New Orleans is a melting pot of ethnicity, cuisine, architecture, and partying. There’s nowhere else like it and everyone is welcome.
Mardi Gras is paid for and organized by the community. Why? Because they can.
- Mardi Gras celebrations begin January 6th and last until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Fat Tuesday.
- Floats are made from styrofoam and paper mache or fiber glass.
- There will be 72 parades in 2020 and the number continues to grow each year. 45 of the parades are held 2 weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
- Each float holds 20-40 people and costs an average of $250,000 USD.
- Most of the floats are organized by non-profit organizations. The funds are raised by the organization through events, fundraisers, and donations from the community. Corporate sponsors are prohibited.
- The law prohibits parades from exceeding 32 floats. New Orleans found a loophole: A float pulled by a tractor is considered 1 float. Two floats, 3 floats, 4 floats being pulled by a tractor is considered 1 float. Basically, the law restricts the number of tractors. After a tractor pulled 9 floats (a world record that legally can never be broken), the law was amended limiting the number of floats per tractor to 4.
Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, but almost always has a line.
- The original Cafe Du Monde location in the French Quarter opened in 1862. To wait in a shorter line, order from the take out window in the back of the cafe. There are 3 beignets in an order for $3.40 USD+tax. Cash only.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Before leaving New Orleans, we indulged in one more order of beignets from Cafe Beignet. Located in the Shops at Jax Brewery in the French Quarter, 1 of 4 locations, the cafe has live music every day from 2:00pm – 10:00pm. There are 3 beignets in an order for $3.99 USD+tax.
*Cafe Du Monde vs. Cafe Beignet*
Stephanie’s favorite: Cafe Du Monde for the slightly sweater tasting dough. Mitch’s favorite: Cafe Beignet’s larger and fluffier French doughnut. Beignet…done that.
King cake is only eaten from January 6th, at the Feast of Epiphany, until Mardi Gras Day.
- King cake varies by bakery. Some are similar to a cinnamon roll while others resemble a vanilla pound cake, but all are lavishly decorated with icing and colored sugar crystals. Leading up to Mardi Gras a new flavor is featured each week; maple bacon, banana foster, or white chocolate bread pudding. A small plastic baby is hidden in the bottom of each king cake. The one to receive the baby in their slice of cake receives a year of good fortune and the responsibility to throw next year’s Mardi Gras celebration.
Traveling Gingerbread Tip: A praline is a confection, with a texture similar to fudge, made from butter, brown sugar, and pecans. Free samples are easy to find throughout the French Quarter in souvenir stores, gift shops, and candy stores.
Jackson Square comes alive on Saturday.
- On Saturday at 9:00am musicians, fortune tellers, magicians, and artists were setting up on the streets surrounding the peaceful Jackson Square. By 1:00pm the sidewalks were crowded and there wasn’t an open bench near the park.
A guide is required to visit cemeteries due to past vandalism and bone theft.
- There are stories of tourist returning stolen stones to the cemetery because of the bad luck that followed. Don’t lean on the tombs, don’t take anything other than photos, and stay with your guide. We visited the grave of New Orleans’ voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, in St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery on a Witches Brew Tour.
New Orleans consists of 73 districts.
- While we explored many areas, we didn’t make it to everything on our list:
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Research prior to our trip resulted in us adding Decatur Street and Frenchmen Street to our list. We found the areas to be artsy with voodoo shops and dive bars, but overall uncomfortable. There was less foot traffic, many homeless on the sidewalks, and dark, uninviting bars with covered windows along both streets even during the day.
The Port of South Louisiana is one of the busiest cargo ports in the United States.
- We recommend a 2 hour cruise on Steamboat Natchez along the Mississippi River, the 3rd largest river in the world. We opted for the most affordable option, Harbor Jazz Sightseeing Cruise without the optional lunch. The cruise included live jazz music and commentary.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: New Orleans is actually 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Some of our favorite hidden gems:
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar was built in the early 1700’s and was the Lafitte brothers’ homebase for smuggling. It is one of the oldest buildings operating as a bar in the United States and the most haunted bar in New Orleans.
- After 3 days of searching for an open seat at the rotating Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone, our persistence paid off on a Tuesday at 11:15am (15 minutes after the bar opened). A complete rotation around the bar takes 15 minutes. Good luck!
French Market Place
- Beyond the Shoppes of the Colonnade is America’s oldest open air market with restaurants offering to-go menus, produce, and vendors selling everything from alligator jerky and vegan king cake to t-shirts and piggy banks. The market is open every day from 10:00am – 6:00pm, but we recommend arriving closer to 11:00am to give vendors time to set up.
- The Original Pierre Maspero’s is located in one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter. Built in 1788, the building was once The Original Pierre Maspero’s Slave Exchange. We recommend ordering the jambalaya.
- 1 of 4 Cafe Beignet’s locations, the outdoor Musical Legends Park offers live music, outdoor seating, alcoholic beverages, and a fun atmosphere.
Louis Armstrong Park/Congo Square
- Once a week, slaves were allowed a social hour away from their masters. They would gather in Louis Armstrong Park to sell handmade items to one day buy their freedom, dance, and play music. The lively area earned the name of Congo Square.
Museums educate visitors on much more than art.
- Museum of Death: An inside look at serial killers including a collection of Charles Manson’s artwork, gruesome accident and crime scene photos, old morgue and embalming tools, and taxidermy pets. Tours are self guided. $15 USD per person.
- New Orleans Pharmacy Museum: Browse original healing herbs and voodoo potions, instruments, and labs in one of America’s first licensed apothecaries transformed into a museum,
- Mardi Gras Museum: Tour one of several Krewe of Orpheus’ warehouses to see floats being prepared for their big debut and learn about the history of Mardi Gras. Tours depart every 30 minutes. Check Groupon for discounted tickets.
- Southern Food and Beverage Museum: Offering classes, demonstrations, lectures and the Museum of the American Cocktail.
Hollywood has created a dark, misconception of voodoo.
- Originally voodoo was a form of healing. The tomb of New Orleans’ great voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, is located in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. She has many visitors seeking help that leave behind hairbands, flowers, coins, or other small gifts at the base of her grave. Many years ago, an X was marked on her tomb when visitors made a wish. When their wish was granted, they returned to circle their X. Unfortunately a few years ago the tomb was vandalized by a coat on pink paint. After power washing the tomb in hopes of returning it to its original color, most of the inscriptions were removed.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: For a taste of Mardi Gras with more manageable crowds we recommend visiting on a weekend between January 6th and Fat Tuesday. Visiting January 18th-21st, we unknowingly arrived during Pardi-Gras, a 5 day celebration with live music, beads, and celebrating on Bourbon Street. The city was decorated in purple, green, and yellow, we received free slices of king cake, and witnessed a second line parade.