Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Orleans Trip 2013 - Mardi Gras World

This past weekend, DB~ and I took a long weekend trip to The Big Easy, perhaps known to you as New Orleans.  It was my fourth time there (it's one of my favorite towns and a town that I think everyone should experience at least once), but it was DB~'s first.  To that end, I had to balance being a good "tour guide", but also finding some things for us to do that I haven't done before.

We got in on Thursday night around 9:30 p.m. and immediately dropped our bags in our hotel room and headed to Bourbon Street so DB~ could see a touch of that spectacle.  After doing some time traveling at Pat O'Brien's, thanks to the ridiculously strong hurricanes, we turned in and planned to get up early to explore the French Quarter.

When we got up on Friday, it was pouring rain.  In a subsequent post, I'll detail our Friday in New Orleans, but this post will focus on one of the cooler things we did down there and that's go see Mardi Gras World.

This was a good activity to do when raining and it was something new to both of us.  After a short shuttle ride to the warehouse, we went inside and signed up for the tour.  It felt a touch steep at $20/person, but it was definitely a cool experience.  If you've seen a Mardi Gras parade, whether live or on TV, you've seen how intricate and ornate some of the floats can be.  What I didn't know is that some (or most) of the bigger Krewes (social clubs that sponsor the floats) contract the float building out to Mardi Gras World.

For the larger mega-Krewes, some of these floats can hold 40-70 people.  Since these parades on Mardi Gras and the two weeks leading up to it can be long, some of them even have bathrooms hidden on board.  The floats are quite heavy at 20 tons and are pulled by tractors, under the theory that if a tractor has a problem they can always just hook another one up rather than delay the parade.

Not all Krewes are created equal.  Rex is the oldest one and Orpheus is one of the newest (started by Harry Connick, Jr. in 1993).  The Krewe of Endymion is the largest at 2,700 members with a huge waiting list.  Considering that the yearly dues can be $500 to $2000 and up, plus the cost of attending the post-parade balls and other expenses throughout the year, it's an expensive hobby to be in.  Those dues and fees go to the creation of floats.  Some Krewes may have up to 14 floats in a parade.  Each float can cost $10,000 to rehab an existing theme or $50,000 to $80,000 to build from scratch.

Originally, I thought Mardi Gras World would just be a big warehouse we would see some floats, but it was much more than that.  There were about 6-10 artists working on actively creating floats for the 2014 Mardi Gras, even though it is in early March 2014.  Some Krewes submit the ideas for next year the day after Mardi Gras is over.  No rest for the wicked.

The main art pieces on the fronts of the floats are called "props" and are made out of either fiberglass or styrofoam/paper mache.  They are then painted painstakingly to create the theme of the float.  These props are made by cutting out 4' by 8' sheets of styrofoam and then gluing them together, then cutting them into the desired shape with an electric knife.

While there, we observed an artist re-purposing a globe into what would be the red Angry Bird for a 2014 float.

We also watched a short 15 minute movie explaining the traditions of Mardi Gras and shopped in the conveniently placed gift shop.  When we were done after an hour and a half, the rain had stopped and we went on our day through the Quarter.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for being a great tour guide! You forgot to mention that at the end of the tour you get some king cake...which we totally forgot about. Boo! Guess we'll have to go back! :)