Preparing for Carnival

In the two weeks before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) fifty-four parades stream through the New Orleans streets and the population of the New Orleans doubles for one of the world’s largest parties. Although our schedule didn’t coincide with this unbelievable event, we decided to visit the creative force behind Carnival – the mighty Mardi Gras World.

This is the organization that not only developed the modern-day float, but builds 40 out of the 54 for the annual parades. With an average of 20 cars per float, they are responsible for the creative design of approximately 800 individual cars for the Mardi Gras season.

After a confusing drive towards the port, we entered Mardi Gras World through the main warehouse. The enormous building featured six-foot tall faces of Willie Nelson, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Spartacus and dozens of beloved children’s characters like Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. We posed for a few photos before entering the gift shop and plopping down $18.50 per ticket.

The tour began with an introductory video about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and then Jacques, our tour guide, walked us to the extensive warehouse. There we were introduced to social groups called “krewes” who are charged with raising money for the floats, and the give-a-ways thrown off the floats. Each krewe holds a parade and their theme changes each year, and those changes can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their fundraising efforts include annual balls, membership fees and often the backing of a key celebrity. Mardi Gras is big business in New Orleans bringing in an estimated $1 Billion annually.

He explained how the methods used to create the largest characters on each float. The most expensive, but durable method is fiberglass molding. But, the newest and cheapest method is Styrofoam molding, where workers shave the shape then cover it in paper mache and paint. Fiberglass is pretty permanent, but the Styrofoam characters can be adjusted and “rented” by a new krewe each year.

While we only saw ONE warehouse full of floats, characters and flowers, Mardi Gras World actually has sixteen other warehouses filled to the brim. The tour was a success… they’ve sucked us in – next year… We’re goin’ to MARDI GRAS!!