Initially I thought that Mardi Gras was going to be completely off-limits this year for a variety of reasons including my state of unemployment and the impending arrival of a nubbin, but after much consideration I decided I would really regret it if I didn't take advantage while I had the time and lived close enough it just pop in for a couple of days.
Honestly though, I went back and forth about attending - so much so that I only made reservations the afternoon before I arrived. Generally this would be impossible (the French Quarter hotels would have been booked for months) but due to the Super Bowl being there just the weekend before actual Mardi Gras day was somewhat less well attended than other years. This meant that a) hotels were available, b) hotels were as much of a bargain as can be had, c) the crowds were significant, but less overwhelming than in most other years and d) all this meant a compelling argument for my attendance.
For most of the Mardi Gras season only those in parades are allowed to be masked, but on Mardi Gras day anyone can wear a mask. There were also a lot of "impromptu" parades around and through the French Quarter.
New Orleans "official" beverage: a hurricane. Growing up in an environment with very strict alcohol control it was a little astonishing to be somewhere with such lenient rules. Open containers are totally legal as long as they are plastic - no glass bottles or aluminum cans, just pour it in a Solo cup, please.
ZULU KREWE PARADE
This is the primary view during the parade. I was only three rows from the barricade, but mostly I saw hands waving and stretching to catch the "throws". The floats all toss literal tons of stuff to the crowd - I unfortunately was behind a little girl on a step stool and a giant man who was at least ten feet tall. That little girl had an entire garbage bag filled with crap she had caught.
And here is my biggest complaint about the parade... not only do they throw individual strings of beads, but they throw entire bags of beads, they throw stuffed animals, Frisbees, umbrellas, footballs, and so much other dollar store crap. This mother/daughter were boarding a plane back home that afternoon and what are they going to do with ALL THAT CRAP. Wouldn't it be good sportsmanship (especially since she was on a freaking step stool) to rip open a couple of the bags of beads and distribute them to the crowd? There were a lot of people behind me who were very vocal about the selfishness she was indulging. I happened to catch a couple of strands and that was good enough for me, but it was literally 15 rows deep and this little girl (and her mom) weren't letting ANYTHING get past them.
Those are the hands of a ten foot tall black man and a stingy selfish little girl.
The official parades go down St. Charles Avenue and I was able to get a spot on the corner of St. Charles and Canal. It was rainy in New Orleans the entire time I was there (it gave me serious flashbacks to that no good, very bad, terrible day in May) and toward the end of ZULU it started to pour. So, having forgotten both my hat and umbrella AND being a non-fan of parades to start with I fled to Bourbon Street.
Technically it is illegal to throw anything off a balcony - this stops absolutely nobody.
I only saw one instance of the "traditional" way to get beads. A woman just stood below a balcony and after some back and forth taunting with the people above bared it all and was showered with beads in return. The lady walking next to me did a total double take and said, "Did she really just show her business out on the street?!" Yes, yes she did.
Mardi Gras is for the young and the old. Everyone gets into it!
Beads littered the street; by dark you couldn't walk for beads on Bourbon Street.
This is my favorite picture of the trip.
I am happy to be able to say that I've been there and done that, but I don't think I will every feel the need to do it again. It was still crowded, still a lot of loud and disorderly drunks, and it was both HOT and RAINY which is just a miserable combination.