Mardi Gras For the Budget Traveler
Mardi Gras – or, Fat Tuesday – is the last night before the church season Lent begins. Lent is the time of preparation for Easter, so, traditionally, it’s a time of deprivation or giving up of some pleasures. That’s why Mardi Gras has evolved into a final celebration of indulgences.
In America, the only place to be on Mardi Gras is in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carnival season begins on January 6 and goes through Mardi Gras day, but visitors typically come into town to celebrate on the weekend before Mardi Gras. For many people, being one of these visitors is a bucket list event. Indulging in this debaucherous weekend is, unfortunately, fairly expensive.
While the weekend before Mardi Gras is the top time for visitors, parades actually start earlier. The first parades roll two Fridays before Mardi Gras. This means you can come to New Orleans before the busiest weekend and still see beautiful floats and catch some cool throws. You can also hope to avoid higher airfare and, some taxis may not have gone to higher event pricing.
Stay Out of The Quarter
When you head into the French Quarter, you get a different type of Mardi Gras. This is a rowdy group, so if you have children or if you’re above the college age, you may not even have a desire to be down there. However, another reason to avoid the Quarter is high prices. Food and drink costs can be much higher at restaurants in the French Quarter because they are aimed at tourists. Because almost all parades run through Uptown New Orleans (think closer to Audubon Park) and head into the Business District, you can easily avoid the Quarter altogether. And if you realized you definitely don’t know anyone to stay with in New Orleans, look for hotels in the Business District or Uptown and you may be able to find better deals.
Pack a Picnic
Buy your food and drink away from the parades and bring it picnic style. Buy your alcohol at a convenience store or grocery store away from the parades. Then, pack a cooler of beer or mix a large serving of your favorite drink and bring it to the parade route. Open containers are perfectly legal in New Orleans, making this easier; but remember glass bottles are illegal. Bring sandwiches or just bread and cheese to the parade so you can eat whenever you need. There are also frequently vendors selling inexpensive food along the routes. Just avoid “special Mardi Gras” food deals; these are inclusive prices, but may end up being more food and drink than you want so you spend more.
See Who You Know
New Orleanians know the appeal of Mardi Gras for visitors, and many are happy to open their homes to guests. See who you may know in the city. If you have a friend of a friend in the city, then you may have a free and comfortable place to sleep all weekend. They will also be able to show you the ropes of getting to the parades and catching some loot.