Mardi Gras season begins in New Orleans with parades, King’s cakes and festivities during Carnival. Mardi Gras Day or “Fat Tuesday” is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday. It’s the last day of the Carnival season and falls on the first day of Lent. For 2014, it will be on March 4. Most visitors plan to arrive much earlier, and no later than Saturday, March 1, 2014.
The history of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. In 1872, a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival—Rex in New Orleans to preside over the first daytime parade. They introduced the official Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold in honor of a visiting Russian Grand Duke – Alexis Romanoff. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. When visiting New Orleans be sure to wear these colors if you are not in costume.
A Mardi Gras tradition is also to eat a slice of King’s cake. Inside every cake is a tiny plastic baby, representing the baby Jesus. The top of the cake is covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
Lodging in New Orleans during Mardi Gras books up quickly. Many hotels throughout the city and along parade routes require a four to five night stay. Reserve a room quickly, because many blocks of rooms are taken in August. Here are some good hotel choices:
If you want to stay on a main parade route in the Garden District, make a reservation at Hotel Indigo. Some rooms look out to the oak trees with beads hanging from past parades. It rests along the St. Charles Streetcar line, and within walking distance to Magazine Street filled with restaurants, shops and beautiful mansions. 2203 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans (504)522-3650.
Hilton New Orleans Riverside
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Hilton is ideally located within walking distance to the French Quarter, Canal Street, Harrah’s, and Riverwalk Marketplace. The 1,622 rooms and suites are comfortable and some offer great city and river views. Two Poydras St. (504)561-0500.
Queen & Crescent
Known as one of the best bargain hotels near the French Quarter. Each of the 196 decorated guest rooms feature European-style furnishings, in-room safes, hair dryers, coffee & coffee makers and high-speed Internet. 344 Camp St. (504)587-9700.
Besides Mardi Gras, people are drawn to New Orleans to experience the city’s excellent cuisine. Here are a few restaurants that I highly recommend:
Located in a renovated warehouse, this restaurant is open for lunch or dinner. The chefs prepare dishes from locally sourced pork, fresh produce, and seafood creating authentic and innovative Cajun Southern cooking. If the restaurant has a wait list, visit the sandwich shop and wine shop, Butcher, located behind the restaurant and managed by the same owners. 930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, (504)588-2123.
Known as one of the top Seafood Restaurants in American by Forbes.com., the elegant dining room is cozy with romantic booths. The staff will serve fresh out-of-the-oven buttermilk biscuits throughout your meal. Be sure to order a fresh fish entrée and salty malty dessert. Open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. 808 Bienville St, New Orleans (504)581-3467.
Nola by Emerald
Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse’s more casual restaurant in the French Quarter serves an eclectic menu of rustic Louisiana and Southern cooking. The service is warm Southern hospitality. Be sure to order the pork chop or duck entrée with a Banana pudding layer cake for dessert. It’s made with a Graham cracker crust, vanilla wafers, and fudge sauce. 534 St. Louis Street, New Orleans (504)522-6652.
Located on Canal Street, this classic New Orleans restaurant, serves contemporary Creole food in an upbeat and lively two-story grand café. It’s owned by Dickie Brennan, the restaurateur who owns multiple famous restaurants in New Orleans, including Commander’s Palace. Save room for the Bananas Foster prepared tableside. It’s a visual treat. 605 Canal St. New Orleans (504)523-1661.
Things to Do
Glide along the Mississippi River onboard one of the only authentic steamboats left in the United States, The Natchez. The two-hour narrated tour has an optional buffet meal plan. Be sure to tour the steam engines and listen to the live three-piece band. (800)233-2628.
Mardi Gras World
Step inside the workshops of Kern studios to watch a video of the history of Mardi Gras, eat a slice of King’s cake, and tour the warehouse of the largest float builder in the world.
History buffs will enjoy this museum that focuses on the American experience in World War II. New Orleans is the home of Higgins Industries, a company that designed, built and tested boats that were used during D-Day operations. More than 20,000 were built in New Orleans. An award-winning 4-D film, Beyond All Boundaries, gives the visitor an overview of the war on every front. Plan on spending at least two to three hours.
Frenchmen Art Market
In the evening art lovers gather every Thursday through Sunday from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. to explore local artists work. There is something for every budget from handcrafted jewelry, fine-art, offbeat sculptures, and handmade soap. Located at 619 Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood.
New Orleans is also known for its music. Almost everywhere you walk, you will hear music on a sidewalk or spilling out of a restaurant or club. On Frenchmen Street there are some great clubs to hear live jazz music. Step inside the Blue Nile, Three Muses, or Snug Harbor to hear world-renowned Jazz musicians.
If you can’t book a trip to Mardi Gras this year, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is on April 25 to May 4. Later in May is the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience from May 21 to May 24. Every month is a different reason to visit the Big Easy. Contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to get additional information A cruise from New Orleans is a great way to experience the vibrant city during Mardi Gras. Carnival season begins the first week in January and runs through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Most visitors this year will plan to arrive before Saturday, March 1 in order to enjoy an extended weekend of festivities on March 4, 2014.
Cruise from New Orleans
Most cruises from New Orleans range from four to seven days and sail to the western Caribbean. Guests flying into New Orleans might enjoy one or two nights at a hotel in the city near one of the parade routes.
We found the Hilton Riverside convenient to the cruise terminal and near great music, parades, the Harrah’s Casino, and restaurants.
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival also has another ship that visits New Orleans often, the Carnival Sunshine. She sails to various ports in Western and Eastern Caribbean. Some of the itineraries include a visit to Montego Bay, Belize, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Others Sunshine cruises start in New Orleans and sail to Key West, Bahamas-Freeport, Nassau, and back to New Orleans.
American Cruise Line
The Queen of the Mississippi sets sail from New Orleans for eight days to Oak Alley Plantation, Natchez, Vicksburg, Saint Francisville, Baton Rouge, Houmas House Plantation, and back to New Orleans with ten departure dates starting on February 15 through December 27. It’s an ideal Southern cruise to book as a Mardi Gras kickoff.
The Serenade of the Seas sails for seven days from New Orleans to Falmouth, Jamaica, George Town, Grand Caymans, and Cozumel, Mexico before coming back to New Orleans. There are three sailings during Carnival and before Mardi Gras.
Cruise After Mardi Gras
Experience a small ship adventure on the Blount for a 15-day cruise from New Orleans to Chicago with stops in Mobile, Demopolis, Columbus, Pickwick Landing National Park, Kuttawa, Alton, Havana, Peoria, Joliet, and Chicago. This unique sailing is offered on May 15, 2014.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
From March to November the Norwegian Cruise Line sails from New Orleans to various destinations. On the Norwegian Jewel the ship sails down the Mississippi River to Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan, Costa Maya and back of to New Orleans on a seven day cruise.
On April 13, 2014 the Norwegian Jewel is sailing on a 22-day cruise from New Orleans to San Francisco through the Panama Canal and Mexican Riviera. Or stay onboard for the 34-day cruise and continue up to Vancouver, four ports in Alaska and finish in Seattle.
If you reserve a cruise after Mardi Gras, visit Mardi Gras World next to the Cruise Terminal. While watching a short movie about the history of Mardi Gras, and see many of the actual floats, it was entice you to book another cruise next year during Carnival season.
To find a cruise vacation, visit your travel agent of cruise specialist.
This article was published in Destinations Travel Magazine http://destinationstravelmagazine.com/February2014/#/46 and Not Born Yesterday.