Travel Advice for New Zealand: How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand
How to Plan a Trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras
If you think Mardi Gras in New Orleans is all about the craziness in the French Quarter, you have a lot to learn! The region’s Carnival season runs from January 6 through “Fat Tuesday” itself, but don’t wait until December to book your hotel and transportation. Once you have secured a place to stay and way of getting to New Orleans, create an itinerary (with lots of built-in flexibility) so you can make the most of your trip to the “Big Easy.”
Booking a Place to Stay
Secure a place to stay first.Unless you're booking a combined flight and hotel deal, reserve lodging before you start looking into your flight. Having a means of transportation to New Orleans doesn't do you any good unless you have a place to stay once you arrive.
- Because Mardi Gras is so popular, plan on booking your hotel well in advance — as early as the prior August. By December, all nearby lodgings are often completely booked.
Check for convenient hotel rooms in the heart of the city.Use popular travel websites to find hotels that meet your quality and price standard. You’ll pay a premium for proximity to the action, of course, but you’ll be able to walk to many of the major parades and attractions.
- Plan to stay at least four to five days if you want to book a room in the French Quarter or Central Business District. This is typically the minimum stay required, starting the weekend before Mardi Gras.
- Despite what you may imagine, it’s virtually impossible to book a hotel room with a balcony that overlooks a major, float-filled parade route. (The French Quarter has balconies, but pedestrian-only parades.)
Expand your hotel search to save money on lodging.Use the same travel websites to look for lodging away from the Central Business District, and you’ll be sure to find cheaper hotel rooms of perfectly good quality. But remember the time and money it will take to use crowded public transportation, clogged roads, or overwhelmed taxis to get to activities in the city core.
- Contact prospective hotels and ask if they’re in a bike-friendly area. Biking around the city during Mardi Gras can be a great option — but make sure you lock up your ride!
Look into alternatives to traditional hotels.Consider a bed and breakfast instead of a hotel or motel. Not surprisingly, New Orleans has a wealth of charming bed and breakfasts in stately old homes. You may have to search for them on the web using the phrase "New Orleans Bed and Breakfast," because many are not listed on the major travel sites.
- If you don’t mind “roughing it” a bit more in order to save money, you can also search for hostels online — they are abundant in and around the city.
Find a person-to-person room or home rental.Look for homes or rooms to rent on sites like Airbnb. However, expect the prices (especially for locations near the heart of the action) during Mardi Gras to skyrocket.
- If you know someone in New Orleans, you’re cheapest option is probably to see if you can crash on a couch or a spot on the floor at their place.
Temper your expectations for a last-minute deal.There are always a few late cancellations, and you may get lucky and snag a great hotel room in January or even later. Check websites regularly and keep calling hotels to see if they have any cancellations, but be prepared to pay a premium price. And don’t just head to New Orleans without a room booked and expect to find something when you get there.
Getting to New Orleans
Look into travel package deals.Popular online travel sites let you book your hotel, flight, and rental car, or just two of the three, as packages. This always saves some time, usually keeps things better organized, and often — but not always — saves money versus booking each element individually.
- While the big online travel sites are convenient, you can call a local travel agent to help you make the booking if you would like expert advice on arrangements to, from, and in New Orleans.
Check for flights to the closest major airport.Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is your best bet for getting into and out of the city by air.Keep an eye out for flight deals, but don’t wait too long, as many thousands of people fly into New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
- This airport is fairly close to the city center — you can usually get to downtown in less than half an hour by taxi, and under an hour via public transportation. However, during Carnival season, expect it to take longer, especially in the days leading up to Mardi Gras itself.
Travel by rail or road instead of by air.You can book Amtrak trains into New Orleans from cities including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, or buses from practically any major American city. In either case, you’ll disembark at Union Passenger Terminal, right in the heart of the city. That means that if you’re staying downtown, you may not even need to take a cab or streetcar to get to your lodging.
Planning Your Itinerary
Choose which parade(s) you want to see.There’s no single, “offical” Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Instead, there are dozens of parades that start at different times and places. Use sites like to help plan out where you want to be, and when you need to get there.
- Many of the largest parades begin near the intersection of St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues, and the section of St. Charles in the Garden District is considered particularly family-friendly.
- The parades in the famous French Quarter are actually smaller, float-free, and definitely meant for adults. Look elsewhere for the more extravagant (and more family-friendly) parades.
Stake out a spot early for a parade view.For many Mardi Gras revelers, part of the fun is arriving hours early at the parade route to claim a good spot, hang out for several hours, and deal with the huge crowds that squeeze in as the parade approaches. You might run into locals who stake out the same spot every year this way.
- You can hang out with chairs and other conveniences, but once the crowds rush in, you’ll need to stand to see anything. People used to bring and use ladders to see better, but that practice is increasingly discouraged.
Pay to sit instead of stand during a parade.If it’s not your preference, you don’t have to stand for hours and then crane your neck to see the parade while packed in like a sardine. If you’d rather have a reserved seat, you can buy tickets (for roughly - USD each) ahead of time for designated grandstands located in several spots along the main parade routes.
- Alternatively, you can book a seat, food, and restroom (as opposed to heavily-used portable toilets!) package from one of several restaurants located along major routes. These can cost from about to well over 0 USD, depending on location and amenities.
Check out the parades that happen before Mardi Gras.The weekend that falls before Fat Tuesday is when the Endymion and Bacchus parades occur. These are two of the largest parades of the season. Both Saturday and Sunday of that weekend will be full of parade watchers.
- There is another large parade called Orpheus that takes place on Monday, and the Zulu Lundi Gras festival also takes place all day that day.
Find things to do when you’re not watching (or waiting) for parades.The New Orleans area is always a great place to visit. It’s full of world-class restaurants and music venues, not to mention museums, casinos, public parks, and more. Talk to your hotel concierge, visit the city’s tourist center, or just chat up some locals for recommendations.
- Especially if you have kids, check out the Audobon attractions, which include a zoo, aquarium, and insectarium.
- Check out the architecture in the Garden District.
- New Orleans is a great place for shopping as well; check for discounts and coupons at sites like .
Explore the Big Easy safely.Most travelers enjoy Carnival season in New Orleans without any major problems, but you should always take sensible travel precautions. For instance, pickpockets tend to frequent the tightly-packed parade crowds. So be sure to secure (with snaps, buttons, chains, zippers, strong straps, etc.) any purses, wallets, smartphones, or expensive jewelry.
- During Carnival season in New Orleans, the weather can vary widely, from surprisingly chilly to oppressively hot. And don't be surprised to experience some rain. Dress in easily-removable layers, and don't forget to pack a light rain jacket.
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