New Orleans in Feb or March, but not for Mardi Gras. Oui?
January 3, 2014 7:08 PM   Subscribe

My friend and I would like to plan an (approximately 4-day) trip to New Orleans this February or March, but not be there for Mardi Gras itself. Are these good times to travel there?

Mardi Gras is on March 4 this year. I read online that the MG parades will begin on February 15th. We could potentially arrive on Feb 15 for a 4-7 day stay. Other options include 4 days including the weekends of March 8, 15, or 22. I'm in my 30's and my friend is in his 40's and we're coming from Boston. We like some action, but would like to avoid the crowds and high prices of Mardi Gras itself. Our timing is based more on our mutual availability, and is not intentionally designed to fall before or after Mardi Gras this way. Wondering what the city is like in the forerunning to and aftermath of MG. Could be cool to get a MG taster in mid-Feb if there really are festivities that early.

Also...I've never been to New Orleans but am inclined not to spend more than 4 days there (in the name of conserving vacation days, mostly, if it could be adequately covered in 4 days). Is 4 enough? I also welcome any recommendations for a second destination (Nashville?) that we could tack on for 3 more days to make it a 7-day trip in total.
posted by AlmondEyes to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I went to NOLA for my spring break senior year. It was the middle of March and I think Mardi Gras had been the week before.

There's plenty to do that can fill up a week. I would recommend staying longer than four days in Nashville as well.
posted by brujita at 7:18 PM on January 3, 2014

Parades gradually gear up over the course of the season. So there will be a few parades that roll Feb 15, and then every weekend between then and March 4, there will be more, and the parades that roll closer to the day itself will be much bigger/fancier/more important than the ones that rolled early in the season.

What does this mean for you? It means that if you want to get a taste of what Mardi Gras is like without the madness, definitely seek out a parade if you end up going the weekend of the 15th. I mean, don't get me wrong, the parade route will be crowded with spectators, people will be drunk in public, and there will be a certain level of debaucherous Mardi Gras-ness. It's not the Fourth Of July in rural Ohio. But it's not going to be as crazy as actual Mardi Gras day.

Mardi Gras is straight up Done at midnight of March 4. If you go on any of your March weekends, you will see no Mardi Gras.

Four days is plenty of time to get a sense of it.

The only warning I would give about going the Feb 15 weekend, and I'm not sure this would affect you as a tourist, is that Mardi Gras parades are murder when it comes to traffic. There can be a very real "you can't get there from here" phenomenon happening during the parades themselves, and the crowds translate to lots of traffic jams both before and after the parades as people flock to the route and then all leave at the same time. Imagine the traffic associated with a major sporting event, concert, or any other public spectacle, but multiplied across the city because it's not just one isolated area where traffic has concentrated, but across the entire parade route.

Aside from traffic considerations (which again might not be a big deal to you as tourists), I say sure, go on an early Mardi Gras weekend. It'll be a lot of fun and a way of seeing it that most outsiders don't experience.

If you'll have access to a car, you might want to also find out if there will be parades rolling in the suburbs or in other southern Louisiana towns that weekend. A parade in my hometown in Houma is extremely different from a parade in New Orleans.
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, Nashville makes no real sense as a second travel destination unless you have a lot of frequent flyer miles or something. The two cities are a two day drive from each other.

If you're looking to make New Orleans into a 7 day destination, I would keep New Orleans as your base and add on day trips to surrounding parts of Louisiana. You could do a swamp tour, head out to the River Road plantations, maybe go check out some of the Cajun heritage sightseeing around Lafayette, or make the drive into Mississippi to check out somewhere like Natchez or Biloxi.
posted by Sara C. at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

There would definitely be "festivities" in mid-February - a few parades, mainly on the weekends. However, there may also be difficulty booking hotels (they fill up FAST this time of year), so check on that now.

As far as whether 4 days is enough - BOY HOWDY yes. The very first time I went to New Orleans it wasn't anywhere near Mardi Gras season - it was the middle of summer, which is quite possibly the worst time to visit weatherwise. But my days were still packed, and I was there for a solid week. You could spend your whole time there doing nothing but eat and still easily fill up four days.

