What generates more than a billion dollars in spending, needs the participation of 135,000 people, and involves more than 1,000 floats? Answer: New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
I learned this from Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide. This is a magazine that Hardy started in 1976 “to enhance the enjoyment of Mardi Gras”. Over time it has become the essential source of information, and Arthur has no plans to retire. Since I was in New Orleans just after 2015’s Mardi Gras, I was able to find one. They’re $4.99 and full of stories, details about each parade, vivid ads, etc. If you’re planning to go to 2016’s Mardi Gras or if you, like me, have a casual interest in what is probably the world’s largest and longest annual party, visit mardigrasguide.com. Mardi Gras Guide’s 39th edition will greet you. That’s right….2015 will mark the publication of Arthur’s 40th.
I learned about this publication at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World. TripAdvisor’s “Top Things to Do in New Orleans” does list Mardi Gras World, but I’d rank it much higher than 27th. In fact, despite its lurid tackiness, I’d give it 5 Compasses and put it in the top 5 things to do in the Crescent City because it provides total immersion in the subject for as long as the tour lasts. Ruth and I saw floats in all stages of construction and destruction, which took a bit of the fantasy out of the fun for us but not for the stary-eyed little girls with us. The tour began with a helpful 15 minute documentary about the 2011 Mardi Gras and King Cake.
Blaine Kern helped his father build the family’s 1st float way back in 1932 at the depth of The Depression. It was on a mule drawn garbage wagon. Today, Kern Studios is one of the world’s premier makers of floats, props, and sculptures. They do business with Disney, Chick-fil-A, Universal Studios, etc. Since they prepare Mardi Gras floats and fulfill contracts year-round, tours of this working studio occur 7 days a week year-round at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place. Because it’s next to a ginormous cruise ship terminal, try to visit MGW when a ship is not filling or emptying.
The 1st New Orleans’ Mardi Gras occurred in 1857. Parades grew so big and elaborate that French Quarter streets haven’t been used since 1973. There are usually more than 50 parades (2014 had 53) involving floats large enough to contain toilets for 35 to 40 Crewe members and costing up to $80,000. Mardi Gras Guide gives detailed info about special participants, exact routes, parade subjects, etc. There’s no general theme for Mardi Gras, but the party begins with Carnival on January 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday, which will be between February 3 and March 9.
Lurid may not be the best word to describe Mardi Gras. Arthur Hardy insists that it’s “generally a safe, G-rated event enjoyed by families”. But that’s not the face it presents to the world, at least my world. One thing’s for sure, though, if you attend, you will participate and bring home sleep deprivation and lots of green, purple, and gold beads.