Thank God For Weekends - Mardi Gras in Galveston - 2009
Galveston is back and is slowly but surely recovering nicely from hurricane Ike. And Mardi Gras seemed to kick off the recovery and helped get tourists back to Galveston and brought some badly needed revenue into the city. Mardi Gras was first celebrated in Galveston in 1867 and in past years the event has been attended by more than 250,000 visitors looking to experience the party of a lifetime - and this year was no exception - what a fun and lively way to spend a weekend partying!
Mardi Gras and Galveston wake up for 12 days of fun and entertainment usually beginning around the middle of February and going until the Fat Lady sings on Fat Tuesday two weeks later. This year there were over 11 parades, 50 galas and festive events, live entertainment in the park and several local bars, a beachfront carnival, and some of the best ever people watching! Mardi Gras officially started the 2009 pageant on February 13th and concluded on February 24th, but some of the balls and partying started on January 24th and from what we hear, there were parties and galas almost every night of the entire event.
We rolled into town on Thursday February 19th and stayed at the Bayou Shores RV Park which has sites along Offatts Bayou and is one of the closest RV parks to the historic district and all the Mardi Gras activity. Bayou Shores was right on the edge of hurricane Ike and suffered some damage including a 25' sailboat that ended up on the street in front of the park. We were only 10 minutes away from the Strand but if we come down to Mardi Gras again, we will urban camp on one of the side roads near the Strand or in one of the abandoned lots or along the seawall. I'm not sure it's legal but there were a number of RVs with their slides out and jacks down on the streets a block from the Strand, along the seawall, and in some parking lots!
Friday morning before the Mardi Gras action started, we headed over to Moody Gardens Golf Course for a quick round on the newly renovated course. The City of Galveston leased Galveston Island Municipal Golf Course to Moody Gardens and they spent over $16 million in redoing the course, which opened for play in June 2008. Only to be redone again by hurricane Ike in September! The course was completely submerged in salt water and littered with hurricane debris including a 30' shrimp boat, someone's back porch and swing set, old tires, and lots more. They've cleaned it up and it was recovering nicely when we played in February. Some of the bunkers were still recovering but the greens and fairways were in decent shape. They have also spent some money on the club house, range, and practice area.
The renovation from Moody Gardens, not hurricane Ike, added some contour to the fairways, redid all the bunkers with soft white sand, and rerouted some of the other holes. Moody Gardens Golf Course is now a first class public course offering golfers of all skill levels a challenging, but fair round of enjoyable golf. The course offers natural beauty with palm trees and plenty of water, some risk reward shots, dog legs, fast smooth greens, and great conditions. You can read our review of Moody Gardens Golf Course to learn more.
After an enjoyable round of golf, we put on our Mardi Gras hats and headed to the Strand for an evening of partying. We took the bikes which made it easy to get to the Strand from where we had to park as well as gave us an opportunity to ride around the area looking for the fun spots. When we first got there the streets were wide open and when we left around 1 PM a four block area was wall-to-wall people. Balls, galas, and parties were going on all over the city but we stayed at the Strand for the parades, live entertainment, and lively bars.
The live entertainment started in the park at 5:30 and included rock-a-billy, reggae, classic cover, and rock bands. But the real action was on the streets prior to the parades as some of the Krewes (organizations that sponsor floats, balls, or other parties during Mardi Gras) throw beads from several different balconies to the crowds below. Seems silly at first - who in there right mind would want to stand below a balcony with thousands of other party goes yelling and screaming to the Krewes above to throw them some beads - but it's amazing how quickly the young and old get into it! The goal is to collect as many beads as possible and the bigger and fancier beads are the real prizes. Bead tossing goes on all weekend!
The streets were cleared at 6, 7, and 8 PM for different parades. And guess what - the goal again is to collect as many beads as possible as the Krewes of each parade march down the streets tossing beads - next year I'm going into the bead manufacturing business, those guys must make a fortune! Each of the parades got progressively better and included a variety of bands, floats, dogs, horses, clowns, and just about everything else you could think of.
