Krewes dress up in their brightest costumes and parade through New Orleans during the Mardi Gras Carnival
With the bright colors, loud music, joyous atmosphere and pure rush of adrenaline, it’s no wonder the gay community has embraced Mardi Gras so thoroughly. Indeed, cities around the world celebrate versions of Gay Mardi Gras throughout the year. But there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby, and if your gay clients are determined to hit the Big Easy this February to experience the original and best, here’s what they—and you—need to know.
This year, the Mardi Gras Carnival runs from February 11-16. As in years past, krewes will dress up in their brightest costumes and parade through a city decked in purple, gold and green decorations that make even Christmas pale in comparison. If your clients want to follow the gay krewes, tell them to keep an eye out for Amon Ra, Petronias, Armenius and the Lords of Leather. In fact, according to Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau , attending the gay and lesbian costume contests is part of the mainstream activities during Mardi Gras.
In addition to the street parades, bars throughout the city will offer exclusive decadent parties and special events. The best way to view or take part in these events is to get a VIP pass, which allows access to gay bars in town without waiting in line. Dave Lewis, vice president and master travel concierge for Get Gay Travel, recommends two notable venues for the hottest parties. Bourbon Pub is a multi-floor club/dance venue/pub/entertainment spot with live performances. A VIP pass for the Mardi Gras celebrations at Bourbon Pub is $50, available at www.gaymardigras.net.
The other bar is Club Oz, a multi-floor venue known for its go-go boys and performances by guest DJs. A VIP pass to Club Oz is $60. If your clients are torn between the two bars, Club Oz has the Bourbon St. Awards, the largest free outdoor gay party in New Orleans, which even includes cash prizes for the best costumes. The awards will be held at 12 p.m. on February 16. “Avoid the lines, avoid the crowds—purchase a pass,” Lewis strongly advises.
As for gay-friendly accommodations in New Orleans, Lewis recommends the city’s two W Hotels. “The W New Orleans is a spicy, chic property just steps away from the hot, notorious scene of the French Quarter,” he says. “For a hip, fun and fantastic place to rest your head after an all-night [party], check out the W French Quarter in the middle of it all.” Agents can contact Director of Sales and Marketing Stephanie Miller Murphy ([email protected]) for both properties.
Lewis also recommends the Omni Royal Orleans. “It’s very gay-friendly, and classic New Orleans,” he says. Travel agents can contact Director of Sales and Marketing Kent Wasmuth (504-529-7021, [email protected]), who proudly mentions the hotel’s association with the Travel Alternatives Group, a listing service for gay-friendly travel businesses.
Tour operator Travel Impressions, meanwhile, has a dedicated Gay & Lesbian Travel program offering five-night hotel packages priced from $769 per person for Mardi Gras. All TI Gay & Lesbian Travel program packages are available at verified gay-friendly properties and include roundtrip airport/hotel transfers, hotel accommodations for five nights, hotel tax and service charges.
Some of the hotels available include the W New Orleans (from $769 per person), W New Orleans French Quarter Hotel ($889 per person), Holiday Inn French Quarter ($929 per person), Loews News Orleans Hotel ($959 per person), Royal Sonesta ($1,015 per person) and The Iberville Suites New Orleans ($1,175 per person).
(Bonus: Travel agents earn an additional 1 percent bonus commission when booking packages online with Quest for Agents via the TI site.) Priez of the CVB says Mardi Gras is the perfect time for agents to sell New Orleans. “The rates are higher,” she acknowledges, “but people are willing to pay because everything else is free. Commissions can be higher.” As of press time, according to Priez, accommodations in some of the city’s most popular hotels were still available.