10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people, it means different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, a piece of history, a state holiday, or a million parades, and countless memories. Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state and beyond has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is Mardi Gras? Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or where to get one-of-a-kind beads? Here are 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnival the best!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carnival is a Season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and ushers in 40 days of best behavior during Lent, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2022 falls on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The official start of Carnival Season is Twelfth Night, January 6.

A krewe (pronounced the same way as “crew”) is an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season.

Bonus Fun Fact: Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been since 1875 when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your Dog Will Love Mardi Gras

Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore, and more locations! These animal-dedicated parades show off the fun and revelry from our furriest of friends and do they look cute.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes.

Related Article: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Start planning your dog’s costume for the celebration.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mardi Gras Is for Families

There are many activities and Mardi Gras parades that are family-friendly. In New Orleans, there are a few favorite family parade-watching spots which include St. Charles and Napoleon Streets. As you explore the state, you’ll find that many Louisiana cities host huge Mardi Gras celebrations with brightly colored floats and marching bands that are perfectly appropriate for the whole family.

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. The Best Ways to Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious

Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. You never know what they’ll Throw

Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders including the King’s Throne (a giant toilet) float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Shreveport, you’ll love the Krewe of Highland who throw a new surprise each Carnival season. The first of Krewe’s famously unusual throws began with candy canes in its founding year. Over the years, throws have included recycled beads, rubber chickens, Beanie Babies, and food, from spaghetti and meatballs in Ziploc bags to pickles, hot dogs, Capri Suns pouches, Ramen Noodles, MoonPies, and even coined money. The throws are as exciting as the floats from which they’re thrown; every year brings a new surprise to parade go-ers, screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!”

Anyone can come home with beads. Only those “in the know” get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily the Biggest

You can’t get any smaller than ’tit Rex, New Orleans first and only MicroKrewe. A group of artists, business people, teachers, workers, and bon vivants founded ‘tit Rəx in 2009 in a response to the super krewes constantly setting records for floats, throws, and extravagance.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘tit Rəx takes an opposite approach focusing instead of on massive floats that take up entire blocks, the ‘tit Rəx floats are made from shoeboxes and found objects that look like full-size floats. Carnival throws are handed out by krewe members rather than tossed, since—in keeping with the theme of the parade—they are so tiny.

Related Article: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used as a prefix before the name of the smaller or younger of two people who share a first name.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Why They Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a man dressed as Santa Claus received such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing as, before that, krewes threw any manner of items including food and dirt. Today, krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands which are rare and seemed to have phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Weight of Revelry

Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats. In fact, locals like to visit the Arc of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year. It is a 67-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the independence and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Royalty is Often Top Secret

Ever see the term “Mystic Krewe” and wonder what that means? Many Mardi Gras Krewes use “mystique” or “mystic” in their titles, meaning krewes will not reveal the identities of their royalty until they’re presented at the royal ball. King, Queens, and Maids are often sworn to secrecy all year until they’re able to make their grand debut.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Mardi Gras is More Than New Orleans

When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you only think of New Orleans? Think again. Mardi Gras is celebrated around the state! Cajun Mardi Gras (yes, there is a Cajun spin on Mardi Gras) can be found in the Lafayette and Eunice area. In Baton Rouge, parades roll many weekends before and during Mardi Gras. Plan to experience some family-friendly Mardi Gras fun in Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, and many other locations throughout the state.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to explore the small cities and towns of South Louisiana such as Houma and Thibodaux as every region has its own way of celebrating the carnival season.

Related Article: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

And don’t forget where it all began in America. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras, 15 years before New Orleans was established.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that you are well versed in Carnival knowledge, it’s time to plan your trip to visit the Bayou State and “let the good times roll.”

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The past year and a half have been marked by tragedy, upheaval, and loss. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been locked down, our freedoms curtailed, our hospitals brought to the brink, and children forced from their classrooms.

“Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson refused to be bound by any conventions, especially in his writing. As a reporter in the 1960s and ’70s, he made no attempts at objectivity and often anointed himself the main character in narratives he was dispatched to just observe. This quote derives from one of the last career-spanning interviews he granted, a 2003 conversation with “Salon.” Thompson was speaking not about how he emerged as gonzo journalism’s leading voice but about complacency in general. Exercising our liberties is how we build a better world for ourselves, our communities, and future generations.

