If you’re attending Mardi Gras this year, you’re probably gearing up to indulge in parade festivities, king cake and alcohol. But you can have an excessive amount of fun without exceeding your budget.
Airfare and hotel costs may be more expensive during Mardi Gras, but there are plenty of other ways to save while you’re in New Orleans for the celebrations. We compiled tips to help you budget wisely, including a few from photographer Laura Steffan, a longtime New Orleans resident.
1. Rent a bike instead of a car
Metered parking rates in the many districts start at $3 an hour, and the French Quarter will be closed to cars during the festival. Parking laws are strictly enforced during Mardi Gras, so driving also puts you at risk of getting a ticket.
“Rent a bike to the parade to avoid high Uber and Lyft prices, which will be in high demand,” Steffan says. She recommends Blue Bikes, a bike share system that recently launched in the city.
2. Do your research before splurging on balcony access
You obviously want to stake out a great spot for the parades, but most rooms with balconies are located in the French Quarter, an area that the larger parades don’t always pass through.
The venue Bourbon Vieux rents out shared balconies starting at $105, which may not be in your budget. Alternatively, you can try Lee Circle or Lafayette Square.
3. Skip the beads
Mardi Gras beads typically cost $5 each, but they’re an unnecessary purchase considering how many beads you’ll collect by the end of each parade. Save that money for beignets.
4. Bring your own booze (and food)
Instead of overspending on Bourbon Street cocktails — like the infamous “Hand Grenade” — you can carry around your own alcohol. New Orleans doesn’t have strict open container laws, so you’re legally allowed to drink on the sidewalk if you avoid glass containers.
If you get hungry easily, bring snacks so you don’t end up blowing all your money on vendor food. “Although there are many businesses and restaurants open along the parade routes, you can expect them to be packed,” Steffan says.
5. If you do dine out, make the most of it
However, if you end up eating along the parade route, Steffan recommends local favorite Gracious Bakery, Superior Seafood, New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood, Avenue Pub and Fat Harry’s.
After all, New Orleans boasts some of the best cuisine in the world. If you go, you might as well bring the right credit cards to maximize your rewards.
6. Come up with a bathroom plan
Planning to have a few drinks? Find out where the free port-a-potties are ahead of time. Steffan says the neutral ground (median) sides of Napoleon Avenue (near Superior Seafood) and St. Charles Avenue are your best bet. Otherwise, be prepared to spend a few bucks each time you use a port-a-potty along the parade route.
If you want to go indoors, keep in mind that businesses let only paying customers use the restrooms.
Featured image by Laura Steffan.