How to Ride in a Mardi Gras Parade

Riding on a float in a Mardi Gras parade — bestowing coveted baubles into the outstretched hands of a jazzed crowd — can be quite a thrill. Fortunately for those with a yen to play Santa Claus, some parading krewes let outsiders join in the fun — for a price. A ride on a parade float is typically offered as part of a package that includes membership dues, liability insurance, costume and perhaps extras such as admits to a pre-parade breakfast and/or an after-parade party.

All aboard for camaraderie and kicks on a Mardi Gras float

Knowing how to sell yourself as a prospective member can be as important in joining a krewe as having the requisite financial wherewithal and personal connections.

Perhaps you’ve heard that riding on a float in a Mardi Gras parade can be transfixing, if not downright addicting. Or maybe you’ve just noticed that float riders seem to have a blast, reveling in the thrill of playing Santa Claus. What’s not to like about bestowing coveted baubles into the outstretched hands of a jazzed crowd?

Interacting with Mardi Gras beggars can indeed be exhilarating. Taunting, teasing, negotiating. Locking-in eye contact and taking aim. Hitting your target and receiving in return big smiles, shout-outs and blown kisses. All the while channeling another side of your personality via the anonymity afforded by donning a mask or a wacky getup. There is a compelling, almost surreal theatricality intrinsic to the whole experience.

Fortunately, some parading krewes let outsiders join in the fun – for a price. A ride on a parade float is typically offered as part of a package that includes membership dues, liability insurance, a costume and perhaps extras such as admits to a pre-parade breakfast and/or an after-parade party. Basic packages start at around $375, while packages that include throws range from around $600 up to $1500. With this may seem expensive, keep in mind that Carnival krewes are private, non-profit organizations funded by members, and that producing razzle-dazzle parades and parties doesn’t come cheap.

One thing to keep in mind is that according to many riders, the amount of fun correlates with the amount of throws at one’s disposal. A common mistake for neophytes is to not stock up enough. F’sure, you don’t want to find yourself empty-handed halfway through the route.

Be aware that membership policies vary. Exclusive krewes, sometimes referred to as “old-line” krewes, do not accept membership applications. Instead, they function like elite social clubs. Prospective new members have to be “sponsored” by at least one existing member, and admission may be subject to a vote by the entire membership. Social and familial pedigree, as well as connections forged through professional and charitable work, determine who gets invited to join.

Warning: Playing Santa Claus in the exhilarating atmosphere of a Mardi Gras parade can be addictive.

Then there are krewes that aren’t socially exclusive, but can still be challenging for outsiders to join. They tend to be, for lack of a better term, “popular” with the parade-going public, drawing big crowds. Among the factors that figure into a krewe’s popularity: the extravagance of its parade; enduring traditions it has established over the years; its ability to draw big-name celebrity riders; generosity with throws as well as the uniqueness and the collectibility of throws proffered. A krewe’s spot on the parade schedule also can weigh heavily: there’s a bigger audience for parades that fall in the five-day window leading up to and including Fat Tuesday (sometimes referred to as “the second weekend of Mardi Gras”).

Some krewes that could be deemed popular publish information about “packages” on their web sites, and might even make membership applications available online. But generally speaking, krewes with strong constituencies and a high level of interest among prospective new members are more likely to eschew soliciting membership via the Internet. New members usually get in because they have professional associates, friends or family members who are members. When a krewe is thriving, it may have a waiting list to join or ride.

Just because a krewe doesn’t publish membership information online doesn’t necessarily mean it’s off-limits to folks without connections. Use contact forms and email links on krewe web sites to make inquiries, and be mindful of striking the right tone in your communications. Starting off by asking how much it costs to join usually isn’t a good approach. Instead, take care to explain why you want to participate and why you think you’d fit in. A few choice riffs on what Mardi Gras means to you, or what exactly it is about particular krewe that strikes your fancy, will resonate more favorably than trying to make the case that you’re well-connected back home and have financial wherewithal. It’s more about selling yourself as a prospective member than trying to buy your way in.

To get on the waiting list to ride with this popular all-female krewe, you first join as a non-riding member, which provides access to krewe social functions.

That said, krewes like financial stability and may be receptive to “wholesale” inquiries that could lead to a group of friends or business/professional associates coming aboard as members and filling up an entire float. Typically the person who reaches out to the krewe on behalf of the group would become the float lieutenant — the liasion between the krewe and the members who ride on a given float. Float lieutenants are responsible for rounding up riders and keeping them informed; helping with the logistics of costumes and throws; and for making sure everyone knows the rules.

If for whatever reason a particular krewe can’t accommodate you, don’t hesitate to ask for referrals to other krewes. In some ways, the collective membership of Mardi Gras parading organizations comprises a giant fraternity/sorority. So members of any given krewe will almost always have friends and contacts in other krewes, and might know of another krewe that’s looking for riders or can accommodate last-minute requests.

Also note that some krewes sell admits to parties or “extravaganzas” to non-members. Attending these events is a good way to get a feel for what a krewe is all about, while also providing an opportunity for one-on-one contact with members — which in turn can help smooth the way if you do decide to pursue membership. Another way to get your feet wet is to explore “non-riding” membership options, which provides access to krewe social functions but without the added cost of riding in a parade.

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