Enjoy your journey—RV living is the freedom lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in December and January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2021.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at Alamo Lake

Alamo Lake is perhaps the most remote of Arizona State Parks. The lanky piece of water stretches along the base of desert mountains down a dead-end road 37 miles north of Wenden.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A legendary bass fishing spot, the lake is often dotted with boats. This is where you come for peace and solitude. Nearly 250 campsites ($15-$30 per night) and four cabins ($70 per night) overlook the water.

Related Article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in February

Even though there are no official hiking trails, the wild burros will lend you some of their routes. The sparse terrain makes cross-country travel fairly easy. And just about every hilltop affords a beautiful panorama of the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet as impressive as the daytime vistas are, the ones at night are even more amazing. Alamo offers an incredible night sky with a canopy of glittering stars stretching from horizon to horizon and punctuated by the frosted river of the Milky Way.

Park admission is $10 per vehicle.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

The largest wildlife and nature event of its kind, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) features artwork by 500 wildlife artists, educational wildlife shows, falconry, and retriever demonstrations. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and connect through a shared interest in wildlife. The largest event of its kind in the U.S., SEWE promises attendees unforgettable experiences every February (17-20, 2022) in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the inaugural event was held in February 1983, SEWE has become an important event in Charleston, kicking off the city’s tourism season and becoming synonymous with Presidents’ Day weekend celebrations. The original show hosted 100 artists and exhibitors and 5,000 attendees. Now SEWE welcomes approximately 500 artists, exhibitors, and wildlife experts and 40,000 attendees annually.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the nation’s premier celebration of wildlife art and the great outdoors at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. Hunt for your next piece of fine art, collect handcrafted goods, witness live demonstrations, and get a taste of the Lowcountry.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greater Palm Springs

Surely, this one doesn’t require much convincing. Along with the weather—which stays in the 70s and 80s year-round—and the gorgeous desert vistas, you can basically get anything you want during your visit to Palm Springs. Spa getaway? Check. Hiking adventure? Check.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re staying in Palm Springs proper, there’s no need to leave Highway 111, which has everything within walking (or free trolley!). If you’re in one of the neighboring cities, you’re probably there for relaxation. Make the quick jaunt out to the trippy paradise that is Joshua Tree National Park and the equally weird town of Joshua Tree proper.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce. Avery Island is the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago.

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his garden on Avery Island.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax. That hot sauce proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Art and History of Tubac

In Arizona, there are several villages that have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established in order to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presidio is a state historic park.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related Article: Best Places for RV Travel this February

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit. Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers on the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. The population is up from 185 in 1993.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

From upland forests to Cypress/Tupelo swamps, to an active land-building river delta, the Atchafalaya has lots to see. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for­—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer. 

Atchafalaya National Heritage Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An American-Indian word, “Atchafalaya” (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (NHA) stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.

With a story around every bend in the river and music from every corner, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is an ever-changing landscape.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover the Wild Side of Florida

Meet a manatee face-to-face without even getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as a year-round home for West Indian manatees, the park is also an animal education center with mammals such as panthers, bobcats, foxes, deer, wolves, black bears, and otters; birds such as eagles, hawks, flamingos, vultures, and owls; and, of course, plenty of alligators.

Related Article: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors enter the preserve by taking a tram or a boat ride. You also can walk to the main entrance via the ¾-mile Pepper Creek Trail. The tram is the fastest way to go and it may be your only option if the weather is not cooperating. If the weather cooperates you can opt for the boat. You may see alligators, raccoons, and deer; birds small and large, such as nesting ospreys; and turtles, including the alligator snapping turtles, painted turtles, and red-eared sliders.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras

“But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?”

—From The Untidy Pilgrim by Eugene Walter 

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile is the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras? That’s right, Mardi Gras originated in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama. It was revived after the Civil War when citizen Joe Cain, fed up with post-war misery, led an impromptu parade down city streets. The city has been doing it ever since and marks the annual occasion with spectacular parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies. Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday (March 1, 2022) and the Port City comes to life. Elaborately themed floats manned by masked mystic societies; mounted police, and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry. Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

Start your Mardi Gras adventure in Mobile at the Mobile Carnival Museum. The Mobile Carnival Museum highlights the history of Mardi Gras in its true birthplace—Mobile, Alabama. The museum features 14 galleries, video presentations, a pictorial hallway, and an interactive float area—all in a restored historic mansion.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Slice of Paradise