While all this is going on, the street vendors are selling cold beer, margaritas, a variety of food, and beads. Who in their right mind would buy some beads when all you need to do is stand on the street and even if you're not trying, beads are going to hit you on the head, land on your shoulder, end up in your drink, or land at your feet! They were selling some huge ball beads and guys with the bigger beads seemed to attract the attention of the girls, so maybe there is a reason to buy beads if you're single and looking. Everybody had at least 3 or 4 beads around their neck, some had hundreds, and others finally got tired of collecting them and took a break.
The Strand was hammered by hurricane Ike and 90% of the shops were still closed, but there were several bars along the Strand that were open and packed with party goers. A majority of the bars had live bands and were still going strong when we left a 1 PM.
The parades are fun to watch, the live bands in the park were ok, and it seems you never tire of catching beads from the balcony and floats, but part of the fun of Mardi Gras is the people watching and interacting with all the party goers! Wow, what an experience. Lots of people go all out for Mardi Gras with costumes,
hats and masks of all shapes and sizes,
and a real party attitude. Everyone is very friendly and out to have a good time. And the party goes on forever.....
It was hard leaving all the action, but we were pooped from walking around with all those beads around our neck - we kept saying the grand kids will love them, but I don't think that was the real reason we kept going back for more!
Biking back to the car we heard a lot of laughter and music from several bars a block or so off the Strand, but the bongo music stopped us dead on our bikes and we had to have one last cold one and listen to some excellent bongo music before retiring. A group of 8 bongo players had gotten together on the patio outside one of bars and were jamming and making some great music
Saturday, the live bands in the Park and the balcony parties and bead tossing started at 11. There were a couple of parades (seems like anyone can gather a group together, call yourself a Krewe, and start a parade!) before the grand finale which was the Krewe of Momus Parade. Seemed like this parade went on for hours with lots of floats, marching bands, and more. And hundreds of thousands of beads tossed to the huge crowds lining the streets. After the parades, the balcony bead tossing and the parties in the bars were still going strong at 2 PM.
Sunday was the Pet Parade and the Krewe of Munchkins Parade, both of which were along the Galveston seawall. I've never seen so many dogs, kids of all ages, ferrets, cats, turtles, and adults all dressed up for and excited about a parade. They even had a Krewe of Barkus and Meows as well as a Krewe of Intensive Cats. The huge crowd that lined the streets for a least a mile anxious to collect more beads and I think watch the parade. The Munchkin's Parade was a slew of floats and marching bands and yep, you guessed it, more beads! I think we collected enough from each days events that if we sold them for a $1 apiece, we could retire, but remember, we were only joining in the madness because we were collecting beads for the grand kids - I don't believe a word of that malarkey! Over the last couple days, we had also collected a variety of balls, stuffed animals, candy, frisbees, coins, and more - again all for the grand kids of course.
One of the highlights was the incredible Philadelphia Mummers String Band who for this Mardi Gras were dressed in unbelievably colorful scarecrow costumes. They joined several of the parades and balcony parties and seemed to be having an excellent time playing, marching, and partying. In addition to elaborate costumes that can cost between $30,000 to $80,000 for the entire band, the String Band is phenomenal and included saxophones, banjos, accordions, violins, bass violins, and percussion instruments. I would have enjoyed just following them the length of the parade.
If you are up for it and not partied out, what also makes Mardi Gras fun is that you are in Galveston which offers plenty of other fun things to see and do. In addition to hosting Mardi Gras, the Strand has good waterfront restaurants, a variety of shops and stores, lots of funky and fun bars, bay cruises, a drilling rig museum, historic hotels, the 1877 tall ship Elissa, and more. Plus you've got the beach, golf, Moody Gardens, Schlitterbaun Water Park, and tons of other fun things to see and do. Check out our list of Fun Things to See and Do in Galveston.
You should add Mardi Gras to your list of "Gotta Do It At Least Once!"