Expert Advice Before Your First Time Going To Mardi Gras
Welcome to the #365Firsts Podcast and the Expert Advice Before Your First Time Series. The show aims to encourage, prepare, and inspire you to do things you’ve never done before and complete your #365FirstsChallenge list.
In each episode of this series, we give you tips and advice to set you up for success, for specific firsts and new experiences. The guests and topics are as varied as the options and possibilities of new experiences.
Whether you’re trying to learn a new skill, improve your health and happiness, work on your self-development, add excitement and adventure to your life, or simply have first times, you’re going to love our podcast.
In This Episode
Today, we’re discussing a great topic that takes us down memory lane and is related to a city very near and dear to our hearts.
The city of New Orleans is a beautiful and vibrant place, and it is known for its wonderful creole food, rich musical history and its place in history for being a bustling hub of culture and life.
One of the most famous things New Orleans is known for is Mardi Gras. Carnival time in New Orleans is an incredible celebration laced in hundreds of years of tradition, and full of parades, balls, music, and celebrations like no other. We’re lucky to be joined by Bobbi Mannino, a lifelong resident of New Orleans who has a long history of sharing insights on how to get the most out of Mardi Gras.
The Guest Expert
Bobbi is the person to go to if you want to learn more about Mardi Gras. She’s the Public Relations Director for MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, which is the perfect source for learning everything you need to know about Carnival.
She is a 5th generation local New Orleanian, with over 45 years of experience working in the tourism industry for the city of New Orleans. Bobbi has helped both locals and tourists alike to make the most of their time at Mardi Gras for decades now, and has some fantastic advice to share as a result.
Her advice has been published in major news and media outlets all around the world, and we are honored to have her join us on our show.
What You Need To Know Before Your First Time Going To Mardi Gras
Bobbi started off by describing her experience with Mardi Gras, and how it shaped her childhood. She reminisced about the costumes she and her siblings wore, the joys of celebrating with family and how it gave her pride and filled her with wonder. All of her fond memories have been part of shaping the passion she still has for Mardi Gras today.
Mardi Gras is Much More Than Just One Day
Bobbi also went through the history and facts surrounding Mardi Gras, and described how Fat Tuesday, the day most people assume is Mardi Gras, is simply the last day of carnival. The season begins on Kings Day, which is on January the 6th every year, and goes on for weeks until midnight on Fat Tuesday – better known as Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
Usually, the majority of parades and balls happen 2-3 weeks before the main event, with the biggest parades happening on Mardi Gras Day. Bobbi noted it’s more of a season and not just a day, and that it’s put together by individual, private organizations (krewes) who keep the traditions alive and bring the festivities together every year. The Parishes work with the krewes to plan the required services such as police, sanitation, and clean-up.
It’s absolutely worth your time to head to New Orleans before Mardi Gras Day, in order to experience carnival season to its fullest.
The history of Mardi Gras goes all the way back to Medieval Europe, it has ties to Italy, and France, and is associated with the season of Lent. The New Orleans history of Mardi goes back 300 years. The first parade happened in roughly the mid 1860s, and the carnival organizations became known as krewes around the same time.
There are over 70 different krewes today, and while not all of them have parades, most do. But even the krewes who choose not to have a parade still honor the tradition of hosting a ball and having a court. The krewes all buy their own trinkets and beads to throw out to the people as the parades occur.
Different krewes will have different throws and trinkets that are linked to their history and theme. For example, the Zulu Krewe creates intricate, hand painted coconuts that are given to special members of the audience. There are krewes that throw hand painted shoes, purses, toilet brushes, coins and so much more.
Bobbi pointed out it is possible to be part of a float or krewe as a visitor, although not all krewes accept visitors, so please don’t be overly selective. She’s the point of contact to make that happen for you. She mentioned the earlier you contact her, the better, and when you do, let her know the dates you’ll be in New Orleans.
You’ll need beads, if you find yourself on a float. But no need to worry! There are plenty of places around town where you can purchase beads and trinkets to throw.
Mardi Gras Indians
The Mardi Gras Indians are also an important part carnival; they have their own rich history and traditions.
They only appear twice a year, one of these moments being on Mardi Gras day itself, however, their parade times and routes are never published in advance.
The costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians are intricate, hand-made and magnificent.
