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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Program No. 13229RJ
Learn the story of Mardi Gras in the city that celebrates it best, New Orleans, where you’ll witness grand parades, enjoy expert lectures and revel in this festive tradition.

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At a Glance

“Mardi Gras” (Fat Tuesday) merges religious and secular in an unrivaled expression of joie de vivre that concludes Carnival season. The one-and-only New Orleans Mardi Gras is a must-see experience at the heart of the Crescent City’s vibrant culture, where families watch parades on the same corner for years. Experience the inimitable mix of royal ritual and joyful excitement as the collective soul of the city rises to reaffirm its tremendous appetite for living life to the fullest. Enjoy access to private parade stands, special musical performances and instruction by local experts who will lead you on this journey of learning and celebration.
Activity Level
Easy Going
Walking a few blocks a day.

What You'll Learn

  • Learn from experts about the unique history of Carnival in New Orleans and its many krewes from Bacchus to Rex to Zulu.
  • Watch spectacular parades from a privileged vantage point right in front of your hotel and see the differences in each krewe’s floats, costumes and themes.
  • Learn how kings and queens of Carnival are chosen and what the unique Mardi Gras Indians are all about.

General Notes

Private parade seating for Road Scholar. Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
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While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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6 days
5 nights
12 meals
5 B 4 L 3 D
Registration, Check-in, Orientation, Welcome Dinner, Parades
New Orleans, Louisiana
InterContinental New Orleans

Activity note: Hotel check-in 4:00 p.m. Rooms may be available earlier; if not, check in after Orientation.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:30 p.m. Check the message board for the location to register with the Road Scholar program staff, which is also where the Orientation session will take place. You’ll receive a welcome packet with your name-tag, up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, and other important information. If your arrival is delayed, please ask for your packet when you check in. Orientation: 4:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. We will pre-order some meals from a select menu sent in advance. You’ll also start learning right away why New Orleans is a city of celebration. No doubt you’ve heard the Mardi Gras mantra, “Throw me somethin’ mister!” Different krewes (you’ll learn what that means) throw different “stuff” — from beads, doubloons, and other trinkets to moon pies and a few things that might surprise you! (WWEWUGH — we’ll explain when you get here.) Catching these coveted throws are signs of your skill, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. You’ll learn real fast, we promise! Periods in the daily schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: In the hotel, we’ll enjoy our pre-ordered plated and served dinner selections; beverage choices of coffee, tea, water included, other beverages available for purchase. Dinner is early this evening so we can be in time for parades.

Evening: The best way to comprehend the spirit of Mardi Gras is to see it in action, and our field trips come to you — literally — in the form of parades. The festivities begin tonight with the parades of three popular krewes: Hermes, Krewe d’Etat, and Morpheus. Each “krewe” that parades is a social club representing a different slice of the community. As you become involved in the parades and learn about the krewes, you’ll begin to comprehend why and how New Orleans became America’s city of celebration. Founded in 1937, the Knights of Hermes take their name from the Greek mythos of the winged courier of the gods. The Krewe of Hermes is formed by 500 male riders, and the captain leads the procession in full regalia on a white horse. Hermes was the first to use neon lighting for its floats in 1938. Krewe d’Etat began in 1996. They satirize public figures and news events, one of the more fun parades. The Krewe of Morpheus, established in 2000, is named for the god of dreams. Morpheus strives to be both inclusive in membership as well as provide parade goers an “old-school” parade experience.

Mardi Gras History, City Field Trip, Iris, Tucks, Endymion
New Orleans, Louisiana
InterContinental New Orleans

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; several stops at key sites. Those who wish may remain aboard the motorcoach.

Breakfast: In our banquet room at the hotel buffet. Choices include croissants, Danish, yogurt, fruit, milk, juice, coffee, tea, water. Breakfast is light to leave room for what comes later!

Morning: We’ll take a field trip via motorcoach with expert on-board commentary for an overview of the city. We’ll make stops at highlights such as Lake Pontchartrain, Jackson Square, Louis Armstong Park, City Park with its magnificent oak trees and Sculpture Garden, and one of the famed and mysterious above-ground cemeteries where the departed — from pirates to voodoo queens — are interred. Returning to the hotel, we’ll have a presentation on the history of Mardi Gras. The celebration goes back to at least 1699 in France and even further if you consider Roman history. We will also learn about the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, his visit to New Orleans, and the song written in his honor, “If Ever I Cease to Love.”

Lunch: In the hotel, we’ll have a choice of salad or local sandwiches; soft drinks and water included, other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Today, we will get to experience many more parades! We will get to see the Krewes of Iris and Tucks. Iris, organized in 1917, maintains a unique identity as the oldest and largest all-female parading krewe in Carnival history. Named for the Goddess of the Rainbow and Messenger to the Gods, the Krewe of Iris sticks to strict Carnival traditions wearing full length masks and white gloves. There are 32 floats with 900 riders, 12 equestrian units, and marching bands. Their throws include emblem cups, medallion beads, ceramic Iris beads, dolls, and doubloons. The Krewe Captain throws her own special doubloon, a popular item each year. The parade of Tucks, known for its irreverence and sense of humor, has grown from a small group of Loyola students driving decorated pick-up trucks into a procession of major proportions. Fortunately, they haven’t lost their sense of humor. You’ll see what we mean!

