The general feeling of a city bereft of its signature event last year was summed up by the gold glitter messages on Mike Robertshaw’s and Nora Ellerton’s green and purple capes. Hers read, “Welcome back, y’all.” His said, “We missed you.”
The fun included back-to-back parades across the city and marches through the French Quarter and beyond, with masks against COVID-19 required only in indoor public spaces.
Parade routes were shorter than usual, because there weren’t enough police for the standard ones, even with officers working 12-hour shifts as they always do on Mardi Gras and during the end of the Carnival season.
The return of Carnival season has been a much-needed boon for business in New Orleans, where the famed restaurants and music venues were restricted or closed for months.
Tuesday’s crowd could set a Mardi Gras record for Superior Seafood & Oyster Bar, a 10-year-old restaurant located at the start of the truncated parade route.
“It feels like it. With the weather and the general sense of a somewhat normal New Orleans,” general manager John Michael Rowland said during the noon rush.
Hotel occupancy, though, was expected to be about 66%, down about 19.5% from 2020, said Kelly Schultz, spokesperson for New Orleans & Co., the official sales and marketing organization for New Orleans’ tourism industry.
Parades were canceled last year because officials realized tightly packed crowds in 2020 had created a superspreader event, making the city an early Southern hot spot for COVID-19. Instead, people decorated their houses to look like floats as a way to keep the Carnival spirit alive.
In addition to Zulu on Tuesday there was the Rex parade, the self-styled king of Carnival. Appearing in other parts of town were the Mardi Gras Indian tribes who spend months on their intricately beaded costumes. And the French Quarter was overtaken by people decked out in elaborate costumes.
Max Materne and his wife were walking through the French Quarter in their mushroom costumes with their two children — jokingly referred to as “the spores” — towed in a wagon. Materne, who is from New Orleans, said the day was the culmination of what’s been a lovely Carnival season for him and his family.
“I wish everywhere had Carnival because it would be really nice for the whole world to feel this right now,” he said.