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Beyond Mardi Gras: 6 Standout 2013 Carnival Celebrations

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The season of Lent is drawing closer and before the deprivation come the celebrations. In fact, New Orleans is already rolling out the parades. But it’s not just about Carnival in Rio or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Alex Thurnher shows you how to steer clear of the chaos with alternative celebrations around the globe. 

San Diego, California

San Diego may be known for sun and surf, but don’t miss out on the grand Mardi Gras parties that take over the city.  Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp district will be in full force on Fat Tuesday and the party runs from 6 pm to midnight. A parade runs straight down Fifth Avenue and street performers spread over 16 blocks throughout the Gaslamp Quarter.  The Hillcrest neighborhood also gets going between First and Fourth Avenues with live entertainment and vendors.  More than 40,000 people are expected to attend the Fat Tuesday celebration. A  Hillcrest VIP pass runs at $75 and Gaslamp tickets go for $50.

Orlando, Florida

Mardi Gras is all over Florida.  You can find celebrations in Pensacola, Tampa, and Miami.  However, Universal Orlando gets the nod because they keep the season going after Mardi Gras in a family-friendly environment.  On Saturdays and select nights from February 9 to April 20, the theme park turns into an attraction with New Orleans bands, Cajun cuisine, and live music.

Quebec City, Montreal

You might not think of heading north for Carnival, but this Canadian city hosts a winter Carnival from February 1-17.  Bonhomme Carnival has been the King of this celebration since 1955, the first winter Carnival.  This 700-foot-tall, 400-pound snowman receives the key to the city each year.  All cuteness aside there are nightly parades with bands, a traditional canoe race and giant snow slides.  At night things heat up a bit with giant outdoor dance parties and an Arctic spa village.  Another can’t-miss is the giant ice castle towering over the stage.

Trinidad and Tobago

It’s widely known that the Caribbean benchmark for Carnival starts right after Christmas in Trinidad and Tobago, when soca and calypso music fill the streets.  The festivities start with  Panorama, an annual steel pan band competition.  Locals join up to celebrate with bands or krews. J’Ouvert is celebrated on many Caribbean Islands.  It starts at 4 am on the Monday before Carnival Tuesday.  Expect to see people covered in mud, chocolate, and paint while droves of people depicting demons and monsters roam the streets.  Carnival Tuesday begins promptly at 8 am.  Masqueraders take to the streets as bands of all sizes cross judging checkpoints.  The winner is named Masquerade Band of the Year.

Galveston, Texas

This New Orleans-style Mardi Gras festival features 14 organized crewes celebrating the season.  Also, balcony parties in the uptown district have become commonplace.  There are two offerings of Texas-style galas with line dancing and country music mixed into New Orleans jazz.  The live entertainment is a bit more contemporary with a range of DJs taking the stage starting February 2 and leading all the way up to the February 12, and 23 parades roam the streets.


Still want to travel to celebrate the season? Then head south to Panama, where there’s an interesting rivalry between Las Tablas and Panama City. Carnival has been a Panamanian tradition since 1900 so they are hardly new at this gig, with grand parades and ornately dressed queens leading the festivities. As per Carnival tradition, expect to get drenched by a water cannon.  Plan your trip around Shrove Tuesday, Panama’s version of Fat Tuesday.

For more Carnival ideas and information, check out:

By Alex Thurnher for

Feature image Credit Wikimedia, user David Behrens