Seven big Mardi Gras celebrations (not in New Orleans)
It's Mardi Gras season once again, and while New Orleans is the American epicenter of this festive pre-Lenten celebration, there are plenty of other options for some fantastically fun Fat Tuesday revelry.
While different locales bring their own unique flavor to the merrymaking, there are some elements that are certain to be found wherever you join the party.
You will definitely see people wearing all kinds of colorful masks and costumes (traditional colors are purple, gold and green) and the main event of all Mardi Gras celebrations is a gala parade (usually more than one), featuring floats, musicians and costumed marchers.
Corollary events might include dances, fancy balls and cook-offs. Ready for some partying? Well then, here are seven places not named New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras.
1. Mobile, Alabama: Home to the first Mardi Gras in the United States, the “bonne temps” have been rolling in this Gulf Coast city since 1703. This rich history is celebrated with dozens of parades and special events over a two-week period leading up to Fat Tuesday (Feb. 28 in 2017). Tour the Mobile Carnival Museum for a look at the gowns, crowns, scepters and robes of the city's Mardi Gras Kings and Queens.
Info: 251-208-2000, mobile.org
2. Lake Charles, Louisiana: Just about any Louisiana community worth its gumbo has some sort of Fat Tuesday celebration, but the state's second largest Mardi Gras fete holds forth in Lake Charles—officially known as Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana.
Festivities kicked off Jan. 6 with the Twelfth Night celebration and continue through Fat Tuesday. Nearly 150,000 celebrants come together for the parades, music and food. It's a family-friendly affair with an alcohol- and tobacco-free zone along parade routes. The city's Imperial Calcasieu Museum celebrates Mardi Gras year-round, with the world's largest display of Mardi Gras costumes and other regalia.
Info: 800-456-7952, swlamardigras.com
3. Lafayette, Louisiana: Local promoters bill it as the “greatest free party on earth,” but this Cajun- and Creole-flavored Carnival celebration isn't nearly as raucous, risque or crowded as New Orleans.
Here in Acadiana, residents traditionally celebrated Carnival with the unique “Courir de Mardi Gras,” or Mardi Gras Run, where masked men on horseback would roam the countryside singing songs, dancing and begging for ingredients to make a gumbo.
Homeowners would throw chickens to the begging maskers who would attempt to catch the birds for gumbo meat. This tradition is restaged each year along with numerous parades leading up to Fat Tuesday's big Mardi Gras Show at Clark Field Stadium.
Info: 800-346-1958, lafayettetravel.com/mardi-gras
4. Biloxi, Mississippi: N'awlins and other Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations have nothing on their Mississippi neighbors to the east—where from Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis, cities and towns along Highway 90 throw Fat Tuesday celebrations that rank among the most festive anywhere.
Biloxi, home to the Gulf Coast Carnival Association, is the center of festivities along the Coast, and its King d'Iberville and Queen Ixolib serve as official royalty of the Gulf Coast Mardi Gras. The city hosts 24 parades and parties aplenty.
If you go, take time to visit Biloxi's Mardi Gras Museum, which traces the 300-year history of Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast.
Info: 228-432-8806, gulfcoastcarnivalassociation.com
5. Pensacola, Florida: Although it's not widely observed in the Sunshine State, Mardi Gras is a major event in Pensacola and has been celebrated there since 1874. In fact, the Grand Mardi Gras Parade (on Feb. 25 this year) is downtown Pensacola's largest annual event, drawing some 6,000 participants and attracting more than 100,000 spectators.
Info: 850-434-7777, pensacolamardigras.com
6. Galveston, Texas: Texas is well-known for doing things up big—and the 106th annual Mardi Gras celebration on Galveston Island will be no exception. It's the Lone Star State's largest Mardi Gras and it's said to be one of the largest in the nation—boasting 22 parades, 30 concerts, 5 elegant masked balls and who knows how many parties. The extravagance of it all can be measured in beads—organizers claim more than 3 million of them will be thrown during the two weeks of festivities.
Info: 866-505-4456, mardigrasgalveston.com
7. St. Louis: It might seem a surprise that one of the nation's biggest Mardi Gras celebrations takes place in this Midwestern city, but it's a legacy thing, linked to the founding of St, Louis by French fur traders back in 1764.
French customs and traditions live on here (the fleur-de-lis serves as the city seal) and the Soulard District is always ready for a Mardi Gras bash come February.
There are parades, of course, with the biggie being the Bud Light Grand Parade on Feb. 25, but a long list of fun events takes place in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Among them is the Beggin' Barkus Pet Parade (North America's largest animal parade), a softball tournament, a 5K run, a wine and beer tasting, and a variety of culinary events including a Cajun cook-off.
Info: 314-771-5110, stlmardisgras.org