Best Place to Stay
The best places to stay is either on or near the parade route. Most parades go down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street where they are many hotels to select from. Bobbi mentioned how advantageous it is to be able to return to your hotel room to drop off all of your beads and other “goodies” from the parades, use the facilities, and take some time to recharge before the next parade.
Preparing Yourself for the Parades
Preparing yourself for parades is vital, too. Bobbi encouraged the listeners to wear the most comfortable and practical shoes possible, as there is a lot of walking to be done and open-toed shoes may not be practical. Having water, snacks, hand sanitizer and sunscreen is also important. Layering is also vital since the weather can be unpredictable, as is bringing a bag or pillow case for your haul. And don’t forget to bring a costume too, to join in fully to all of the fun!
For security purposes, Bobbi advised that people should leave their valuables and expensive jewelry at home. It’s not worth the risk of losing them in the crowd.
In terms of the literal parade ground, Bobbi noted there are usually crowds that are 5-10 rows deep of people along the parade routes, so getting to the parade early is important. Expect barriers and busy environments, and look for all of the pre-parties or tailgating by the locals.
Buying a spot in a grandstand can also be a great way to heighten the Mardi Gras experience. Locals tend to bring their own chairs, but tourists can struggle with this. Again, Bobbi suggested heading to her website for help with seating as there are companies who sell tickets to grandstands for the parades. These tickets can offer fabulous views and a lot of amenities too.
New Orleans is an incredibly friendly environment, with sociable and lovely local families. Bobbi suggested that visitors should make their way down St.Charles avenue to enjoy the family environment, and to get fully immersed in the culture.
During the parades, be warned, there will be flying trinkets and beads being launched at you!
What to Expect on Bourbon Street
Bobbi made it clear Bourbon Street is not a family friendly environment. This is not the best place to take children, as it is definitely geared more towards adults, and it’s an extremely crowded place. It is a popular component of Mardi Gras, especially with college age tourists, and is part of the experience. If you do go with a group, be prepared to get separated, and start out by identifying a meeting point and time to reconnect, as it can be very busy and overwhelming.
Bobbi emphasized the majority of people on Bourbon Street are not locals.
At midnight, on Fat Tuesday, is the one day of the entire year that Bourbon Street closes down. The horse mounted police force clears out Bourbon St. so the city can be cleaned up and ready for Lent.
The Mardi Gras Colors
There are some symbolic meanings to the colors associated to Mardi Gras, Bobbi linked this to the Krewe of Rex, who started parading in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green stands for faith, and gold for power. The colors are prominent in most beads and have become somewhat iconic in of themselves.
Don’t Forget to Try Some King Cake
King cakes are an absolute must for Mardi Gras adventurers as well. There are a number of decadent flavors and styles to try, and they can be found all over the city. The first king cakes make their appearances each year on Kings Day, and for locals, it’s the perfect excuse to postponed any thoughts of starting a diet. The tradition is that whoever finds the plastic baby hidden within the first cake has to buy the next cake for the office, so there’s always some king cake to enjoy!!
Start Planning Now!
As a whole, it’s incredibly worth your while to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Bobbi encouraged people to book for next year straight after this year’s carnival, to make sure they get their desired experience.
Get In Touch With Bobbi
This was a heart warming episode to record, and we hope it inspired you to plan a trip to experience Mardi Gras for yourself. If you want to learn more and contact Bobbi, simply visit MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, fill out the contact form and that will go to Bobbi.
Alternatively, you can reach her on social media to ask any questions or learn more. Her Instagram and Facebook pages are both under the name Mardi Gras New Orleans, and you can see more of her work at @mardigrasnola today.
How To Reach Us
Here at the 365 Firsts Challenge, we’re motivated by our community and the desire to help everyone meet as many of their goals as possible- so we’d love to hear from you guys about your opinions on the show so far.
Are there particular topics that you’d like to see, or something you want advice on? Is there something that you think we could be doing better? Feel free to get in touch with a member of our team at firstname.lastname@example.org today.
What’s Coming Up Next Time?
New episodes of Expert Advice Before Your First Time are released each Tuesday and Thursday, and we’ve got a great roster of guests lined up to give you more expert advice.
Next time on the 25th, we’ll be speaking to Hugh Forrester about attending SXSW for the first time. After that on the 27th, we’ll be discussing what first time safari adventurers need to know with Mike Herscott.