Before concluding our visit to New Orleans this summer, we had some time to kill before our flight left. We’d just had our fill at the fabulous jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, so more eating and drinking was out of the question. Since we still had the use of a rental car we headed over to Mardi Gras World in the lower Garden District.
This tourist attraction is housed in a big warehouse on the riverfront, and it’s a bit inconvenient unless you have your own transportation. (Mardi Gras World offers a free shuttle to and from the French Quarter, though some Yelpers have found it to be not all that punctual.) It wouldn’t be correct to call this a museum because it’s very much a functioning workshop for those famous Fat Tuesday floats.
The price is $20 per person, which sounds steep except you’re allowed to wander around the props and floats as much as you want afterwards. (I’m sure you can find discount coupons at some hotels.) They also throw in a slice of king cake from their on-site cafe, though we were too stuffed to take advantage.
The one-hour guided tours leave every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. While you wait there’s a big gift shop full of New Orleans souvenirs, plus a few displays of intricate, beautiful costumes worn by the royal court members.
It started off kind of lame, with us encouraged to try on cheap-looking, gaudy Mardi Gras costumes and pose for pictures. After a short video about the history of Mardi Gras (with cameos by Better Than Ezra, randomly), we were escorted around the workshop by a little old Southern lady.
She related a wealth of information about how the company Blaine Kern Studios produces these big props, which are then rented out to various “krewes” (the organizations that put on the dozens of parades). Some of the figures are made from styrofoam that’s sculpted then covered in paper mache and painted. They can even be re-used on occasion with some alterations, like this Cinderella being transformed into an opera singer.
I loved the eclectic casts of characters they had assembled, from Mrs. Kong (Queen Kong?) to Winston Churchill to Samantha from “Bewitched.” There were dozens and dozens more where this came from.
Even more randomly, they had a Batboat movie prop from “Batman Returns” just lying around. (It sounded like one of the owners bought it on a whim.)
The official tour ended in a giant space that was storing the fully decorated floats from the Orpheus krewe, the group founded in part by Harry Connick Jr. (Appropriately, they named it after the legendary musician from Greek mythology.)
2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the Orpheus krewe and they celebrated that milestone by decorating each of the floats with themes from all the parades they’d put on over the years.
As I walked around the float that I can only guess was a tribute to 2008’s theme, Cocktail Concoctions, I noticed a few tikis and palm trees amongst the humongous flowers and bottles of bubbly. Granted, the tikis had the cartoonish look and neon colors of Party City tikis, but they were tikis nonetheless!
Mardi Gras World
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
New Orleans, LA 70130