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Mardi Gras ain’t happening this year, but all’s not lost
By Tom Adkinson
January 29, 2021

mardi gras parade float
The scale of parade float figures amazes visitors to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World throughout the year. Image by Tom Adkinson

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – This just isn’t the year for Mardi Gras revelry. Not in the New Orleans French Quarter. Not in Mobile, Alabama, where the locals are quick to tell you their Mardi Gras was the first in America. Not in St. Louis, where an impromptu parade with five guys a few decades ago has turned into an annual party drawing 500,000 revelers.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has thrown cold beer on everybody’s pre-Lent party. It’s almost as if you’re being told to go straight to the somberness and reflection of Lent and not to worry about one last indulgent blast with thousands of people you’ve never met and won’t see again.

“Mardi Gras can be done anywhere, but we take it very, very seriously,” said Kim Priez, senior vice president of tourism for New Orleans & Co., the city’s marketing organization, while expressing sadness that the organized festivities of the 2021 Mardi Gras season were cancelled.

Seventy parades normally would have filled the calendar beginning in January, long before the famous blowout parades and party scene on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17 this year).

mardi gras mobile parade
Hold onto your memories of Mardi Gras parades in Mobile, where Mardi Gras began in America, until 2022. Image by

Despite the absence of parades in 2021, there’s always a Mardi Gras vibe in New Orleans. When you do feel comfortable visiting the Crescent City, check out “It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana,” a permanent exhibit in the Presbytere museum. You even can dress up in a flamboyant Mardi Gras costume.

Another permanent reminder of Mardi Gras is Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World production studio tour. Since 1932, many of the floats that make New Orleans Mardi Gras famous are the work of the Kern family. A 15-minute video about “the greatest free show on earth” begins the tour that continues with a guided stroll through the production studio. The scale of the Styrofoam and papier-mache figures is astounding.

mardi gras bacchus
Even this representation of Bacchus seems a bit downcast at the lack of Mardi Gras revelry in 2021. Image by Tom Adkinson.
mardi gras city hall mobile
Colorful Mardi Gras masks are great souvenirs from any city where winter revelers celebrate just before Lent. Image by Tom Adkinson.
mardi gras masks
Even without parades, Mobile lights up its city hall in Mardi Gras colors. Image by

Down the coast, Mobile is forgoing on its regular array of 40 Mardi Gras parades, but it’s hanging on to its historical claim of having the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World. That was in 1703.

Even without parades, you can get a party atmosphere at Mardi Gras Park, a large greenspace across from Fort Conde, a partial reconstruction of a French colonial fort. Permanent park residents include Mardi Gras-related statues such as a queen, a trumpet player and Joe Cain, creator of Mobile’s modern Mardi Gras. His impromptu parade in 1866 while dressed as a Native American chief he named Chief Slackabamarinico (just call him Chief Slac) got the ball rolling.

Two year-round Mobile mainstays are Toomey’s Mardi Gras (heaven for hunters of beads, trinkets and costumes) and the Mobile Carnival Museum (a collection of dazzling costumes, jewelry, floats and photos). Along the way, learn that Mobile’s favorite throw (that’s what souvenirs thrown from parade floats are called) is the Moon Pie.

St. Louis is almost 1,300 winding miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, and absent the pandemic, it would claim to have the nation’s second largest Mardi Gras party. Never mind that other cities make the same claim.

Part of the fun in St. Louis is the story of how Mardi Gras began – not in 1703 as in Mobile, but much more recently. Five friends spilled out of a party in 1979 for an unplanned parade and for some reason had beads to throw. A five-person lark grew through the decades into diverse events that include three major parades with total attendance of 500,000. One is the Beggin’ Pet Parade, which organizers call the world’s largest costumed pet parade.

Even if there’s no party this year, an Anheuser-Busch brewery is just a few minutes away from a focal point of the city’s Mardi Gras fun, and you always can take a brewery tour and think about Mardi Gras 2022.

Trip Planning Resources:,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

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