This year, beads and Bowl collide to bring revelers and football fans into New Orleans for one hot party.
When carnival season gets underway in New Orleans, the city puts on its party hat and transforms into a euphoric fantasyland of extravagant celebrations and endless parades with outlandish floats carrying everything from a gorilla applying lipstick to mythical sea monsters. Parade routes echo with that well-known mantra, “Throw me something, mister,” and kids clamor to collect their shiny doubloons. It all comes to a head on Mardi Gras, Feb. 12. So what do you get when all this reveling collides with the NFL Super Bowl, the country’s most-watched sporting event?
On Feb. 3, smack in the middle of the carnival merrymaking, New Orleans will host Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints. Anywhere else, two huge simultaneous events that bring thousands of hyped-up football fans together with thousands of raucous revelers might make city officials ill at ease. But New Orleans knows how to plan a party, and that’s what the merging of the two events is in the end. The city seems to have embraced a more-the-merrier attitude and is taking it all in stride.
The good times will roll
The main impact of Super Bowl on Mardi Gras celebrations is the change in parade schedules, because the big game falls on what is normally the first big parade weekend. This year, parades begin on Jan. 19 with the Krewe Du Vieux walking parade and continue every day until Feb. 12. Parades in the city will pause Jan. 28 for several days, giving city officials and police a chance to turn their attention to the Super Bowl, then pick up again on Feb. 6 and roll continuously until Mardi Gras.
Sam Joffray, associate executive director of the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee, says he’s confident that Mardi Gras and Super Bowl will come off without a hitch. After all, organizers of each event have plenty of experience. Mardi Gras has been a state holiday since 1875, and this is New Orleans’ 10th Super Bowl.
“The 2013 Mardi Gras season will be the perfect complement to Super Bowl XLVII,” says Joffray. “By rescheduling the traditional first weekend of parades to the weekend before Super Bowl, visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the city’s one-of-a-kind celebration just as they would any year. Super Bowl visitors will also have the option to arrive early or extend their stays to experience either the first or second weekend of Mardi Gras.”
Like any good Southern host, New Orleans plans a warm welcome for its guests. From the minute travelers arrive at the newly renovated Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, it’s clear the Big Easy has its game face on and is ready for company. The expansion of Concourse D and a modernized baggage claim area are all part of the $356 million makeover.
Many hotels have spruced up their properties. For instance, the historical Hotel Monteleone (AAA Four Diamonds) in the French Quarter recently renovated and expanded its famous Carousel Bar and Lounge and opened a new restaurant, Criollo, that serves fresh seafood and steaks.
“Our facility has been truly enhanced by the new add-ons,” says hotel manager Stephen Caputo. “We were a great destination before, but the new additions allow us to entertain more guests than we ever have before.”
Whether visitors are in town to cheer on their team or catch a few Mardi Gras beads, music, Creole cuisine, and unique attractions are all part of the experience. Here are a few not-to-be-missed highlights.
Mardi Gras World
Touted as “Where Mardi Gras is made,” Mardi Gras World allows visitors a behind-the-scenes peek at the workings of Blaine Kern Studios, the world’s leading maker of floats, sculptures, and props. The facility designs and constructs approximately 500 floats for more than 30 Mardi Gras parades each year, and many of the real crowd-pleasers are stored here.
This year, Mardi Gras World took on its biggest challenge ever: building the Krewe of Endymion’s “Pontchartrain Beach, Then and Now,” a 330-foot, eight-unit float that holds more than 230 riders. It’s said to be the largest float in Mardi Gras history. The float pays tribute to a New Orleans amusement park that operated from 1928–83. Special lighting effects transform the park from how it appeared in its early days to what it might look like if it were still around today.
Barry Kern, Mardi Gras World president and CEO, calls it “the most technologically advanced float in history.”
The extravagant float makes its debut Saturday, Feb. 9, in the Krewe of Endymion’s parade.
An appetite for fun
At the Court of Two Sisters, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to savor a delicious Creole-style brunch. This French Quarter restaurant serves a daily jazz brunch buffet in an elegant courtyard shaded by a canopy of wisteria vines. With temps in the mid-60s, winter can be a pleasant time for al fresco dining, but inside seating is available.
Heaped with hot and cold local delicacies, the buffet seems to be about a mile long, so deciding where to start can be daunting. Locals go straight for the grits and grillades (GREE-ahds), warm grits topped with tender, boneless veal medallions in Creole red gravy. Seafood lovers load their plates with shrimp etouffee and boiled crawfish (in season). But made-to-order omelets, Eggs Benedict, and pancakes are plentiful for those who prefer more standard brunch fare. Whatever you eat, it all tastes better while tapping your toes to the sounds of a Dixieland jazz band.
Foodies determined to fill their own kitchens with the enticing flavors and aromas of New Orleans often make their way to the New Orleans School of Cooking. Entertaining Creole and Cajun instructors add a dash of wit and a dollop of humor to every recipe.
Students learn much more than how to make a roux for gumbo. They get background on how the culinary contributions of the French, Spanish, Haitians, and Africans blended and evolved over time to form a cuisine unique to Louisiana. Everybody goes home with the recipes prepared in class, and spices can be purchased in the adjacent Louisiana General Store.
Down the Garden Path
The Garden District is home to several blocks of architectural grande dames, built mostly during the antebellum era when New Orleans was one of the wealthiest cities in America. The best way to learn about these homes is to join the Historic New Orleans Garden District Walking Tour that meanders down quiet streets flanked by magnolia trees as venerable as the Greek Revival and Italianate homes they shade. The tour departs from the Garden District Book Shop at 2727 Prytania St.
Hollywood has a long love affair with New Orleans, and several movies have been filmed in the Garden District. A majestic raised center hall cottage was the setting for much of the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
The Garden District holds special allure for fans of horror author, Anne Rice. Her former home, the primary setting for the Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, is a tour highlight. Fans also get a spine-tingling thrill out of the portion of the tour that goes through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, the first cemetery in the Garden District. Scenes from Interview with the Vampire, the film based on Rice’s 1976 novel by the same name, were filmed amidst the imposing, aboveground tombs.
It would seem that there’s going to be a hot time in the old town of New Orleans this winter.
Tracey Teo is a contributor from Evansville, Ind.
Jan/Feb 2013 Issue
Hotels are filling up for Super Bowl.
There may be more beads than available beds in New Orleans for this year’s Super Gras, creating a challenging scenario for travelers trying to make late plans.
According to the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee, the New Orleans metropolitan area has 37,000 hotel rooms; about 25,000 of those are in Orleans Parish. And with Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl together in late January and early February, the usual demand for both events will escalate, which means finding a room could be challenging. Finding a room for cheap, well, that’s probably going to be impossible.
Renee Kientz is vice president of communications, marketing, and public relations for the St. Tammany Tourist and Convention Commission. The parish is just across Lake Pontchartrain on Louisiana’s Northshore. She said late planners might find hotel rooms on the west side of the parish in Covington. It’s about a 45-minute commute to downtown New Orleans. Hotels in Slidell, about 30 minutes from New Orleans, have been taking Super Bowl reservations “for a few months now,” said Kientz. There are about 2,500 hotel rooms in the parish.
– Deborah Reinhardt
Contact your AAA Travel professional to help with a New Orleans getaway this winter View alist of AAA service offices.
^ to top | previous page
Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.