Take a behind the scenes tour of Mardi Gras World in New Orleans ... you'll learn all about Mardi Gras and see how the colorful parade floats from the most legendary Krewes are built!
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Can't make it to Mardi Gras? Join me for a behind the scenes Mardi Gras World tour instead!
This fun Mardi Gras museum is actually a working warehouse, and it's one of the best things to do in New Orleans. It's the perfect place to learn all about Mardi Gras history, and you can actually watch artists creating colorful parade floats and props for the most renowned Krewes around.
I was just there over the holidays, and I took lots of pics to share with you. So let's check it out together!
About Mardi Gras World
New Orleans is filled with crowds and rowdy drunks on the best of days ... during Mardi Gras? Forget about it! Ha ha ...
Thankfully, you don't have to deal with any of these issues, because you can visit Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World instead.
At this fun museum and operating workshop, you'll tour Blaine Kern Studios which has been creating floats for Mardi Gras parades since 1947. Every year, the artists here create many of the colorful, eye-popping floats that New Orlean's world-renowned Mardi Gras parades are famous for!
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras is a carnival celebration that starts 12 days after Christmas and ends on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The word mardi gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", which reflects the tradition of eating rich, fatty foods the night before the fasting of Lent begins.
Although Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world and every culture does it a little different, they know how to do it right in New Orleans! Throughout Mardi Gras season, dozens of parades are put on by Krewes, private organizations whose members pay for and plan their parade themes, costumes, and throws.
The first Mardi Gras parade was held in 1837, and it's colors were chosen by the Krewe of Rex (purple=justice, gold=power, green=faith) when they were founded in 1872. Rex is considered the King of the Carnival.
There is a lot of history behind the Krewes (unfortunately, much of it racist and elitist). These days, there are all kinds of Krewes. Some of the Krewes build their own floats, and others work with companies like Blaine Kern Studios, which builds floats for Rex, Zulu, and other legendary Krewes.
How Floats Are Built at Mardi Gras World
This was my second time visiting the Mardi Gras museum, and I had just as much fun watching the floats being built this time as I did the first! And since I stopped by in late December, I got to see floats that will be used in this year's Mardi Gras parades!
Krewes take their Mardi Gras floats very seriously. It's a year-long process to conceive the parade theme, plan the design, and build the floats.
When you visit Mardi Gras World, you can see the float building process from start to finish.
1. Float Design
Each float begins with a design plan and sketch. The designs might be beautiful, funny, or satirical.
2. Construction from Foam
The props found on Mardi Gras floats are made from sheets of foam that are glued together until they're the right thickness.
Then, the designs are cut out with machines or by hand.
One of the coolest things about visiting Mardi Gras World is watching the artists work on the float props! Doesn't this seem like the best job ever?
Once the general shape of the prop is cut out, the foam is carved to create intricate designs.
It's hard to believe these elaborate props started as a piece of foam!
Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World makes props for carnivals around the world, not just in New Orleans. They also work with corporate clients, like Chick-Fil-A (they make the cows on those famous billboards) to create custom designs.
3. Coating with Paper Mache
Foam is difficult to work with and fragile. So after the props are carved, they get covered with paper mache.
If you look closely, you can see an artist on the ladder below applying paper mache to those giant props.
4. Painting the Floats and Props
After the paper mache dries, the props are painted.
This is where the real magic happens, and the designs come to life!
Touring the Museum / Warehouse
As you take the Mardi Gras World tour, you'll get an inside look at how the floats and the props comes together. You'll see each step of the float building process, as well as the huge floats themselves.
The tour start with a video, then a guide shows you around the warehouse. You'll see the artists working, as well as many different floats.
Once the tour is over, you can walk around the warehouse on your own. There are no ropes separating you from the floats and props in most areas, and you can get up close and personal ... no touching, of course!
While you're touring the Mardi Gras museum, you'll have a chance to try on costumes and masks. Make sure to take lots of pictures!
You'll even get to try a slice of King Cake before you leave! This sweet cake is traditionally only available during Mardi Gras. It's served at parties and has a baby trinket hidden it.
The baby symbolizes luck and prosperity. Whoever finds it is responsible for purchasing the next cake or throwing the next Mardi Gras party.
How the Floats Are Used for Mardi Gras
It's hard to get an idea of scale from these Mardi Gras World photos, but the floats and props are huge.
During the parades, the floats are pulled by tractors. The average float is 50 feet long. That's just a starting point though. Because the longest float (from the Krewe of Endymion) was 365-feet long, nine segments, and held 250 people!
Krewe members wear elaborate costumes, and they're required to wear masks by law. As the floats move along their parade route, Krewe members toss beads, stuffed animals, toys, headbands, and other throws to the crowds below. Many of these throws, such as the shoes from the Krewe of Muses, are highly coveted.
