Your Guide To Everything Mardi Gras in 2015

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an impressive celebration that the whole city comes together to create. Learn more about how it all happens with our Mardi Gras infographic.

Mardi Gras is but a single day within the extended celebration known as “Carnival.” However, many people often use the term “Mardi Gras” to refer to the carnival season as a whole. The date for Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday, changes every year. However, if you want to calculate Mardi Gras’ date for any given year, just remember, it is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 46 days before Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras day is the very last day of Carnival season—we tend to end things on a high note in New Orleans.

Not surprisingly, the weekend before Mardi Gras (Friday through Tuesday) is the most popular time to visit the city. There are over 30,000 hotel rooms in the New Orleans metro area. And every year, approximately 95 percent of these hotel rooms are filled during Mardi Gras weekend.

The first ever New Orleans Mardi Gras parade was held in 1837. Three colors—purple, gold, and green—are the official colors of Carnival. Purple symbolizes justice, gold symbolizes power, and green symbolizes faith.

“Let The Good Times Roll”

Every year, roughly 70 to 75 different Mardi Gras parades run in the Greater New Orleans Area during Carnival. In total, these parades travel upwards of 134 total miles.

So, what exactly makes up a Mardi Gras Parade? Well, in all of the parades throughout the season, there are a combined 822 floats, 402 bands, 60 horses, 312 flambeaux carriers, and 94 vehicles. On top of that, approximately 21,000 people ride on the floats every year.

The average New Orleans Mardi Gras float is roughly 50 feet long, weighs 10 tons, and travels around 2.5 miles per hour. However, the longest New Orleans Mardi Gras float was 330 feet long and was first introduced during the 2013 Endymion parade.

Parades are run by Krewes, many of which have been presided over by celebrities. In Mardi Gras past, Will Ferrell, Drew Brees, Nicolas Cage, Billy Crystal, and numerous others have held the title “King of Bacchus”. This year, actor John C. Reilly will reign as King of Bacchus XLVI.

“Throw Me Somethin’, Mister!”

Mardi Gras parades are about much more than just the floats. “Throws” are an array of Mardi Gras paraphernalia thrown from floats by the masked riders to the crowd. Parade attendees vie with one another to catch the best “throws.” Some popular “throws” include beads, parade-affiliated plastic cups, doubloons, toys, noisemakers, and candy. Certain Krewes throw specialty items that are exclusive to their parade. These are the hardest-to-get and most sought-after “throws.” Zulu is known for throwing painted coconuts—yes, real coconuts, Muses throws glittered shoes, and Nyx throws personalized purses. If you manage to catch one of these items during Mardi Gras, you can safely say you have successfully “done Mardi Gras!”

Every year, roughly 12.5 thousand tons of Mardi Gras beads are thrown from floats. There are numerous organizations within the city of New Orleans that strive to recycle this massive amount of beads, with Arc of Greater New Orleans heading this effort. In 2014 alone, they recycled 60 tons of Mardi Gras beads. Additionally, the New Orleans Department of Sanitation, STARC, Port of New Orleans, and Krispy Kreme—to name just a few others—have specialized programs and incentives to help recycle Mardi Gras beads throughout the year.

“Only in NOLA”

During Carnival, half a million king cakes are sold within the city of New Orleans alone. An additional 50,000 king cakes are sold and shipped out of state. And trust us, if you try one while you are here, you will want one shipped to you every year too.

No one is certain when the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians first began, though most place its beginnings in the 1880s. The custom arose as a way to pay respect to the Native Americans who helped so many escape the tyranny of slavery. Today, the Mardi Gras Indians are an integral part of New Orleans culture and the local African-American community. There are roughly 30 to 40 tribes of varying sizes. Each year, theses tribes and their honored chiefs dress up in elaborately decorated suits for the celebration of Mardi Gras and other special events.

Carnival is a New Orleans tradition deeply rooted in history. Over 100 Mardi Gras balls—decadent dinners and dances—are thrown in New Orleans each year. Most Krewes host private events with presentations of that year’s “royalty” and all attendants must dress their best. However, larger Krewes, such as Endymion, host large-scale soirees with live entertainment that are open to the public (for the price of a ticket).


Every year, Mardi Gras generates an average of $840 million for the city of New Orleans thanks to the influx of tourism. Numerous families travel to New Orleans annually for Mardi Gras. That’s right—families, as thousands of Mardi Gras attendees are children. There are designated kid-friendly parades, such as Little Rascals and Petite (‘tit) Rex. Numerous families attend Mardi Gras parades and activities that take place along the parade route in the Uptown and Garden District neighborhoods, as opposed to the French Quarter.

Kids actually get the best seat during parades! A New Orleans tradition is to construct special Mardi Gras ladder seats for children. Way up high, kids are in the prime spot for bead catching, which is why children most often walk away with the best “throws.”

When attending Carnival, there can be so many parades and events that most people do not even know where to start. Some parades of note include Krewe du Vieux, Nyx, Muses, Tucks, Morpheus, Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus, Rex, and Zulu. Other, less-traditional parades include Chewbacchus (a sci-fi, fantasy, and pop culture-influenced walking parade) and Barkus (an all-dogs parade).

Now, you are all set to do Mardi Gras New Orleans style!