I recommend along St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District. Most all major parades (except Endymion) go down St. Charles and it's a lot less crowded than Canal Street or the French Quarter. Locals have their chairs and ladders out for their kids, barbeque grills, tables of food and it's really fun and safe. We have a condo on St. Charles near Louisiana Avenue and it's a great area for viewing. I remember being on Bourbon St. on Mardi Gras day years ago and it was so crowded I was actually lifted off of my feet by the crowd - it was kinda scary. Don't know when you're coming to town, but two of my favorite krewes are the all-women krewes - Muses and Nyx. They roll down St. Charles the Wednesday and Thursday nights before Mardi Gras weekend and they have fabulous throws.
I second the recommendation of watching the parades uptown. Some of my favorites are Krewe D' Etat, which has hilarious, satiric themed floats, Hermes always has great throws, and Krewe of Iris because I ride in it. Endymion is known for their spectacularly large floats but be warned, the crowds get really thick for Endymion. I would recommend looking into watching Endymion and Bacchus from the grand stands on St. Charles near Lafayette square to get the best view. You can purchase tickets online for the grandstands. There are several parade tracker apps that can give you an idea of when the parade will roll by you. As far as dinning does, I recommend having lunch at commanders on "lundi gras" (the Monday before Mardi Gras). Reservations are the only way to go if you are planning on eating at any of the nice restaurants.Edited: 4 years ago
What days are you going to be there? Endymion is the biggest on Sat night before Fat Tuesday. It is a madhouse in the Quarter area. You can purchase grandstand tickets. Great idea, but I think they are around $65 this year. I am going to try and catch it toward the beginning of the route, but it is quite a walk.
Bacchus is fun on Sun night. I get a spot on the street after the turn near Harrah's. You can walk away from Canal and get to a point where there are not barriers, and it is easier to get nearer the floats. Monday night is Harry Connick, Jr's krewe, Orpheus. I usually catch it on Canal near Harrah's. All the bigger parades take a couple of hours to pass by. You can download the parade tracker app when you get there to see where it is at any given time.
Viewing Uptown on St. Charles Ave. is truly great IF you have access to someone's close by residence (usually a party) or a "compound" constructed by a group, or if you purchase a "package" from a close by restaurant or bar, but otherwise, for me, not so much.
My favorite vantage point for the parades that go that way, and most of the biggies (except for Endymion) do, is on Tchoupitoulas St. between Natchez St. and Lafayette St. It's hard for the locals to get to, and most tourists don't think to go there.
My friends in Krewes will probably take offense, but the parades, though having different personalities and sizes, are all somewhat alike. Don't feel that you need to watch all of every parade. The evening parades are generally more spectacular than the daytime parades. The "super" krewes include Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus. The daytime Zulu and Rex on Fat Tuesday are traditional favorites. Nyx and Muses, ladies only krewes, are very entertaining, including some of the best auxiliary and marching groups.
As far as facilities go, know there are a lot of port- a-potties on side streets off St. Charles Ave., so keep in mind if in the area. Not sure what is available elsewhere.
How much time should we allow for each parade?Edited: 4 years ago
It varies. The bigger parades last around 2 hours for the full parade.
You didn't mention your age or whether or not kids will be with you. If you have small children, than St. Charles Ave in the Garden District is for you. Some restaurants along the route offer food and bathroom package deals for a price. If you are over 50, I would purchase tickets for the viewing stands in front of the hotels on St. Charles Ave. in the Central Business District or a restaurant package especially for Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus parades. The stands have port-o-lets. If you are of the partying age, I would still see the parade on St. Charles Ave in the Central Business District . Keep in mind, that people line up for these three parades hours and hours in advance to claim their spots. If you need a place to sit, I would buy cheap portable chairs for the parade route. If you are young and don't mind being in the last row shoulder to shoulder then disregard that suggestion.
best vantage point for view and maximum bead-catching? - for bead catching, at the biggest/baddest (which are Endymion and Bacchus), I would suggest buying a ticket for the grand stands
The cost can be a bit steep for the bigger parades (stand tickets are different prices based on parade) but worth it for the spot and bathroom. It can be hard to see the actual parade rows and rows back but with a stand, you are elevated. Finding a bathroom is a big issue. I have not noticed an increase in portable potties. We are locals that drive to the parades but locals buy "their parking spot" at a local school or other business close to the route that offers parking and use of bathroom (schools do this as a fundraiser). Even these parking/bathroom passes sell out, sometimes weeks in advance. Regarding timing, that depends on the size of the parade and if it has delays for one reason or another. The thing is, it is not really just about the parade rolling when trying to time it. People get to the route hours and hours before (the front row will be filled up by early or mid morning for the big parades even though they don't start until evening (filled with tents, chair, ladders, etc) After the parade, traffic and crowds can add more time so that is something to consider if you have other plans. If you are withing walking distance, that is better. You will avoid the traffic.