With all the drinking and revelry that accompanies Mardi Gras, a safety harness is required for each rider on the multi-level floats. Although riders have fallen off floats before, so I'm not sure how strictly this is enforced!
I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes tour of the Mardi Gras museum. Make sure to add this fun museum to your New Orleans bucket list!
Here are all the details you'll need to plan your visit:
- Location: The museum is located in the Central Business District at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place, New Orleans, LA 70130.
- Getting There: It's possible to walk to the museum from the French Quarter though it's a bit of a hike. There's also a free museum shuttle that will pick you up at multiple locations in the French Quarter. You can drive to the museum, but you'll have to pay $20 for onsite parking.
- Hours: The museum is open seven days a week from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. It's closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Mardi Gras, and it closes early on Christmas Eve, as well as the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before Fat Tuesday.
- Tickets: Mardi Gras World tickets for adults are $22 with discounted rates for seniors, college students, and children. I've had good luck finding discounted tickets on LivingSocial ... they're not always available, but it's worth checking!
- Tours: Guided tours take place every half hour and last about one hour. The first tour starts at 9:30 AM and the last tour starts at 4:30 PM. Your tour will begin with a video presentation, then a guide will lead you through the museum.
- What to Wear: Although the gift shop and auditorium are climate controlled, the majority of your Mardi Gras museum tour will be held in the warehouse. It's often chilly in winter and hot in summer, so dress appropriately.
Want to check out the real Mardi Gras?
You'll need to plan ahead and make car rental, restaurant, and hotel reservations well in advance. Check out this year's Mardi Gras parade schedule here, then start making your plans!
Where to Stay in Near Mardi Gras World
Looking for a hotel near Mardi Gras World? Your best bet will be to stay in the CBD / Warehouse District:
- Kimpton Hotel Fortenot - This super stylish hotel is located in the CBD, and it's super convenient for walking to all the sights in the French Quarter, as well as Warehouse Arts District museums and galleries.
- ACE Hotel - If you're looking for a cool, hipster vibe, the ACE is a great option. The rooms feature modern decor and fun touches, like record players. And you'll be within walking distance of everything the Warehouse District has to offer.
- The Mercantile Hotel - This all-suites hotel started its life as a sugar refinery. The boutique style rooms have lots of character and fun vintage touches, like brick walls. Great location with everything in walking distance.
The French Quarter is also nearby:
- Chateau LeMoyne French Quarter – This is a Holiday Inn. It feels more like a boutique hotel though. The rooms are unique and there's a nice pool area. It’s located on a quieter street, yet the French Quarter is just outside its doors.
- Hotel Monteleone - This beautiful hotel is located on Royal Street, one of the best shopping streets in New Orleans. It's an elegant, upscale choice and well-known for its iconic, revolving Carousel Bar. The Vieux Carré cocktail was invented here, and Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Truman Capote were all customers.
- Soniat House - If you prefer smaller hotels, consider the Soniat House. This charming hotel is beautifully furnished and features a lush, tropical courtyard ... perfect for escaping the madness of the French Quarter for a moment.
- Astor Crowne Plaza French Quarter – You'll find the Astor Crowne Plaza conveniently located on Canal Street and just around the corner from (but thankfully, not on) Bourbon Street. If you're leaving on a Sunday, get your car early, because valet parking gets very busy.
Other Things to Do in New Orleans
Now that you know all about Mardi Gras World, here are some other tips for planning your visit.
Start by reading my New Orleans Travel Guide ... it has everything you need to know to plan your trip. Then, check out some of my favorite things to do in NOLA:
- Visit a museum. There are so many amazing museums worth visiting in this historic city. I especially love the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park, the WWII Museum in the Warehouse District, and the quirky Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter.
- Tour a city of the dead. New Orleans is known for its beautiful cemeteries. Take a self-guided walking tour of my favorite, Lafayette No. 1 in the Garden District.
- Admire the unique architecture. Speaking of the Garden District, you can't visit NOLA without viewing its jaw dropping homes. My self-guided Garden District walking tour is the best way take them all in.
- Escape the tourists. It's never not touristy in New Orleans. Need a break from all the people? Take the ferry across the river to quiet, charming Algiers Point.
- Deal with the crazy weather. New Orleans is notorious for its bad weather ... it's often hot and rainy, maybe both! Here's how you can beat the heat in summer and here are the best ways to spend a rainy day.
- Grab a bite to eat. If you're traveling with a vegetarian, this can be a tricky city. Check out my favorite New Orleans vegetarian-friendly restaurants that will please your whole group (veg or not!)
- Save a buck. NOLA can get expensive, but not every activity has to be super pricey. Here are my favorite free things to do in New Orleans.
- Go shopping. New Orleans has excellent shopping, especially on a Royal Street in the French Quarter and Magazine Street in the Garden District and Uptown. If you're an avid reader, you'll also want to check out the Best New Orleans Bookstores.
Have you ever been to Mardi Gras?