Mardi Gras is the one time of year when the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter fill with visitors and residents looking for fun and excitement. Year after year, Mardi Gras celebrations have rarely disappointed those who have visited for the largest party of the year, thus making this celebration one of the most popular in the country and definitely one worth attending. Here are some tips to help you plan your visit to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
This year, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 but the fun and excitement begins 11 days earlier with parades starting on February 6. This is when Family Gras kicks off, which is just the beginning of all of the festivities, fun and excitement. Family Gras is a family-friendly celebration similar to the actual Mardi Gras celebration and lasts until February 8.
During this celebration, visitors can expect to see floats, marching bands and lots of things thrown from parade floats, including those beads everyone loves to try to catch. Mardi Gras is definitely an exciting celebration that everyone must experience at least once in their lifetime.
Be prepared because Mardi Gras is the most popular time for tourists to visit New Orleans, with a majority of the visitors arriving by February 14, 2015. Because of the heavy crowds, make plans to get to the parade-viewing areas at least four hours ahead of time. This ensures you will get a great spot.
The time you spend waiting for the parades to start is a great time to sit on your blanket, enjoy a drink and do some people watching. If you want to have reserved seating for the parade, visit NewOrleansParadeTickets.com to reserve your seats in the parade-viewing stands along St. Charles Avenue.
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Since this is the busiest time of year for the area, it is important to book your accommodations and travel plans early. Most hotels in the Central Business District and French Quarter areas are booked solid for this week as early as December. Though it is January, do not let that get in your way of planning a Mardi Gras vacation. If fully booked, keep calling hotels, get on their waiting lists and ask about any recent cancellations.
The French Quarter area will keep you close to all of the Mardi Gras action, but be prepared, because this area can be a bit noisy. Parties happen all day long and continue late into the evening, with many party goers celebrating long after the sun rises.
Top hotels near the parade routes include:
- Ambassador Hotel
- Garden District Hotel Collection
- Grand Boutique Hotel
- The Pelham Hotel
- The Royal St. Charles
- Sheraton New Orleans
Top French Quarter Hotels include:
Because the streets close to vehicle traffic and the heavy crowds make it difficult to maneuver through, make plans to dine near your hotel and/or close to where you plan to sit and watch the parades pass by. There are many restaurants open in the French Quarter area, making it possible to find a restaurant that works for everyone in your group. Most restaurants also have Mardi Gras hours, making it possible to still grab a bite to eat after the parades have passed by.
Top restaurants in New Orleans to enjoy during Mardi Gras include:
Mardi Gras is one big party. You will have plenty of opportunity to enjoy a beverage or two before, during and after the parades and celebrations. But if you want a break from the excitement outside and want to sit inside with others looking to relax and enjoy a drink, head to one of the area’s top bars. Many local bars have extended hours to accommodate party goers during Mardi Gras. For drinks after the parade, locals suggest Bellocq, the Circle Bar and Ernst Café.
Here are some of the top bars in the New Orleans area:
During Mardi Gras, the streets of the French Quarter are closed to all vehicular traffic and only those residents and hotel guests with special parking passes will be granted access to the area by car. Parking at off-site commercial lots can get expensive and finding a taxicab can be a bit difficult too. Because of this, it is always best to stay in a French Quarter-area hotel.
Consider taking public transportation, but be prepared for long waits and crowded buses and street cars. Make sure you know the bus schedule to help ensure that you do not miss the last bus of the day. Bicycles are one of the most efficient means of transportation during Mardi Gras and reduce the need to pay for transportation throughout the city.
If you are not staying at a hotel within the French Quarter, check with the concierge desk to find out which areas of the city are safe, what the best route to drive is and where you should park during the parades and festivities.
There are so many things to see and do while visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, including museums, tours and restaurants that showcase the history of this celebration. Here are some of the area’s top attractions themed around Mardi Gras:
As you can see, Mardi Gras is definitely a time of year when the streets of New Orleans come alive. Though it is a good idea to start planning your Mardi Gras vacation months in advance, there is still time to get in on this celebration. But do not delay, start your planning now.
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Heather Landon is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions – writing and travel – to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at Examiner.com.