What is Mardi Gras World?
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World is the best behind the scenes look at New Orleans’ famous festival. It offers a unique opportunity to visit one of the workshops where parade floats, props and all sorts of other amazing Mardi Gras items are created and housed.
Operating since 1947, Kern Studios have been central to the spectacle of the Mardi Gras parade and the chance to wander amongst the incredibly vibrant pieces of art that make up the fabric of the world famous New Orleans Mardi Gras.
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A Crash Course on the New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras in Louisiana has evolved a long way from its first recorded celebration in 1699, at which time it was in recognition of Catholic days of significance including Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
It isn’t known when exactly Mardi Gras become wholly synonymous with New Orleans, but there are some records around mid-1700 that suggest the city was in on the celebrations and parades.
Today, the festival still works around the religious days, but is no longer focused on faith, rather on party, fun, extravagance and costumery.
Officially, Mardi Gras kicks off on the 6th of January and runs all the way through to Fat Tuesday, with most of the major parades occuring in the week leading up to Fat Tuesday.
The colours of Mardi Gras are yellow, purple and green and beads and flags featuring these colours can be seen all around the city during the festival and for weeks after.
The beads are usually thrown by masked participants from floats that parade around the French Quarter and surrounds.
Look out for the beads caught up in tree branches, adorning graves in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and wrapped around balconies and power poles.
Why Visit Mardi Gras World?
When in New Orleans, the party vibe is strong and there are few parties that pack more of a punch than Mardi Gras.
When I visited, the main parade season had just concluded and there was still such a wonderful celabratory feeling to the Louisiana city, marked by the famous beads still in all of the tree branches where they were thrown during parades a week earlier.
The best way to understand and experience an up close and personal look at the phenomenon that is Mardi Gras is definitely by visiting and taking a tour of Mardi Gras World.
If you’re not able to be in New Orleans for the festival itself, then the only way to get a sense for the grandeur and fun of the carnival is to see the parade floats and props being made.
Getting to Mardi Gras World
If you’re staying in the French Quarter of the river city, then a walk to Mardi Gras World is possible, but will take around 40 mins on a relatively easy walk along the waterfront.
I walked both ways, but can definitely vouch for the fact that the sticky New Orleans weather may put some people off. Take some water and be prepared to get a bit sweaty.
Public transport in NOLA isn’t as plentiful as in some other US cities, and to get to Mardi Gras World, it will require a bit of walking either side.
From the French Quarter, a 15 minute walk to the number 11 bus stop at the WWII Museum will get you to Canal & Magazine in 7 minutes, but you will need to walk another 13 mins at the other end – so really its just as long as walking the whole way.
If you prefer to sample the famous New Orleans street cars, then you’re looking at taking the green car through the Garden District and then walking 10 mins out to the waterfront – about 43 mins one-way travel time.
Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World runs a free shuttle to and from the museum, picking up patrons from various locations in the French Quarter. Just call them when you are at one of the designated stops and they’ll swing past to pick you up for your tour.
Finally, for the people who want to go visiting the Mardi Gras World in comfort and out of the sticky New Orleans humidity, there’s rideshares everywhere. Uber and Lyft are the big two and a trip will take around 15 mins (depending on traffic of course). An Uber X or Lyft will set you back around $13.
(Side Note: both Uber and Lyft are super handy apps to have downloaded when travelling in the USA, so I would recommend you grab both and just go with whichever app is offering cheaper prices).
Getting Tickets for Mardi Gras World
You can only enter Mardi Gras World on a tour, so I’d definitely recommend booking online in advance. You don’t want to get all the way out to the port and then find out they’re fully booked for hours. When you book, you pick an entry time – be sure to turn up punctually for that entry time because you’ll miss the start of the tour which includes a short film on the history of Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras World. You’ll also be able to try a slice of Kings Cake which is a Mardi Gras specialty.
Tours run every 30 mins from 9.30am to 4.30pm and once you’ve completed your tour you are free to wander the Mardi Gras World warehouse to take a closer look at the floats and props. Adult tickets cost around $22 USD.
What to Expect at Mardi Gras World
As mentioned above, a visit to Mardi Gras World starts with a 60 min tour. Ensure to arrive early and upon entry, visit the desk inside the gift shop to check in for the tour – you’ll be decked out with some beads to get you in the spirit of the festival.
The tour commences with a short film that details the origins of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Kern Studio’s proud history in the annual celebrations. Following the video, you’ll be given a slice of Mardi Gras specialty Kings Cake and taken into the workshop area. This is where the real wow-factor begins.
The tour wanders past painting stations and prop stations where enormous styrofoam sculptures being shaped and reworked for the next parade.
My visit was just after the major parades had wrapped up for the year and the team at Mardi Gras World were already preparing for the next Mardi Gras!
Eventually, you’ll make it out into the open space where the floats are housed and believe me when I say that these are so vibrant you almost need sunglasses.
If you are lucky enough to visit just after Mardi Gras, you might see workers cleaning out the floats and giving out beads and masks to tourists wandering through Mardi Gras World.
Matt and I walked out of the workshop with about 5kg of beaded necklaces each, a pair of orange fluffy dice and a couple of purple glitter covered masks as an added bonus for our visit.
New Orleans is definitely a party city and even though we just missed Mardi Gras, I definitely got a sense for the joy and celebration of the annual festival in the Louisiana capital through visiting Mardi Gras World.
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