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What to See and Do at the Louisiana Mardi Gras

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Crowds reach for Mardi Gras Beads from a passing float

RVers and campers can indulge in three great things when they go on an RV or camping trip in Louisiana: jazz, jambalaya and the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. While they can enjoy jazz and jambalaya all year round, they'd have to wait with the rest of the world until the day before Ash Wednesday to grace Louisiana's most festive celebration, the Mardi Gras.

The term Mardi Gras is of French origin, translating to "Fat Tuesday" in English as reference to the last day of feasting that Catholics have before fasting in observance of the Lenten Season. The term, however, has been loosely used to refer to the entire celebration that runs from January 6th, the Epiphany, to Fat Tuesday on March 4, the day before Ash Wednesday. This period is actually called the Carnival or "farewell to flesh". Read on for important things you have to know about Mardi Gras.

What to See and Do

  • Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World - If Christmas has Santa Claus, Mardi Gras has Blaine Kern. This is where most of the Mardi Gras floats are conceived, carpentered and painted. Visitors have the privilege of seeing how the floats are animated and mechanized. The Mardi Gras World is a magical place where adults become children and kids live in fantasy amidst all the vibrant colors, loud music and excitement.
  • Michaul's on St. Charles - St. Charles Avenue is the best spot to watch the Mardi Gras Parade, making it a favorite among families. Michaul's on St. Charles provides spectators with sure seats, Cajun food and live entertainment during the parade's off-hours.
  • Antoine's Restaurant - Mardi Gras has a long-winding history, but Antoine's Restaurant has existed more than a decade before the festival, seeing every facet of the parade, from its conception right up to its yearly progress. Located between the famous Bourbon and Royal Streets, it has served some of the world's most important figures like President Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. What has made Antoine's Restaurant such an indelible fixture in New Orleans' history? It's nothing-but-excellent French-Creole dishes and impeccable service. Prepare to be delighted by Antoine's signature dishes: Oyster Rockefeller, Escargots a la Bordelaise and Omelette Alaska Antoine.
  • Louisiana State Museum Carnival Exhibits - They say in order to appreciate, one must understand. The Louisiana State Museum exhibits important Mardi Gras mementos that cover the history and relevance of this ancient tradition.You must be 21 or older to enter the museum, due to the presence of video poker machines.
  • Coop's Place in the French Quarter - What is a trip to New Orleans without jambalaya? And if you're looking to sample the best jambalaya in town, well, Coop's Place has, by far, gotten the most votes. Have more than a taste of their specialties: seafood gumbo, rabbit and sausage jambalaya, blackened redfish and shrimp Creole. You must be 21 or older to enter the restaurant, due to the presence of video poker machines.
  • Mardi Gras Parade - The Mardi Gras krewes are the people behind every successful Mardi Gras celebration. These are groups who shell out money, time and effort on colorful floats, trinkets and throws. There are more than 50 krewes that join the parade every year, but there are 5 krewes that stand out and never fail to get everyone's attention: Krewe of Rex (regarded as the proponent of many Mardi Gras traditions, most sought-after among all krewes for the doubloon coins being thrown), Krewe of Zulu (famous for their "golden nugget" throws), Mardi Gras Indians (flagrant costumes year after year), Krewe of Bacchus (always a surprise who they're getting for the year's celebrity king) and Krewe of Endymion (features celebrity guests on their float). The Mardi Gras 2014 Parade is set to kick off on February 15 in the French Quarter with the Krewe du Vieux taking care of the festivities. Droves of tourists are expected to invade New Orleans from February 15, Saturday, when the parade begins all the way to March 4. Fat Tuesday is a must-not-miss because well, it's Mardi Gras proper, and this is when all the best krewes come out. Wake up early because the grounds fill up by 8am. For a detailed parade schedule and route, visit: http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/schedule.html.

What to Bring

Bring loads and loads of gameness and fun spirit to the Mardi Gras celebration! Unlike most parades where people just sit back, cheer, applaud and take photos, Mardi Gras is an interactive procession and you'll have lots of fun if you participate. As dozens of vibrant, themed floats pass by, krewe members throw trinkets to the spectators; typically in the form of Krewe doubloons, cups or beads. RV campers are unlikely to get Mardi Gras goodies if they don't join in so jump up, raise your arms and reach for those colorful throws. If you're up to it, you can even yell, "Throw me something, mister!"

Making Mardi Gras Great for Children

Mardi Gras celebration may have gotten raps from moralists for the nudity that occurs during the feast, but unlike the common notion, Mardi Gras nudity is more of an exception than a rule. Just stick to the parade grounds and avoid streets like Bourbon Street. One of the most popular "family spots" is St. Charles Avenue, located between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. This is where most families go and there is a strong community vibe going here as families gather for picnics and barbecues. Because of all the excitement, small children can get lost during the festivities, but you can avoid this by scrawling important information like your name and contact details on a piece of paper and tucking it in your child's pocket. You may also write contact information on your kid's arm to be on the safer side.

Bring a small ladder where your child can sit and see the parade; there is actually a Mardi Gras Ladder that can be bought in hardware stores that already come with a seat. This way, the kid can appreciate all the colors of the procession and can easily get noticed by the krewe members. Bonus: krewe members frequently throw special treats to children on Mardi Gras ladders. Get a big loot bag for your kid where he/she can place trinkets, throws and stuffed toys!

Other Mardi Gras Tips

Slather on sun protection - the fun isn't worth damaging your skin under the sun. Wear comfortable shoes that will let you walk and run long streets that you don't mind getting soiled. Wear clothing that you can easily move around in, but cannot be torn away from you. Some people get so overexcited that they can tear shirts from even unwilling participants. If you're going on a Mardi Gras RV camp holiday with a large group, designate a meeting point and time in case you lose each other during the parade; having a mobile phone is also a wise thing to remember.

Where to Stay during the Mardi Gras

There are many campgrounds and RV parks near New Orleans to choose from according to budget and preferences. Some RV park owners even provide shuttle service to the venue.

Mardi Gras attracts millions of visitors from all across America every year so RV campers should make plans and reservations months before the feast. For more information on the 2013 Mardi Gras, visit http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com

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