"You don't learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday." ~From You Know You're From New Orleans If..
Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ hometown celebration, where locals dress up in colorful, humorous, and intriguing costumes; drink and be merry all hours of the night; go to parades; and some attend carnival balls. For 2011, Mardi Gras is later than expected this year, and not until March 8th. There are few things you have to do during Mardi Gras to make your visit perfrect:
1. Participate in a parade--any parade. It doesn't matter which one. Catch beads or go to the Endymion Extraganza and see its illuminating floats. Some grocery stores/gas stations sell Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide, a good-to-have book that lists all the parades, locations, and what they'll be throwing for that year.
2. See a Mardi Gras Indian.
3. Taste a Randazzo's king cake. A hint of caution: check underneath your slice of king cake to make sure you don't have the baby (a plastic baby doll).
4. Go to Royal Sonesta's "Greasing of the Poles" at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Royal Street. It's a Mardi Gras tradition.
5. Look for the celebrity guest in the uptown Bacchus Parade (last year it was Saints Quarterback Drew Brees), or see famous musician Harry Connick, Jr. in Orpheus (the New Orleans one - be careful there's two krewes named Orpheus).
6. Get a Krewe of Zulu coconut. They're cute! It's a coconut decorated with glitter and a mask of its own around owlish eyes.
7. See the King of Carnival toast to the Mayor of New Orleans at Gallier Hall.
8. Have fun! Let the good times roll.
During Mardi Gras, it's good to bring some ladders for little kids who want to see the parade, chairs, an ice chest full of cold drinks, some snacks, and at least two or three bags to put your beads in. People believed those wearing masks were spirits who wanted to party until Ash Wednesday. This is the only time you'll be pushing little old ladies out the way, see a teenager and a drag queen fight over a strand of plastic beads, and debutantes get all the more beads from the men krewes.
The official end of Mardi Gras isn't when water trucks spray powerful amounts of water to clean the street. It's just prior to midnight of Mardi Gras when Rex's officers and royalty join Comus and his queen at their ball. Rex and Comus escort each other's queen in a lavish ballroom. When the clock strikes the twelfth hour, Rex waves his scepter, and officially brings Mardi Gras to an end.