Mardi Gras is traditionally celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday, but in party-loving New Orleans the build-up to this colourful parade starts months before. The season begins in earnest in January, culminating in the carefree extravaganza of “Fat Tuesday” itself, when lavish floats fill the streets with colour and music rings out from every building.
One local artist who has created many of the most iconic floats of past years is Blaine Kern, who first stamped his mark on the city’s art world in the 1940s when he painted a mural in a local hospital to help pay for his mother’s medical bills. His talent was recognised by a float captain who quickly invited him to design something for the forthcoming parade. From these humble beginnings Blaine soon gained a reputation as an inspiring designer whose floats were bigger, better and bolder than anything that had gone before.
Now part of his studio on the banks of the Mississippi has been turned into Mardi Gras World, which houses a dazzling collection of floats and props from previous carnivals and allows you to watch some of the craftspeople in action. The workshops also make props for other customers, including Disneyland, Universal Studios and several major theme parks and attractions. The one-hour studio tour takes you behind the scenes of this unusual facility to witness some of the fascinating technology used in the construction of the intricate floats. Afterwards, contemplate your visit from the comfort of the on-site cafe as you watch the river flow lazily past the windows.
Mardi Gras World is open seven days a week except for major public holidays and Mardi Gras itself. The admission fee includes the tour.