Mardi Gras Monday: Sleeping and Parking
photo credit: mil8
This is part of an ongoing series of Mardi Gras-related posts. You can follow the rest of the posts here.
If you’re visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, you’re going to face two challenges, finding a place to stay and finding a place to park.
It may not be the most pleasant things to think about when visiting New Orleans, but if you don’t put some planning into them your time here is going to be ruined and they are two very easy things to mess up.
The problem is pretty simple. Though New Orleans is a tourist town, Mardi Gras is the absolute peak of its season. Though the entire time between Halloween and Fat Tuesday is active in general, in the last weeks, the city gets slammed. Hotels fill up quickly and parking, already scarce in the city as it is an older one (much of it laid out before automobiles), becomes prized.
So how do you overcome these obstacles? There are a lot of ways, but here are some of my tips.
Finding a Hotel
If you haven’t found your hotel yet for the 2009 Mardi Gras, my suggestion is simple, find one anywhere you can. Use your favorite hotel sites, search for and locate any reasonably priced hotel. It’s that simple.
That being said, there are a few games that local hotels will play to tourists that order online. So before you enter your credit card, lets do a quick sanity check.
- Distance: Sure, every hotel plays games with their location, but take a moment to actually map the hotel. The reasons is this, many hotels will say that they are “five miles” or “fifteen minutes” from the French Quarter and, though they are technically correct, it doesn’t mean anything. The problem is that New Orleans is bisected by a river and many of the “closest” hotels to the French Quarter on the other side. The West bank side of the river isn’t a bad place to stay (I live there) but you will have to cross a very busy toll bridge and battle with floats, which come from this side of the river, to get to the other side. It might be worth it, but you might do better being farther away, but actually on the right side of the river.
- French Quarter: Personally, I would never get a hotel in the French Quarter itself. There are many nice ones but they are likely booked already. First, even if the hotel has parking, driving in the quarter is nearly impossible on the best of days and at Mardi Gras, with so many street closures, it likely IS impossible. Second, the French Quarter is a big section of the city and not all of it is very safe. As such, you run the risk of getting a hotel in a part of town you wouldn’t like walking through.
- Room Size: Many of the hotels in New Orleans, especially downtown, are renovated offices. As such, the rooms tend to be very small. Though they are fine for two people, just a little tight, don’t think you’re going to get four into a room and not suffer. If you’re bringing a group, check the size of the hotel room before you go. If it’s cramped when you get there, it’s too late.
Generally speaking, you’re best off either staying with friends (you’ll find New Orleanians often quite used to this request and many leave town during Mardi Gras, leaving empty houses) or in one of the large hotels in the CBD, the downtown area across Canal St. from the French Quarter. The hotels there are very large and within walking distance of everything.
Failing that, finding a good chain hotel in Metairie can work for you, especially if the hotel provides a good shuttle service. If needed, you can find cabs at any hour of the night in the downtown area. Still, wouldn’t kill you to take a couple of taxi company names and numbers with you in your cell phone.
Finally, anything along the Westbank Expressway, meaning across the river, can also work. Just build in extra money for the toll, it is one dollar per trip to the East bank, and time to get to the other side of the river.
The best piece of advice is to not bring your car if you can avoid it. Parking in New Orleans is challenging under the best of conditions and is worse around Mardi Gras. If you’re flying into the city, don’t rent a car if you don’t have some pressing need, you’ll find it cheaper to use shuttles and taxis, not to mention easier.
That being said, if you’re driving in or definitely will have a car, parking is going to be one of your biggest challenges. The easiest solution is, once again, to use shuttles and taxis and park somewhere away from the action, but that might not be practical. If you insist upon driving into the city, be prepared to pay or to walk.
Here are the main traps non-locals fall into:
- Non-spaces: New Orleans, in the downtown area, does have a lot of street parking but much, if not most, of it is illegal. First there are driveways and garages, which parking in front of is an automatic tow. Then there are parade routes and street cleaning zones, which are also two zones during the designated times. Then you have bus zones, police zones. can zones, hotel zones and more that can also result in tickets or towing. Then, even if you do find parking, meter enforcement is fairly strict around this time of year. Locals often struggle to decipher the confusing myriad of times and signs, those from out of town have it even worse and, though New Orleans isn’t as pricey as New York in towing fees, it isn’t cheap either.
- False Prices: All parking garages/lots raise their prices at Mardi Gras. All of them. However, many will leave out their old signs advertising rates half the price or less of their “holiday” ones. Look for specially posted “holiday” or “special event” rates before pulling in or you may suffer from sticker shock. It may also behoove you to book your place in advance, if you’re going to be here for a while, you can book a monthly contract at a rate less than several days worth of regular parking.
- Blocked In: Be careful where you park. If you park somewhere along a parade route, you may find yourself in a position where you can’t leave until after all of the parades are over for the day. Typically this is only a problem if you arrive early in the early AM or in the days well before Mardi Gras. However, some garages have exits that dump onto parade routes and many streets downtown are one way. Best to be careful.
If you insist on bringing a car, be prepared to walk, a lot. You can find a lot of parking along the river and away from the parade routes if you are willing to hoof it half a mile or more. Walking in New Orleans isn’t that bad in the Winter and during the day. If you plan on staying late, odds are your activities ask for a taxi anyway.
Another strategy is to park on the other side of the river. Before you think I’m crazy, there’s a ferry that runs between Canal St. and an area of the West bank called Algier’s Point. The Point does not have plentiful parking, though its paid parking is cheaper, but you can usually find a space a few blocks away, hop on the ferry and be only a few blocks from Bourbon St. and the parade route. Something most non-locals don’t realize.
The drawback to this is that the ferry stops running at midnight. Meaning if you plan on making a very late night of it, you’ll still be taking a taxi home.
Finally, use hotel parking if available. Though it might be pricey, if you got a hotel in the CBD, it’s probably the best place to keep your car and not touch it until you’re ready to leave. The reason is simple, you don’t need to drive to get anywhere. That simple.
Most people don’t think about parking or finding a hotel and, if they do, they don’t put adequate time into it. These are issues that can really affect your New Orleans experience so it is worth taking a few moments to figure them out before you put wheels to the ground.
Next week, we’re back to the fun stuff…