Having a Ball in New Orleans

A woman wearing a mask

It's Carnival time in New Orleans, typically a time for king cake parties, parades, and carnival balls. As Mardi Gras day approaches, locals and visitors alike usually celebrate with non-stop revelry. However, this year, the usual festivities are canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But, that's why this year it's more important than ever to remember the reasons behind the revelry, so the cherished traditions of carnival season remain strong. 

The First Mardi Gras Krewe Ball

Carnival balls are some of the most longstanding ways NOLA celebrates the season, beginning as early as when Lousiana was still a French colony. The French-Creole communities would start the carnival season on Twelfth Night with the Bal de Rois (the King’s Ball). There was music, dancing, and the anticipated cutting of the Galette des Rois (the King Cake). 

The tradition of krewes having their own balls began in 1857, with the Mistick Krewe of Comus, New Orleans’s oldest continuous Mardi Gras organization, founded in 1856. Comus created many of the traditions in place today, including the Mardi Gras Ball, typically held following the krewe’s parade. As is the case with many krewe balls, Comus’s masquerade ball was open to members only and their guests. 

Carnival Balls Today

Following tradition, the first ball takes place on January 6, with the Twelfth Night Ball, held by the Twelfth Night Revelers, founded in 1870. Balls occur in various venues throughout the city, including the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. One of the most popular venues used to be the French Opera House, located on Bourbon and Toulouse Streets, until it burned down in 1920.

 If a krewe also has a parade, then many balls are typically held immediately following the parade. Balls feature food, drinks, music, dancing, remarkable pageantry, and a march to introduce the krewe’s royal court. One tradition is the Tableaux, a stunning and beautiful staged presentation that tells stories of the history and mythology associated with the krewe. Although not every krewe still includes a Tableaux at its ball, many do, and it’s truly a sight to behold. 

How Do You Get to Go to the Ball?

There are over 100 balls each carnival season, but you must usually be a member of the organization or a lucky guest of a member to attend. However, several krewes have opened up their spectacular celebrations to the public, like the Super Krewes Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus, and the African-American Krewe of Zulu. These extravagant celebrations pull out all the stops, and you can enjoy every second, usually for a ticket price of anywhere from $50 to $100 or more. 

Although there are no Mardi Gras balls this year, it’s not the end; think of it as just a momentary pause during a parade. The floats may stop, but the music plays on, you wait for a bit, and then it starts rolling again. For now, celebrate the season by remembering the rich history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, eating some fantastic king cake, and enjoying a stay in the Big Easy at the elegant St. James Hotel.