Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans | National Geographic
What celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is really like
New Orleans at Mardi Gras is nothing short of amazing. Ni'kesia Pannell
- Louisiana turned 300 this year and I expected Mardi Gras to reflect that with an over-the-top celebration.
- The history in New Orleans is richer than you can ever imagine.
- Whether a local or just stopping through, Fat Tuesday brings about one of the biggest celebrations you'll ever see.
- The food won this round of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras 2019 recently wrapped and if you've never been to New Orleans to celebrate, I'm sure you've heard about how wild things can get. From multiple days of watching strangers drink until they blackout to witnessing women — and some men — flash themselves for a string of beads, the tales that line the pavements of the infamous Bourbon Street are sometimes taken to the grave.
Although I've had the pleasure of seeing these things during my first Mardi Gras in 2012, once I discovered that 2019 marked the 300th year anniversary for Louisiana, I knew that my hiatus was about to come to an end.
Although ESSENCE Fest brings me to New Orleans every summer, I figured I'd make an early appearance this year because in my mind, everything justhadto be over the top for Louisiana's big 3-0-0, right? Once I told my good friend about what I thought was going to be the celebration of a lifetime, he was game to go. So, we packed our bags, jumped in the car and took a six and a half hour ride up to New Orleans.
Our hotel. Ni'kesia Pannell
Once we got to our hotel, the newHomewood Suites in the French Quarter, I automatically assumed it was going to be decked out with green, yellow, and purple decorations since it was right in the mix of all the activities.
Though the decor for the hotel was beautiful on its own, I was very surprised to find out that there was nothing indicating that Mardi Gras was in full swing. With the exception of a few front desk staff members wearing Mardi Gras themed headbands, it just looked like a regular day at the office. Onehugeplus to the hotel though, was its location. It was very close to the area that the Zulu parade was passing through on Fat Tuesday and I could literally see the entire thing from the window of my room! Likewise, I was only about a five-minute walk away from Bourbon Street and all of its glory.
Some amazing seafood. Ni'kesia Pannell
Since it rained for most of the first day of the trip and was a little chilly, walking around was very limited. Instead, we chose to try a new place to eat and luckily, the restaurant was in the Mardi Gras spirit. Don's Seafood, which serves some of the best oysters I've ever had in my life not only had the place decked out in carnival colors, but they also had Mardi Gras specific items on the menu which added a little excitement to the gloomy day.
Even the food gets in the spirit. Ni'kesia Pannell
Day two of Mardi Gras was a little better because it didn't rain … as much.
Even with it being colder than expected, we were still able to get out and have a good time. Since the carnival is pretty much like a holiday for the city, I think I expected to see the streets flooded with people the entire day and through the night. To my surprise though, things weren't as packed as I imagined, which worked out to our benefit as we were able to get drinks very quickly.
Some amazing dogs. Ni'kesia Pannell
While having lunch at Dat Dog— one of the best and most creative "dog stands" I've ever been to in my entire existence — the restaurant's owner, Constantine Georges, extended an invite for my friend and I to his apartment the next day for his annual Fat Tuesday party.
Though the windy weather was enough to deter many from heading out, the restaurant was still packed. Overflowing with people dressed in costumes, sporting face-paint, and wearing a little less than expected, everyone who sat down in Dat Dog kept a smile on their face. Ironically enough, each dog is in the shape of a smile.
We met a few friends. Ni'kesia Pannell
The rest of the night was spent making our way to get drinks, drinks, and more drinks and since the area wasn't too packed, everything was easy to obtain.
The Zulu parade. Ni'kesia Pannell
On our final day, which was Fat Tuesday, the weather had done a complete 180 and offered clear skies mixed with nice rays of sun and overflowing streets of people ready to have a good time.
Since this was my first time being there on Fat Tuesday, which is the biggest and last day for Mardi Gras, I wanted to make sure I got as much of the experience as possible. Luckily, since our room was right in the crossfire of the Zulu parade, it was easy to get to and see.
Spike Lee even joined in the fun. Ni'kesia Pannell
And trust me, it was one that you definitely didn't want to miss. From dancing in the streets to seeing Spike Lee throw out beads, it was literally like a huge celebration throughout the streets that day.
To kill time before we headed to the party that we had been invited to the day before, we stopped by The Roosevelt hotel, a 124-year-old hotel that's rich with New Orleans history. Its bar, The Sazerac— which is named after its signature drink — was the first place to let women have drinks on days other than Mardi Gras. And, of course, the bar had a drink created and dedicated solely to the carnival, too.
The Sazerac Ni'kesia Pannell
On my final night of perusing the bead-ridden streets, I ran into old college friends, drank the world famous Resurrection drank (two or three times), had a few beignets from Cafe Du Monde, and danced the night away as if I were a college student just turning 21.
You have to have a beignet. Ni'kesia Pannell
Overall, I really didn't see a huge difference in how the city celebrated Mardi Gras this year than how it was celebrated during the first year I went.
Although I probably set my expectations higher than I should have because 300 years made me believe all the bells and whistles would be pulled out, the biggest difference between this trip and my first one was being able to see all of the parades and learning more about the history of a few well-known sites in the area. I'd also like to think that because of all the raining that went on during those few days we were there, not as many people poured into the areas as usual. Nevertheless, Mardi Gras 2019 was unforgettable, irreplaceable and a downright good time.
Will I be back next year? Of course. And, if you've never been it's a must that you experience, too.
Video: Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans | National Geographic
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