Hotel Rooms

Minimum-stay requirements and other factors to consider when booking a hotel room or bed and breakfast for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Fortunately, as many new hotel rooms have come on the market in recent years, operators have had to become more flexible about minimum stays.

Minimum-stay requirements and other factors to consider

Most of the city’s largest hotels are on or near the section of Canal Street where parades roll

In New Orleans, the vast majority of hotels are located in the French Quarter, the adjacent Central Business District (CBD) and the Warehouse Arts District. Guest houses and bed & breakfasts are scattered throughout the city, with a high concentration in residential areas downriver from the French Quarter (i.e., Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater neighborhood) and along Esplanade Avenue (which divides the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny).

Most of the biggest hotels are on or near the section of Canal Street that runs between the French Quarter and the CBD. As you move further into the French Quarter, downriver toward Esplanade Avenue, the hotels tend to be smaller and have more of a boutique flavor.

Any hotel in the proximity of the downtown section of Canal Street is convenient for the main event of Mardi Gras — float parades — since virtually every parade follows a route that includes this stretch of Canal Street. Note, however, that the Uptown section of the main parade route, along majestic St. Charles Avenue, is more scenic and family oriented, and less touristy, than the downtown sections of the route running through the CBD and along Canal. (Fortunately, public transportation Uptown from Canal is made easy via the St. Charles Avenue streetcar and the #11 bus that runs along Magazine Street.)

The availability of hotel rooms depends in part on the date of Mardi Gras, which can occur on any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. Early Mardi Gras tend to attract fewer tourists. The weather is cooler; people are still paying for Christmas and don’t have as much time to gear up for Mardi Gras; and college students aren’t on Spring Break. But whenever Fat Tuesday falls in March, you can expect a sizable Spring Break contingent to converge on New Orleans — and snap up a big chunk of the room inventory at budget hotels.

Minimum-stay requirements depend on one’s arrival date. Back in the late 1990s and early years of this century, the weekend before Fat Tuesday was an early sellout for many hotels, which often required guests to stay a minimum of three to five nights. But many new hotel rooms have come on the market in recent years, so operators have had to become more flexible about minimum stays.

Generally speaking, hotels tend to be more fully booked Friday and Saturday, with greater availability Sunday, Monday and Fat Tuesday. Their goal is to manage room inventory so as to maximize “stay-throughs,” that is, guests who stay through Monday or Fat Tuesday. Thus, Monday could be blacked-out as an arrival date at the hotel of your choice. But if sales are weak going into the final week or two before Fat Tuesday, you can bet your last doubloon that hotels will drop two- and three-night minimum stay requirements and begin accepting single-night reservations. Moreover, they may scale back “special event” rates to regular rates and even offer special discounts to locals. Thus, travelers who wait until the last minute to book rooms might encounter a more flexible range of options than those who booked well in advance.

Also note that if you call a hotel reservation desk, you may be quoted the highest rate — the so-called “rack rate,” which often applies to special events like Mardi Gras and Jazzfest. Better to search online to check availability and compare rates. However, don’t assume what’s quoted online is definitive in terms of the best available rate. Especially in the case of boutique hotels, whose policies tend to be more flexible than large corporate-owned chains, managers may be more apt to depart from the special event “rate card” and minimum-stay restrictions when contacted one-on-one, via Facebook or email.