The New Orleans motto of “Laissez le bon temps rouler,” or “Let the good times roll,” is never more prevalent than during the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebration. Known for excess and, often, debauchery, the February event draws huge crowds of partygoers. But for those looking for alternative ways to celebrate outside of NOLA, many cities offer their own versions of Mardi Gras that provide fun for revelers of all types.
Whether you’re seeking a more family-friendly offering or a rousing party atmosphere that’s just a little farther from Bourbon Street, you’ll find something to love this Mardi Gras season at these regional celebrations.
1. Galveston, Texas
With the popularity of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, it’s no surprise that other Gulf Coast states have enacted their own versions of this iconic event. Galveston is the setting for Texas’ largest Mardi Gras celebration, with thousands traveling to take part in the colorful Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade, which gathers revelers to dance the parade route while carrying decorated umbrellas.
Other festive offerings during the multi-day Mardi Gras event include a jester-themed 5K fun run, zany golf cart and jeep parades, concerts, food and drink vendors, and even the opportunity to ride aboard a Mardi Gras float during a special VIP event.
2. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Located just 80 miles from the gaiety in New Orleans, Baton Rouge’s Mardi Gras offers a similarly-authentic experience that boasts floats, fancy balls, entertainment, and more. The annual parade is designed for the whole family and features quirky enhancements such as lawnmower-pushing krewes and costumed canines, alongside more traditional music and merriment.
Fans of king cake will rejoice as bakeries throughout town offer everything from king cake bread pudding to martinis, cake balls, cupcakes, ice cream, donuts, popsicles, and more, all featuring this iconic flavor.
3. Mobile, Alabama
Mobile claims to be America’s original carnival celebration, and pride in this event can be seen throughout the port city. The area’s Mardi Gars heritage dates back to 1703 and was revived after the Civil War when a local citizen led an impromptu parade down city streets in an effort to raise spirits. Today the annual tradition has grown to include majestic floats, colorful parade dancers, and flying Moon Pies of every variety, from banana to chocolate, peanut butter, mint, and more.
Those who gather to watch the opulent parade are encouraged to bring bags to hold their loot, as you’re sure to collect plenty of trinkets and baubles to complement those flying snack cakes. But no matter how much bounty you catch, the local trees are sure to end up sporting the most beads of all, leaving downtown Mobile looking festively decorated all year long.
4. Pensacola, Florida
Continue down the Gulf Coast to Pensacola and you’ll find a Mardi Gras celebration that prides itself on offering a family-friendly environment. Though offerings do include some just for adults, the event’s signature Grand Mardi Gras Parade features a special children’s viewing area that promises to be free from alcohol and tobacco, making it the ideal environment for anyone searching for a more laid-back environment to enjoy the entertainment.
Those hoping for a little more nightlife can relish a captivating, illuminated parade that lights up downtown Pensacola after dark.
5. Tampa, Florida
Tampa is home to a multi-week Mardi Gras festival that stretches from January through March each year, offering a variety of experiences, including live music and other New Orleans-inspired entertainment, throughout the expansive Busch Gardens theme park. Between rides on the park’s signature roller coasters and up-close encounters with animals such as giraffes, lions, and rhinos, visitors can grab festival beads from strolling performers and snack on classic Cajun cuisine during this thrilling event.
Plan your visit for late January to take advantage of another iconic Tampa event, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a local organization inspired by the New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes, this epic fest centers around the rousing Parade of Pirates. Partygoers don their swashbuckling best as they enjoy adult-centric festivities throughout town and watch as a 165-foot-long pirate ship sets sail across Tampa Bay.
6. Orlando, Florida
Farther inland, another theme park celebration honoring Mardi Gras can be found at Universal Studios Florida. This Orlando offering is the perfect option for families looking to include Mardi Gras in their spring break plans as the annual event spans a whopping 10 weeks, stretching well into April and giving visitors plenty of time to join the fun.
The experience includes usual Mardi Gras fare such as parade floats, music, food booths, and beads, but on select nights you’ll also find concerts from well-known and award-winning artists. Past years have seen performances from musicians Seal, Diana Ross, Sugar Ray, Jason Derulo, and more, so be sure to check the current lineup when planning your visit.
7. St. Louis, Missouri
To find the event that’s often regarded as the largest Mardi Gras celebration outside of New Orleans, you’ll need to head north to St. Louis. Though this Midwestern city may seem an unlikely place to find such a fest, St. Louis’ event takes place in the neighborhood of Soulard, which is a French name that translates to “drunkard,” making it perhaps the perfect setting for the large amount of food and drink that’s found throughout the area each Fat Tuesday. Included in the celebration is the world’s largest parade of costumed pets, as well as the nation’s longest-running wiener dog derby.