By Forrest Brown, CNN
Mardi Gras 2021 was a very quiet, socially distanced event. And festivities were still a bit subdued in 2022, at least by pre-pandemic standards.
But this year, New Orleans is ready to go full throttle for its famous party.
Lifelong Big Easy resident Sarah Barnett, who has missed only a couple of Mardi Gras celebrations ever, is among those eager for a return to the usual merriment.
“I grew up going to parades with my family. There’s just something special about Mardi Gras when you head back to the same spots each year to watch the parades,” Barnett, the content creator for local tourism company Gators and Ghosts, told CNN Travel.
Mardi Gras was particularly dismal in 2021, Barnett said. Not only was the city in the throes of the pandemic, but “it was so bitterly cold that year.”
The city did its best to rally with people decorating their houses like parade floats, but it just wasn’t the same, Barnett said. Parades were back for 2022, but there was still some nervousness about gathering in big groups again, she said.
However, anticipation has been building for 2023.
“We were actually at some parades just on Sunday afternoon, and it was a beautiful day out in the city. The sun was shining. It just felt really good to be back out in the city … and enjoy some of the best parts of New Orleans,” Barnett said the week leading up to Fat Tuesday.
“My family and I are pretty excited this year.”
What to expect
Mardi Gras is back in full force in 2023: the krewes, the parades, the floats, the marching clubs, the balls, the music, the food — and yes, the partying.
For people who don’t know the ins and outs of Mardi Gras, krewes are social clubs that organize balls, parades and such during the Carnival season.
There are many of them, and some of the better known ones are Krewe of Zulu, Mardi Gras Indians and Krewe of Bacchus.
The biggest parades in uptown New Orleans on Fat Tuesday kick off at 8 a.m. with the Krewe of Zulu. Remember — this is no one-and-done thing like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
Various parades started up in early January and have gathered steam as the season rolls along. If you don’t rouse yourself for the Zulu parade, you have plenty of other parades to catch in NOLA and other areas.
Click here for a parade schedule.
The weather forecast looks promising for Mardi Gras day, with a high of around 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius) with partly cloudy skies. Check CNN Weather for the latest forecast.
Tips for attending
City officials and tourism veterans have some Mardi Gras guidance:
• The French Quarter during Mardi Gras weekend is closed to vehicles. Click here to find out some transportation options. Follow the parking rules or risked being towed and paying fines of “Biblical proportions,” according to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com.
• Don’t move other people’s stuff on the parade route. It’s bad form to move unoccupied chairs. Just scout around for an empty spot.
• Don’t reach down to pick up beads and other throws. In the excitement, you could end up with your hand trampled or worse. Instead, put your foot on the item and hold it there until it’s safe to bend over and retrieve it.
• Don’t relieve yourself on the street. The good folks of New Orleans even have this handy bathroom guide. Make it your “Number 1” priority.
If you’re thinking about planning a future trip around the festivities, get an early start. Don’t wait until January to plan your visit. Things book up fast, starting as early as August; you’re leaving it more to luck the longer you wait. So if you’ve missed the boat for this year, remember that for 2024, when Mardi Gras falls on February 13.
Serious about safety
New Orleans city government is serious about safety and courtesy.
People are asked not to set up more than four hours before a parade. Shade tents are allowed but enclosed ones are not.
You’ll need a permit for bleachers and viewing stands. Drones can’t be flown over the festivities. Click here for a full list of rules and allowances.
The New Orleans Health Department is trying head off problems with substance abuse during Mardi Gras season, especially with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. It sent out a tweet on February 9 about what bystanders can do if they witness a possible fentanyl overdose.
There’s also a 24/7 “Sobering Center” being offered for people too drunk to safely move about. It’s located at 732 North Claiborne Avenue.
There are no more Covid restrictions in place regarding masks or vaccinations in public places. The Community Level spread of Covid was rated as “low” as of February 9.
Ready and excited
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city is ready to handle the crowds.
“We are well-equipped with the necessary tools and will once again demonstrate to everyone why New Orleans is the best in the world at executing major events and festivals with a rich culture that is absolutely unmatched,” Cantrell said in a recent news release about safety measures.
For Barnett and her family, Mardi Gras 2023 promises to be extra special.
“My daughter’s birthday is on Mardi Gras day. She’s turning 6, and so, of course, she believes that Mardi Gras is essentially happening in celebration of her. And I’m not going to change her mind of that.”
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