Mardi Gras has a gained a reputation as a celebration of debauchery, but for those from the great state of Louisiana, it’s actually a fun family extravaganza with plenty of kid-friendly activities. In fact, its roots are religious -- Mardi Gras began as a Catholic celebration to mark the last day of feasting before the Lenten fast began in preparation for Easter. But from St. Louis to Orlando to, of course, New Orleans, Mardi Gras has evolved into an excuse for adults and kids alike to dress up, don masks and parade through the streets. Here are a few travel tips for enjoying Mardi Gras with your family.
Parades are the staple of any Mardi Gras celebration, but the key to a family-friendly time in New Orleans is to avoid the French Quarter. In fact, no parades even pass through there. But if you also want to avoid the huge crowds on St. Charles Avenue, then find a parade in the suburbs of Metairie where they tend to be a bit quieter and more family-oriented. There are plenty on the schedule, so don't worry about missing out.
If you plan on attending one (or 3) of the more popular parades in New Orleans with the little ones in tow, it's a good idea to invest in a Mardi Gras ladder. These ladders feature a box seat at the top and are available in local New Orleans hardware stores. The kids will get to see everything from this vantage point and avoid getting trampled, and you’ll know where your kid is at all times. The float riders also aim their throws at kids on ladders, so they'll be sure to score big.
You don't have to go to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. At Universal Studios in Orlando, the celebration continues all the way through April. With a huge parade complete with stilt-walkers, street performers and elaborate floats every Saturday, the party never ends. Universal Studios also has their own French Quarter where you can listen to live Zydeco music and enjoy Cajun cuisine when the kids aren't on the rides.
At the St. Louis Zoo, kids rule Mardi Gras. With mask-making, beads and face-painting, this zoo celebration is full of fun activities and games. The event culminates in a stroller float parade, so bring your best stroller and wagon decorating skills to this free event and let the good times roll!
You can celebrate Mardi Gras anywhere with a King Cake. The traditionally cinnamon brioche-like cake topped with a sugar glaze is always a hit with kids of any age. Whoever is lucky enough to find the baby in their slice of cake is dubbed the king or queen of Mardi Gras and is responsible for providing the next King Cake. But in your kid's case, they can just relish their new title.
"Fat Monday" is a celebration that’s just as fun as "Fat Tuesday," but since it's the day before the big party, it's a bit more relaxed and a little less crowded – perfect for keeping track of the kiddies. At the Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans, live music and parades line the waterfront. Fireworks mark the king of the carnival’s arrival on the river by boat, where he is greeted by the mayor and officially given rule over New Orleans.
No matter where you wind up on Mardi Gras, it's a time for dressing up and being silly. So take this chance to repurpose those Halloween costumes that you thought would never see the light of day again. Better yet, dress in matching costumes, making it easier to keep track of each other in the parade crowds.