Mardi Gras Guide
Best of the Season!
By Jeffrey Chitek
New Orleans in February is one of the social marvels of the world. Carnival leads into Mardi Gras and there is virtually no stoppage time in between. The city is made of color during this period. It is a pure celebration of life, love and vice. People wear their insides on the outside in the form of intricate homemade costumes and provocative fashion. The parties and debauchery go all night to meet the next days sun. If you were to continually participate in all of the action, you would surely perish due to bliss or exhaustion, whichever comes first. The key to surviving carnival season is careful selection and moderation of said activity. Following is a summary of things to do in the month of February considering a healthy balance of the unavoidable party that is carnival and also your personal well-being.
- Joan of Arc Parade
Kicking of the New Orleans Mardi Gras season is the 12th annual Joan of Arc parade conducted by the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc on January 6th. Joan of Arc, also known as the maiden of Orleans, liberated Orleans, France (New Orleans namesake) from a British siege in 1429. Hence, on the first day of carnival, the city observes its french heritage in a medieval themed march, in honor of the lovely maiden of Orleans. It’s a short, family friendly parade – quirky, whimsical and spiritual.
- Bike Tour
Now that you’ve got a little taste of Mardi Gras life down here, maybe take a little break from drinking and eating to explore the city by bicycle. Free Wheelin Bike Tours offers both guided tours and rentals at a reasonable price. New Orleans has become a very bikeable city over the last five years with the opening of over 40 bike lanes as well as the Lafitte Greenway, a bike only thoroughfare, connecting the upper French Quarter all the way to city park. Our mild winters provide perfect temperature and conditions for a comfortable, sweat free bike adventure. Make sure to document your bicycle fun and post it on instagram to make all your friends from Minnesota jealous.
- Chewbaccus Parade
The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbaccus is the silliest and most eclectic showing in all of Mardi Gras. As you might assume by its name, its Star Wars themed, but tackles many other subgenre themes as well. Name another place in the world where you can witness a 40 person ensemble of Princess Leah’s followed closely by an army of sparkly space vikings… that’s what I thought. Chewbaccus encompesses the spirit of Mardi Gras if it fell into a blender with a sci-fi VHS collection. The parade takes place on Saturday February 9th and you absolutely cannot miss it.
- Kayak Tour
The period following the Chewbaccus parade offers another much needed opportunity to take a break from the city’s vice and get outside. Unlike most of the contiguous United States, February in Louisiana marks the beginning of warmer spring weather. What better way to burn calories, while seeking adventure, than to take a kayak tour through the unique swamplands of Southeastern Louisiana? February is often the first time we see our reptilian alligator friends emerge from their winter slumber, and with them, wildflowers open their first blooms to the waxing daylight. A kayak tour will surely provide temporary guilt relief and clarity amidst your New Orleans experience.
- Krewe du Vieux
At this point of the season, things start to get messy and satirical. If you are easily offended, this may not be your scene. Founded in 1978, with 16 subkrewes, it has since grown to be one of the most anticipated nights of the season. It was the first parade to march post Hurricane Katrina in a defining moment of the krewes demeanor and ability to party and parodize in the face of disaster and political and social unrest. This is my favorite parade, nothing being off limits. It rolls on February 8th, starting at the corner of Marigny Street and Decatur.
- Mardi Gras Day
Mardi Gras is what you make it. It defies precise definition. For me it’s a chance to let completely loose and explode colors from my heart for two days straight, knowing that upon recovery, I will come out the other side empty of the need for vice and excess, focusing on the more tangible aspects of existence. No matter what it’s one day in a place of the world that will allow you to dig deep and expose the strange parts of your being to the masses without judgement. I dare you to be weird on Mardi Gras as there is no such definition.
February in New Orleans is magical and can only be understood through first hand experience. This is not just a list of things to do in February, it is a list of things to do before you die.