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Mardi Gras, New Orleans

New Orleans , Louisiana's insider take:

Usually associated with half-nude debauchery and flammable rum drinks, Mardi Gras gets a bad—if not completely undeserved—rap. Despite its Girls Gone Wild reputation, Mardi Gras is more than simple "boobs for beads" transactions; if that's your goal, head for Bourbon Street with the out-of-towners. Locals congregate in neighborhood bars on hidden side streets and along the parade routes on Uptown stretches of St. Charles Avenue. Fat Tuesday itself always falls on the day before Lent begins—in late February or early March—though the Mardi Gras season starts on January 6, the 12th night of Christmas. But the carnival spirit never quite leaves the city. Head over to the recently relocated Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, near the Convention Center, for a tour of the studios where artists sculpt the famous sparkling parade floats. The tour also includes time to roam the warehouses, where larger-than-life visages of Louis Armstrong sit next to 15-foot papier-mâché bullfrogs (1380 Port of Orleans Pl.; 504-362-8211;

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