Mardi Gras has a reputation of being a days-long, drunken party with barely clad women, obnoxiously hammered men and long nights filled with noise, debauchery and heathenism. Don’t get me wrong: I would love to get into the true Mardi Gras mix at some point in time so I can truly appreciate all the madness, but I can also appreciate the need to keep things a bit more even-keeled.
Certainly Carnival season has its moments that could be rated PG13, R or even NC17, but it’s actually possible to enjoy the festivities with kids in tow. You might not want to set up shop on Bourbon Street in New Orleans for the duration of Mardi Gras if you’re looking for good, clean, family fun, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday’s spirits devoid of all the adults-only entertainment.
Think about safety first.
Mardi Gras festivities can be crowded, loud and a little overwhelming. Have back-up plans on where to meet if you’re separated in the swarm of people. Also, make sure that younger kids have contact information on their bodies—in a pocket, around their neck—in case they’re separated from you.
Stick to family-appropriate activities.
Mardi Gras celebrations feature a number of parades, some of them especially geared for families. And, during major parades particularly in New Orleans, there are parts of the parade route that are more appropriate for kids. (Lake Charles, Louisiana, which holds the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state, seems designed with families in mind.) Look beyond the parades, though. Find gumbo cook-offs, visit museums featuring Mardi Gras costumes from years past and search out fun, often overlooked local traditions that offer a unique peek into the holiday. This a great time to talk about Mardi Gras and all of the customs that have been born because of it, so make it an educational opportunity as well.
Let Mardi Gras begin before the big festivities. As a family, decorate masks and find fun clothes in green, gold and purple. It’s so much more fun to dress the part, but make sure what you’ve got on is comfortable. It’s going to be a long day out there, and you need to be ready to endure long periods of time standing, walking and waiting.
Carry water and snacks. Make sure your camera battery is charged. Have layers and rain gear in case the weather changes unexpectedly. Locate the nearest public bathroom.