Is it possible to do Mardi Gras on a budget? Adding up the cost of hotel rooms, frequent beer stops, bead attire, and indulgent, post-boozing meals, a simple trip to New Orleans can easily exceed several thousand dollars. Yet, that same festive spirit can be found in small-town carnival celebrations like the ones we've listed below – twice the fun, for half the price.
Skip the beads and booze of New Orleans' hyper-crowded celebration and head to Cajun country for an authentic southern celebration that’s far easier on the wallet. (A quick search reveals that hotels in Eunice are about $200 cheaper than those in New Orelans.) Modeled after peasant traditions in Medieval France, participants at the Courir de Mardi Gras race through the city begging for feast ingredients; donors in turn are rewarded with a song and dance. This year, the race begins on March 4, and the roughly 2,000 participants assemble at 6:00 a.m. at the National Guard Armory on the corner of South 9th Street and Maple Avenue.
What to wear: Spooky mask, capuchon (a cone-shaped Mardi Gras hat), and multicolored, 80s-inspired fringed pants and shirt.
What to eat: Spicy chicken gumbo ($10) and Louisiana-style King Cake.
"More beach, less booze" is the unofficial motto in Galveston, TX, which attracts more than 300,000 revelers for its Mardi Gras celebration. It encompasses 38 concerts, 24 parades, 20 balcony parties, and five masked balls. Be sure to attend the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Parade held each year on Fat Tuesday (March 4th) because it’s Galveston’s specialty. Although the classy Uptown masquerades require a $15 ticket, budget travelers need not be worried: hotel prices start at under $80 per night, which is insanely cheap for a resort destination, and most of the Mardi Gras festivities are free – except for the drinks.
What to wear: A bathing suit! Galveston is on an island, after all.
What to eat: The Saltwater Grill serves up surf ‘n turf with a dinner deal for $66 for two people. Meanwhile, the Budweiser stage and Jaegermeister tent attract those looking to party.
Begun in 1874, Pensacola’s fête is among the oldest in the country. However, unlike most versions of the holiday, no parade takes place on Fat Tuesday, and the Mardi Gras festivities are more family-oriented than in New Orleans, where drunken revelry tends to dominate the streets. Rooms in Pensacola start at a comfortable $109 per night, and the famed Krewe of Wrecks parade – a parody of New Orleans' Krewe of Rex – takes place on the Pensacola beachfront, starting at Via de Luna and Avenida 10 and marching to Gulfside Pavilion.
What to wear: Quirky Halloween costumes such as a leopard or pink-haired mädchens. If a costume doesn't suit you, then classic Mardi Gras gold, green, and purple will do.
What’s to eat: Moon Pies – Pensacola Krewes love handing out the native childhood snack for free.