The Mardi Gras Parades start about two weeks before the actual date of Mardi Gras. There are several types of parades. Some are put on by "old line" Krewes, the traditionalists who have the tableau balls, and a king and queen elected from within the Krewe. These Krewes go back to the 1800's and really established the Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. The Krewe of Rex presents the oldest of these parades and dates back to 1872. Rex parades on Mardi Gras day and the King of Rex is the official King of Carnival.
The parades put on by the more recently founded "Super Krewes" are much larger in scale. The floats are often several times the size of the floats in the old line parades. In lieu of balls, the Super Krewes have lavish parties immediately after their parades, and feature celebrity kings. The Super Krewe parades start the Saturday before Mardi Gras with Endymion. The next night is Bacchus. Both founded in the 1960's, Bacchus and Endymion are the "granddaddies" of the Super Krewes. The day before Mardi Gras is known as Lundi Gras (Fat Monday). The newest of the Super Krewes, Orpheus parades the night of Lundi Gras.
Lesson Number Two: Krewes are the private clubs that put on Mardi Gras and related events of Carnival. The expenses of this monumental party are paid by the individual members of the Krewes and there is no commercial sponsorship for Mardi Gras Parades.
Mardi Gras Parades:
Almost all of the New Orleans parades travel down St. Charles Avenue and into the Central Business District. The one notable exception is Endymion, which travels into the Central Business District from Canal Street. Very few parades actually go into the French Quarter because of the narrow streets in this old, historic section of town.
Lesson Number Three, If you want to see a parade, you have to leave the French Quarter, or at least go to Canal Street at the edge of the French Quarter.