Family friendly Mardi Gras sound like an oxymoron? Not in Lake Charles Louisiana where the good times roll for everyone. Here Mardi Gras roots traditionally evolved the entire community making it a family friendly atmosphere. Granted, it's easy trick but city leaders have successfully struck a balance focusing on safe family fun without sacrificing the partying sprit. It’s a unique approach that sets Lake Charles apart while still embracing heritage that satisfys its Mardi Gras revelers.
Family friendly efforts begin with “The Zone,” an alcohol/tobacco free zone sponsored by the Lake Charles police along the parade route. The Zone is set up each Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday) is clearly marked for visitors. Familes are encouraged to gather and picinic around the Lake Charles Civic Center, which boasts a great viewing area where floats get their final decorations, parades are launched and countless activities are held.
“The Civic Center has a great family friendly atmosphere because so many of our events are staged there. We encourage people to bring the entire family out to have fun,” said Lake Charles Spokesperson Shonda Manuel. “ A great day for kids is the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. That’s Children’s Day and features arts, crafts music and a parade just for the kids. There’s also Gumbo Gator, our city’s mascot that the kids love seeing.”
To take in an assortment of parades, galas and gumbo cook-offs consider arriving the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Saturday is the World Famous Cajun Gumbo Cook-off and touted as a taste from every pot event. Scheduled are Zydeco Dances and Krewe presentation balls and parades, including the local favorite The Krewe of Barkus (dog) parade. My weekend pick is to take in the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu that features an extensive collection of feathered costumes and memorabilia. Or browse the quaint Cottage Shop District shops where local craftsmen and artists display their treasures. Sunday parade picks, the Downtown Children’s Parade and the Lighted boat Parade. Arrive early to get to assure a good seat along the Civic Center’s seawall, the best spot to catch throws (beads).
Experience Mardi Gras glamour at the Royal Gala Monday night when the royal courts of over 50 krewes bedecked in unforgettable costumes of feathers, satin and beads strut their stuff at the Civic Center. The Royal Gala is the best buy of the Lake Charles Mardi Gras. Just $5 at the door with kids under five are admitted free.
On Fat Tuesday rise early and get a piece of King’s Cake at a local bakery before heading off for a day at the Red Hat parade. Spend your down time between parades indulging in local cuisine. Beyond the crawfish a must try delicacy is the locally produced boudin, a spciy rich rice based sausage.
If you’re a novice to Southest Lousiana's Mardi Gras the Lake Charles CVB has a few tips for first time visitors.
• Arrive early and stake your stop on the parade route. Also, check the weather and dress accordingly.
• Dress like a local and wear the Mardi Gras colors: Gold, Green and Purple.
• It’s Ok to yell at the float riders "Throw me something, Mister!" Bring a large, sturdy plastic or cloth bag to hold all the treasure you'll be catching.
• Be prepared: Some people get so overcome with excitement they will occasionally jump in front of you to grab what a rider has thrown to you. Don't get into a tug-o-war. There are many more floats on the way. If you're from far away, bring a sign saying where you are from. It may garner the float's attention.
• Don't reach down to pick up beads, doubloons, etc. unless you are very careful! Put your foot on it, and when it's safe (between floats) bend down to pick it up.
• Do not run into the street between floats for a trinket! Floats cannot stop on a dime.
Where to get the 411
Lake Charles / Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitlakecharles.org