New Orleans has always been on our bucket list for a long weekend, but not for Mardi Gras. We arrived in New Orleans the first week of December, and the city is decked out in red bows, garland, Christmas Trees and lights. The decorations along with the iron works throughout the city, make you feel like you've stepped into a Dicken's Christmas Story, without the snow (UPDATE: It's snowing in New Orleans today!). Walking around this historic city just seems magical this time of the year.
Yeah, I know, Mardi Gras looks like an amazing party, but if a huge mass of very drunk people behaving badly isn't your scene, then consider New Orleans around Christmastime (Note: There are family friendly parades all through Carnivale, including on Mardi Gras). If that is your scene, the good news is that there is always a party going on down Bourbon Street. There are plenty of opportunities to partake in the festivities and if you enjoy people watching, there are plenty of partying people to watch every single night! Worried that you are missing out on the parade? Plan your trip around the annual Christmas Parade that runs down Canal Street. No, it's not as large as the Mardi Gras parade, but there were a lot of floats and people throwing beads, stuffed animals, cups, candy, and all of the traditional Mardi Gras swag! If it's not enough floats for you, head to Mardi Gras World and check out where the floats, as well as other sculptures for Disney and other parks and casinos are made. The tour shows you how these floats are made and not only will you see some old props, but you will get a preview of the floats and props they are working on for the next Mardi Gras! Did you know that they start celebrating the first week in January and there is at least one parade every single day until Mardi Gras!
Parades are a common occurrence in New Orleans. Bands seem to come out of now where and suddenly you find yourself marching behind them, forming your own parade. The streets are constantly lined with musicians of all ages playing a variety of musical instruments. Like many cities, you have your bucket drummers, but here, may of them are young children, and quite talented. There are musicians that played instruments in ways I have never heard before. I remember saying "I never knew that a clarinet could sound like that", with Toni returning the sentiment. Make sure that when you travel to New Orleans, that you carry plenty of dollars with you so you can support these amazing artists.
A trip to New Orleans isn't complete without visiting their unique cemeteries. I know it seems morbid, but learning about how people in different areas celebrate and honor their dead is a part of understanding the culture of an area. New Orleans is below sea level so they bury their dead above ground and it's quite a site to see. Many of these cemeteries are very old, and I would consider them a "must see". St Louis is the most famous, but it now requires a tour guide, which is $20 each. Instead, head to the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. It is not as large, but has the same style markers. While you are there, do a self-guided tour the two blocks around the cemetery and you will see Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Archie Manning (where Peyton & Eli grew up), and Ann Rice's homes! The area is a lovely place to walk, filled with beautiful homes.
You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about the food. Like many of the places we have visited on the coast, seafood is a huge part of the cuisine. Craw fish seems to be a staple here along with shrimp. Gumbo and Jambalaya dishes are often made with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage, but each place has their own take on these dishes which include rabbit, craw fish, and alligator. Fried chicken is everywhere you look and was delicious! We did meet some new travel friends that suggested trying Boudin as well, but we just couldn't do it. For those of you more adventurous with your food, it was recommended by a person that eats a plant-based diet, but makes Boudin her exception! Anyone who knows us will not be surprised to learn that our favorite local dish was the Beignets and Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde. A french-style fried dough with, what seems like, and entire bag of powdered sugar on top. Toni says they are perfect for coffee dipping! You cannot go to New Orleans without a stop here!
So, if Mardi Gras isn't your type of scene, don't write off a visit to New Orleans, just visit around the holidays! The sites and sounds of this city are truly unique to anyplace we have seen in the United States so far. The culture here is so different, in fact, that the United States originally rejected Louisiana's request to be a part of the States! This is another Bucket List stop that did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, we will be back!