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Mardi Gras: Our Insiders’ Guide to Getting the Best Throws and Souvenirs (NOLA)

How to get the best Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday Souvenirs and Throws (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Now that Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday are over and done, did you come home from New Orleans with more than just a hangover?

Collecting Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday souvenirs during this month-long party is an essential part of the entire New Orleans Mardi Gras experience. If you came home with a just a few strings of beer-soaked beads, you need to read our souvenir and “throws” guide written by local experts. It’s never too early to start planning for next year!

mardi gras souvenirs mask hat fat tuesday new orleans nola throws

Photo by DR Francis.

Start your Mardi Gras experience off properly by looking the part– pick up some elaborate souvenir masks and hats (feathers and harlequin designs a plus)– then for the best parade viewing, head to the Uptown routes.

king cake mardi gras new orleans

Don’t eat the baby!  (Photo by Heather Yanak)

Next, buy a color-splashed King cake, a tasty Mardi Gras tradition. If your slice has the hidden baby figurine baked inside, you “win”– and get to buy the next cake.

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The “Bead Tree” at Tulane University in New Orleans Fun fact: Mardi Gras beads are a decor staple of college dorms everywhere. (Photo by Heather Yanak).

Then hit any local souvenir shop for armfuls of Mardi Gras beads. Sure you can “earn” some beads later during the “throws” (more on that in a bit) but you’ll want to pile these on to wear to the Mardi Gras festivities.

Now that you have your pre-Mardi Gras souvenirs in order, you’re ready to join in the main event– I consulted some New Orleans locals for help.

mardi gras parade souvenirs throws

Rachel Trommelen and beau Brad Wellons, enjoying the Orpheus parade at Mardi Gras.

An Insider’s Guide to Mardi Gras– Tips from New Orleans Locals

1. The best Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday souvenirs are the ones thrown at you. New Orleans native Rachel Trommelen knows a thing or two about enjoying Mardi Gras– she’s been attending for years. As a member of a parading group (called a “krewe”), Rachel helps decorate the floats, create the “throws” — those items that krewe members riding on floats literally throw to parade-goers as they pass by– and ride on the float on parade day. She is a Riding Member, which is different than a non-riding member (and is more costly). It’s kinda a big deal to ride on a float.

Mardi Gras throws can be anything from the classic strings of beads to balls, stuffed animals, cups, doubloons or garters, among other trinkets.

Each Mardi Gras parade krewe also has their own signature throws– on Rachel’s all female krewe, Nyx, they craft the much in-demand Nyx purse. Rachel’s krewe rides the Wednesday before Mardi Gras.

Krewes are judged by the Mardi Gras community on both the quality and the quantity of what they throw, with certain krewes well-known for their highly coveted signature throws.  Some of most wanted throws include Rachel’s krewe’s purse, Muses’ shoe and the holy grail of all throws, the Zulu coconut.

What makes throws the ultimate Mardi Gras souvenir is the fact that you can’t buy them– you have to earn them. As the krewe members (“riders”) pass by on their floats, you have to convince them to toss you their throw.  How do you stand out in the hordes of other revelers all trying to do the same thing? Rachel shares her insider tips on how to get a rider’s attention–

  • Pay attention to the upstairs riders. Many of the floats are double-decker, with riders both on the top and lower decks. Parade-goers often mob the lower decks, ignoring the riders above eye level. Break from the herd mentality and look up– you’ll have an easier time getting their attention (and their throws).

    nyx float mardi gras parade

    Upstairs with Nyx riders.

  • Make eye contact. A rider is looking to make a personal connection, both to reward your interest and to ensure your safety– they want to be sure that you’ll actually catch their throw (and not knock you in the head with it while you check your iphone).
  • Make a sign. A creative and witty sign might be the extra nudge to grab a rider’s attention.
  • Wear a costume.  Anything goes, but avoid something gory which would be more appropriate for Halloween. Consider group costumes and themes. Riders appreciate it when parade goers make an effort, and the reward comes in a shower of throws.
  • Beads for flashing= a total lie and cliché. Follow Rachel’s tips and you won’t need to strip down for the best stuff.
Mardi Gras parade bacchus float alligator

The Bacchus float’s alligator.

2.  Take a break from trying to catch throws to just appreciate the sheer beauty of the floats. Krewes spend lots of time and money preparing the floats, take a few moments to appreciate it.
3.  Have a plan for everything at the parade– drinks, toilet, food, and transportation/parking.  Mardi Gras is crowded but fun, and more fun is had when you have a plan and things go smoothly.
4. Try to catch the parade uptown (with the locals) for an authentic experience.
5.  Make friends with the people around you. Mardi Gras is all about spending time with people, and the includes partying with a total stranger.

