5 Ways to Love Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, Louisiana

When I told my friends I was going to Mardi Gras in Louisiana, everyone assumed it was the raucous party of New Orleans. I was definitely going to have fun in Louisiana but it was going to be low-key fun that happens in Lake Charles where everyone is welcomed.

Here are five ways to love Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Cheer the Children's Parade

Despite the name it's not a parade of children, instead this family-friendly event features floats from a variety of community groups. It starts at the Civic Center and winds through town with beads galore. I was invited to participate on the float organized by the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many of the floats are provided by krewes, groups of folks who join together to host a Mardi Gras ball, ride in a Mardi Gras parade, and participate in social events throughout the year. But it's always filled with smiling people tossing beads to children lined up along the route.

Watch the Krew of Krewes Float Parade

Along the same route, the Krew of Krewes features floats (and bead-throwing) by all the krewes, with the royalty dressed in their finest regalia. Each float is unique, decorated with the year's theme. They range from jaw-dropping fancy to just-plain friendly. Sometimes things other than beads are tossed like trinkets, and even the occasional ramen noodle package.

Attend the Royal Gala

The Lake Charles Royal Gala might be the only one in the state when the krewes introduce their royalty, theme and costumes for the year. It's held in the Civic Center and open to the public. The lavish spectacle is complete with police on motorcycles and the pageant queens. The Gala refers to the royalty, the public just comes as they are.

Have Fun at the Chicken Run

The town of Iowa (pronounced I-O-WAY) invites the public to join this unique community experience. The town mounts a parade which goes from place to place receiving food donations for their big gumbo dinner and dance party held later in the evening. In thanks for the donation musicians play a tune on the accordion and the washboard while everyone dances along to the music.

At each stop the captain releases a chicken or a rooster into the air and the kids go streaking off to try and catch the fast-on-its-feet fowl. Some take the opportunity to escape to freedom, disappearing into the fields and woods never be seen again. The parade grows as it wends its way down the road, being joined by folks on horses, ATVs, and home-made wagons, as well as a tractor or two. After the gumbo dinner, zydeco music fills the hall as the dancing starts.

Marvel at the Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu

Named after the parish the encompasses Lake Charles Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu (pronounced CAL CA SHOE) the museum is reputed to have the largest costume display in the world. Visitors will admire extravaganzas of feathers, beads, embroidery and color. Elaborate headpieces extend several feet into the air relying on elaborate harnesses and great posture to keep them in place.

There's also a special exhibit about a little known yet ironically famous Mardi Gras event that oddly enough takes place in Washington DC. Since the 1940s Louisianians who had to be away from home and in the nation's capital during the gala season were treated to a special ball. Since 1981 its been overseen and sponsored by Mystick Krewe of Louisianians. https://www.mkofl.com/

Although the museum is open all year, visiting during Mardi Gras is an excellent way to see the pageantry of Mardi Gras up close.

Enjoy parades galore -- boats on the lake, classic cars, Jeeps, and those involving huge long-distance truck-pulled floats -- and beads, lots of beads, being flung off those floats. There's also gumbo cook-offs, and plenty of seafood, as well as Cajun, and Creole specialties in restaurants around the city. Lake Charles Mardi Gras invites everyone to come and enjoy.

If You Go

There's plenty of lodging available in and around the city. The two casino hotels -- L'Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles, and Golden Nugget Lake Charles -- offer 4 star accommodations and excellent dining options. Nearby are many of the major chain hotels. Della Belle Bed & Breakfast in Lake Charles offers sumptuous luxury from a by-gone era.

Finding a place to eat is easy -- the cuisine is Louisiana delicious. But here are some of the spots we found noteworthy. Jack Daniel's Bar & Grill is a particular standout. Located in L'Augerge Casino Hotel and presided over by Chef Lyle Broussard, the food is outstandingly prepared. The alligator bites are tender and deliciously breaded with seasoned flour. The crawfish bread is topped by a gently spiced light cheese source. Don't miss the boudin balls which are all handmade, breaded with panko and lightly fried. The pork ribs are a must they are so smokey delicious as is the lean and tender brisket.

At Restaurant Calla I indulged in appetizers and desserts. The chicken and sausage gumbo was outstanding and the blue crab beignets a delicious twist to the classic puffs filled with shredded crab. The seasonal fries were sweet potato fries sliced impossibly thin and crispy and spectacular good. For dessert chocolate lovers will love the pots de creme which was creamy chocolate with blood orange.

Charter House in the Golden Nugget offers a mouth-watering brunch. A clear standout starter is the triple layer crab, mango and avocado. The hummus trio is also delicious. I had the French omelet which was excellent, served with thin sliced seasoned potatoes. The shrimp with grits and mozzarella cream got rave reviews as well.

Seafood Palace is a popular local place where we loved their fried green beans, the sausage and chicken gumbo with smoky hunks of chicken amid coins of sausage. The seafood gumbo offered a different take on this popular staple of Louisiana cuisine. Their crawfish platter is a dream for crawfish lovers.

Luna is another stellar dining establishment, this one is in downtown Lake Charles. The crawfish bread is delightful with crawfish enrobed in cheese atop a sweet rather than savory bread. The crab dip was rich and flavorful and the spinach and artichoke dip struts its creamy goodness. My Orion Salmon was perfectly cook with a light pecan sauce adding a touch of sweetness to the gently spicy coating. The beef with bleu cheese, and the tuna were also winners. For desert the pecan cheesecake was heaven on a plate.

Boombox Ice Cream provides a very different take on flavors from coffee with raspberry, even King Cake flavored ice cream. Several of their varieties are strictly vegan.

For more information go to Visit Lake Charles

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Neala McCarten

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