Think Mardi Gras is just for grown-ups? Think again! Mardi Gras, also known as “Carnival season,” begins on January 6th and lasts through Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Ask Wednesday. Carnival season is a month long celebration of festivals and feasts that lead up to a period of fasting and reflection. And while some of the festivities are definitely meant for the 18 and over crowd, Mardi Gras also has a family-friendly side. So whether you’re planning a trip to New Orleans or just planning a celebration at home, we’ll help you find the perfect way to celebrate Mardi Gras with kids!
*2021 Update* The city of New Orleans has prohibited all parades this year to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus. So save our New Orleans tips for next year’s trip and be sure to check out our at-home celebration tips for this year!
Celebrating Mardi Gras with Kids in New Orleans
When most people think of celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, they generally don’t think of bringing the kids along. But Mardi Gras is a celebration of diversity and love and there are plenty of family-friendly things to do in New Orleans. Celebrating Mardi Gras with kids in New Orleans can be tons of fun if you keep these couple of tips in mind!
Know Where To Go (and Where Not To Go)
The Uptown area is known as being the most family-friendly area for celebrating Mardi Gras in all of New Orleans. The area is known for hosting families so the festivities are very tame and you’ll be surrounded by other with little ones. Another bonus-most of the parades start in Uptown, which mean you can catch the beginnings of the parades and still get the kids back to the hotel for bedtime!
Napoleon Avenue in Uptown is a great family-friendly parade watching spot. The Garden District portion of St. Charles Avenue on the numbered streets between Jackson Avenue and Louisiana Avenue is also very kid-friendly.
The one thing everyone agrees on- stay away from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. That area tends to get the rowdiest and is not where you’ll want to be for kid-friendly celebrations.
New Orleans gets crowded for Mardis Gras and in order to snag great parade watching spots, you’ll want to set out early. Make sure you pack everything you’ll need for the day. Pack plenty of food and snacks, enough water for everyone, bags for collecting candy and throws, toilet paper (many porta-potties aren’t restocked frequently), wet wipes, hand sanitizer, rain ponchos, sun screen and bandages.
The Bathroom Conundrum
Bathrooms can be few and far between- which can be difficult with little ones. The best way to solve this problem is to snag a hotel room right near where you want to watch the parades. This way, you always have a bathroom to run back to when needed. But if you can’t book a room near where you’ll be parade watching, look for schools and churches as many will open their bathrooms for a small fee. And make it a family rule that when you do see a bathroom, EVERYONE goes- even if they don’t feel like they have to- because it may be awhile before you see another bathroom again!
Dress For Success
There are two points to consider when dressing for Mardi Gras success. The first is comfort. Everyone in the family should wear closed toed shoes that are comfortable for walking. Dressing in layers can help you stay comfortable as the day goes on and gets warmer. Once you’ve got a few base layers and comfy shoes- then it’s time to consider costumes! Lots of people dress up for the parades. Whether you decide to go with a full blown costume (literally anything goes!) or a few accessories such as masks, hats, scarves or beads in the traditional Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold)- everyone knows you’ll get more throws if you’re dressed up! With costumes for the kids- keep in mind that they should be comfortable and easy to walk in.
Have A Safety Plan
Mardi Gras is crowded and busy, which means safety needs to be a top priority for families. Always have a plan in case you get separated. Make a little necklace or bracelet for your kids with their names, your phone numbers, and your hotel location. Make sure they know to show this to an adult if they get lost. It’s always a good idea to teach your kids look for another mommy if they do get lost! It’s also important to remind kids not to run around too close to the parade floats, horses, or marching bands. Keep kids tucked in close so they don’t get trampled by the parades as they move by. Lastly, teach your kids not to put anything they catch into their mouths and to have a parent check all their candy.
Celebrating Mardi Gras with Kids at Home
If you choose not to take your kids into the belly of the beast and celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there are plenty of fun things you can do to celebrate right at home!
Colorful masks are a long-standing Mardi Gras tradition. Gather some colored construction paper, glitter, sequins, feathers, markers, glue and scissors to make your own Mardi Gras masks. Traditional Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold- but let the kids go wild with all sorts of colors and decorations. You can download a couple of different mask templates here, or create your own!
Kids and adults alike love dressing up in costumes for Mardi Gras! The fun thing about dressing up is that just about anything goes. Get some fabric and make Mardi Gras capes that kids can decorate on their own, cut out some giant cardboard butterfly wings to adorn with Mardi Gras colors, or simply pick out your favorite dress up costume to celebrate in!
Bake a King Cake
King Cake is the official food of Mardi Gras and it’s eaten for breakfast, afternoon snacks and throughout the parades during celebrations. King cake is a blend of traditional coffee cake and cinnamon rolls decorated in purple, green and gold icing and sugar with a small plastic baby hidden inside. Whoever gets the lucky piece with the baby is responsible for baking next year’s cake! We’ve gathered a couple of easy King Cake recipes for you here and here. The really fun part is decorating- so grab some colored sugar and let the kids have at it!
If making a King Cake sounds like too much- you can always make some vanilla cupcakes and color some frosting purple, green and yellow for decorating!
Pass Out Party Favors
During Mardi Gras parades, “throws” are items tossed from parade floats into the crowds. People on the streets traditionally yell out, “Throw Me Something, Mister!” to the folks riding on the floats, and in return, the people on the floats toss out beads, small toys, candies, cups and dabloons- or small, colorful coins. You can head to your local dollar store to pick up some beads, chocolate coins, and candies to toss to the kids while you celebrate!
Jazz It Up!
No celebration is complete without music- and what a great time to introduce the kids to jazz music if it’s not something they already listen to! New Orleans is the city of jazz, so any jazz album or Pandora station will be a great addition to your at-home Mardi Gras festivities!