Who: Travel Deals Editor Caroline Morse, 28, and friends
Where I Went: New Orleans, LA
When: February 18-22
High Points: The parades! Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans go all out, with marching bands, dancers, and crazy floats. We got up at 6:00 a.m. on Fat Tuesday and joined some locals in tailgating the Zulu parade. For the best throws and views, we got away from the Canal Street crowds and headed to the more neighborhoody areas. We watched from the Central City area, and there were no other tourists around us. Tip: You can buy hand-made Mardi Gras masks for the parade at the open-air French Market for $3 and up.
Once we saw the massive line at Cafe du Monde, we were tempted to bail out and get beignets elsewhere, but we soon discovered there was no wait for inside table service. (The longest lines are to sit outside). Stop in for a cheap (less than $3) piece of fried heaven and sugar and wash it down with a strong cup of chicory coffee. You’ll be on a sugar/caffeine rush in no time.
When we needed a break from Bourbon Street craziness, we loved wandering around Magazine Street’s shops and cafes, checking out the beautiful houses and architecture, strolling along the Mississippi River, and people-watching and getting our palms read in Jackson Square Park. (Go to Patricia the Palm Reader… she was eerily accurate!) When you’re ready to dive back into the thick of it, head down Frenchmen Street, where live bands play all day and all night long.
Low Points: Transport to and from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is terrible. Due to flight delays, I arrived at the airport around 3:00 a.m., and if I hadn’t lucked into a taxi dropping off a passenger then I’d have had a real headache trying to get transportation to my hotel. As it was, three of us had to pay $30 each to get to the French Quarter, and our taxi driver tried to pick up other (drunk) passengers en-route. There is an airport shuttle, but it also has terrible reviews. Going back to the airport, I got a much better taxi from our hotel, and it was only $33 total for two people.
Savings Strategy: Hotels and airlines jack up their prices at Mardi Gras. I saved money by taking flights at inconvenient times, with a four-hour layover. I wish I had splurged on a direct flight, as my connecting flight had some serious issues. Other people I met at Mardi Gras saved money by driving or leaving on Tuesday. Also, we preferred to sample local drinks and delicacies, but you could definitely save money by mixing your own drinks on the street (no open container laws) and picnicking rather than eating out.
Where I Stayed: My friends and I booked about four months in advance at the Le Pavillon Hotel, which ended up being one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in. I highly recommend this property if you visit—rather than a sterile chain you can stay in anywhere, this hotel had true New Orleans spirit! (Literally … it’s purported to be haunted, although we didn’t see any ghosts.) The staff is amazing (get a Hurricane from Roosevelt the bartender), there’s a nightly (free) peanut butter and jelly buffet for guests, and there’s a rooftop pool with amazing city views (including an eagle-eye view of some of the parades). The location is perfect—an easy walk to Bourbon Street, but just far enough off the beaten path that you can get some quiet when it’s time for bed.
If You Go: Book early! Start watching flights to New Orleans from your home airport (check rates) now for next year’s Mardi Gras.
Bring sunscreen and layers—the weather is fickle; one minute you’ll need to slather on the sunscreen, and the next pull on a sweatshirt. Also, wear comfortable (durable) shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty—you’ll be doing a ton of walking, and the streets of Mardi Gras are littered with broken beads and spilled drinks.
Have a question for Caroline about her trip to New Orleans at Mardi Gras? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own experience? Leave a comment below!
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