"Throw me something, mister!" was the constant cry as our float wound its way through the jam-packed streets of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Watching Mardi Gras as a spectator years ago in New Orleans, it was I calling to the bead-throwers on high to toss me a souvenir. It was silly and amusing, of course, but nothing can quite compare to the joyous delirium of being a participant in this annual event, swaying atop a colorful float, jiving to the raucous music blasting out to the crowd and being the tosser, if you will, the proud provider of hundreds of colorful beads to the hopeful revelers below.
The best part of celebrating Mardi Gras in Lake Charles is the atmosphere. Although the event is second only to New Orleans, this Mardi Gras is intimate and warm with a family-feel that is genuine. Also, it is the only place where the public is invited to attend the Royal Gala held the evening before Mardi Gras. This city has earned the name of the Festival Capital of Louisiana because it holds 75 fests each year -- an enticing reason alone to visit since you can be sure there's always something amazing going on.
Lovely and Lavish
Our visit introduced us to some out-of-the-ordinary, very special attractions including a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Charpentier Historical District. This area covers 40 blocks in downtown Lake Charles and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It embodies one of the finest collections of Victorian architecture and dates from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The Mardi Gras Museum is not to be missed with its largest costume display in the world. You'll learn the history of Mardi Gras and its costume design and you can climb aboard an authentic parade float to get an inkling of what it's like to be a part of the pageantry.
One of the zaniest, most fun activities on this trip was the opportunity to take a Zydeco dance lesson from none other than Harold Guillory, he of the smooth, cool, Cajun dance moves. Our group had a wild and crazy time as Harold twirled each one of us in turn. I can't say that we came away with the steps down pat but I will say it was more fun than should be legal.
Boudin for Breakfast
Yes, that was the plan. Rise and shine for a visit to the Market Basket, known for its Louisiana specialty, boudin (BOO-dan). What is it, you may well ask? Picture large, fat sausages stuffed with a spiced-up hybrid of pork or beef, parsley, rice, onions and garlic. If this isn't over-the-top enough for breakfast, you should know they also do the sausage with alligator. Our group dug in voraciously, but, lacking culinary curiosity, I opted for a cup of black coffee.
I Can't Believe I (Almost) Ate the Whole Thing
A tasty treat and one that I was curious about: King Cakes. I'd never tasted one before but anything that has the word "cake" in it, I'm there! Traditionally King Cakes have religious significance and make their appearance during the celebration of Mardi Gras. They are big, heavy cakes filled with all manner of yummy things including vanilla cream, almond, strawberry, blueberry and buried inside the cake is a tiny baby figurine. It's the custom that whoever gets the slice of cake containing the baby must buy the next King Cake.
Our group had the distinct pleasure, thanks to the Delicious Donuts company, of taking containers of icing and slathering the top of our own cake, then covering it entirely with purple, gold and green doo-dads and sprinkles. The very best part: Our decorated cakes were then sent to our homes to await our return. Delicious, delightful, de-lovely and a uniquely sweet end to our Mardi Gras in Lake Charles visit.