If you want to see Mardi Gras but don't want the big crowds, then go to New Orleans 13 days before Ash Wednesday. You can see all the fun of Mardi Gras including the parades without the extremely large crowds. The big Mardi Gras days are the Friday before Ash Wednesday through Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday). During these day it gets very crowded. Then again, you may enjoy the wild, crazy, and uncontrollable crowd!
Now off to the trip. Cut out of work early and mentally prepare for a fun weekend. Your first choice is if you want to drive or fly. The drive has lots of different scenery. When coming from Houston, sites include East Texas (sorry didn't take any pictures of East Texas), the swamp once you enter Louisiana, and long bridges with swamps on both sides . Seriously, it is a scenic drive if you have the time. There are a couple of good Cajun places to eat along the way, including one just north of I-10 at LA exit #8 (the best oyster or shrimp po-boys around). New Orleans is 350 miles or a 6 hour drive from Houston. The other choice is to hop on the cattle car and fly Southwest. Either way you want to be in New Orleans in the early evening.
On the way into town, drop by one of the parades. You can get your parade schedule from http://www.nola.com/mardigras/parades/calendar/index.ssf and parade advice from Harold LaPrime. Harold (right most person in picture) is the expert on New Orleans. I'm sure he can provide a better itinerary, however, this one is pretty good. Back to the parades, which may sound silly, but they are more fun than you can imagine. I don't know how to explain the enjoyment out of catching beads... you gotta be there. There are parades though out the weekend and through out the city. Try to catch at least three or four when you're in town
It's about time to check into the Hotel. I recommend the Royal Sonesta (on Bourbon if you want to be in the French Quarter), La Quinta, Marriott, or Double-tree (last three not quite as expensive but 3 blocks from Bourbon and 3 blocks from the street car).
Are you hungry or thirsty? You might as well get it out of the way and hit Bourbon street. It looks quite different at night, this picture was taken 9am Sunday. I recommend the Sea Port on Bourbon. The food is OK, but make sure you get the good view and sit on the balcony overlooking the street. It's a great place to watch Bourbon Street and stay out of the rat-race. Arnaud's has great food in an old building. There are other quick places to eat in the French Quarter that are fun and have good food.
It's probably time to wind down, but not before some good jazz/blues in the Quarter. I will defer bar/music my recommendation to Harold.
If I'm in New Orleans on a Saturday morning, I'll do everything possible to go YARD SALING in the Garden District / Uptown Area!!! Great stuff you won't see in Houston, plus the added benefit of seeing the City. The Garden District is great for ANTIQUE SHOPS on Magazine Street and the area is filled with the beautiful houses (1, 2, 3, 4, and more).
If you don't want to go yard-saling, sleep in...but don't miss breakfast with a cup of coffee with chicory, at the Blue Bird cafe, or at another cafe (Tara's) in the Garden District..
Now that you've had a good meal, it's time to go SHOPPING in the French Quarter. There are quite a few shops in the Quarter, enough for hours of shopping or browsing. There's even entertainment everywhere you turn. You also have to drop by Pat O'Brien's for a quick drink. The garden atmosphere is soothing in the afternoon, however, evening time at Pat O's is a different story.
It's getting to be early afternoon and New Orleans wouldn't be complete without a street car ride. The street cars run from Canal-Bourbon area, down St Charles (Garden District) and up Carrolton Avenue. Get on at Canal and take the street car to the end and back. You pass Loyola and many other sights along St. Charles. I recommend stopping midway and seeing the Audubon Zoo and all the animals. It's an impressive Zoo.
Now the main event: Dinner in New Orleans. I can recommend lots of places including Emeril's and Nola's, but this choice requires lot of thought and consultation with Harold.
After dinner, I'll let you plan your own evening. There's such a wide variety of music, dancing, parades, bars, and other night life in New Orleans. This would also be a good time to meet up with Harold for a drink or two. I can almost taste the daiquiris
Since I'm the good Catholic boy, I'll start Sunday out with Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral. It's as beautiful outside as it is inside. It's located along the south (near the River) end of the Quarter. Afterwards, you can grab coffee and a quick benet at the Cafe Du Monde... delicious and the tourist thing to do, but you gotta do it.
Next you can go to the Aquarium or you can take a River Boat ride along the Mississippi River. They both take about 2 hours. You can even sit along the River and listen to the entertainment.
It's getting time to leave town but not before grabbing a quick bite at Guy's Po-Boys. The best po-boys in New Orleans, located on Magazine in the Garden District.
Don't hesitate to think about adding another day to the visit. In fact, according to Harold, Sunday is a a big party day.
Trip to Jazzfest with Julie and Wanna, April 2000
Trip to New Orleans with Elif and friends February 2000
Trip to New Orleans April 1999
Chip Curly's GREAT MARDI GRAS LINK SITE
I hope you've enjoyed the trip. Thanks for looking