Get back to nature with an unparalleled experience at the Padre Island National Seashore. With more than 70 miles of unspoiled coastline and 130,000 acres of pristine sand dunes and grassy prairies, it’s fair to say there’s no place quite like the Padre Island National Seashore.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beach to the bay, Padre Island National Seashore offers countless opportunities to discover and enjoy the amazing recreation and resources of the park. Take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico or build a sandcastle. Swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone. Strong currents flowing parallel to the beach, tides flowing to-and-from the beach, and sudden drop-offs in the Gulf floor can be dangerous for swimmers and waders alike.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore has access to the Laguna Madre waters through the boat ramps at Bird Island Basin. The boat ramps are located separately from the campground at Bird Island Basin limiting traffic through the campground. There is plenty of parking at the boat ramps for day use but the boat ramp parking can still fill up quickly. Spring and fall usually are the busiest as anglers use Bird Island Basin as a closer entry point to access the legendary Baffin Bay in search of trophy trout.

Read Next: The Best RV Camping February 2021

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

The rich cultural history, the tasty culinary scene, and the distinctive Cajun and Zydeco music are all part of the cultural legacy created by the diverse people who settled here

As you leave New Orleans and head west, the changes start out subtle: The Crystal Hot Sauce is replaced by Tabasco, the bright colors of Mardi Gras beads and Spanish-influenced houses are replaced by Spanish moss. With the 24-hour-a-day touristy chaos of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter behind you, you’ll find only friendly locals.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10 toward Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles means shedding the tourist trappings and easing into one of America’s most exciting food and music scenes.

For many visitors, a trip to Louisiana means Bourbon Street and sweet drinks in novelty plastic cups, Mardi Gras parades, and near-daily Brass Band Parades second lines (those who follow the band to enjoy the music) marching through the streets. But west of New Orleans is another side of the state—one where the tomatoes disappear from dishes as the food transitions from Creole to Cajun, and the music becomes more accessible.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The swamps of Bayou country are but a stone’s throw away, and suddenly, instead of a city where you could go a week without having a real conversation with a local, you end up in a place where you’ll get their life story before you’ve even ordered your plate of boudin.

Baton Rouge is about an hour and a half from New Orleans, and Lafayette another hour, and Lake Charles another hour beyond that, making them a good change of pace from NOLA. On the surface, the things you’ll do in Louisiana’s less-famous cities don’t differ from what you’d do in New Orleans—listen to music, eat incredible food, and soak up the local culture—but how you enjoy them is entirely different.

Bayou Teche at Breauz Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gus Rezende, founder of Social Entertainment, a hospitality company “that fuses lifestyle and culture through social experience” frames the difference: “New Orleans created a musician-driven culture which means that cover charges are high and you’ll pay for what you watch. Lafayette is more community-driven with a lot of free concerts.”

Cajun food from Don’s in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Baton Rouge’s Live After 5 held on Friday nights) singers belt out Southern rock, “Swamp pop,” and Zydeco in the center of town as the Mississippi River lazes its way by. Other nights of the week, the music is still everywhere.

In Lafayette, you can drive around to visit the historic houses and old mansions during the day, but at night, you’ll look for the music: You’ll find it in every corner of a club, even old school music halls, of which there are still a few.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are planning to hit one of the outdoor concerts, be warned. If there’s one thing that’s bad about Lafayette, it’s how hot it gets in summer. Plan to visit in spring or fall.

Spring is festival season, and in March and April, any given weekend you can wake to a food festival. You won’t want to miss the Acadiana Po’ Boy Festival in historic downtown Lafayette the first Saturday of April and Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, celebrate culture through music, food, and art at the Festival International de Louisiane—Lafayette’s biggest festival and one of the largest in the country—kicks off in April, celebrating the connection of this part of the US to the Francophone world. The nearby town of Rayne is known as the Frog Capital of Louisiana, home to one of the state’s best fests (the Rayne Frog Festival in early May).

But for Baton Rouge, the best time to visit is the fall, aka tailgate season.

