Mardi Gras is a wondrous, magical time here in New Orleans. Sure, it can be a hassle with all the traffic and the fact that I haven’t gotten mail in a week because nothing gets done during the big carnival weekends. Despite all the inconveniences, once you’re on that parade route, something clicks. I can procrastinate getting out there, consider skipping the holiday and staying home for a week and a half, but once I drag myself to a spot on the neutral ground side (I’m a neutral ground side kind of lady most days), the magic hits me and I come alive. The spirit of the revelry takes over and I dance and wave my hands and yell like a maniac to get beads and to cheer on all the marching bands and dancers. It’s the apex of fun.
When I experienced my first Mardi Gras, I was in college. It was the first carnival after Hurricane Katrina. It felt special because it was mostly locals instead of tourists, and the city was proving its resilience. Also I was drinking a lot so I really let loose and had fun with all my new Tulane buddies. My birthday fell during the big parade weekend before Fat Tuesday, so I got a great haul of beads and throws when I used the date to my advantage. A guy I met – I’ve never seen him again but through the power of Facebook I still know his name, so shoutout to Larry! – raised me on his shoulders and my friends helped me scream, “It’s my birthday!” and “It’s her birthday!” at the top of our lungs to the krewe members on floats. It was spectacular.
Take a look at my very classy Mardi Gras of yore:
When I had my beautiful son a year and a half ago, I thought maybe I was done with parade going. I’d have to bring so much extra gear for the baby and food and have to find a place to breastfeed and I’d have to walk really far with him and what if he hates it and I’d have to get baby headphones so his ears won’t be damaged from the loud music and so on and so on. However, I soldiered on to the parade route to try it out. It turns out, we both loved the experience. And we saw other babies and toddlers on the route, too!
Here are some photos from our first year of Mardi Gras as a family of three:
And some from this Mardi Gras:
Now that my son is a year and a half, this Mardi Gras has been even more fun. He understands the concept of the parades and that he gets lots of prizes (“throws”) at the parades. He is especially fond of the light up balls that some float riders throw for him. We have had a ridiculous amount of fun this year going to a couple of select parades.
Here are my top tips for enjoying the carnival festivities in New Orleans with a baby or young child:
- Plan Your Parking – This is an obvious advantage whether you have children or not. It’s best to have a friend on the parade route so that you have a place to park (if they have a driveway) and a place to escape from the chaos to use the bathroom, feed the kids, breastfeed, or get out of any intense weather like rain or heat. But if you aren’t fortunate enough to have pals near the parade, at least have a general plan of where you’ll look for parking. You know you’re going to have to walk a good distance unless you come super early to find a spot. But consider a potential meltdown; if you need to leave before the parade is over, you’ll want a quick exit. That means you should park on the side of the parade that you can drive home from. Don’t get stuck within the parade loop!
- Set up Camp – or Don’t – You can go early to the parade route and set up a tarp, a tent, coolers, a grill, and all sorts of comforts so that everyone can stay all day at the parade route. I have never been one of those prepared planners. If you are, make sure there are comfortable spots for the kids to take a break and space for them to play. I suggest the neutral ground side of the parade for this. If you’re like me, you can just bring what you need to the parade route and leave once anyone gets tired of the festivities. This way it is easier to come and go as you and your child please.
- Bring A Wagon – Thanks to my sister-in-law, we have a perfect fold-up wagon with a detachable canopy. My son adores riding in it. And it fits some drinks, a backpack, and other supplies you may need. This Mardi Gras season, I brought food, an extra bag to put our throws in, and our diaper bag. It all fit into the wagon along with my son. So he got a fun ride, my shoulders got a rest, and we easily got to and from our parking spot and the parade.
- Prep for Weather – In your wagon or diaper bag, bring some light layers, sunblock, an umbrella, a cover for your wagon or stroller, and raincoats. You never know how the weather will change on you over the course of the day or night.
Those are my only tips! Other than that, the number one rule is to have fun! And be courteous of others.
Let me know about your experiences with Mardi Gras in the comments below!