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For many people, carnival season is the best time of year to visit New Orleans. If you want to experience this annual tradition, you need a plan for navigating the parades and parties of Mardi Gras.

A Mardi Gras Plan

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As a New Orleans trip planner, make sure your plan includes major details like when you’re traveling and where you’re staying while in town. It should also detail which parades you want to see, the attractions you want to visit and where you’re going to eat during your trip.

Map Out the Plan

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As soon as you know what you want to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season, put everything on a map. This lets you see how close everything is to where you’re staying, so you can plan your time accordingly. Try to organize your day so you can walk from site to site or take a bicycle, as parking is a challenge and public transportation can be spotty during Mardi Gras.

When to Go

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Mardi Gras is an annual festival that starts on the 12th day after Christmas and lasts until the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. What most people associate with Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday, the final day of celebration in the Carnival season. If you want to avoid the biggest crowds, plan your trip a week or two before Fat Tuesday, when the revelry starts and the crowds are still small.

Where to Stay

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If you want to be in the middle of the action, the French Quarter and Central Business District are among the most popular places to visit in New Orleans. However, that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. The biggest parades move through the Uptown and Mid-City parts of the area before heading into the French Quarter. To celebrate Mardi Gras like the locals, look for a vacation rental in a residential neighborhood near the parade routes.

Take a look at our in depth guides of where to stay for this phenomenal week plus!

Who to Bring

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Many people are surprised to learn Mardi Gras is a family event with close ties to religion. You’ll see plenty of children along the parade routes, so bring the entire family with you. Of course, you can also travel with a group of close friends or plan a mini couples retreat. No matter who goes with you, you’ll find something to do during Carnival.

What to Do

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There’s plenty to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but watching parades is one of the most popular events. You can also dress up for an open ball or participate in a costume contest. Just dress for the occasion. Choose layered clothing and put on sunscreen if you’re spending the day outside.

What to Expect

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No matter which parade you decide to watch, you’ll be there with a crowd of people. To get the attention of the krewe members, yell, “Throw me something, Mister” and hold up a sign with a clever statement letting them know you’re from out of town. Be prepared to jump as you try to catch your loot and avoid stooping over to pick up something that falls on the ground.

Do Your Homework

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Before you head out to a parade, make sure you understand the parade rules. The most important rule is that the curb stays free of obstructions. This means you cannot have a ladder, grill or cooler within six feet of the curb. You also cannot park along the parade route, nor can you rope off a section or claim it with a tarp.

Be Prepared

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Although you’re in New Orleans to have fun, you still need to prepare for unexpected emergencies. Scope out the nearest restroom so you know exactly how to get there even after the crowds swell. Decide on a designated meeting spot if your party gets separated during the festivities.

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If experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans is on your bucket list, start planning your vacation now. Rooms fill up fast, so start checking out vacation rentals as soon as possible to see what’s available.