I totally had a ‘Love Actually’ moment when I arrived into the south – for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Have you ever sat in the airport, near baggage claim, and just watched? 

Watched people reunite with their loved ones, see groups of people so excited for their family vacations, and so on?

IT IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER.

I could sit in the airport for hours and just watch people reunite with their favorite people.  It warms my heart, and is hands-down the best thing about airports.

New Orleans has the cutest people. I saw a group of middle-aged ladies, matching Mardi Gras t-shirts and all, take selfies and group photos near baggage claim for a solid 10 minutes. Hooting and hollering the whole time.

They were SO excited for Mardi Gras it was the most adorable thing. I love watching people get excited about things. Because I am so excitable, I love when other people get stoked about things too.

Why was I just sitting near baggage claim watching people? Well, I was waiting for my mom and sister to land in New Orleans from Sacramento.

I actually texted my sister “they are so cute it hurts my soul” regarding the people in the New Orleans airport.

Mardi Gras Weekend

Red Drink from Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans Picture

Ah, the Big Easy.

I did not know what to expect visiting New Orleans for the first time, during Mardi Gras. 

Our plan was to stay with our close family friends and their three small kids. 

This ended up being the best way to do Mardi Gras; the local way.  Our friends, whose family has lived in NOLA for decades, showed us the ropes.

This included attending multiple day and night parades in Uptown, drinking and eating to no end, and visiting the French Quarter (to get beignets, duh).

French Quarter Music Scene

The jazz scene in the French Quarter is just like you’d expect: unbelievable.

The street performers cause everyone to get up and dance with their soulful music, and you can find them on streets in the French Quarter during the day.

The whole city is filled with amazing music, yummy food, and diverse groups of people.  It was so different than what I’m used to, in a good way.

We spent a good majority of our time Uptown (where Beyonce and Jay-Z have a home, might I add), which is where we “tailgated” the parades.

This “tailgating” is put in quotations because it feels just like it. Our friends rent a Uhaul for the weekend, and basically trick it out with a bar, snacks, bathroom, etc. The whole nine.

Let me just tell you, this was THE way to do Mardi Gras.  The streets are filled with families, kids, and people’s set up chairs and ladders. 

So, as you can imagine, it gets very crowded.  It was so nice having a home base (with a bathroom) just a few steps away from the huge crowds.

The Mardi Gras Parades

People camp out one or two whole days before the parades start to secure their spots.  Law enforcement will throw away their stuff if they are not manning the area, so they literally camp out overnight.

They will bring folding chairs, and ladders with little seats for their kids.

Mardi Gras Float Picture

Each parade has a theme, and the riders will throw things to the passersby.  For example, the first parade we attended was called Muses, and their theme was shoes. So, if you caught a shoe, it was a big deal.

The krewes – groups who put on the parades – spend basically all year preparing for their parade. The floats are extravagant, fun, and packed with people dressed in costumes.

Mardi Gras Parade Photo

Trying New Things…Including Food

I tried many new things while in New Orleans (one of my favorite parts about traveling, although sometimes I need some coaxing).

One of these was crawfish. It was good, but the whole seeing-your-food’s-eyeballs-before-you-eat-it thing still weirds me out.

There was fried food, and lots of it.  Definitely going to need a detox when I get home.

One of the most unique parts of the trip was the last night, when our two friends and I walked 4 miles to get from where we were in the parade route, to the end of the route.

This included walking through the French Quarter, and some not so great parts of New Orleans. But, still a good experience. It is their tradition, so I joined this year.

This trip was one of my first real experiences in the south.  I have been before, but was not totally immersed in the culture.

I love how family-oriented the culture is. People have huge families, big gatherings, and lots of food always. 

That’s something I want to incorporate when I get older and start a family of my own; the warmth and love of a huge family and the total embracing of anyone new that joins them.

I felt so, so loved and welcomed by these people that I barely knew before. That’s an awesome feeling.  This was probably my favorite part of the trip.

My mom, sister and I felt like part of the family the whole time we were there.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is definitely something you should experience at least once.  People there do it big, and it is so much fun to party like the southern people do, with their big families and all.