Mardi Gras: Behind the Scenes

With Mardi Gras right about the corner, this is the perfect time to share my experiences in the world of majestic costumes, extravagant parades and exquisite artistry.

Jess and I visited Mardi Gras World, the major hub where the French inspired holiday comes to life.  This 300,000 square foot warehouse houses floats, sculptures and props which are designed and constructed on site by amazingly creative artists who work year round to ensure the grandeur of Fat Tuesday.

Just to show the scale of Mardi Gras, there were 54 parades, 1,061 floats, 588 marching bands and more than 135,000 participants during the 2017 season.  So it’s no wonder that parade Krewes need a full year to work on their projects.

Krewes are a group of people who work on a particular parade.  Some Krewes are bigger than others, but they all have the same goal-to make each season of Mardi Gras more spectacular than the last.  Each Krewe works to develop a theme, collaborate with artists to create concepts to match that theme and then facilitate the construction of the floats and sculptures.

So as we toured the warehouse, we were able to see the how Mardi Gras comes together.  Even though the artists were out to lunch, we were still able to see their process and the plans from which they were designing the sculptures.

Most of the sculptures are made out of Styrofoam or Fiberglass.  Styrofoam is more popular because it is easier to work with and cheaper. Artists receive a block of styrofoam that they then sculpt into themed creations for the floats.

There are also a few scultpures that are wildly popular and used each year.  Momma Kong is one of these iconic figures.  The Krewe of Bacchus gives Momma Kong a new look each year, based on the parade theme.

You will notice that Momma Kong is sporting some beads, tossed by participants.

After searching through hundreds of really amazing props, we finally got to see the parade floats.  While the Krewes reuse the structure of the floats, the designs are completely redone each year.

Here are few fun facts about the floats:

  • Each float has a bathroom
  • All float riders/participants must wear a mask.  This adds to the mystery and wonderment of Mardi Gras!
  • There are anywhere from 15-40 floats per parade
  • Some floats are beautiful and others are satirical
  • Dozens of Krewe members ride the floats, throwing beads to spectators

We were blown away by how much work goes into the parades.  I have to admit that I did not completely understand the size of Mardi Gras.  I was so impressed by the cultural influences and pride that goes into this holiday.  It is believed that the first Mardi Gras was held by French settlers in 1699 as shrovetide (confession) or pre-lent celebrations.  It is a bit confusing to me on how it became known as the huge celebration it is today.

We ended our Mardi Gras World tour with a slice of King Cake associated with Mardi Gras celebrations. Jess described the cake as a cinnamon bun without cinnamon.  It also had a very sweet cake frosting drizzled on top.  It was just meh.

The tour definitely made us appreciate the holiday and want to experience it firsthand sometime in the near future. I really love this city and its rich history.  We can’t wait to go back.