Colorful masks, extravagant floats, elegant balls and beads galore — these core elements make up Mardi Gras celebrations across the country. Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is a whole season of celebration named for just one day. Carnival season begins the 12th night after Christmas and ends 47 days before Easter.
Group travelers will get their party fix at these Mardi Gras celebrations in the South. And until the next Mardi Gras comes around on March 5, 2019, groups can practice the infamous chant “Throw me something, Mister!”
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
Mardi Gras, the city of New Orleans’ largest annual celebration, is a party that brings costumes, parades, beads and years of tradition to the Crescent City. During the 12-day period leading up to Mardi Gras, nearly 70 parades roll in the area. Groups can eat king cake of many varieties, watch parades roll down St. Charles Avenue, catch colorful beads, wear masks, and dress in purple, green and gold.
Can’t make it to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Visit Mardi Gras World year-round for a behind-the-scenes look at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
2. Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras, which was celebrated in 1703. Each year, the historic port city continues the tradition in the heart of its downtown with three weeks of majestic parades, colorful floats and flying MoonPies. In Mobile, there’s a tradition of tossing MoonPies from passing Mardi Gras floats.
“Experiencing Mardi Gras in Mobile, the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras, is a perfect group trip,” said Tara Zieman, marketing and communications manager at Visit Mobile. “Whether you’re dancing in the streets, catching beads or digging into a MoonPie — there’s no celebration like Mobile Mardi Gras!”
Don’t miss a visit to Mobile Carnival Museum, where jeweled crowns, intricately designed gowns, lavish robes and decorated floats are displayed year-round. Guides lead groups through a restored mansion that includes 14 galleries, telling stories of Mardi Gras celebrations past and present.
3. Galveston, Texas
As the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States, Mardi Gras Galveston is expected to draw more than 350,000 attendees this year alone. Guests can enjoy the island-style celebration with 30-plus concerts, parades, balcony parties and elegant balls. Add to that, more than 3 million beads are thrown each year. Mardi Gras Galveston is held annually during the two weeks preceding Lent.
“Galveston offers an island-style celebration that is unlike any other major Mardi Gras celebration,” said Leah Cast, director of communications at Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Along with having big parades and festivities that take place on the beach, Galveston’s event incorporates several personalities, from traditional revelry to dedicated days for families and kids (Family Gras), lovers of Tejano music (Fiesta Gras), lovers of electronic dance music (Electric Mardi Gras) and more.”
4. St. Louis, Missouri
Soulard, St. Louis’ oldest neighborhood, marks its French heritage with an annual Mardi Gras celebration, known as one of the largest Mardi Gras parties outside of New Orleans. The festival begins each year with the 12th Night event on Jan. 6 and concludes weeks later with the Bud Light Grand Parade. Other events take place during Carnival, including the Snowman Softball Tournament, Cajun Cook-Off and the Wiener Dog Derby. The annual Beggin’ Pet Parade is the Guinness World Record holder for largest costumed pet parade in the world.
5. Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana
Mardi Gras has been celebrated in northwest Louisiana for nearly 30 years. Today, Shreveport-Bossier is home to 15 krewes, each with its own personality. It is estimated that Mardi Gras float-riders toss more than 8 million beads each year. Groups visiting Shreveport-Bossier are invited to participate in the Red River Mardi Gras Bash.
“Groups really love coming to Shreveport-Bossier for our Mardi Gras celebrations, because we make it so easy for them at the Red River Mardi Gras Bash,” said Erica Telsee, group tour sales manager at Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau. “We provide a climate-controlled tent, Cajun food, live band and more. But the best part about the experience is the front-row view to the Krewe of Centaur parade, which is one of the largest parades in the south. Our groups leave with a neck full of beads and lots of fun memories.”
This unique parade day experience offers VIP treatment and “behind-the-scenes” access for groups of 10 or more.