"Mardi Gras" has become synonymous with "crazy parades and partying", especially in cities such as Rio and New Orleans; but there are many places where families can happily enjoy Mardi Gras festivities.
Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday", and in the Catholic religious year is traditionally the last day to party before "Ash Wednesday" starts the somber weeks of fasting during Lent, which lead up to Easter. Mardi Gras has been celebrated since 1699, with festivities in many cities around the world.
The date changes yearly. In 2012, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday February 21. Note that parades may be held on surrounding dates.
Yes, even the (in)famous Mardi Gras in New Orleans can be fun for families. Of course, many local families enjoy the celebrations every year; visitors just need to know where and how. Many parades take place, over multiple days; families can pick certain parades -- maybe the Pet Parade, called the Krewe of Barkus-- and/or choose certain spots on the parade route.
A great way for families to visit Louisiana is to combine New Orleans with a trip to nearby Acadiana, "Cajun Country". Small towns here celebrate their own style of Mardi Gras, with traditions such as costumed horse-riders.
Over a million visitors flock to this family-friendly two-week bash , which has night parades, an Ice Palace, outdoor skating, and fairgrounds with snow sculptures, snow rafting, and many more fun activities. The Quebec Carnival began as a true "Carnival" celebration before Lent began, but today is held every year in late January/early February.
A really, really easy way for families to catch the Mardi Gras spirit is to visit Universal Orlando from early February to mid-April; on multiple weekends, the Universal Studios Florida theme park -- one of two theme parks at Universal Orlando-- celebrates Mardi Gras with a 10-block parade, live music, Cajun and Creole good eats, and more. Cost is included in regular park admission.
Italy, Greece, Russia, New England... Mardi Gras is celebrated in so many places around the world, and many of these celebrations welcome families.