Ambrosie Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many ways to enjoy local sounds and delicacies in Lake Charles. Dubbed the Festival Capital of Louisiana, it has more than 75 festivals and special events each year, including Mardi Gras, the Louisiana Pirate Festival (early May), the Black Heritage Festival (early March), the Cajun French Music & Food Festival (mid-July), and the Calcasieu-Cameron Fair in October. Savor delicious food at one of their culinary festivals or catch a live concert just about every weekend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After indulging your Cajun food kick, relish in the chance to see one of the best benefits of getting the heck out of New Orleans: the wildlife. Explore the Creole Nature Trail, filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish. Visitors will view roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, red-winged blackbirds, and, of course, alligators—not to mention, Gulf beaches with excellent shelling and relaxation.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re looking for gators, crawdads, or characters, getting out of New Orleans and heading to Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles brings you face-to-face with the local culture.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

How to Celebrate Safely

Punxsutawney Phil, the famous weather-predicting groundhog, saw his shadow. But doesn’t that just mean it’s sunny? We’re not about to start taking advice from a groundhog because we know spring camping is just around the corner. And we know there’s still a whole lot of February to get through and though the cheap flights to warmer weather are nonexistent and the Mardi Gras beads will just be thrown onto unsuspecting pets nearby.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras typically means dancing in the streets, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, and watching one parade after another roll as you slowly become a human bead tree. But Mardi Gras looks a lot different this year. Parades won’t roll. Gone are the parties, concerts, and events that usually make up this festive time of year (and put you in very close contact with your fellow humankind). There will be no large crowds. But that doesn’t mean Mardi Gras is cancelled.

Mobile, home of the first Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And that doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and wait for spring. We’ve rounded up some socially-distant ways to celebrate Carnival season. Sample all the goodies at the King Cake hub, dress your pet in Mardi Gras colors, attend a virtual event, or peruse the elaborate house floats. And while you’re out, don’t forget to order a king cake for me.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How You Can Still Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021

Short answer: very carefully.

But wait, when exactly is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras takes place on Tuesday, February 16 this year. The date changes each year but here’s a rule of thumb: Easter always takes place on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and Mardi Gras happens 41 days before Easter. It can be as early as February 3 or as late as March 9 depending on when Easter falls. Simple, right? Ha, just kidding!

The lunar calendar and its interactions with the ecclesiastical calendar are complex, to say the least, so all you really need to remember is that Mardi Gras takes place on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off 40 days of pious self-denial among Louisiana’s historically Catholic population.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check Out the House Floats

What are locals doing with the creative energy they’d normally use to learn parade route dance routines, throw bals masqués (masked ball), and make custom throws? They’re decorating objects whose size is comparable with that talent—houses. Krewe of House Floats founder Megan Boudreaux sparked the idea in November. “When the mayor announced parade cancellations, I made an offhand comment on Twitter that I’ll decorate my house and throw things at my neighbors,” Boudreaux said. “Everyone has 200 pounds of beads in their attic.”

Mardi Gras King Cakes at Ambrosia Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concept took over social media. Now, Boudreaux’s Krewe of House floats boasts more than 3,000 members and 1,000 house floats worldwide. Walk around (while distancing and wearing a mask!) and admire the artistry of unemployed float artists. You could probably also catch a few house floats during GetUpNRide’s socially distant group bike ride which takes place on Mardi Gras day.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat a King Cake

In a state of culinary delights, king cake is…well, king. Baked from cinnamon-laced dough with a small plastic baby inside, the ring-shaped cake is both a delicacy and a tradition. Whoever gets the slice with the baby inside is responsible for buying the next king cake which means eating a lot of sugar during Carnival time. But all good things must come to an end. Most bakeries don’t sell king cakes before January 6 or after Fat Tuesday. Bakeries including Gambino’s, Haydel’s, and Ambrosia will ship king cakes anywhere in the country.

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dress Yourself, Your Pet, and your RV in Mardi Gras Colors

It’s a great way to show your support for Carnival during its most challenging year. If you don’t already know what the colors are just look at the sugar topping traditional king cakes and you’ll see the hallowed Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and gold. Purple symbolizes justice, gold symbolizes power, and green symbolizes faith, as designated by the 1892 Rex parade.

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the founding of the Rex Organization in 1872 its traditions have helped define Mardi Gras. Rex’s Proclamation invites his subjects to the grand celebration of Carnival. His royal colors of purple, green, and gold are to this day the colors of Mardi Gras and the song played in the first Rex parade, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” has become Carnival’s anthem. Rex and his Queen preside over the Rex Ball, Carnival’s glittering conclusion.

