We saw some billboards for Mardi Gras World at the airport and decided to pay a visit (further proof that advertising is very effective on people who already work in the industry). It’s a little far from our hotel, but while we were having breakfast at Cafe Du Monde in the French Market, we spotted a bright blue shuttle bus that goes to Mardi Gras World. Tie called the number on their site and voila, we got free transportation there. The driver was real friendly, too.
We paid the admission price ($22 for adults, $17 for seniors and students, $14 for children) and received some plastic beads as our ticket. They show an introductory video every half hour and we made it just in time. It basically covers the history of Mardi Gras and ends with a serving of king cake, which is a ginormous oblong purple, yellow and green donut cut into multiple slices. They generally hide a little baby figurine inside one of the slices to decide who will buy next year’s cake. Seemed like it would be a choking hazard?
Anyway, after watching the video I finally understood the real size of a major Mardi Gras parade (and we were already so impressed by the small walking one we saw earlier). Definitely want to grab a few friends and attend an actual one by one of the larger krewes. They’re basically different organizations whereby the members participate in the parade and pay membership dues to fund all the floats and costumes. Meaning no corporate sponsors! I love it. Really helps maintain the spirit of Mardi Gras.
Following the cake feeding, our group was led on a tour around the on-site factory. They make a bunch of floats for the parades (plus some other special corporate projects). We got to see artists at work, along with partially finished paper mache pieces. They ranged from mythical creatures to New Orleans Saints players to RuPaul. Floats that featured people were often recycled, which is probably the why Drew Brees ended up looking kind of like Tom Cruise. The colors were all super vibrant and looked great on camera. It seemed like such a cool job to create floats, especially since you weren’t allowed to repeat anything so there is always something fresh to view each year (except for a few “classic” floats like the one featuring Rex, the king of Mardi Gras).
The actual float vehicles were massive. Imagine having beads rain down on you from up top! While beads are a pretty popular throw, some Krewes also hand-make their own signature throws, which can include shoes, sunglasses, hats, and masks. It seems plushies and go-cups are pretty popular, too. There are toilets on the floats since krewes can end up staying on the parade route for 6-8 hours at a time. It’s not out of the ordinary for them to be indulging in libations.
After the tour, we walked to the back to enjoy the view of the Mississippi River for a bit before heading back to the shuttle bus. I’m really glad we were able to get a deeper respect and understanding for Mardi Gras after this. Having only heard stories, I was always under the impression that it was just a giant drunken debacle with women flashing themselves for beads. Now, seeing how much artistry and history is part of the parade, I really hope we get to return with a first-person account of it.