Had you noticed that my recent posts were about the photos on the website header? Today we’re taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to bring you an important announcement: Mardi Gras is coming up soon!
On a recent trip to New Orleans, we drove past Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World and decided it was worth going back to check it out. Their motto is “Come see where Mardi Gras is made!”. According to their website, Blaine Kern Studios is the world’s leading maker of parade floats,sculpture, and props. Mardi Gras may come only once a year, but Mardi Gras World is open year-round. Take a tour and see what goes on behind the scenes and watch artists at work. Something that’s really cool is that they offer a free shuttle to get to Mardi Gras World. That’s convenient if you’ve flown in and don’t have a car. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids (2-12), but there are lots of coupons out there for a few dollars off. We got one at our hotel. When you arrive, head toward the gift shop to buy your tour tickets. Another cool thing is that your ticket is a Mardi Gras bead necklace that you get to keep as a souvenir. Here are some pictures of me and my daughters in the gift shop with our “tickets”.
Tours begin on the half-hour and start with a short film about the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, followed by a narrative from a tour guide. The official season of Mardi Gras starts on Epiphany (celebration of the Wise Men visiting Baby Jesus), Jan. 6, with the majority of the balls and parades taking place during the last two weeks before Fat Tuesday (Feb. 21 this year), which is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Mardi Gras balls and parades are put on by organizations called krewes (pronounced like crews). We learned that krewe members have to pay fees in order to participate and buy their own beads and trinkets to throw from the floats.
We also learned about the history of Blaine Kern Studios. Blaine’s father, Roy, was also a parade float designer who had to take a job as a sign painter during the depression, painting names on the sides of ships. I found this particularly interesting because my father is a sign painter who, among other jobs, had a regular gig with a boat store painting boat names, and in his younger years, coordinated many parades and decorated floats. Blaine got his break after painting a mural in a hospital to help pay for his mother’s hospital bills. A krewe captain worked as a surgeon in the hospital and hired Blaine. From there his career took off and he eventually became the city’s leading parade creator. Blaine Kern Studios now employs over 20 employees full-time with several more part-time and seasonal workers.
During our tour we learned about the traditional King Cake (named after the Wise Men/Kings), an iced coffee cake covered with sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple (symbolizing justice), gold (symbolizing power), and green (symbolizing faith). Each cake contains a hidden plastic baby (symbolizing Baby Jesus) and whoever finds the baby is supposed to throw the next party with another King Cake. We were each given a piece of cake to try and my kids absolutely loved it. None of us found the baby, but if anyone knows where we can buy a King Cake in Greater Cincinnati, please post it in the comments. My kids would love to eat more of it. Here’s a picture of one of my daughters getting her piece of cake and another of the cake.
After that, we toured the studios. We got to see artists at work building this year’s floats.
We learned that the primary building are either fiberglass (for longer-term pieces) or styrofoam and paper mache (for shorter-term pieces). They recycle and reuse as much as they can. We saw a Charlie Brown head that was about to be turned into a dragon head.
Some of the floats get built from the ground up:
Others contain mostly recycled pieces, like this dolphin that was turned into a shark.
And others just need to be touched up a bit since last year, like King Kong:
Blaine Kern Studios not only does Mardi Gras floats, but does work for companies like Disney and Universal Studios. We learned that the Mardi Gras krewes do not care for glitter, but Universal Studios does. Check out the glittery elephant.
There’s a whole department dedicated to flower-making.
Some floats are covered in flowers. The warehouse was full of floats and accessories. And this was just one warehouse out of 19 warehouses that they have!
So, you can probably guess what my kids asked after touring Mardi Gras World: “Can we go to Mardi Gras?” Well, visiting New Orleans again this year isn’t in our plans, but we might make it to Mobile, Alabama, where they have been celebrating Mardi Gras even longer than New Orleans. But maybe you and your family would like to go. Our tour guide assured us that Mardi Gras is a family-friendly event. Bourbon St. is a party scene any time of the year and not appropriate for children, but the daytime Mardi Gras parades are meant for children. In fact, the good stuff gets thrown to the kids in the crowd.
Here is this year’s parade schedule.
Whether you can make it to Mardi Gras or not, you can get the feel of Mardi Gras anytime at Mardi Gras World. If your travel plans include New Orleans, be sure to include a visit to Mardi Gras World.
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.