7 Festive Mardi Gras Celebrations to Experience on the Gulf Coast
Whether you call it Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, they’re all the same: the eve of Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent. On this day, revelers leave everything hanging out for a big party before starting the 40 days of fasting and prayer before Easter.
The question rages to this day: Who hosted the first Mardi Gras in America? Was it New Orleans or Mobile, Alabama? It all depends on who you talk to and where they are from. It’s safe to say that Mardi Gras as we know it today wouldn’t be the same without either. Since they started celebrating Mardi Gras, the two towns have grown from a single day to 2 weeks and created new traditions and rituals that each town shared while keeping its own unique stamp on the holiday.
Today, this festive time of year has spread across the South like wildfire, especially along the Gulf Coast, where the holiday was first celebrated. Now you can see ornate papier-mâché floats rolling through the streets with masked riders tossing candy trinkets, Moon Pies and those coveted, colorful beads into cities across the country.
Pick your town along the Gulf Coast and you’re sure to find a fun and festive holiday celebration. Let the good times roll (“let the good times roll”) at one of these seven festive Gulf Coast Mardi Gras celebrations.
1. Busch Gardens — Tampa, Florida
A fun party for the whole family is taking place at one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Busch Gardens, but instead of celebrating for just 2 weeks – and to avoid the perpetual question everyone asks “when is Tuesday Fat this year?” – they celebrate from January to March. That should cover it.
The park’s restaurants serve traditional New Orleans donuts and spicy Cajun cuisine like jambalaya and gumbo. Parades march through the streets with marching bands blaring music that will make you want to dance. Just watch out for those flying beads.
2. St. Andrews Mardi Gras – Panama City, Florida
Each year, more than 50,000 people flock to historic St. Andrew’s Bay on the Florida Channel for the annual 3-day Krewe of St. Andrews Mardi Gras celebration.
Over 30 colorful floats and 14 krewes (or mystical societies) take to the streets for a lively party filled with music, food and fun. Oh, and lots of pearls and doubloons.
The family celebration begins at 4 p.m. Friday with an all-weekend festival packed with music, food and activities for young and old alike, including a children’s parade.
The main parade takes place on Saturday at 2 p.m. On Sunday, bring your pet dressed in their festive Mardi Gras colors for the Pet Parade.
- Parking is always a challenge at any Mardi Gras celebration, but at St. Andrews, you can reserve a spot close to the action — though it will cost you.
- For the best view of the parade, consider purchasing a VIP ticket which includes exclusive catering, a private bar, and more.
3. Panama City Beach Mardi Gras And Music Festival — Panama City Beach, Florida
Domonique Youx’s Mystical Society of the Krewe and the city of Panama City Beach let the good times roll with their annual Mardi Gras and music festival taking place at Pier Park Mall and Aaron Bessant Park.
The party is a 2-day family event that kicks off Friday with a float tour of Pier Park. This is an opportunity to get up close to the spectacular ornate floats that will be featured in the parade the next day.
Friday is a day for the kids with a children’s parade and a fun zone filled with activities before the music festival kicks into high gear with bands and an authentic second line parade where you can dance in the street behind a combo of brass and drums.
The next day, along the glistening white sand beaches of the Gulf, the celebration scene at Pier Park vibrates with non-stop music, followed by the Mardi Gras parade of the Krewe of Domonique Youx through Pier Park . It all culminates at dusk with a gigantic spectacular fireworks display.
Be sure to download the parade route map. It will help you navigate to the festival stages and find the best place to see the Mardi Gras parade.
4. Mobile’s Eastern Shore Mardi Gras – Daphne and Fairhope, Alabama
Mardi Gras madness spreads across the bay, from the town dubbed the “Mother of Mystics” (Mobile) to the towns of Daphne and Fairhope – which continue the revelry with their own 2-week celebration complete with parades and gala balls.
Both towns have several mystical societies, including the Maids of Jubilee, the Mystic Ladies of Apollo, and their grandfather this side of the bay, the Knights of Ecor Rouge, who hold elaborate parades for the greatest delight of revelers lining the streets shouting, “Throw me something, sir! in the hope of snagging a few trinkets.
One of the highlights of the East Coast celebration is the Mystic Mutts of Revelry, one of the first parades created especially for pets and their owners, where they can dress up and parade through the streets of Fairhope. There is a small fee to participate in the parade, but all proceeds help the Haven, one of Baldwin County‘s no-kill animal shelters.
- The latest parade times and routes can be viewed online.
- A good source for all information about Mardi Gras madness in the mobile zone is the Mobile Mask website.
- And while you’re in the area, head across the bay to Mobile to visit the Mobile Carnival Museum to learn about the history of Mardi Gras celebrations and see the spectacular trains worn by former Mardi Gras queens.
5. Dauphin Island Mardi Gras — Dauphin Island, Alabama
Alabama‘s barrier island, Dauphin Island, joins the party by hosting the first Mardi Gras parade of the season on Alabama’s Gulf Coast 2 weeks before the mobile celebration begins.
The first is organized by the Krewe de la Dauphine and rolls down the main street of the island on the Saturday 2 weeks before the Mobile celebration.
The following Saturday is the People’s Parade, where everyone can join in the fun and experience what it’s like to be in a Mardi Gras parade. If you are really ambitious, you can create your own float for the procession.
There are two ways to access the island. One is via the Dauphin Island Bridge, but the best way is to take the Mobile Bay Ferry from Fort Morgan across Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island. The ferry leaves approximately every 45 minutes (one way) and you can drive or walk.
6. Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras – Lake Charles, Louisiana
Of course, the largest and most popular Mardi Gras celebration takes place every year in Crescent City, New Orleans. If you want to experience an authentic NOLA parade without the crowds, head to Southwest Louisiana’s Mardi Gras celebration in nearby Lake Charles.
The city is serious about their Mardi Gras starting the celebration 2 months before Mardi Gras!
Don your tuxedo and ball gowns, grab a mask, and get your tickets to one of the many Mardi Gras balls that dot the city’s calendar. Sample some of Louisiana’s finest gumbo at the World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook-off, and of course, grab a seat in one of the many, and I mean many, parades that parade through the streets throughout the celebration.
Lake Charles has a spectacular Mardi Gras exhibit at the Imperial Calcasieu Museum that you must visit when in the area. The exhibition presents dresses, costumes, krewe banners, etc. Each year, the museum organizes a reception open to the public with free entry to see the exhibition. Visit their website for more details.
7. Mardi Gras Galveston—Galveston, Texas
For more than 110 years, the city of Galveston has celebrated Mardi Gras with a twist all its own but with traditional New Orleans style.
More than 15 traditional Mardi Gras parades hosted by local mystical societies parade through the streets during the 2-week celebration, but Galveston adds some unique and fun twists to the mix, like the Zaniest Golf Cart Parade, Barkus’ Krewe and Meoux Parade for pets, a parade of fire engines, a parade of jeeps and the Funky Uptown Umbrella Parade.
The Sunday before Fat Tuesday, the atmosphere turns Latin with Fiesta Gras! Non-stop Latin music fills the air at the day’s two parades and a central stage.
- Tickets are required for Fiesta Gras! The best view of the parades – and the best parties – are from the balconies that line the parade route. Get a ticket and party with your friends. Balconies offer cash bars, music, and a guaranteed good time.
- After a night of partying, you’ll probably want to spend the night there. Many local hotels offer special Mardi Gras packages.