With New Orleans hailed as the Mardi Gras haven and being less than six hours down the road from Houston, is it worth it to “settle” for the Mardi Gras Galveston festival just one hour outside of town? If affordable and convenient is your approach to celebrating next season, as is the case with many students across Texas, the answer is a resounding yes. However, if you want the true Mardi Gras experience and chaos of Bourbon Street, the local alternative may miss your mark.
This past weekend, the city of Galveston re-opened its doors to droves of Texans, both Galveston residents and “non-islanders,” flocking to the city for weekend number two of the Mardi Gras Galveston festival. In contrast to the free-for-all of New Orleans Mardi Gras, the festivities down in Galveston are much more organized and allow attendees to plan their agenda with great accuracy. In short, the festival is run as just that – a festival. Gates surrounded the entirety of the downtown entertainment district from 20th to 25th street between Harborside Drive and Mechanic Street and required the purchase of a general admission ticket for entry. The cost of a ticket was approximately $20.
Once inside the festival grounds, “open-container” laws went into effect and the street vendors provided ample opportunities to purchase alcohol, as well as food, to consume around the festival grounds. Not surprisingly, the streets were filled with heavily intoxicated individuals – though the occasional sober mother with a stroller appeared wandering around the festival grounds. If cocktails and a lively bar atmosphere are desired, the bars along The Strand were all open for business and serving up powerful concoctions like the infamous tequila hangover inducer from a bar named Tsunami, appropriately coined the “Tsunami.”
For those with a bit more money to spare and a desire to separate themselves from the masses, alternate “balcony tickets” could be purchased for between $70 to $110, depending on whether food and drinks were included in the price of the ticket. Guests were admitted to one of several balconies along the main street of the festival and provided access to private bars and bathrooms. Though considerably more expensive, the balcony venues were much tamer than the streets below and filled with a much older crowd. Unfortunately for the sake of the festival, the tameness of the balconies left much to be desired from the rambunctious “bead-tossing” seen along Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Though restricted from the balconies, general admission attendees may have had the upper-hand as they were able to get up-close-and-personal with the live performances on the Bud Light Stage, eat the greasy, deep-fried goodness being delivered from street vendors and revel in the best parade views. Moreover, while the parades were occurring those on the street level were the most likely to be tossed beads and other accessories from the many floats. Around 8 p.m., the largest of the parades commenced and lasted for nearly an hour. Sponsored by the Knights of Momus, the parade included a plethora of floats dedicated to the Krewe along with numerous high school marching bands, floats from local attorneys and even an appearance of a Tilman Fertitta float.
The festival had much to offer, many drinks to be had, beads to be worn and great food to be eaten. If you were like many in attendance over the weekend, however, the experience may not have lived up to expectations.The weather was abysmal. Ominously dark clouds, minimal sunlight and the back-and-forth between heavy rains and light misting throughout Saturday – generally, the heaviest trafficked day – put quite a damper on the energy of the festival. Casual goers and veterans alike were forced to cover their festive garb with ponchos and rain jackets while briskly walking between bars and other venues along The Strand. Worst of all, the weather made attendance low. The streets were certainly crowded but nothing like years prior, according to several locals. Speaking with a Galveston native, it was surprising to hear the disappointment in his voice as he discussed the potential of Mardi Gras Galveston and the wild successes of years past.
So, is Mardi Gras Galveston worth it? The answer seems heavily dependent on two factors: weather and wildness. Poor weather certainly affects the festival in New Orleans, but it seems that Galveston experiences devastation to a much higher degree when the rain pours. Attendance falls considerably, and the energy of those who make it out is poor. Additionally, the festival itself seemed considerably tamer than the lawlessness of New Orleans. Though the calmness may be attributed to the weather, it did not seem as if a sunny afternoon or warmer weather would have made much difference.
That said, Mardi Gras Galveston may still be an excellent alternative to trekking to New Orleans for a weekend. From a price standpoint, the money saved is considerable. From a time standpoint, the 12 hours of driving are cut down to around two and allow attendees to enjoy a full weekend without any time taken off during the work-week. From a social standpoint, the ability to haul large numbers of friends down I-45 may make all the difference in increasing the wildness of the weekend. Not to be forgotten are the inexpensive home-rentals and affordable hotel rates during the festival season. Overall, Mardi Gras Galveston is worth a shot – especially if the weather is dry and sunny.