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Mardi Gras 2023 tips from the WWNO newsroom on getting around, parading with kids, more

A crowd of revelers in costume reach into the night sky to catch items thrown from brightly lit floats.
Kezia Setyawan
Parade attendees rush to catch Endymion throws in Mid-City in 2022.

Carnival season is in full swing – and back in full form after COVID cutbacks – which means it’s time for many New Orleanians to put their Mardi Gras thinking caps back on.

Maybe you’re trying to go car-free this Carnival season, or you’ll be driving in from out of town and you’re looking for parking hacks. Perhaps you need tips for surviving “the box” below St. Charles Avenue. Or maybe it’s your first Mardi Gras as a new parent, and you’re looking for wise words from a seasoned vet (read: pack the snacks).

As parades pick up, we polled our newsroom staff on their best advice for navigating the alternate universe that is New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Whether it’s your first Fat Tuesday or your 20th, we’ve got you covered.

Carnival without a car

Carly Berlin (Metro Reporter, WWNO): The stress of navigating road closures, boatloads of traffic and limited parking makes me ditch the car during Carnival season. Instead, the 91 bus is my best friend. I live in Bayou St. John, so I hop on the bus along Esplanade and ride for just a few minutes down to Rampart to get to parades in the French Quarter and the Marigny. For Uptown parades, I can take the same line all the way to Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, where the St. Charles Avenue parade route is just a few blocks away. Especially fun: last year I coordinated with friends who live in Mid-City to get on a few stops ahead of me, so we could go catch Muses together.

I love not needing to think about parking the car or keeping track of my bike — and at $1.25 a ride, bus fare is a fraction of the cost of taking an Uber or Lyft (whose prices tend to shoot up during Carnival). The only catch is a lot of buses run on modified routes, so your best bet is checking out the RTA Mardi Gras guide to get the latest information.

My other go-to: grabbing a Blue Bike and riding down the Lafitte Greenway. The ride-share program just added 300 more electric bikes to their fleet ahead of Mardi Gras. And right now, some Blue Bikes have a king cake baby hidden in their designs – if you find one and post a photo on social media, you’ll be entered into a contest to win a free membership for a year. Tag @BlueBikesNOLA and use the hashtag #SearchingForBabyBlue.

If you do plan to drive, be ready to walk

Orlando Flores (Digital Editor, Gulf States Newsroom): Hitting up Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans was much easier when I lived on the east bank. Now, it’s a bit trickier — but still manageable — when making the 45-minute drive from Lacombe. The biggest hurdle for me has (and always will be) parking.

The biggest takeaway I’ve had over the past few years: just have money on hand to pay for it, and make sure to wear good walking shoes.

For example: Last year for Endymion, I went to a friend’s house party that was not too far from the parade’s starting point on Orleans. I arrived a few hours before the parade was scheduled to roll and parking was pretty much nonexistent in his neighborhood. Lucky for me, I discovered that the First Baptist Church off Canal was offering spaces in its parking lot — with people on duty all night — for only $20.

Sure, parking more than a mile away from my destination for a parade that wasn’t downtown wasn’t ideal, but it beat the alternatives of paying more to get boxed in on some stranger’s lawn (which I’ve done before), or worse, paying the city for a parking ticket (which I’ve also done before).

Krewe of Zulu members, one dressed in black, red and blue and sipping on water, and another dressed in a mostly white embroidered costume, walk down a New Orleans street on Mardi Gras Day 2022.
Halle Parker
A Krewe of Zulu member takes a sip while walking down Orleans Avenue on Mardi Gras Day 2022.

Halle Parker (Coastal Desk Reporter, WWNO + WRKF): If I’m venturing out beyond the parades I can walk to from my house, I’m the person booking a ride share. Now, there’s a few things to recognize when riding toward a route. You’ll only be able to get so close. Most likely, you’ll still have a bit of a walk to wherever you decide to settle in for the throws. And you’ll have to make the same walk back when the party's over. Oh, and you might want to consider scheduling the ride ahead of time to make sure you have a spot in the line up.

