April 21 2013 06:11 PM

Mardi Gras’ first year in New Orleans was in 1857; it has since become the world’s biggest party and has been nicknamed The Greatest Free Show on Earth.
Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday and culminates on the day before Lent each year, but begins much earlier. In 2013 the first parade was on January 19, and the last was on February 12. The Superbowl was sandwiched in between on February 3.

The parades run from the spectacular to the ordinary. All have float riders, called Krewes, who toss throws such as beads, doubloons, stuffed toys, and even coconuts.

Most of the parades are owned by Krewes who also have elaborate balls replete with royalty. Some are all men, some all women, some mixed, occasionally exotic, and some can be joined for a small fee.

Parades also have marching bands; some have been in the same parade for over a hundred years.
The spectators are mostly family oriented with chairs, ladders, coolers and barbeques with a very festive scene for children and adults. In the French Quarter the scene can be wild with lots of partying and some things that need to be seen to be believed.

Schools, banks, libraries, and any business that doesn’t actually serve Mardi Gras are closed Monday and Tuesday.

The logistics behind this show are so massive that I had to personally attend again this year to provide the details:
1. There were a total of 62 parades in just Orleans Parish. Many were rescheduled because the Superbowl and some evenings had rainy weather
2. The City of New Orleans spends over $3m for this event for policing, traffic, cleanup, and ambulances
3. Over 300 trucks were used for just three parades on Fat Tuesday, final day of Mardi Gras
4. The spectators were well over a million, which is three times the population of New Orleans
5. Hotels were full for at least two weeks at full rates and minimums of three nights stay
6. New Orleans has over 3,000 bars and most never shut their doors
7. Revenue estimates exceed $600mm for the entire event
8. The highest quality floats are all built to specifications by Blaine Kern at their Mardi Gras World manufacturing facility. This is the world’s largest float design and builder. Floats are generally 13’ to 18’ wide and 50’ long
9. The largest float in history was introduced this year, called the Ponchartrain Beach (after a former theme park on the lakefront in New Orleans). It was towed by one tractor and had eight 50-foot double decker floats combined into one with about 400 Krewe members on board
10. The cleanup at precisely midnight on Mardi Gras day is a sight to behold. In the French Quarter, an army of police with bullhorns tells the still-partying throngs thank you for coming, but time to go. If they can’t or won’t they are immediately loaded in moving van size paddy wagons. Following the police is the cleanup crew who pick up every bit of trash and then spray the streets first with fire hose sized pressure washers then deodorize with a thick green liquid then hit it again with pressure washers. 
11. By the crack of dawn, the streets are immaculate. Just in time for the beginning of Lent that lasts until Easter Sunday for self-denial and fasting 

Lagniappe (means a little something extra in New Orleans lingo):
a. The food is of course spectacular. My favorite is Galatoires, try the pompano
b. Brennan’s is the best breakfast you will ever have, try Eggs St. Charles
c. ACME for oysters, best served raw
d. Mother’s for po-boys, a submarine sandwich with attitude, roast beef is legendary
e. Central Grocery invented the muffeletta and they are still great
f. Café du Monde has fantastic beignets (powdered donuts) and coffee
g. Pat O’Brien’s invented the Hurricane, this one is a sleeper with a punch
h. Sazerac is America’s first cocktail and Ramos Gin Fizz were both invented in the French Quarter
i. Stay at the Royal Sonesta or the Monteleone, both in the Quarter
You have to see this to believe it yourself. Next year, Mardi Gras is Tuesday March 4, 2014 or try the JazzFest April 26 to May 5 this year. 

Rob Shirley is President of ExpresShip, a consultancy in the global supply chain and can be reached by email rsxpship@gmail.com, website www.Expresship.com, or LinkedIn.com.