NEW ORLEANS, La. — New Orleans has its party hat on and is ready for company — lots and lots of it. Carnival season is under way and the city is a fantasyland of endless parades that feature bigger, more outlandish floats every year. A mythical sea monster, a larger-than-life jester and Medusa with her tangle of snake hair sail down parade routes that echo with that Mardi Gras mantra, “Throw me something, mister.” Kids scramble to scoop up as many shiny doubloons as they can hold.
The Carnival season comes to a head on Mardi Gras, which is Feb. 12 this year. So what do you get when all this merrymaking collides with the NFL Super Bowl, the country's most watched sporting event? “Super Gras.”
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 if there's one thing New Orleans knows how to do, it's plan a party. 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. 25, a week earlier than usual, and roll every day until Feb. 2. They pause for four 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 of the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee says he's confident 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,” said 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.”
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 — the largest float in Mardi Gras history. It pays tribute to a New Orleans amusement park that operated from 1928-1983. 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
Part of the fun of a New Orleans visit is savoring the city's unique cuisine. Breakfast at Brennan's, an iconic French Quarter restaurant, is a long-standing New Orleans tradition, but to properly enjoy it, you have to forget all your preconceived ideas about the first meal of the day. First of all, lose the notion that cocktail hour starts at 6. Why start the morning with a glass of ordinary juice when you could order a Mr. Funk? This refreshing mixture of cranberry juice, Champagne and peach schnapps is named for Brennan's late cellar master.
If you think wine is only for dinner, your waiter will gently persuade you to think again. In fact, the only thing that flows more freely at breakfast than wine is the hollandaise sauce.
At Brennan's, one doesn't order anything “over easy” and think seafood instead of bacon. Start with turtle soup, and then peruse the menu's lengthy list of one-of-a-kind egg entrees. A local favorite is eggs Sardou, poached eggs served atop a bed of creamed spinach and, of course, drizzled with a rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.
Bananas Foster, the famous dessert created at Brennan's in 1951, is the grand finale to a breakfast unlike any other. Cooked tableside in grand style, the bananas are doused in banana liqueur and expertly flamed in rum — quite a production.
All that jazz
If you want to experience the music scene like a local, skip the freak show on Bourbon Street and head a few blocks to Frenchmen Street on the outskirts of the French Quarter. Begin your musical odyssey at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, an intimate, classy venue where patrons enjoy the show from a mezzanine that overlooks the stage. Unlike some clubs, the music is not just background noise to a social scene, so you won't have to compete with bar chatter to hear the artists. Regular acts include Ellis Marsalis and Charmaine Neville, daughter of saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers.
After the show, get your groove on at the Spotted Cat, a club where bands play a variety of musical genres.
Still not partied out? The Blue Nile features top notch local and national funk, blues, and soul acts.
The 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson made famous the quote, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Perhaps the same could be said of New Orleans.
• For more information about Super Bowl, go to www.nolasuperbowl.com.