Mardi Gras costume display© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or Make a More Elaborate Costume

Costumes are one of the cornerstones of Carnival and staying home to craft yours is one of the safest things you can do during COVID-19 times. After it’s reached its full potential (or your fingers are hopelessly singed, whichever comes first), put it on and post a selfie. Don your mask, check out house floats, and toast yourself on the day we say farewell to the flesh. You’ve made it this far in a yearlong pandemic that has taken away so many of our traditions and comforts—and you’re part of an unprecedented moment in Madi Gras history. 

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Attend” a Virtual Event

If you aren’t live-streamed out yet, there are plenty of Carnival events to watch in between Zoom meetings. Enjoy Mardi Gras festivities from the comfort and safety of your home with a virtual cooking class from New Orleans School of Cooking. Zoom cooking classes include savory andouille king cake. Krewe of Bacchus launched “Throw Me Something, Bacchus,” a virtual parade app that features throws, floats, throw trading features, and games.

Mardi Gras at Ambrosia Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In response, the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave, New Orleans’ first virtual krewe (which launched in 2016), will drive down Bacchus’ Uptown parade route. Nola.com will live stream “Mardi Gras for All Y’all”. The virtual event’s more than 90 acts feature chef demonstrations, live performances, interviews, and lots of house floats. Live Streaming platform StageIt will broadcast New Orleans bands including The Iceman Special, Soul Brass Band, Dinola + Malevitus, and The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars.

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass -wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded

Chief Slacabamorinico would have been proud.

The Chickasaw leader was “reincarnated” by Mobile resident Joe Cain in 1866 as a rebellion against occupying Union forces.

The Civil War had brought a halt to Mardi Gras celebrations, and in April 1865, Union troops took control of the city.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile’s Mardi Gras festivities resumed unexpectedly the following year when Joseph Stillwell Cain, a local clerk and former member of the Tea Drinkers Mystic Society, led a parade through the occupied city dressed as a fictional Indian named Chief Slackabamarinico.

Cain exuberantly declared an end to Mobile’s suffering and signaled the return of the city’s parading activities, to the delight of local residents. He also succeeded in moving Mobile’s celebration from New Year’s Eve to the traditional Fat Tuesday. 

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

During and after Reconstruction, Mardi Gras became the premier event of the city’s social elite and a way of celebrating the “Lost Cause.” New societies representing different portions of the city’s diverse population began to appear. The Order of Myths (OOM), established in 1867, chose as its emblem Folly chasing Death around a broken column, imagery that was seen by many as a symbol of the “Lost Cause.” At the end of the traditional OOM parade, Death is defeated, and Folly wins the day.

In 1870, a group of young men between the ages of 18 and 21 formed the Infant Mystics, probably because they were too young to join other societies. The Knights of Revelry, formed in 1874. Their emblem of Folly dancing in a champagne glass between two crescent moons remains a familiar site during Mardi Gras parades.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile has been doing it ever since and they mark the annual occasion with majestic parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies.

When people think of Mardi Gras, they think of New Orleans. But long before there even was a New Orleans, Mobile was celebrating Mardi Gras in the run-up to Ash Wednesday.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Mobile dates its Mardi Gras to 1703, a decade and a half before New Orleans was founded. The raucous annual celebration originated in the Port City, not in the Crescent City.

Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday and Mobile comes to life. Elaborate themed floats manned by masked mystic societies, mounted police and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Many of the mystic societies hold annual formal balls. Some of the balls are private, open only to members and their families; others sell tickets to guests. Membership rules vary. Members need to be born into some societies; other groups invite residents to join, and still others accept anyone who pays the dues.

A specific decorum regarding gown design for royalty still prevails, according to the late Gordon Tatum Jr., former curator of the Mobile Carnival Museum.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

“Cover the ankles,” he said. “It may be split to San Francisco, but cover the ankles.”

The cost for robes, gowns, and scepters, as well as full-out partying, is only governed by how deep Daddy’s pockets are. The museum’s least expensive outfit is estimated at $40,00.

Mobile has decreed that moon pies are the official throwing treat from Mardi Gras floats (too many people were being conked on the head by hard candy).

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry.

Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

The party has started in Downtown Mobile and will end with Fat Tuesday on February 13.

Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass -wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim