While Mardi Gras is nearly synonymous with New Orleans, there is another place to enjoy Fat Tuesday, and it’s a lot closer to home than you’d think: Galveston.
From Feb. 21 to March 4, Galveston will transform itself as the go-to location in the state of Texas for parades, parties, beads and live entertainment, located on the beach.
“Galveston is a smaller, more tame version of Mardi Gras,” says Leah Cast, the public relations manager for Yagas Entertainment, the company behind Mardi Gras! Galveston. “Galveston provides a unique opportunity to experience Mardi Gras at the beach with a variety of beachfront parades, in addition to the parades and entertainment held downtown.”
With an expected attendance of 300,000 to 350,000, and more than 3 million beads thrown, Mardi Gras! Galveston is smaller, safer and easier to navigate than New Orleans (which sports roughly 1 million in attendance each year), without losing out on the party experience, Cast says.
The first Mardi Gras in Galveston took place in 1867, but it wasn’t until 1871, that the party took on a grander scale. Two krewes, the Knights of Momus and Knights of Myth, threw the first night parades involving lavish costumes and masked balls.
Though the tradition declined in the years after World War II, native Galvestonian George P. Mitchell revived Madri Gras with the grand opening of his Tremont House hotel in 1985. The festivities included a milelong parade and a gala ball. Since then, Galveston’s Mardi Gras has grown to the third largest celebration in the United States (behind New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., which boasts the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States).
Between the Galveston Seawall and the Uptown Entertainment District, the city hosts 24 parades and 20 balcony parties over two weeks. March 1 offers the Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade, the biggest parade of the Mardi Gras celebration. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at 23rd Street and Seawall, ending at the Railroad Museum. At 8:30 p.m. Feb. 21, the funky uptown Umbrella Brigade gives parade-goers the chance to twirl their umbrella through the entertainment district, and enter an umbrella-decorating contest.
For those looking to celebrate Mardi Gras more black tie than beads, the Tremont House’s “Pearls and Prohibition” ball aims to bring glamour and opulence to the event.
On March 1, partygoers can get gussied-up in their finest ’20s attire can enjoy live music and cocktails while the Knights of the Momus parade passes in front of the hotel. The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, known for their hit song “Zoot Suit Riot,” will perform. The ball also offers an open bar and midnight breakfast buffet.
Texas is known for its live music. For the music lovers, Galveston offers up 38 concerts throughout the two-week celebration. Headliner Uncle Kracker, whose album “Double Wide” went double platinum, will perform Feb. 22 on the Budweiser Stage.
Tickets to the balcony parties, like the Clear Channel Rocks the Block party, can get you closer to Uncle Kracker, or even in VIP seating. On Feb. 28 international touring DJ Clockwork headlines on the Jaegermeister Stage.
Galveston doesn’t just cater to cocktails and beads; families can celebrate with Family Gras events. Kids can watch animals on march when the Krewe of Barkus & Meoux pet parade takes over the seawall March 2, or roam the entertainment district for free on Feb. 23, an event that includes two parades and the Jr. Jester 1K walk/run, whose proceeds go to the Sunshine Kids and Shriners Hospitals.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of the Mardi Gras celebration, though, is safety planning. Galveston is miles ahead of New Orleans in terms of crime (New Orleans saw shootings injuring multiple people along the parade routes in 2013 and 2012). Those looking to drink can take advantage of shuttles set up to transport attendees between party venues and many hotels.
The city has a no-refusal policy for blood or breath tests if suspected of drunk driving during Mardi Gras weekends. The city also urges people to stay aware of their surroundings, be cautious and use common sense throughout the celebration.
The city of Galveston turns 175 years old this year. It has weathered hurricanes and spring breakers and that makes 2014 a year of celebrations for Galveston. Mardi Gras activities will only add to the celebration.
Mardi Gras! Galveston
When: Feb. 21 through March 4
Where: Galveston, approximately 235 miles southeast of Waco
Travel time: About 4 hours
How to get there: From Waco, take State Highway 6 South to Interstate 10 East, then Interstate 45 South to Galveston.
Tickets: Packages are available at MardiGrasGalveston.com