How to survive 'The Box'

Katelyn Umholtz (Digital Editor, WWNO + WRKF): I have lived in New Orleans since late 2019, which has afforded me two normal-ish Mardi Gras seasons. What I did not realize when moving here, particularly to my neighborhood by Touro Hospital, was how difficult it would be to get around town during the multiple weeks of parades that would trap me behind St. Charles Avenue.

So I bought a bike (and had to train myself how to ride a bike again, because you can in fact forget). I really only use it to get to the walking parades in the French Quarter, which are the parades I prefer despite living much closer to the giant parades that roll behind my house.

People reach out for beads and other objects thrown from a green float that has a sign that reads "We got the beat" on the side.
Katelyn Umholtz
Revelers try to catch beads, coconuts and other throws at the Zulu parade down St. Charles on Fat Tuesday 2022.

But I have to move my vehicle from time to time, and I will likely lose my parking spot and watch residents of the area get ticketed because they also had to move their cars to other parking spots that weren't actually parking spots. It makes getting to the movie theater, grocery store and any neighborhood above St. Charles Avenue much harder.

I typically am able to take these punches, but my cat isn't as resilient. One time we ran out of his special fancy food (it is not required that he eats this — he’s just spoiled) during the worst time of Carnival: the week-long stretch before Fat Tuesday, a time when my neighborhood is full of visitors for multiple, consecutive days. I couldn’t get to Petsmart during that stretch, so I thought he would be fine if I grabbed canned food from a store within walking distance, like a CVS. He did not enjoy the 9 Lives I picked up, and I’m convinced out of protest, became sick enough to where we had to take him to the vet. So this year, to avoid an expensive vet bill and a miserable-looking cat, we are buying his fancy Royal Canin Adult Instinctive canned food in bulk. Cooper, you’re lucky I love you like a child.

Parenting at the parades

Rosemary Westwood (Public Health Reporter, WWNO + WRKF): Mardi Gras was the most gloriously unpredictable, carefree, all-about-me day of the year... until I had a baby. The unspoken truth of parenting is you’re only as happy as your kid. Screaming toddler? There's no bon temps there. So I have had to adapt.

I am no longer heading out for a magical exploration of the city full of unknowns, like a real-life absurdist choose-your-own-adventure. I am now on a mission to survive the day, ideally while experiencing some kind of joy. The survival kit includes, but is not limited to:

Lots, and I can not stress this enough, of snacks. Last year my kid ate an entire box of Goldfish. That is fine. Christmas is the only overly indulgent holiday for people who’ve never met Mardi Gras.

Also: Extra diapers. Everyone's selling shots in the Quarter, not Pamper's. And bring a back-up for the costume your kid will inevitably hate or destroy. One family we met last year had the brilliant idea of bringing some unwanted toys to hand out to other kids, like throws; definitely going to try that this year.

We used the stroller, but most chic Mardi Gras parents rock a wagon — it’s a good place to store extra beer, and for the kids to nap (yeah right). Mardi Gras families also need to clearly communicate who has eyes on the toddler. Mine kept getting away to pick up empties from the gutter, thinking they were his beloved “bubble water.”

And finally, and I’ve found most importantly: Parents need parent friends also struggling to let go and be free while keeping a tiny human alive. Absolutely essential.

And more snacks

Alana Schreiber (Louisiana Considered Producer): My biggest Mardi Gras hack is all about meal prepping. The Friday before Fat Tuesday, I like to make a giant salad I can pick at for a few days. That way whenever I find myself at home after a long day of parading, there’s food ready to eat!

Katelyn Umholtz (Digital Editor, WWNO + WRKF): Make sure your fridge is stocked with goodies — the regular snacks or the snacks you veer toward when it's been a long night of Carnival revelry. My recommendations: a frozen pizza brand of your choice, or impossible nuggets with ranch for dipping. You will need to rely on them because there is no way an Uber Eats is getting to you even before or after a parade rolls down St. Charles Avenue. I learned that the hard way and had to walk in shame for several blocks, across St. Charles, for my midnight snack.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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