6.  Wear comfortable shoes. Self-explanatory.
costumes Mardi Gras NOLA7.  If you want to wear something crazy, like a wig or tutu, go for it!  Locals love to dress up at all times, and often do, so therefore if you wear something a little crazy you will not be out of place. Just own it and love it.

8. Don’t make your first trip to NOLA for Mardi Gras.  The city has so many great cultural and historical things available, and Mardi Gras can make that logistically difficult to enjoy.  Make Mardi Gras your 2nd, or better yet, 3rd trip to the city.
9. *Bonus Tip* Former NOLA resident Heather offers this critical piece of advice– make sure to pack a bottle opener/corkscrew and a roll of toilet paper. You won’t be sorry.
 
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Have you been to Mardi Gras? What are your favorite souvenirs and throws? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Special thanks to guest writer Rachel Trommelen and guest editor Heather Yanak.
Photo credits:
Mardi Gras Masks, DF Francis, Copyright 2014, all rights reserved, used with permission here.
Kings Cake and Bead Tree, Heather Yanak, copyright 2014, all rights reserved, used with permission here.
All other photos courtesy of Rachel Tommelain, Copyright 2014, all rights reserved, used with permission here.

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15 Responses to Mardi Gras: Our Insiders’ Guide to Getting the Best Throws and Souvenirs (NOLA)

  1. sueslaght 03/05/2014 at 10:28 pm #

    Kristin this looks like serious fun! I have been to New Orleans but not at Mardi Gras. I had no idea about the variety of throws or the fact that there are alternate ways to obtain them. Perhaps I would have hope of getting some loot after all 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 03/05/2014 at 10:45 pm #

      Haha I’m not usually one for parades as I get claustrophobic in crowds, but I love all the throws and the tradition behind it!

      • sueslaght 03/05/2014 at 10:52 pm #

        Yes I think I could get quite caught up in all of it. From what I can remember of New Orleans we got quite caught up in the partying parade or not. 🙂

  2. Ray Laskowitz 03/05/2014 at 10:29 pm #

    Well, gee. I’ve lived here for a long time. Not long enough to be from here, which means a couple of generations of home grown New Orleanians. I could give you a whole other set of insiders tips. For now, just know couple of things. We give our throws to charity so that they can be recycled. We go to balls and private parties. The only parades that we go to are those that our friends are riding, usually like Muses or Bacchus. Or, if we really live in the midst of things, we go to some place like Paris. France. Not Texas. I enjoyed you blog… 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 03/05/2014 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks for adding your tips Ray! The balls and parties sound like so much fun– do you have photos of them on your site?
      I only realized it was Fat Tuesday yesterday when I saw my friends’ photos come through on my Facebook stream so I rounded up my NOLA friends for a very quick post– I can’t resist a unique “souvenir” opportunity! I’ll be adding in more tips I’m sure, at very least for next year!

  3. Tripping Blonde 03/05/2014 at 11:44 pm #

    I’ll be back to New Orleans in a few weeks to enjoy all I love about the Big Easy. You should actually go down and enjoy it first hand. I think you’ll fall in love with it.

    • Kristin Francis 03/09/2014 at 8:26 pm #

      I know, I hope next year! So glad I have my insiders here to give the lowdown- much better than I’d be able to as an outsider anyway.

      • Tripping Blonde 03/09/2014 at 8:34 pm #

        Let’s plan a girls trip for it next year! I’ve never been to it either and these tips are super helpful.

    • Kristin Francis 03/09/2014 at 11:54 pm #

      Sounds like a plan!

  4. Just Add Attitude 03/06/2014 at 9:04 am #

    Love that bead tree! I have never been to New Orleans maybe, maybe one day. I say maybe because I already have a long list of ‘must see places’ that I have never been to. 😉

    • Kristin Francis 03/09/2014 at 8:24 pm #

      The bead tree is pretty!! NOLA seems to be the fav US city of almost everyone I know.

  5. Diana @ VeggieNextDoor 03/07/2014 at 8:28 pm #

    I loved this post! I have never been to Mardi Gras and I had no idea that the floats threw anything besides candy and crazy necklaces!

    • Kristin Francis 03/09/2014 at 8:22 pm #

      Diana– I didn’t either!! But now I kind of want them all!

  6. Anonymous 07/22/2017 at 5:58 pm #

    glass bottles are not allowed on the parade route.

    • Kristin Francis 10/24/2017 at 6:58 pm #

      Thanks for the tip!

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