The annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans may only last for a couple weeks, but you can experience the Carnival all year long at Mardi Gras World, a 300,000-square foot facility that offers a chance to go behind the scenes and see the floats being constructed and painted for next year’s parades. Cool!
The daily tours at Mardi Gras World give visitors an inside look at the props and floats that are currently in the works. During my recent visit, we saw a Fred Flintstone figure being painted right before our eyes. Next year, when Fred passes by on a parade float, I’ll know I was one of the first people to see his likeness as it was being made!
Officially called Blake Kern’s Mardi Gras World, the warehouse is located in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, close to the Mississippi River and not far from the World War II Museum. Thinking of making a visit? Keep reading to learn what you’ll see, how much it costs, and how to use the free shuttle.
Mardi Gras World Sights
Tours of the Mardi Gras World warehouse begin each half hour. You can buy your tickets in advance online. They won’t have specific times on them. When you’re ready to use them, just show up and you’ll be assigned to the next tour.
The tour begins with a short film explaining the history and meaning of Mardi Gras, and describing the various Carnival parades that take place each year in February or March. From there, you’ll enter the facility where old Mardi Gras floats are stored and new ones are being created by a team of artists.
Everyone who goes to Mardi Gras World will have a different experience, because they’re always preparing new floats and props.
Look up, down, and around to see all the recognizable floats from previous years. Kiss! Superman! Scooby Doo! King Kong! The Queen of England! Seemingly everyone you can imagine appears in prop form at Mardi Gras World.
It’s incredible how huge some of these props are!
After viewing some of the props up close, the tour moves into the larger warehouse room, where entire floats from previous parades are on display.
When the Mardi Gras World tour concludes, guests can linger in the final section to get selfies with some of the props if they wish. Photography is allowed and encouraged at Mardi Gras World.
Mardi Gras History & Meaning
Literally, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. Its roots date back to medieval Europe and it took place the day before Ash Wednesday. People would stuff themselves before the fasting season of Lent began.
The first American Mardi Gras celebration is said to have occurred in 1699 when the French landed near New Orleans. The city of Mobile, Alabama claims the first formal Mardi Gras celebration in 1703.
New Orleans began its Mardi Gras celebrations in the 1730s, with ballroom parties becoming popular during the 1740s and Carnival parades being well-established by the 1830s. Learn more about the full evolution of Mardi Gras, the Carnivals, Krewes, and parades here.
How long does Mardi Gras last? Today when people refer to “Mardi Gras,” they often mean the Fat Tuesday celebration, but Mardi Gras technically runs for a few weeks, with a few dozen parades with different themes. People flood the streets and catch beads and other trinkets thrown by those on the floats. Of course once the parades are over, many people flock to Bourbon Street to party.
The history of Blake Kern’s Mardi Gras World began with Ray Kern, a Depression-era artist and sign painter who designed some Mardi Gras floats back in 1932. Kern Studios was officially formed in 1947, and in 1984 Mardi Gras World was created by popular demand to give curious tourists a look behind the scenes of the creative process for the annual celebration.
How to Use the Mardi Gras World Shuttle
The simplest way to visit is to use the free Mardi Gras World shuttle, which stops at a handful of locations near the French Quarter and the Warehouse District. So if you’re staying at any of the hotels near Mardi Gras World, or even just an Airbnb in the area, try to hop on the shuttle.
It runs all day long. You can see a route map here, and can also call 504-361-7821 to inquire about when the shuttle will be arriving next. I used the shuttle and it was easy and convenient. Most passengers offered a couple bucks to the driver as a tip, so keep that in mind.
Mardi Gras World Parking & Directions
If you’re unable to use the shuttle service, you can easily Uber or Lyft to Mardi Gras World’s location at 1380 Port of New Orleans Place. The #10 or #11 buses will get you close if you prefer public transit. Able-bodied pedestrians can even walk there from the French Quarter, as the stroll is 35-40 along the Mississippi River. Even the walk from the colorful neighborhoods Faubourg Marigny and Bywater is only an hour or less.
There is a parking lot at Mardi Gras World (Lot J), but it’s $15 to park. So you’re better of using the shuttle or getting there some other way. You won’t find much street parking in the immediate vicinity.
Important: Be sure to note the full name of this attraction: Blake Kern’s Mardi Gras World. There are a couple of similar (but lesser) attractions in New Orleans that have similar-sounding names. Most notably, the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes & Culture is an attraction in the French Quarter that displays some historic Carnival costumes. Admission there is $12 and you can check the place out if you like, but don’t confuse it with Mardi Gras World.
Those seeking discount coupons should check Groupon, which occasionally sells discount tickets (be sure to check the valid dates of use and expiration dates.)