While many people equate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, it is celebrated along the gulf coast from Texas to Florida. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and it originated in Europe.
The celebration, parades, balls, and carousing in the US grew from Mobile, Alabama with Michael Krafft and the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. If you bring this up in New Orleans you may hear the popular retort, “They may have invented it, but we perfected it!”
Without a doubt, New Orleans has the largest parades of the Mardi Gras season with the flash and flair of the Las Vegas strip. People from all over the world come to watch the huge floats, celebrity riders, catch the beads, purses, shoes, coconuts, and other weird and wonderful throws, as well as to partake in other flashy and fleshly aspects of Mardi Gras.
New Orleans is also well known for the naughtier aspects of the celebration such as flashing. There is a common misconception that being thrown beads obligates the recipient to flash their bare chest. The fact is that millions of bead necklaces are thrown in New Orleans without the recipient doing anything for them.
For the most part, the practice of flashing for beads is limited to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and may happen any evening regardless of the holiday. To make a clean breast of it, as it were, this photojournalist must admit to having observed the practice of flashing for beads elsewhere, including on Canal Street during day and evening parades and even on St Charles street across from the mayor’s reviewing stand.
Some folks consider going to Mardi Gras for the excitement of the parades but fear the naughtier aspects of it. Others are looking for the more fleshy aspect of the celebration. While there are no guarantees, this naughty and nice list will give you a heads up when choosing your Mardi Gras destination.
The Nice list
1) Mobile and the greater Mobile Bay area in Alabama take pride in their family friendly parades, both day and night. They work hard to keep things safe for parade goers and for medical emergencies, their crews are able to put a team on the scene anywhere in less than 5 minutes.
2) The Mississippi Gulf Coast boasts family friendly Mardi Gras parades going back over a century. The Mardi Gras day parade in Biloxi is along Beach Boulevard with a beautiful view of the gulf coast beach. The area also offers Harrah’s, The Golden Nugget, Beau Rivage, The Scarlet Pearl, Island View, and other casinos for more mature entertainment.
3) Pensacola, Florida has less parades than its neighbor, Mobile, but each float forms its own krewe and there are parties every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras day. They keep the parades family friendly and some of their krewes also raise money and materials for charitable causes.
The Naughty List
1) New Orleans has the most spectacular parades and while most tend to be family friendly, some will have more mature themes and there is always the possibility that there may be flashing for beads. If that is what you are looking for, head to bourbon street where you find it most any night as well as strip clubs and all you can drink Margarita shops.
Though not as spectacular, the greater New Orleans area has many parades that don’t fit the naughty list, including Metairie, Slidell, Mandeville, and Westbank. Further down the road in Louisiana there are popular Mardi Gras celebrations in Houma, Lafayette, and Lake Charles
2) They say that the daytime parades on Galveston Island, Texas are family friendly but at night they compete with Bourbon Street. While most parade krewes tend to be exclusive clubs, in Galveston, for the right price, you can join in on the parties and even ride in the parade!