Get the Party Started

This year's Mardi Gras is more important than ever

By: Chere Coen

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 latter voices.

“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.”

Historic Party

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 operational.

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,

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 for sharing.

“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 blood.”