Fat Tuesday is back: New Orleans hosts its first full-dress Mardi Gras since 2020

Mardi Gras floats rolling past onlookers
New Orleans is hosting its first full-dress Mardi Gras since 2020 with a day of back-to-back parades through the city.
(Brett Duke / Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate)

People are out to party as New Orleans’ first full-dress Mardi Gras since 2020 dawns Tuesday, with a day of back-to-back parades through the city and COVID-19 masks required only in indoor public spaces.

The parade routes are shorter than usual because there aren’t enough police for the standard ones, even with officers working 12-hour shifts, as they always do, on Mardi Gras and during the end of the Carnival season leading up to it.

But with COVID-19 hospitalizations and case numbers falling worldwide and 92% of the New Orleans’ adults at least partly vaccinated, parades are back on after a season without them.


People are out and ready to let the good times roll.

The crowd Sunday, when the huge Krewe of Bacchus paraded, “was a record for us in the 10 years we’ve been open,” said Thomas Houston, bar manager at Superior Seafood and Oyster Bar, located at the start of the truncated parade route.

He expected similar crowds on Fat Tuesday — a state holiday — if the weather is good. Not to mention Ash Wednesday, when people following the Roman Catholic tradition of meatless Lenten fare go out for seafood.

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“It’s not just a fun money-making time. ... You get to see people who’ve been around for 10 years,” Houston said.

Hotel occupancy, though, is expected to be about 66%, down about 19.5% from 2020, before the pandemic was declared, said Kelly Schultz, spokesperson for New Orleans & Co., the official sales and marketing organization for New Orleans’ tourism industry.

Parades were canceled last year because officials realized that tightly packed crowds in 2020 had created a superspreader event, making the city an early Southern hot spot for COVID-19.

Houston said that “2020 was weird,” because two people were hit by floats and killed in the week leading up to Mardi Gras, and the mayor suspended use of multiple floats hitched behind one tractor.

Although L.A. County school systems can soon end masking, L.A. Unified may need a go-ahead from its teachers union.

“Also the coronavirus was sort of looming over us,” even though its presence wasn’t yet known in New Orleans, Houston said.

As it has for years, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club will open Fat Tuesday with a parade that started as a mockery of white festivities, with Black float riders in blackface and grass skirts.

Next come the elaborate and fantastical floats of Rex, the self-styled king of Carnival, chosen by a group of high-society, old-money businessmen.

After that are the Krewe of Elks and the Krewe of Orleans, a not-quite-endless stretch of homemade floats on long flatbed trailers.