Dinner: Hotel pre-ordered plated meals. Dinner is early this evening so we can be back in our reserved section for the parade of the biggest krewe, Endymion.

Evening: This evening, we will have another parade! The Krewe of Endymion gets its name from the like-named figure of Greek mythology, the most handsome of men and the god of youth. Endymion boasts the largest membership (WWEWUGH) in Mardi Gras history and is also notable for its super-sized parade floats. Its 2,500 members and all-male riders have celebrities as Grand Marshal, including Doc Severinsen, Engelbert Humperdinck, Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, John Goodman, Kevin Costner, Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa, and many others.

Mardi Gras Music, Free Time, Bacchus Parade
New Orleans, Louisiana
InterContinental New Orleans

Activity note: Walking 4 blocks to lunch.

Breakfast: We will eat breakfast at the hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll have a presentation by the leader/pianist of a special band who will play Mardi Gras music just for us. We’ll learn the history behind the music as they talk and play.

Lunch: AWe will eat at a local restaurant, with pre-ordered plated and served meals; coffee, tea water included, other beverages available for purchase. Wear your serious eatin’ clothes (loosest fitting pants, loosest shirt/top, most comfortable shoes) because everything is irresistible!

Afternoon: This afternoon has been left free for you to relax. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you the most. Please refer to our list of Free Time Suggestions. Our Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. If for some strange reason you want a break from the parades, this is your chance to go exploring on your own. Stroll through the French Quarter, visit the French Market, the flea market, antique shops, see Dutch Alley where masks of all kinds are exhibited, ride a paddlewheeler, listen to street musicians, people watch, or if you’re feeling really brave and hedonistic, take that adventurous walk down Bourbon Street (bring your camera to record the sights you won’t believe you’re seeing). If you need fresh infusions of the Carnival spirit, there are three parades this afternoon you can see back in our reserved seats at the hotel: Okeanos, Mid-City, and Thoth. The Krewe of Okeanos is named for the Greek god of oceans and fertile valleys. They expanded quickly. Today,the Okeanos parade, notable for its elaborately-costumed captain and king, features more than 250 male and female riders Unusual for New Orleans krewes, the Queen of Okeanos is selected by lottery at an elegant Coronation Ball. The Krewe of Thoth parade route is designed to pass in front of 14 institutions that care for persons with disabilities and illnesses and thus Thoth — named for the Egyptian patron of wisdom and the inventor of science — has become known as the “krewe of the shut-ins.” The Krewe of Mid-City is named for the neighborhood where the procession began. Mid-City has earned a reputation for one of the best day parades in all of Carnival. It boasts some of the best marching bands from all over the country with its annual Greatest Bands in America Showcase. The dazzling foil covered floats are the only ones of their type and many say Mid-City rivals the Rose Bowl Parade for sheer beauty.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. There will also be a restaurant in the hotel and food vendors near our parade stand.

Evening: Parade! Krewe of Bacchus. These “upstarts” revolutionized Carnival by making their celebration open to the public and not just the entrenched New Orleans aristocracy of the day. Appropriately for the Greek god of wine, Bacchus has some of the most spectacular floats in Carnival. This includes its huge signature Bacchasaurus, Bacchawhoppa, and Bacchagator, among more than 30 others, along with marching bands, ceremonial escort groups, and national celebrity monarchs. The first celebrity to attend this krewe was Danny Kaye, followed by such luminaries as Raymond Burr, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Perry Como, Charlton Heston, William Shatner, Billy Crystal, Harry Connick Jr., Dick Clark, Larry King, and Drew Brees. . Bacchus is also known for its generosity, hurling endless amounts of throws to the crowds and consistently delivering thrills each year.

Mardi Gras Royalty, Mardi Gras World, Lundi Gras Revelry
New Orleans, Louisiana
InterContinental New Orleans

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking 4 blocks back from lunch.

Breakfast: We will eat breakfast at the hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll have a presentation by a Mardi Gras insider on Mardi Gras royalty. America is the most democratic country in the world but we sure do like to rub shoulders with royals, and nowhere more than in New Orleans. After all, the 1872 inaugural parade of Rex — King of Carnival — was in honor of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia! We’ll meet New Orleanians who are true Carnival royalty, former Kings and Queens, to learn how they get chosen, what they do during their reign, what they wear, and what those royal robes cost.. Next, we’ll take a field trip to Mardi Gras World. This museum is the showcase of carnival. The Kern family and their artisans produce 40 parades annually, creating 75% of the props and floats seen in Carnival as well as many other parades and attractions nationally and internationally. You know it’s going to be fun when you arrive and see the larger than life props and sculptures, like stepping into a giant toy. We’ll go behind the scenes from the carpenters to the sculptures to the painters, to the carvers to see Mardi Gras being created before our eyes. You can even try on authentic costumes with sequined headdresses to feel like that king or queen deep down inside you. And as usual, we can’t go anywhere without eating. You’ll get to sample King Cake and a cup of rich, hot coffee made the way locals like it.

