So often it’s only the obvious that comes to mind when we think of destination events and in the case of Mardi Gras, it’s New Orleans. New Orleans is a fantastically wild and fun place any time of the year, but not the type of Mardi Gras destination most people would consider a great low-key stay or a family oriented vacation. Head out of the bubble and book a trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana for Mardi Gras instead. It’s less congested, family friendly and piece of Americana that shouldn’t be missed. The area is known for Cowboy Cajun, but no matter what the label, the overriding fact is – it is Louisiana southern to the core, which means great hospitality, friendly people, amazing food with abundant history.
I flew in from Los Angeles on United and the flight was surprisingly short and easy. Three hours to Houston and on a prop plane for under an hour to Lake Charles airport (which, by the way, looks just like a southern plantation).
Krewe of Illusions Presentation and Ball
Dust off the ball gown or tux – this is a fancy night of amusement at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Not far off from a locals-only talent show, the Krewe of Illusions Presentation and Ball is full of glitter, feathers, color and kitsch. This may seem a little home town for city slickers, but come with the expectation of being a part of a welcoming community enjoying each other’s company and talents. This year the entertainment ranged from a stunning “Liza Minnelli” dance routine starting with
Ring Them Bells ending with an All the Single Ladies hat tip to Beyoncé, to a drunk “Donna Summers” lip syncing Last Dance. If dressing up isn’t your style, you can wear casual attire in the standard balcony seats. After the presentation show, the festivities move to the Exhibition Hall where you can dress up your own table with festive Mardi Gras motifs and food and shake a tail feather to live music on the dance floor with friendly locals. Tickets for presentation: $15 Standard Balcony, $18 Balcony Reserved, $30 Orchestra. Event listing and ticket sales through the Lake Charles CVB.
Royal Gala – Lundi Gras
Just when you think your senses can’t take another pop of Mardi Gras color or glitz, it’s time for the Royal Gala. Over 60 Krewes unveil their creatively-themed finery to the public on Lundi Gras (the night before Fat Tuesday). The costumes are jaw dropping as participants present themselves to the royal court. It’s not a common happening to have a royal gala open to the public, so take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. As an avid picture snapper, I found the lighting in the stadium to be hard to shoot, if you wait at the exit corridor the gala participants are happy to pose for a picture.
The Grand Finale – Krewe of Krewes’ Parade
Over one-hundred floats make their way through Lake Charles on Ryan Street in all their glittering and glowing splendor. Get ready to lose your voice from yelling, “Throw me somethin’ mister!” The energy is infectious and whatever oomph you have left from the
previous Mardi Gras fun you’ve had, you’ll need for catching beads and taking in the spectacular floats and costumes. Arrive early to get a good spot – any Lake Charles residents not in the parade, are watching it and celebrating Fat Tuesday up and down the parade route.
I’ve traveled to many different countries and loved every minute of going abroad – Lake Charles, Louisiana reminded me of the cultural discovery a traveler can have by packing up and crossing into other borders, but its right here in the U.S. It is in many ways just as fascinating fun and eye-opening as a foreign destination. And, let’s face it, for those of us from a cosmopolitan center in the U.S. – there are many tucked away parts of our country that are foreign and waiting to be discovered and explored. Above all the warmth emanating from every person I met in this part of my country gave me a great familial feeling that will stay with me for a very long time. So, Laissez les bons temps rouler, ya’ll!
About the Author
Cynthia Cunniff’s writing background spans marketing, PR, magazine editorial and travel blogging. She’s a graduate of the creative writing program at CSU Long Beach and went on to UCLA to further her writing skills. Growing up as a military dependent, she lived in several foreign countries and several parts of the US. Post college she returned to international living and resided in London for close to a decade, where she took advantage of proximity to the rest of Europe and traveled extensively. She currently lives in the beautiful South Bay of Los Angeles, and Tweets about traveling in the U.S. and throughout the world @localpathworld.