If you need some time away from parade/Bourbon Street madness during your stay, get to Audobon Park or the art museum in City Park for an afternoon. It's in a part of the city well away from the party zone, has historic/cultural significance, and you can get some peace and quiet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a parade more beloved by locals and less well known to tourists, Krewe du Vieux rolls in the French Quarter on February 15th at 6:30. It's not like the huge mile-long uptown extravaganzas that come later in the season. If you can catch KdV, you'll see locals, rather than other tourists, celebrating Mardi Gras and you'll gain bragging rights.

In 2006, KdV was the first parade to march post-Katrina, and garnered national attention for its tenacity and lightheartedness in the face of tragedy. That year's theme was "C'est Levee."
Krewe du Vieux is noted for wild satire, adult themes, and political comedy, as well as for showcasing some of the best brass and jazz bands in New Orleans.

If you plan to go to a parade at any time, don't drive to it--take a taxi or walk in and walk out, wear layers, take water, dress for walking with hands free, and catch some beads!

If you plan to come for the 15th, the following weekdays will be parade-free but there will be lots of good music and energy. Eat, drink and be merry. It's three days early to say this but I wish you Happy Carnival!
Memail me if you wish.
posted by Anitanola at 9:25 PM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Whatever date you pick, I agree you should reserve accommodations now. Also, you might find it helpful in planning to search Gambit for information about events, food, music and more.
posted by Anitanola at 9:49 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

In an effort to keep the party spirit going after Mardi Gras, New Orleans had latched on to a little known demi-holiday call St. Patrick's Day. If you are not familiar with that holiday in Boston, there are parades, there is drinking of green beer and general merriment. Still have the throwing of beads and novelties, though most are green and white. It's not an official holiday and the kids are not off school so the crowds are not crazy, hotels not as crowded, etc. Your March 15 option would fit in nicely at it is on a Monday (17th) this year.
posted by Yorrick at 10:22 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that if you want some Mardi Gras flavor without all the full-blown crazy, Feb 15 would be excellent, as Krewe de Vieux is really fun.

St. Pat's festivities mid-March are also fun. It's a little less of a production than Mardi Gras parades (I am not sure there are really proper floats in the parades) but there are lots of drunk old dudes who will give you flowers, and a bit of vegetable throwing.

A couple years ago a friend from out of town had her bachelorette party in New Orleans in late March and we had loads of fun, so I can attest that really, any random weekend in that city can be quite a party!
posted by radioamy at 10:30 PM on January 3, 2014

I was there for a bit over four days in September and it was not enough time to eat and drink all the things I wanted to eat and drink, let alone see all the things I wanted to see. Spend more time there if you can.
posted by rtha at 10:43 PM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you come March 15, all is not lost as far as a taste of Mardi Gras because Super Sunday on March 16 will give you a chance to see Mardi Gras Indians.
posted by Anitanola at 10:44 PM on January 3, 2014

I was there on St. Joseph's day (3-19) and there were celebrations for that.
posted by brujita at 12:41 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite [I live here half a block from the quarter by Canal street] would be the Krewe du Vieux which is followed by Krewe Delusion on Feb 15 this year.

I highly recommend swamp tours.
posted by vapidave at 2:47 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to join the chorus for Krewe du Vieux. So much fun.
posted by evisceratordeath at 9:01 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are proper floats in the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day parade, several recycled from Mardi Gras parades, but it's nowhere near as formal or pretty as a Mardi Gras parade. That parade is always the Saturday nearest to the 17th, so this year it will be on the 15th. That same day there is also the Italian-American St. Joseph's Day parade in the Quarter. During that (or any time that day) you can check out the huge St. Joseph's Day altar in the garden behind St. Louis Cathedral, as well as many other public and private altars scattered around town in churches and homes. If you google St. Joseph's altars New Orleans you can learn more about (if you're not familiar) and find a list of altars. They're really neat to see. And then as mentioned above Super Sunday is a rare opportunity to see Mardi Gras Indians from all different tribes all in the same place in their 2014 suits. It's definitely a worthwhile experience.

Having said all that, I'd still go on the February weekend for Krewe du Vieux and the following parades that same night. It's always a highlight of the Carnival season and the whole year. Then if you stayed 7 days through the 21st, you could see the first two Uptown parades, which are non-satirical, themed parades with great marching bands. The second parade that night, the all-female Krewe of Cleopatra, has just moved to the Uptown parade route and is enjoying a resurgence in membership, so I think it will be really neat to see that.

I think you'll have a great time either way. There's always tons to do.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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