Lunch: Lunch will be hosted at a local restaurant. We will have our pre-ordered plated and served meals; coffee, tea, water included, other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We have left this afternoon open for free time. There is lots to do this afternoon at Lundi Gras: Monday, the day before Mardi Gras. You can enjoy the revelry as it heats up in the French Quarter — music on the river and much more!

Dinner: We have left this dinner open for you to own to enjoy what you like. It’s strongly recommended that you make dinner reservations in advance if you have a place in mind.

Evening: This evening, we will have even more parades- Proteus and Orpheus! Founded in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus is the second oldest parading organization (yes, there are some krewes that don’t parade but still maintain a presence during Carnival season). Proteus was the first organization to have “call outs” at their tableaux balls. The traditional parade features costumed lieutenants on horseback and flambeaux carriers, reminiscent of processions held in the early days of Carnival. The second parade this evening is Orpheus, founded by native son Harry Connick, Jr. to give the city a third consecutive night parade in the tradition of Endymion and Bacchus. Founded in 1993, Orpheus takes its name from the musically inclined son of Zeus and Calliope, and established itself as a super-krewe with their first parade that rolled with a record 700 riders! Since then, the mesmerizing Orpheus parade has been one of the most eagerly anticipated, showcasing celebrity monarchs such as Dan Ackroyd, James Brown, Sandra Bullock, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Branford Marsalis, Anne Rice, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, and Stevie Wonder.. Its signature float is the 139 foot Leviathan, part dragon/part sea-monster.

Mardi Gras Day Parades, Zulu, Rex, Elks, Crescent City
New Orleans, Louisiana
InterContinental New Orleans

Activity note: Minimal walking throughout the day.

Breakfast: In the hotel ballroom, choose what you like from the extensive breakfast buffet.

Morning: It’s Mardi Gras day! There are four parades in store. Parade #1 is Zulu. We’ll get into the stands early to see the uniquely entertaining parade of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, one of the most eagerly anticipated parades of the season. The membership is composed of men from all walks of life, from laborers to professional people, mayors, councilmen, state legislators, and even U.S. Congressmen. Named after the fiercest of African tribes, Zulu began in the early 19th Century, its Carnival festivities in many ways a parody of white krewes. The first King Zulu was decked out with a lard can crown and a banana stalk scepter, serenaded by Jubilee singers. The parade grew through the years until the most famous Zulu king was none other than Louis Armstrong. Stock characters include Big Shot, Witch Doctor, Province Prince, and Mr. Big Stuff who liven up the crowds. The most coveted throw in all of Carnival is the Zulu coconut. Painted black and gold, each coconut is elaborately decorated; no two are the same.

Lunch: A buffet lunch is hosted in the ballroom of the hotel.

Afternoon: Parade #2 is the Krewe of Rex, King of Carnival. Rex has defined much of our celebration of Mardi Gras. It was the organization responsible for the concept of day parades, for the official Mardi Gras flag, and the colors (purple for justice, green for faith, gold for power), the anthem of Mardi Gras, “If Ever I Cease to Love” and for the most popular throw, the doubloon. Look for the signature floats the Boeuf Gras and the Jester. Rex is led by a white plumed captain astride a white stallion, accompanied by 30 mounted lieutenants outfitted in purple, green, and gold. It is magnificent to witness (natives get goosebumps). As the Marine Corps Band begins to play, there’s sure to be a lump in everyone’s throat. Each year the Rex organization selects an outstanding civic leader to reign over Mardi Gras. His identity is kept secret until Mardi Gras morning. Rex is greeted by the Mayor at Gallier Hall, right across from our viewing stand. We’ll be right there with the royalty of Mardi Gras as Rex stops the parade to toast his Queen and her court. Parades #3 & #4: Elks Krewe of Orleanians and Krewe of Crescent City. After Rex, come two more parades with another 200 floats — no kidding! It’s as though the people of the city can’t get enough, and when you think about everything New Orleans has been through over the centuries, who can blame us? These parades are not the kind you’ve seen up until now. They are organized by families who build their own floats, make their own costumes, and pick their own theme. We call them the “truck floats” because they are wonderfully decorated units, built on flatbed truck frames pulled by tractors. The creativity and ingenuity of these floats, many with mechanical props, is amazing. Each float holds about 50 members of families and friends.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a light box dinner. Our day of gorging is over, Fat Tuesday is coming to an end, and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Time to repent!

Evening: Collapse! Count your beads and throws and try to figure out how you’ll get ’em home. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
New Orleans, Louisiana

Activity note: Hotel check-out 12:00 Noon.

Breakfast: Enjoy the last breakfast together before departure.

Morning: Congratulations! You are among the very special people who can now list coming to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with Road Scholar as one of the best experiences of a lifetime! One last thing: all that stuff you caught, that you jammed in your suitcases and carry-ons, can be distributed to all your envious friends and relatives. “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” . We hope you enjoyed your Road Scholar learning adventure and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys back home!

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