Fabulous Festival's : The Start of Carnival in New Orleans

The first time I visited New Orleans, it was to be a total tourist and to ring in the New Year, 2005.  The second time, it was to photograph the devastation left only a couple of months after Hurricane Katrina. This time, it was all about Mardi Gras--actually, the beginning of the three-week celebrations leading up it, Carnival, to be exact.  

Covered in the traditional colors of purple, green, and gold, New Orleans was especially more photogenic and festive than usual (and that's saying something as this is one of my most favorite cities to photograph)!

You can't have Carnival without munching on copious amounts of King Cake!  Whoever finds the plastic baby inside has to buy the next round:

Evidence of "les bons temps" down on Bourbon Street and in the heart of the French Quarter...

...though if you're here for the Carnival and Mardi Gras festivities, we definitely recommend getting out of the debauchery on Bourbon and into one of the surrounding neighborhoods for a more local feel (trust, me, the party's just as good with 1/4 of the Bermuda shorts!).

We decided to take in the first parade of the season in the Marigny neighboorhood--an area priding itself on more of a "homegrown" and traditional approach to Mardi Gras (hence, having comparatively fewer tourists saturating the streets).  A few feathers and beads are all you need to feel dressed for the occasion:

The Mardi Gras season in New Orleans consists of around 70 krewes, each hosting their own themed parades, and the Krewe du Vieux officially kicks off the Mardi Gras parade season every year.  They are "dedicated to the historical and traditional concept of a Mardi Gras parade as a venue for individual creative expression and satirical comment...and [we] alone carry on the old traditions of Carnival celebrations, by using decorated mule-drawn floats with satirical themes, accompanied by costumed revelers dancing in the streets to the sounds of jazzy street musicians."

Since this krewe is particularly known for their wild satire and adult themes, their traditional mule-drawn floats (in contrast to the Super-Krewe-Mega-Floats that appear later on in the season), their humor, and for having some of the best brass and jazz bands in the city, we felt quite lucky to be a part of "the other side" of Carnival!  This celebration was the way I imagined that Mardi Gras was always intended to be:  a full-on neighborhood street party!

At the end of the Mardi Gras parades, it's common for each krewe to have an after-party (affectionately known as a 'ball' down in these parts) to keep the good times rollin'.  Most of these are private, invitation-only affairs; luckily for us, Krewe du Vieux's was opened to the purchasing public, and we jumped on the chance to partake in yet another tradition of fun!

Whether you seek to be a part of Mardi Gras's more traditional neighborhood celebrations, or prefer to hit up the wild, over-the-top spectacles of its better known side, this is one fabulous festival that I can't recommend enough.  There's absolutely no party like Mardi Gras, and in a city that's just as unique, it's a cultural experience that will definitely leave a little purple, green, and gold in your blood.