Last updated: 03:44 PM ET, Tue January 26 2016

7 Things to Know When Traveling to Mardi Gras

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | January 25, 2016

7 Things to Know When Traveling to Mardi Gras

Photo courtesy Thinkstock.

Traveling to Mardi Gras this year? You won’t be alone. In fact, the vast majority of people attending Mardi Gras are from out of town. From fun facts to practical advice, follow these tips to bonne fete.

Plan Ahead

It goes without saying that if you are making your plans this close to the big day, Feb. 9, you are going to hit some snags when it comes to hotel reservations. But if that is squared away, there are some other things that you should plan ahead for, too. Make sure that you have figured out your transportation.

Visitors heading to the French Quarter should know that only French Quarter residents and hotel guests with special passes are allowed past police barricades. Some suburban hotels offer shuttles to the French Quarter, but not all of them.

Traffic is nuts, so also plan for the extra time it will take you to move around the city.

Dress in Costume

Mardi Gras has a color scheme: purple (for justice), green (faith) and gold (power) – dress accordingly. And don’t forget to wear a costume. Mardi Gras is the one place where you can get away with dressing up pretty much as anything you want. There are costume contests and the people-watching isn’t bad either.

Get Some Beads

The beads are one of the most iconic symbols of Mardi Gras, but there are a variety of other treasures that can be gathered. It’s a good idea to bring a bag to collect your goodies. Also, remember that once beads have touched the ground, they are sullied and should not be picked up unless under the rarest of circumstances.

READ MORE: 4 American Cities Besides NOLA That Throw Epic Mardi Gras Celebrations

Know the Lingo

There are a lot of terms that go along with the celebration. Make sure that you know “krewe” is for the carnival organizations, that Lundi Gras is French for “Fat Monday” and that “neutral grounds” are the grassy medians where carnival-goers stand and beg for carnival throws.

A “tableau” is a scene staged by krewe members and is a sort of short, one-act mime. Go-cups are what you get from a bartender when you want to take your drink to go. Doubloons are the commemorative coins struck for individual krewes and maskers are the costumed krewe members at parades and balls.

Eat Some King Cake

Hundreds – probably thousands – of king cakes are consumed during Mardi Gras. Don’t miss out. The Louisiana-style king cake is easy to recognize – it’s a circular French bread-style cake iced in purple, green and yellow with a small baby (said to represent baby Jesus) on the top or inside.  Luck and prosperity are bestowed on the person who finds the trinket on his or her slice of cake.

Bring the Whole Family

Mardi Gras is really a family affair. While the French Quarter parade is off-limits for the little ones, the city and suburban parades are for the whole clan. Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets and picnic baskets and enjoy the festivities. As with most everything else, get there early to enjoy the day.

READ MORE: New Orleans is Getting a Beautiful New Airport Terminal

Have a Meeting Place

Mardi Gras is huge. There are thousands of people are on the street, and it is very easy to get separated. Make sure everyone knows where to meet in case anyone gets lost. Give your children notecards or business cards — or write on them with a Sharpie — putting your name, address, hotel phone numbers and a pre-arranged meeting place on them just in case. Make sure that children know to go to a police officer if they get lost. Cell phone service is not always reliable, so make sure that you have set up an alternative way to communicate.

Know the Rules

The New Orleans City Council passed new Mardi Gras parade rules in early 2014. Visitors should be aware of them to avoid having to head back to your hotel to return contraband. Here are some of the basics:

No ladders or other personal effects such as grills and coolers, closer than six feet to the curb.

This year, parking on Napoleon and St. Charles will be prohibited on both sides of the neutral ground starting two hours before the parade.

You cannot rope off territory via chairs, tarps or anything else if you are in the public right of way. This includes neutral ground and sidewalks.

There can be no private portable toilets in the neutral ground or other public property.

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