Updated: Dec 29, 2018
Mardi Gras has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. New Orleans is already very unique because of the food, voodoo culture and the French quarter but this year was extra special. In February of 2018, New Orleans celebrated its Tricentennial Mardi Gras. Thats right, 300 years of celebration! Due to the fact that it was the tricentennial (something that will never happen again) this years Mardi Gras was amped up! My husband and I arrived the weekend before Fat Tuesday (the largest and last party day of the Mardi Gras season). I recall our exit from the plane vividly, as I deplaned, I had beads thrown at me which landed right to the center of my forehead and then shortly after someone handed me a free drink! We found our driver and made our way to the hotel. It was so crowded that our driver could not drop us off directly at our hotel. There were various parades happening on many streets and every street that a parade wasn't happening there were road closures to safely bar hop and celebrate in the streets. We were dropped off one block from our hotel (the historic Hotel Monteleone). Our hotel was one block from the famous and well known Bourbon street, where the majority of the Mardi Gras celebration takes place. We walked through a crowd of masks, costumes, topless women with hand grenades and beads to arrive to our hotel. At the entrance of the hotel there was a line outside the door and inside as people from all over came to have a drink at the famous carousel bar. We checked in and got changed into our costumes that we had made for this event and started off to bourbon street. The first stop was to get our hands on a famous hand grenade made either frozen on the on the rocks with 190 proof liquor in a yard size plastic container. Surprisingly the drink wasn't strong to taste but very light and very easy to drink. In fact, it was so light and tasty that you would naturally drink it fast and in no time, you are ready for another. As long as you keep your container, you can get a refill for little to nothing of the original purchase price (so save your yard cup). We ventured down the street to explore more of the different bars.
Each bar was unique, played different music, had a dj or a live band. As you walked in and out of each bar/restaurant you were greeted with large crowds of women and men that were gathering at each balcony looking to earn or gain beads. I know what you are thinking, no big deal, it's just beads! They were not just beads and they were not all the same. Some of the beads were custom made, some were extremely large and unique. It was like a competition to see who could deem themselves worthy to get a set a beads. Now traditionally you hear that you need to go topless to get beads during Mardi Gras but that isn't true at all. Being in a cool costume, doing something funny, making funny faces can get someone in the balconies above to throw you a set of beads that they have worked hard to custom make or purchase (although, the girls that did go topless did have the most beads).
After spending most of the day refilling our yard sticks and sampling a Sazarac and Mint Julep (more famous New Orleans drinks) we became hungry. We waddled our way over to the famous Cafe Du Monde where others had the same idea (coffee and beignets). Cafe Du Monde sits right on a river near historic buildings and a central area where people gathered for free acts and engagement in dance and cajun culture. As we arrived and walked through the patio at Du Monde there was powdered sugar everywhere! All over the floors and all over the tables like it was Christmas morning in a northern state. We ordered two sets of beignets and coffee. The wait wasn't long before we were greeted with fresh beignets that were gobbled down in no time. We then went around to enjoy the hustle of the culture. People painted themselves gold and stayed as still as a statue to earn a dollar. Random shows were put on for free enjoyment in hopes for a tip. Everywhere you went someone was doing something interesting to earn an extra dollar as their own unique hustle. It was cool to witness and be part of. During our visit to New Orleans we wanted to be sure that we engaged in the food culture as they are truly known for it. New Orleans has a long list of historic restaurants serving up cajun classics and we tried our hardest to visit as many as we could. If you are looking for historic cajun cuisine be sure to check out Antonine's, Tujagues and Broussard's as they host an upscale authentic cuisine. Be sure to make reservations if you go during a time like Mardi Gras. My reservations were made months in advance.
Everyone talks about Bourbon street but everyone forgets that the locals don't go where the tourist go. They go somewhere else. In order to really indulge yourself in Jazz/Blues culture you need to visit Frenchmen street. This is where all the locals go and where live Jazz, blues and bourbon freely flows. It is a very similar set up to Bourbon; however, no beads while Jazz fuels the streets. You can pop in and out of bars without hassle and its definitely less crowded.
If partying all day isn't your thing, there are various parades going on. New Orleans did a very good job providing parade locations and times all throughout the day, everyday. The floats were really cool and while watching the parade they throw you a lot of cool freebies like key chains, bottle openers, can coolers, etc. New Orleans is also home to one of the largest WWII Musuems which was really cool to see. We took a break from partying to do just what was mentioned above and also visit the Voodoo house as well as the most haunted grave site in the US : St. Louis Cemetery 1. The tour of the cemetery was very educational and very scary at the same time. We learned a lot about Voodoo culture and the Queen of Voodoo Marie Laveau as well as other historic figures laid to rest at that cemetery. Those were just the highlights of our amazing visit to New Orleans and I really haven't even scratched the surface.
New Orleans is a very strong cultural, fun place with a lots of history. There is so much more to it than Mardi Gras and food. The history there alone is enough to keep you busy for days. If you are a foodie, this place will blow your palate out of the water with its authentic cajun cuisine and historical restaurants that have been in business for more than a century. If you plan to visit New Orleans I would recommend going there initially not during Mardi Gras as the crowding can prevent you from really enjoying so many places but a second trip is warranted during Mardi Gras as it is truly bucket list worthy!