What's it like to ride in a Mardi Gras Parade?
In 2005, New Yorkers Joyce and Karen were winners of the Krewe of Pontchartrain / New Orleans Online Mardi Gras Trip, which featured as top prize a ride in the Krewe of Pontchartrain Mardi Gras Parade. Below are excerpts from Joyce's recap of their memorable ride.
We think they liked it.
[H]ow wonderful last weekend was. Karen and I had a fantastic time! Its one thing to visit and witness the Mardi Gras experience as a spectator ... but to actually be a participant, well that is something I will never forget! Most of us outside of your city believe that Bourbon Street is what Mardi Gras is all about! How incredibly wrong that is! Being able to meet (and party with) the "real people" of New Orleans, enabled us to really experience the warmth, generosity, graciousness and overall niceness of those who make New Orleans their home.
I spoke with Sam* before flying down so that he was able to explain what riding in a parade was all about. He, like you, tried to convince me that this was all "for real" and that he hoped riding in the Krewe of Pontchartains parade on Saturday, January 29th was going to prove to be quite an enjoyable experience for both me and Karen. Sam was easy to talk to and filled me in on what would be happening, when we should arrive at Tipitinas etc. Well, by 9am on Saturday, we were on our way to Tipitinas Uptown for what we would soon find out would be the "ride" of a lifetime. The cab driver was absolutely delightful and was so excited for us. I can still hear his parting words to us "Yall have a good ride now, ya hear!" Again, little did we know just how good a ride it was going to be!
The ladders with seats on top often with children perched in them, the people in wheelchairs, the smiling faces of young and old alike, the eye contact you make (in spite of a mask) with the spectators, the reactions of those you "throw" to, the music of the bands in front and beyond you, the cheering of the crowds, the bouncing of the float all just an indescribable feeling, one that again warms my heart and soul just thinking about it one that I will always be thankful for an unbelievable experience of a lifetime!
You ... made us feel welcomed, comfortable and completely at ease. We are so happy you were able to take pictures because so many of our family and friends are now anxiously awaiting the "proof" that this trip was as good as we said it was. All the pictures in the world, though, will not enable anyone to feel what we felt that day and throughout the weekend. I remember as we climbed onto the float, fully costumed and truly hyped, I kept thinking "Am I really here? Is this really happening?" Well I was really in New Orleans and I really did ride on a float with the Krewe of Pontchartain in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade! What an unbelievable experience!
As we all stood in the float and watched all the school buses and bands getting ready, I began to really appreciate what the Mardi Gras experience and tradition means. Sam had explained to me that he started with the parades when he was nine years old. The others on the float shared their experiences and we began to feel even more honored and excited. We were about to partake in an amazing example of New Orleans cultural history, not just from a spectators vantage point but as two of the participants that would soon be hearing and responding to "Hey, hey throw me something mister/lady". As much as Sam tried, there was no way he really could explain how we would feel as we approached the crowds of people lined up on the parade route. The ladders with seats on top often with children perched in them, the people in wheelchairs, the smiling faces of young and old alike, the eye contact you make (in spite of a mask) with the spectators, the reactions of those you "throw" to, the music of the bands in front and beyond you, the cheering of the crowds, the bouncing of the float all just an indescribable feeling, one that again warms my heart and soul just thinking about it one that I will always be thankful for an unbelievable experience of a lifetime!!! A few times Sam called over to me to see how I was doing and if I was enjoying myself. I believe I responded with "ABSOLUTELY, this is great!" Karen later told me that her face was hurting because she was smiling so much!
The only unfortunate part of the day was that the 3 hours of parade time flew by. Before we knew it, we were completing our trip on Canal Street and Sam was giving us the "No more throwing" alert. Neither of us could believe it was over. Well, the parade was over but the celebration was continuing at Tipitinas French Quarter. We were treated to authentic New Orleans food, an open bar, a DJ and the wonderful pleasure of being part of the after parade festivities. It was just so wonderful to see everyone having a very family-oriented good time. We were delighted to meet Sams wife, Melissa and his adorable son, Spencer, as well as his dad, The Captain. What a great family southern hospitality and kindness at its finest! As we left the party, our heads were full of all the excitement of the day. We both relived the moments with smiles and laughter as we walked back to the hotel.
We told Sam that we were starting our own Mardi Gras tradition. Starting in 2006, we will be hosting a Mardi Gras party each year for all our friends and family. Keep a look out next year for your invitation! A decision was also made for the theme of the bar that is being built in my basement. Want to guess what it is? Good guess -- Mardi Gras!!! Each time its used, you and all your fellow New Orleans folk will be toasted and thought of warmly!