First, forget ever comparing any parade you've previously attended to to a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade - it just aint fair. It is like comparing your little league baseball team to the Yankees, it is like saying there could be life of Mars just because it is closer to Earth than Jupiter.
Second, whatever you do never, ever go to a parade on the west bank; (that would be like going to Denver and eating a steak at Ponderosa).
For most people I think that is enough. But if you need more...
Three, pace yourself - attending and enjoying parades is a marathon not a sprint. Although theoretically you could attend almost all of the Uptown parades, there is no need to. Go to the ones you want, if you miss one or two no big deal.
Four, if you have not planned where to watch the parades you better get on the stick and do so now. You'll have roughly twelve miles to pick from (two sides of six miles of routes). And all twelve miles will be packed (regular parades at least three deep, super krewes at least six seven deep - maybe more). What do I mean by deep? First line, kids - aged 8-12, second row, adults; third row 6 foot ladders with boxes on top with little kids in them;
fourth row dads drinking beer with the expressed duty of holding the ladder so kids don't go toppling over, or causing a domino effect; fifth row, grandparents/folk who are not really into the parades, people getting another beer, people scavenging for throws, kids passing football, the police, & etc.
With this in mind go ahead now and start preparing your best dish, appetizers, main course, salad, bread, desserts, snacks - whatever, make a healthy portion of it and be ready to share. Find a party, bring your dish and I'll bet this will work. If you are not a cook then bring beer, lots of it. People are always needing a refill come parade season.
Five, expect to receive at least two grocery bags full of throws: stuffed animals, regular beads, special krewe beads, footballs, glow in the dark wrist bands, frisbees, koozies, plastic toys, etc.
loot from last year.
and of course, how could I have forgotten the treasured feathered boa - expect a few of these as well.
Here are some pics of a friend of mine (a certain uber-LSU fan) who is riding in an undisclosed parade. He has over 19,000 pieces to disperse over the parade route.
(warning, you will detect a strange chemical/plastic aroma from all of your M.G. booty). And what you do not pick up, those in custody at OPP will clean it up afterwards.
Six, while I am on the topic of throws: you do not have to show your goods to receive coveted prizes. That only happens way down the parade route but I wont say that kind of thing doesn't happen uptown, just rarely. Pick out one krewe member, make eye contact, yell like crazy, wave like crazy, point, and be ready to catch. Yes, a thrown beaded necklace can do some damage if you are not paying attention. If you are on the back of a ladder with a kid in the box it is your duty to protect the kid!
Eight, what if you know someone on a float? Find out what float # they are on and if they are on the neutral ground side or not. And, don't be bashful about slipping the float driver (some dude driving a tractor) a Thomas Jefferson to stop the float for a minute so your friend/family member can load you down.
Nine, let me switch gears to the bands. New Orleans High Schools have a fantastic tradition of marching bands. They will play lights out for each parade. They are big, loud, and great. But the minders dont like you getting too close to the bands; they will move you back. And...if you are not watching you may get whacked in the head with a baton! Not on purpose, probably not on purpose. Although see the dude in the tie dyed shirt, I've seen a tuba player turn and play right in his ear and it didn't even phase him - no foolin'. And do you know that at the ballpark my kids play ball at they have named the little beers there - yes you can buy beer at the little league fields - after him! Don't believe me, just go to your next game and ask for a billy king.
Ten, the marchers. In addition to the floats and marching bands you will also see some amazing marching clubs. Expect sarcasm and risque names: The Rolling Elvi, men dressed up as Elvis driving tricked out scooters; female marchers: The Bearded Oysters, Pussyfooters, and The Camel Toe Lady Steppers (see what I mean). If you watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade you saw the 610 Stompers but they will bring even more for the hometown.
Eleven, what to do between parades? Most parades follow one after another but you will have a couple of hours between major parades. So, go to the bathroom, hydrate, get something to eat, pass football, meet your neighbors, make some new best friends, and my favorite take all the broken beads and tie they together and make a huge jump rope and see how long it will stay together.
This ought to get you through this first weekend of parades. I'll post another post for the second weekend & Mardi Gras day next week.
Remember it is a marathon not a sprint. Remember, have at it b/c Lent is just around the corner. This will be a life changing experience: embrace it. You will be so happy you'll have to sit on your hands to keep from waving at everybody or as Jon Cleary sings, "you'll feel so damn good you'll be glad to get the blues."