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The greatest free party in America - Mardi Gras in New Orleans

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Over the next few days more tens of thousands of people will line the streets of New Orleans as the countdown to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) winds down. The upcoming weekend is one of the biggest for parades and if you want an improptu road trip, then why not take the drive to the Big Easy.

The parades rolling in Mid-City and Uptown New Orleans are the biggest draws. Friday night you will find Hermes, D'etat, and Morpheus rolling down St. Charles Avenue. Saturday's parades include Iris and Tucks (a parade where the "king" rides on a large porcelain throne. Endymion is the main event on Saturday. This year, Carrie Underwood and Norman Reedus (from the Walking Dead) are expected to be throwing beads from the floats. This super parade is filled with fiber optic lighting, bands and a big party at the Superdome where it ends.

Sunday is a day filled with parades, so if you are going then plan on being on the routes for a long time. Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth roll in the morning and afternoon with the super parade Bacchus rolling that evening. This year, actor Hugh Laurie (from "House") serves as the king of Bacchus.

Monday's parades roll in the evening with Orpheus being the main attraction. This parade is the brain child of American Idol judge and New Orleans favored son, Harry Connick, Jr.

Finally, on Tuesday the party reaches a fevered pitch with Zulu, Rex and a host of truck parades (all the floats are on flatbed trucks). People dressed in costumes come out and the party lasts until midnight when it's all over and the season of Lent begins.

Yes, there is a big party going on in the French Quarter and it's generally not kid friendly. However, if you're comfortable with crowds, the parades are okay for kids as Mardi Gras is in many ways a family friendly event. You might also consider taking in Mardi Gras celebrations in Biloxi, Gulfport or Mobile, AL.

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