As the wise Dirty Harry once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” And so it was that Kevin and I decided we were not going to stick around New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The problem with Mardi Gras is you’re surrounded by drunken idiots. And while we enjoy BEING drunken idiots, we don’t want to deal with thousands of OTHER drunken idiots.
But, we were right in the middle of New Orleans! And Mardi Gras is the quintessential New Orleans experience! We had to at least get a taste of Mardi Gras, right?? What to do, what to do…. That’s when, while looking around on Tripadvisor one day, I came across the perfect solution…. We would go check out “Mardi Gras World”!!! Now, you’re probably thinking Mardi Gras World sounds like some awful, corny, tourist trap. And you’re right. That is what it sounds like. But that’s not what it is. Mardi Gras World is actually the facility where they build many of the floats used in the Mardi Gras parades. It’s open to the public for tours and if you’re lucky, you can actually watch the artists at work. Which is pretty neat. At least, it’s a lot neater than trying to navigate vomit covered sidewalks!
As most everyone knows, Mardi Gras is all about the parades. “Krewes” which are basically social clubs, host their own parades, their members riding floats along the parade route and tossing beads and other items (called “throws”) to revelers who line the streets. Each krewe will have a theme for their parade, and their floats will reflect that theme. “Props” are the large figures or statues that decorate the floats.
Each “prop”is made by hand, starting with a Styrofoam block that is hand carved into proper form. The prop is then covered with paper mache, detailed by hand, and then painted. The props are actually rented out to the krewes and then returned to Mardi Gras World where they are oftentimes re-purposed for further use in subsequent years….which is why there are hundreds of props randomly (and humorously) displayed throughout the building.
The amount of detail in the individual props is incredible.
Many of the pieces are enormous. This King Kong prop was about 30 feet tall.
You can see how big these ones are by comparing them to the guy walking down the aisle on the right side of the picture.
The floats also sport thousands of huge, colorful flowers, made of heavy duty paper with wires running through them to hold their shape.
We were lucky enough to see several artists creating pieces that would be used in the 2017 parades.
Here are some of the almost-finished products ready to head out the door…
If you go to the company’s website, you can see how the finished products look at Mardi Gras and various other events and facilities around the country. Speaking of which, when not preparing for Mardi Gras, the facility’s artists are hard at work on their corporate accounts. Some of the big theme parks in Orlando, including Universal Studios, several Las Vegas casinos, and companies like Chick-Fil-A, contract with Mardi Gras World to build the figures that decorate their properties. For these corporate accounts, the company relies heavily on this automated styrofoam cutting machine, named Pixie. You can see the mountain of styrofoam “pixie dust” the machine produces as it cuts the styrofoam blocks with precision.
Of course, after visiting the facility, we decided he really did want to go to Mardi Gras at some point. And since we had such a great time in New Orleans, we might just buy some galoshes and go for it one year. We’ll see….
In the meantime, today is Fat Tuesday which means all the cool floats we saw being built are heading out on the road. We wish all the krewes and visitors well.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!!!