MARDI GRAS 101: Everything you Need to Know!

At Nola Family Magazine, we know firsthand what it’s like to do Mardi Gras with the kids. The ladders, the wagons, the vendors and their ubiquitous carts, the mad rush for doubloons hurled by the dozens onto the street. Every family has its own plan – actually, not much different from an evacuation plan. You sketch out a route, pack provisions (Popeye’s is always a solid bet) for the long day ahead, and make sure you have enough diapers to last until nightfall (the first Saturday parades are a marathon, not a sprint). And while most of us have Mardi Gras down to a science, many new parents and other Carnival-with-kids newbies need guidance.
 
Bathrooms: You need to be near a bathroom, and no, you’re not going to want to use the one at Fat Harry’s, even if you could get anywhere near the door. There are several schools and churches on or near the route on St. Charles Avenue, for instance, that allow you buy a bathroom pass for a fee. St. George’s Episcopal Church on St. Charles and St. Stephen’s Catholic Church on Napoleon Avenue have bathrooms and food for sale, as does the Dads’ Club at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, which sets up shop at the Mater Campus across from the aforementioned Fat Harry’s. If you’re in Mid-City, head to St. John Lutheran Church on Canal Street near Carrollton Avenue for bathroom breaks during Endymion. (And a pro-tip for those parading in Metairie: bring a camper to park on a side street or find a friend with one. It makes snacking, resting, nursing and bathroom breaks a breeze.) If you’re lucky, you may know someone who lives near the route who will let you use the bathroom for free. Start Google-mapping your friends now.
 
Spots: This is where we stand for the parades. The best spots, of course, are located near the home of a friend with a bathroom and, preferably, a steady supply of Bloody Marys. Barring that, we like watching at the beginning of almost every parade, which is great for parents who want to get their kids home ASAP on a school night – start earlier, end earlier. Plus, the beginning of route is less crowded and raucous. Remember – drunk people. And finally, the same goes for the people in the parade. At the beginning of the route, they’re not worried about running out of throws yet, so they hurl lots of the good stuff, like plush!
 
Ladders and such: Mardi Gras ladders have become so popular that revelers often set them out (and chain them in place!) for a whole season. Any given morning during Carnival you can drive down St. Charles and find hundreds of ladders along the route. Ladders are the perfect way for little ones to see the parade, catch some throws and, occasionally, get beaned in the head by beads – watch out! For many, these are the battle wounds every native child acquires – we’d just rather they didn’t. Wagons are another must-have if you’re going with younger kids. We use them to cart drinks, snacks and folding chairs to the parade, and to bring tired kids and bags of beads home. Don’t forget to pack wet wipes, hand sanitizer, spare diapers and lots of water.
 
Throws: Most of what you catch at the parades is pure junk. We’re looking at you, beads made-in-China and oftentimes destined for the nearest landfill. We put our beads in brown paper grocery bags a week after Fat Tuesday and donate them to the ARC of Greater New Orleans, where disabled citizens sort the beads re-sell them to riders in next year’s parades. But, a few throws each merit permanent occupancy in our home. See “Treasures” below.
 
Treasures: The most iconic throws of Mardi Gras are some of the handmade and highly-sought after throws specific to a particular parade, such as Zulu coconuts and Muses shoes. These throws have a following of their own – yes, some throws even have social media pages and hashtags. You’d better make a sign or know a rider, or preferably both, if you want one of these one-of-a-kind creations. We’re also partial to Nyx purses, the stuffed blue Iris streetcars, and the float-themed beads thrown by each float in Rex. We like to catch one from every float and match them up to the depictions that run in The New Orleans Advocate. And last but not least, kids and kids-at-heart LOVE the toilet-themed throws from the Krewe of Tucks. Toilet sunglasses, anyone?
 
Trash: Some things don’t even make it inside. Case in point: Cheap. Feather. Boas. We CANNOT handle the feathers in every room, on every rug, on our clothes, in our hair and in places we won’t even discover for another six months.
 
Safety: Speaking of throws, your child will want that doubloon, bouncy ball, empty box or whatever, even if it has fallen under a moving float. The crowds are so thick in some places that you won’t even know your child is gone, and in a split second, he or she could be crushed. Here are our tips: Wear matching t-shirts, especially easy-to-see ones. It makes finding everyone in your group much easier – and faster. And if you have one, put a tracker (like a Tile tracker) on your child’s clothing or in his pocket. Finally, take a picture of your child as he or she is dressed that day. That way, if you need to show a picture to the police or other adults, they’ll know exactly who to look for.
 
Vendors: It just doesn’t make sense to buy something from a vendor rolling a cart down the Avenue when you have a giant bag of junk to haul home. We can *maybe* understand buying a glow necklace because – glow necklaces. But the inflatables and fake pack of gum that produces a hair-curling shock? Never again.
 
Finally – have fun! Whether you’re a native, or you’re raising a first-generation New Orleanian, Carnival is a tradition the whole family will cherish forever!