Bon Mardi Gras! As you may know, the phrase Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and refers to the last day of good food and bad behavior before the Christian fasting season of Lent, which starts tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During the holiday, it’s customary to wear outlandish masks and costumes and celebrate with King Cake, parades and non-stop parties.
Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans are world-renowned for their epic Carnival celebrations, but did you know that several cities along the U.S. Gulf Coast also boast major Mardi Gras festivities?
Let’s take a look.
It is a little-known fact that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S. was held in Mobile more than 300 years ago. About 800,000 people of all ages attend Mobile’s Mardi Gras, making the celebration Alabama’s largest festival.
During Mardi Gras, Mobile's streets are packed with the sights and sounds of live marching bands, vendors, brightly-colored floats and throngs of parade attendees.
Throughout the year, you can visit Mobile’s Carnival Museum and learn the history of Mardi Gras in the charming port city.
Panama City Beach, Florida:
If you’ve ever wondered what Mardi Gras would be like on the beach, travel to Florida for an unexpected treat. The popular seaside destination of Panama City Beach hosts events annually in honor of the holiday.
You can enjoy the music, parades, costumes and excitement associated with Mardi Gras by the beach, giving attendees the option to combine the celebration with a traditional beach vacation.
The city of Eunice, located in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, has a long tradition of celebrating a large rural Mardi Gras which included homemade costumes, farm animals and lots of good food, music and dancing.
A signature part of their celebration is the Courir de Mardi Gras or Run of Mardi Gras, a unique custom that goes back centuries and to the heart of the Cajuns' “joie la vie" or fun-loving nature. The practice involves masked participants traveling throughout the community to beg for money and ingredients to make a communal gumbo.
To bring more attention to off-the-beaten path events like the aforementioned festivals, Solimar has partnered with National Geographic and tourism boards in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida to launch the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism website and mapguide.
Designed to highlight the unique nature, culture and heritage of the Gulf Coast region, the site features recommendations from locals on everything from the best oyster shack, antebellum home or blues club to the most reliable fishing spot, cozy bed and breakfast or scenic hiking trail.
Our hope is that visitors seeking unique travel experiences in the area can discover some hidden jewels along the way and laissez les bons temps roule (let the good times roll).
No one knows a destination better than the people that are from there. These people are connected by language, culture, commerce, music, food, but most strongly by geography. They are all from a place that is inextricably linked by land and water, the U.S. Gulf Coast, a geographic continuum from Louisiana, through Mississippi and Alabama, to Florida.
To celebrate what’s unique and authentic about this region, the team at Solimar and public and private representatives from all four states worked with National Geographic to create an online interactive map, app and print map of the area through the voices of the people that live there. Visitors looking to travel to the area will find locally-sourced destination information about cultural, natural and historic attractions that define the Gulf States.
In addition to state support, The U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism Project is being advanced with financial support provided by BP’s Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotion Grant Funds and an initiating grant written by the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and funded by, the U.S. Public Lands Highways Discretionary Grants program.
This past week, the U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism website, app and map were officially rolled out in a series of press events hosted by the Alabama Office of Tourism in Montgomery, Mississippi Office Tourism in Jackson and Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism in Baton Rouge, respectively.
Keynote speakers included National Geographic’s James Dion, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, Laura Gates of the United States Park Service and Louisiana Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne. Each outlined the importance of geotourism in helping the U.S. Gulf Coast prosper by telling the story of its people and lesser-known gems as well as supporting public lands and local communities.
From left to right: Louisiana Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, Laura Gates of The United States Park Service and James Dion of National Geographic.
The official launch event in The Sunshine State will be held in September as part of the Florida Governors Tourism Conference. In the meanwhile, we’ll continue to capture stories from the U.S. Gulf Coast States, highlight some highlight some hidden treasures and be a voice for some of the people from the region. Stay tuned!