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Your guide to a safe and exciting Mardi Gras


Start shopping for Louisiana rental cars and get ready to be a part of one of the most grand celebrations in the country - Mardi Gras. In fact, it's been dubbed "The World's Largest Free Party," taking over the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans and surrounding neighborhoods for about three weeks prior to the first day of Lent - Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," the day before Ash Wednesday when Christians begin fasting. But you don't have to be religious to enjoy the dancing and drinking in the streets or the extravagant parades - people of all or no denominations are welcome to take part. Either way, start planning your trip with this guide to help lead the way:

History of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is an old tradition that goes back at least to the Middle Ages, when many believe it was established in Venice and Rome as a way for Christians to let loose and indulge before the difficult period of fasting. Others think it has roots in ancient Rome and evolved from the Lupercalia celebration, two days of partying in honor of the god of fertility. People would go wild in the streets, drinking, eating and throwing inhibitions to the wind. Eventually, the tradition spread to France, and the French Creole's brought it with them to Louisiana at beginning of the 1700s. It didn't take long for the custom to catch on, and the first Carnival festivities began occurring in New Orleans the middle of the 18th century.

What to expect during Carnival

Hundreds of thousands of revelers flood the streets during this multi-week celebration. For that reason, it may be best to leave your New Orleans car rental at the hotel and opt to use your own two feet to get around the crowded city. There are elegant balls and wild bashes at banquet halls, clubs and bars all over the Big Easy, but the highlight are the lively parades. The Uptown neighborhood is home to the bulk of the processions, but you can also find these spectacles in the French Quarter, Mid-City, Metairie and West Bank. The roads are closed off to traffic as nearly 60 parades run throughout the three weeks prior to and on Fat Tuesday.

Among the most popular of these processions, which are organized by and named for the official Mardi Gras krewes, are Bilge, Excalibur, Pygmalion and Cleopatra. But the biggest and baddest (and one of the oldest) of all the parades is that of the Krewe of Rex. It starts at Napoleon Avenue and runs along Charles Avenue, eventually reaching Canal and South Peters streets. Paraders dress up in glitzy costumes showing off the royal colors of Carnival (green, gold and purple) and singing along to the official anthem "If Ever I Cease to Love." As the end of the line passes by, you'll see the glamorous highlight of the Krewe of Rex parade - Rex and his queen presiding over the glittering Rex Ball.

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