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Mardi Gras isn’t just a trip for adults, it is also a great time for a family vacation. Kids and parents can learn about the history and culture of New Orleans, the event called Mardi Gras, and the food that makes this city so memorable. Take a step inside and old warehouse to discover the mysterious Krewe of Rex and dine on fine cuisine at Galatoire’s, a New Orleans favorite.
Yesterday morning began with a limousine ride to the Rex Den. A den is the place where Krewes build and house their floats. The Rex Den is located in the 9th ward and many of the floats were damaged in Katrina. However, Rex would not let a hurricane bring them down, and they rebuilt their floats and have begun to use their creations for educational purposes. This year’s theme is about rivers, which each float representing a river. School children have been able to come into the den and see these representations of rivers such as the Tiber, The Nile, The Mississippi, and many others. I feel honored to have been invited in to this special place, where the waterline from the flood is still visible on the metal walls.
The Rex visit was followed by a New Orleans favorite, Galatoire’s. This restaurant does not take reservations and a dinner jacket is strongly advised. This landmark begins seating at 11:30, but this does not stop diners from lining up in advanced. Galatoire’s invented Oysters Rockefeller and Crab Sardou, leaving their own mark in culinary history.
Carnival Season in New Orleans is home to so many different Krewes and parades. I was able to catch Shangri-La after lunch, and then a few more after my dinner at Grand Isle Seafood, located on Fulton Street at Harrah’s. Pegasus was the last parade of the evening and I walked back to Harrah’s looking like Santa Claus with an enormous bag of beads thrown over my shoulder.
I was so glad to get back to my room and soak in a hot bath, to prepare myself for the next day of festivities. Thank goodness Harrah’s has a never-ending supply of scalding hot water. Oooohhh!
New Orleans is just one of many places that celebrate Maris Gras. Cities such as Mobile, Pensacola, and Baton Rouge offer family parades full of fun.
I’ve been invited to spend a long weekend at Harrah’s New Orleans, a new hotel/resort on the scene. I’m going to eat, drink, and be merry during a time of parades and partying. The first Mardi Gras celebration may have occurred in Mobile, AL, but New Orleans made it big. Other places around the Southeast U.S. celebrate this festive season in their own special ways and they all provide a family atmosphere (even NOLA).
Mobile, AL – This is where the first Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1703. They throw beads and are known for throwing Moon Pies.
Pensacola, FL – These parade participants throw beads, candy and Moon Pies. They offer a family atmosphere and poke fun at New Orleans and Mobile Krewes in a punny way.
New Orleans, LA – Like I stated earlier, they made Mardi Gras big.
Baton Rouge, LA – This capital city is the host of such parades as the Krewe of Mutts and Spanishtown, which features pink flamingos placed in various spots throughout the city during carnival season.
New Roads, LA – They host the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana outside of New Orleans. It is also one the the nation’s oldest African-American sponsored event.
Mamou, LA – Masked riders ride horseback from farm to farm to collect the ingredients for a gumbo. This is an old tradition and the climax is the chasing of the chicken.
Lake Charles, LA – This is the center of Southwest Louisiana, which hosts parades in small towns and villages in the area.
This is just a sampling of the many places in the U.S. that celebrate Mardi Gras.
Parades and the revelry of Mardi Gras has attracted tourist and visitors from all over the world. Make sure you don’t break any of the cardinal rules of Mardi Gras. First timers may not know the traditions, but this quick primer will help you weave your way from parade route to parade route, no matter if you are in New Orleans, Mobile, or Galveston.
Mardi Gras translated means Fat Tuesday. It originally began as a Catholic celebration day to enjoy the things that a person would give up during the Lenten Season. Lent, is the 40 days before Easter that symbolizes the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert before his arrest and crucifixion. Catholics fast on certain days and also give up something that is important to them. Many people give up candy, others quit smoking, and some people try to give up relations (if they aren’t married). It starts on Ash Wednesday, the day following Mardi Gras.
Through the years, the celebrations have expanded from one day to an entire season, consisting of weeks of revelry beginning on The Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. Mardi Gras dates vary from year to year. Many revelers will argue that there really are no rules to Mardi Gras. As a lifelong resident of South Louisiana, I beg to differ. There are rules, and then there are the RULES.
The King Cake Rule: I can give a detailed explanation about the origins of the King Cake, but that might be boring. Suffice it to say, the King Cake is a big round cinnamon roll topped with icing and colored sugar. The colors are green, purple, and gold. A plastic or gold baby is placed inside the delicacy, so be careful when you take a bite. You don’t want to break a tooth. If you get the baby inside your slice, guess what? YOU get to buy the next King Cake. And don’t try to slip it back inside the King Cake when no one is looking, because Karma will come back and get you in the form of an party-goer who will regurgitate on you at your next parade.
The Parade Rule: There are invisible lines surrounding the area of a family who has staked out their spot on the parade route. Do not think that you can wait until the parade starts to stand in the area in front. You will get injured by an inebriated mother wearing a feather boa should you block her child’s area of the curb. Your lesson: Get there early and find your own spot.
The Bead Rule: There are beads and then there are “good” beads. When good beads are being thrown, get out of the way unless the person on the float makes eye contact. Yes, this is the Bead Rule. Eye contact and pointing means the person throwing the item will aim for you. Oh, and don’t catch beads intended for a child. Should you make contact with these beads, then act like you “meant” to get it for the kid, and then hand it off to them.
The Don’t Be Offended Rule: Mardi Gras is considered a family event in many areas, however, this does not lesson the satire or adult tones of parades. If you are easily offended, just don’t go. You will see the obligatory family ice chest filled with beer and juice boxes. Every once in a while someone still flashes “the girls” so don’t look or at least be aware of your surroundings during the parade, keeping your hands ready to block a view from your child’s eyes. Stay away from Bourbon Street and find the family areas along a parade route.
The No Business Rule: Mardi Gras is an official state holiday in Louisiana, so don’t even try conduct business with someone from that state from the Saturday before Mardi Gras through the afternoon of Ash Wednesday.
These are just a few of the rules of Mardi Gras posted for your entertainment and education. Any additional rules can be posted in the comments. And remember, if you attend a Mardi Gras parade, the ultimate rule is to HAVE FUN.
We’re always on the lookout for informative and entertaining blogs and websites. Here are a few family travel sites (and other traveling mamas) we like to read:
Bootsnall Family Travel Blog – We all just love Sheila Scarborough, who is a blogging maniac. She’s always been a traveler, growing up in a Navy family and then serving for 23 years herself. She travels with (and without) kids, blogging about the great finds in the travel world. She also blogs for Perceptive Travel. You can find out more about Sheila at her website.
About.com’s Family Vacations – I met Teresa Plowright many moons ago in Curacao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela. I’ve been following her site, and now her blog, which offers so much information for traveling families.
The Perrin Post – Wendy Perrin is a traveling mama that spends her time at hotels and resorts with pen and pad in-hand. She offers fun and insightful takes of hotels and destinations in her blog for Concierge.com, where she is employed full time as a Senior Editor, but seems to do so much more. Check out her interview on Write to Travel.
Families.com Travel Blog – Michele Cheplic is one of Families.com’s senior bloggers. She was born in Hilo, Hawaii and spent a few years in broadcast journalism. She now spends her time as a freelancing mom sharing her love of travel.