Updated: Mar 20, 2019
It's never too early to plan for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We missed it in 2017 because by the time we began searching for hotels, all the hotel rooms were already sold out. So for the following year's festivities, we knew we'd better plan way in advance. By "we," I'm referring to my husband and myself plus our travel buddies, Sandy and John. Lucky for us, NOLA was celebrating its tricentennial in 2018, making it all the merrier.
Not only do hotel rooms fill up very quickly but the hotel rates get ridiculously pricey the closer it gets to Fat Tuesday. We ended up going the week before Mardi Gras but that turned out to be the best decision ever. Celebrating 2018 Mardi Gras with our travel buddies was a blast!
Where we stayed
Our hotel, the French Quarter Chateau Lemoyne, couldn't have been more perfectly located. Even though we did our share of researching for the trip, it was a good idea to get the help of travel agent Marjorie of MS Travel Planner (Land and Cruise Experts). She recommended this hotel, which is right in the heart of the French Quarter. It was close enough to the center of all the action, yet tucked away enough to get a peaceful night's sleep.
Schedule of Parades
I made sure to check the official website of Mardi Gras New Orleans to find out the schedules and routes of the parades and floats. Using that as my guide, I looked up the best locations from where to watch the events and then plotted the walking directions from our hotel.
Is it any surprise that the first walking parade we watched (and followed) was the Krewe of Cork? Their mantra: "We celebrate Wine! Food! Fun!"
At first, we bemoaned the fact that it was going to be wet and cold while we were in New Orleans. Actually, the rainy weather worked in our favor. When the floats came passing by, most of the spectators took shelter from the rain and left wide open spots for us to get up close. I collected so much from the parade throws that I had beads for days!
We visited New Orleans without much expectations but we had a ton of fun just taking in the history, the music, the art, the food, and most definitely, the drinks! The following lists a few of our explorations. I'm sharing these, hoping you can pick out some ideas and recommendations if you're heading out to New Orleans. Start planning now.
Cafe du Monde - I'm sure you've heard it more than once: A trip to New Orleans wouldn't be complete without having beignets. Once again, we lucked out by going between 9:00 - 9:30am and snagged a table pretty quickly. On our way out, we found a long line of patrons waiting for their turn to have some cafe au lait and a taste of the famous deep-fried dough generously dusted with powdered sugar.
Commander's Palace - The overall dining experience here-- packaged with the story of its beginnings, an old world elegance, the Southern hospitality of its staff, and its food specialties-- is one for the books. I highly recommend it. Go for the Classic Turtle Soup for starters, then try the Boudin Stuffed Quail or Duck Fat-Seared Bluefin Tuna for your main entree, and then finish off with the "Queen of Creole Desserts," the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle.
Dickie Brennan's - We had one of our best meals at this steakhouse, which is recognized as among the best in America. Hubby and I opted for the Chateaubriand for two-- a generous platter with 20-oz tenderloin with veggies, sauteed mushrooms, potatoes au gratin, and choice of 3 house made sauces.
Muriel's Bistro - My husband swears by the Bloody Marys here. But what captivated me is its enchanting ambience. This restaurant in Jackson Square is lovely inside and out. And don't forget to ask about the story of the Seance Lounge and the special table reserved for resident ghost, Mr. Jourdan.
Cochon Butcher - Our hotel concierge, Alan Melton, recommended this sandwich counter located in the Warehouse District. On your way here, you'll drive past the huge lot where they park all the Mardi Gras floats. It's a fun yet casual place and the sandwiches are really tasty!
THE LEGENDARY DRINKS
I'm not sure I can name all of the drinks I had in NOLA but I remember the potent ones that kept us in great spirits all night long. Ha! Don't miss out on trying the iconic drinks like the "Hand Grenade" (which is served with a plastic yellow toy grenade) or the green "Hurricane" at Pat O'Brien's. If looking for cocktails and bars with great vibes, go for the Carousel Bar inside Hotel Monteleone or the 21st Amendment, a bar named after the amendment that officially repealed Prohibition. On our first night in town, we had a round of drinks at Deja Vu Bar & Grill which was right around the corner from our hotel.
Port of Call - Known to have the best burgers in the city, this joint is where we ordered the specialty cocktail called "Neptune's Monsoon"-- which they claim is concocted much like the old grog prepared for pirates condemned to walk the plank. Yeah, we met some really cool folks at this place, too.
21st Amendment - While wandering along the French Quarter, we were lured by the music spilling out of this intimate bar. Both the custom libations and the live entertainment were fantastic. This was where I first heard the song "I Like Pie" and fell in love with it! Two thumbs up for the band and their lead singer Jan Marie.
Preservation Hall - Watching a traditional New Orleans jazz band perform in this small music hall was such a treat. Make sure to line up early so you can find seats and be comfortable. But even if you end up standing (like we did), you'll find yourself enraptured by the music as well as the performances. Photos/videos are not allowed while they're playing. That's a good thing. Soak it all in and just have a good time.
Naturally, we made sure that we hit all the main tourist spots like Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, and Bourbon Street. Just for fun, Sandy and I even had our faces painted. We leisurely walked around the French Quarter, browsed on art on the streets, and stepped into stores for souvenir shopping, and bought local delicacies like the popular yummy pralines.
Of course, we also took a few guided tours that helped immerse ourselves in all things NOLA.
Carriage Tours - This is a great idea if you don't feel like wearing out your feet. It's a relaxing tour via a mule-drawn carriage. Max, the informative and delightful tour guide, revealed that his sweet mule, Charmaine, had been featured in the Brad Pitt movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Max also shared that in New Orleans, strict regulations apply to the mules (like they can only be used for the carriages five days a week). He said that mules are preferred over horses since they live longer.
Cemetery Tours - It was interesting to get the 101 on the architectural design of tombs and mausoleums at Lafayette Cemetery #1 and St. Louis Cemetery #1. Even more intriguing are the legends and stories surrounding them. If you go, they'll even point out actor Nicolas Cage's future resting place.
Garden District - This walking tour gave us an opportunity to wander around the Garden District's charming neighborhood and catch a glimpse of antebellum houses, grand mansions, and celebrity homes while listening to an entertaining tour guide's narrative. Traces of history will catch your eye like the street names laid in tile on street corners, hitching posts topped with cast iron horses heads, or the concrete steps meant to help ladies alight from their carriages. Looking back, we should have scheduled a Plantation Tour. Guess we'll reserve that for our return visit.
While I took the time to research and put together an itinerary (which was helpful), we set out to explore places on the spur of the moment. Those ended up being the best times! When traveling, you have to keep in mind that every trip is a personal experience. You don't need to pattern your visit after everyone else's. The unforgettable and unrivaled moments happen when you just go with the flow and enjoy the company of your fellow adventurers. Laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)