NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Festivities marking Mardi Gras, the climactic day of New Orleans’ Carnival season, hit full swing early Tuesday, with costumed revelers gathering on the narrow streets of the French Quarter and families and tourists lining major thoroughfares to watch parades.
The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club handed out its signature gift — hand-decorated coconuts — to adults and children as it moved down St. Charles Avenue. The procession of Rex, King of Carnival rolled along another route later in the morning but would ultimately follow Zulu through the city's streets.
In the French Quarter, morning crowds were not as thick as in past years, but bars and restaurants still were doing a brisk business on Bourbon Street.
Latin music blared from a speaker set up by revelers clad in vividly colored, feathered costumes in front of St. Louis Cathedral at nearby Jackson Square.
Bethany and Alex Kraft — she in a white dress and crescent moon, he in Fred Flintstone garb — had driven over from their home in Mobile, Alabama. They were on Canal Street in the city’s business district, awaiting Zulu's arrival.
“It’s fun to people-watch and just kind of join in the revelry,” Bethany said. “I was raised Catholic, so tomorrow’s for repenting but today is for partying.”
Alex likes the tradition of costuming, saying they were comfortable in Tuesday’s chilly morning temperatures in the upper 40s.
“Last year it was like 80 degrees outside and I was a shark in a tuxedo,” he said. ”It was very hot.”
Monday night featured the parade of the Krewe of Orpheus, co-founded by home-grown musician and actor Harry Connick Jr. In addition to elaborate floats and marching bands, participants included Connick himself, actor Neil Patrick Harris and Harris’ husband, David Burtka.
New Orleans has the nation’s largest and best known Carnival celebration. It's replete with cherished traditions beloved by locals. But it's also a vital boost to the city’s tourist-driven economy — always evident in the French Quarter.
“No strangers down here,” visitor Renitta Haynes of Chattanooga, Tennessee, said as she watched costumed revelers on Bourbon Street over the weekend. “Everybody is very friendly and approachable. I love that.”
She and her friend Tiffany Collins wore giant purple, green and gold bead necklaces as they sipped drinks.
The annual pre-Lenten festivities aren't limited to New Orleans. Similar celebrations are held in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. Mobile, Alabama, where six parades were scheduled Tuesday, lays claim to the nation's oldest Mardi Gras celebration. And other lavish Carnival celebrations in Brazil and Europe are world renowned.
Monday's activities in New Orleans also included an afternoon “Lundi Gras," or Fat Monday celebration on the Mississippi Riverfront, including live music. Part of the event was the annual ceremonial meeting of the man tapped to be this year’s King of Carnival — chosen by the Rex Organization, a predominantly white group with roots in the 19th century — and the man elected king Zulu, founded by Black laborers in the early 1900s. The meeting is a custom that began in 1999 in what was seen as a symbol of slowly eroding social and racial barriers.