Are Carnival and Mardi Gras the same thing? In Acadiana (south central Louisiana) we refer to the whole holiday season as Mardi Gras, even though Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday". In New Orleans, the holiday season has traditionally been known as Carnival, with the term Mardi Gras being reserved for the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. That being said, the term Mardi Gras is more widely used today.
When does Mardi Gras season start and end? The season begins on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the night the three wise men are said to have brought gifts to the newborn King. The season then lasts until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. In 2012, Fat Tuesday will be on February 21.
Can anyone attend a Mardi Gras Ball? How can I get tickets? Most Mardi Gras Balls are private affairs, for the members of a krewe and their guests. Some krewe do sell tickets to their balls to the general public. Contact the krewe to inquire about ticket sales.
Is Mardi Gras safe for my children? A major selling point for Lafayette's Mardi Gras for years has been its cleaner, more family-friendly atmosphere than that of the more "adult" atmosphere of other cities on Mardi Gras weekend. Public nudity is not tolerated in Acadiana.
Where do I park to go to a parade? Everyone wants to be close to the route, and many familes "camp out" for good spots beginning on Friday of the five-day weekend. You may park along a side street free of charge, avoiding driveways and parking on the grass of private property. Several parking lots are open free of charge throughout the University of Louisiana campus. There are many places to park for a small charge of $5 to $10 in a private parking lot near the parade route. These are pretty safe as they're staffed all day.
Is there food along the way or do I bring my own? There are lots of food vendors along the parade route, many selling burgers, pizza slices, soda and beer for their group fundraisers. If you don't mind pulling a kiddie wagon, ice chests are allowed. However, for public safety, glass bottles are a big no-no.
Have any tips for first time visitors? Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a backpack or fanny pack. Get to the parade route early. Don't let kids cross barricades. Don't sit on barricades. Dress in layers...an overcast, chilly morning can easily turn into a sunshiny, humid afternoon. Wear sunscreen.
Hot Tip: If you're from out-of-town, make a sign for the parade, like "Family from Detroit" or "Razorbacks love Mardi Gras" or something that indicates you're a visitor. Float riders look for these and welcome non-locals with a shower of beads. And don't even think about bearing your chest for beads in Lafayette..our city policeman will have to take you "downtown"! Adorable children with great big smiles are more effective "bead magnets" than adults trying to bare skin!
Things to Avoid: All common sense stuff. Don't fight with someone over a 20 cent necklace. Don't throw beads back at float riders. Don't get enraged with a float rider if a cluster of beads hits you in the head (especially if you had your hands up screaming to get 'em).
Things to Enjoy: Do enjoy the atmosphere. Once the parade is over, venture out and enjoy our local cuisine. Of course, enjoy the music. And most of all, enjoy the free entertainment given to you by krewe members. Each krewe member actually buys the beads he throws and pays to ride in those parades that all parade-goers enjoy at no charge.