Although Mardi Gras parades are generally family friendly, precautions and preparedness are key to making the festivities fun — and safe — for the children of the realm.
Don’t leave children unattended, and don’t allow them chase after throws in the street. Have a designated meeting place — such as a restaurant or easily remembered building or landmark — in case anyone in your group gets separated. Instruct children to seek out a uniformed police officer if they do become lost or separated.
Younger children should have a note or card with your name and contact info in a secure pocket or pinned to their clothing. If police cannot find the parents of a missing child, the child will be taken to the Juvenile Bureau at 715 S. Broad St. for processing (Ph. 504-826-1265).
Although Mardi Gras parades are generally family friendly, the atmosphere can get somewhat frenzied, and indeed certain attendees (usually teenagers or young adults) may become rowdy and less than respectful of other people’s space. So if you’re bringing young children, be mindful of your surroundings and the company you keep. When staking out a viewing location, look for a “family zone” inhabited by other parents with young children.
During a parade, parents should be on the alert and ready to deflect beads and other items tossed from floats in the direction of children. Riders can sometimes be errant or overly aggressive in their throwing, and having a set of big beads land smack on your child’s noggin can put a serious damper on the fun.
Children are notorious for scrambling in the dirt for throws, then grabbing snacks with dirty hands. Bring antibacterial wipes and/or hand sanitizer. Also, since Mardi Gras parades are cacophonous affairs, consider packing ear plugs. And blankets and warm clothing (gloves or mittens, hooded jackets or sweatshirts, warm hats) are often a good idea, especially for nighttime parades.
If you’re driving to a parade with the kids, you may wind up having to park a fair distance from the parade route. Hence, a stroller or wagon can come in very handy.
For nighttime parades, if you want to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour, find a spot near the beginning of the parade route. Recommended, family-friendly locales near the start of most parades: along Napoleon Ave. between St. Charles Ave. and Tchoupitoulas St. or along St. Charles between Napoleon and Louisiana Ave. Note that Sophie B. Wright Charter School, at 1426 Napoleon, offers fundraising amenities including restroom passes, secure parking in its schoolyard (enter on Jena St.) and a Mardi Gras Food Festival (gumbo, red beans and rice, fried fish, fried chicken, jambalaya and hot dogs, plus hot chocolate, sodas and beer).
Also note that on Carnival Day, the Rex parade rolls down Napoleon toward the river on the opposite side of St. Charles, from S. Claiborne Ave, and that Zulu rolls on St. Charles further downtown (via Jackson Ave.). If you want to catch both of these Fat Tuesday institutions, consider a finding a spot on St. Charles between Jackson and Felicity St.
Endymion, on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, calls for a different game plan. It starts in Mid-City, at the intersection of City Park Ave. and Orleans Ave., and draws one of the biggest crowds of the parade season (parking can be a serious challenge if you don’t arrive early). If you have kids in tow, consider catching the parade along Canal St. near North Carrollton Ave. St. John Lutheran School, at 3937 Canal, hosts a Mardi Gras Family Fest with food and drink booths, starting at 10 a.m. All-day restroom passes are $5 per person.
If you do bring kids to the French Quarter but don’t want them to be exposed to randy behavior, avoid Bourbon Street. If you don’t want kids to see racy costumes or ask questions that may be uncomfortable to answer, don’t bring them to the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday.