Last fall, New Orleans city leaders debated celebrating Mardi
Gras so soon after Hurricane Katrina. There were some who felt the
timing wasn’t right, considering the recent devastation, but the
majority wondered why the issue was even being discussed.
New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose was one of those
“We’re going to have it and that’s that,” he wrote in his
column. “End of discussion.”
The truth is, Mardi Gras belongs to New Orleans. Residents let
the public in every year because they believe in sharing their joie
de vivre and because tourists bring in a billion dollars every
spring. But it’s their party, their traditions. While TV cameras
pan the French Quarter balconies for drunks and women bearing
breasts, most residents are elsewhere, enjoying parades and good
food and drink with their families and friends.
Considering these facts, 2006 is the ideal time to visit New
Orleans for Mardi Gras. Residents are gearing up for the big event
with a new sense of pride, hanging Carnival decorations on their
homes while blue tarps still grace their roofs. The floatmakers and
costumers had to move heaven and earth to regroup from exile and
organize the parades in time, and even though parade routes are
altered, residents are ready to hit the streets and appreciate
every moment of their beloved festival.
“We need something to be proud about,” Rose said. “We need
something to shout about. To not reach out and celebrate this rich
cultural tradition is crazy.”
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of Carnival, hardly a
milestone to let slip by.
In fact, according to Arthur Hardy, publisher of the annual
Mardi Gras Guide, “Mardi Gras has survived world wars, yellow fever
epidemics and political uprisings. Mardi Gras continued during the
Great Depression because the town needed something to cheer about,
just as it does now.”
So are you ready to make history, to party with a beaten
populace who refuse to give in to nature when it comes to their
valued culture and traditions?
First of all, although sections of the city are damaged and
still without power, the tourist areas of the French Quarter,
neighboring Warehouse District and the uptown areas close to the
river that did not flood are open for business and thriving. The
Quarter looks as it did Aug. 28 and Magazine Street businesses
uptown are experiencing success like never before. Even Jefferson
Parish, which offers a suburban Mardi Gras almost equal to New
Orleans, is bouncing back quickly.
Knowing how New Orleanians love their cuisine, restaurants were
among the first to reopen, so visitors will have their choice of
the city’s finest. A few classics, such as Commander’s Palace and
Brennan’s, remain under reconstruction, but Emeril’s, Bayonna,
Arnaud’s, Antoine’s and hundreds of others are ready to serve.
Housing remains tricky, but hotels are reopening every week. The
elegant Windsor Court offers specials for those returning to the
Big Easy, along with a weekly newsletter that reports on the city’s
reopenings. The hotel’s Samaritan Sojourn offers a package deal
with proceeds benefiting recovery charities.
French Quarter staples such as the Hotel Monteleone and the Omni
Royal Orleans are ready for Carnival, and the Hilton Riverside,
Sheraton and Marriott, all offering spectacular views of the river
and a close proximity to Canal Street and the Quarter, are fully
But that’s just scratching the surface. For a complete list of
available hotels and bed and breakfasts that is updated regularly,
visit New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation at
No matter where you stay or eat, the reason to visit Mardi Gras
is for the parades. Thirty-one of the 34 original parades will
roll, offering New Orleans music, marching bands and floats filled
with revelers throwing beads and doubloons. Every year, each parade
chooses a theme that ranges from the rowdy to the sophisticated.
This year, however, look for a town incorporating laughter as
therapy, with themes such as Blue Roof Blues, Where Did You
Evacuate? and There’s No Place Like Home.
Lending support to the rebuilding of New Orleans are numerous
celebrity riders and kings and queens of the various krewes that
put on the parades. Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd will ride as
marshals of Endymion, one of the brilliant “super parades” that
roll at night. The two will also perform later with The Commodores,
Better than Ezra and Rockin’ Doopsie Jr. at the Endymion
Extravaganza, a rollicking all-night party open to the public.
Other celebrities include King of Bacchus Michael Keaton, who
was filming in New Orleans before Katrina hit; baseball’s Will
Clark and; Bag of Donuts. Harry Connick Jr.’s Krewe of Orpheus
rolls Monday night and is currently accepting guest riders at its
Web site, www.kreweoforpheus.net.
Despite all the tragedy New Orleans has experienced since last
August, the town is breathing its second wind. Mardi Gras will be
the rallying cry that New Orleans is alive and kicking and ready
“I think we need these parades rolling down the avenue like
oxygen,” said Victor Andrews, who lives on the St. Charles Avenue
parade route. “Yes, we were out of the house for months and we
still have walls missing insulation and Sheet rock. But New
Orleanians live and breathe Mardi Gras. This is part of our