzo’s King Cakes (various locations), Haydel’s Bakery and Maurice French Pastries.
Have Parade Routes Figured Out
This is it. The most extravagant parades will be rolling down the streets of New Orleans, and you are here to witness it all — but then again, so are a million other people. While the “best spot” differs for all, it is recommended to arrive at least an hour before the parade gets to your point, though earlier is even better. If you have a smartphone, download apps to help you track the parade’s location, as breakdowns, inebriated revelers and weather do happen. Apps like Experience Mardi Gras and the WDSU Parade Tracker are free and easy to use. If you end up with a terrible view, make friends with your surrounding parade-goers by bringing extra beer or by just being mindful of their children’s fingers and toes. They will most likely be open to your generosity and be willing to let you squeeze in closer to the action. If there is one thing that sets New Orleanians apart from others, it’s their displays of hospitality.
Find The Right Party
Partying in New Orleans can usually be done quite inexpensively, but during Mardi Gras, some clubs and bars may charge a cover. Locals do not head out to drink and dance covered in beads, oversized jester hats and obnoxiously large, neon-tinged frozen drinks, and it is not recommended that a visitor do so either. In general, take a look around and observe what the locals are wearing, doing and, perhaps more importantly, not doing, and you will be welcomed anywhere you may find yourself in the city of New Orleans.
Photos Courtesy of Cheryl Gerber, Jean-Paul Gisclair, Alex Demyana and New OrleansOnline.com