So often it’s only the obvious that comes to mind when we think of destination events and in the case of Mardi Gras, it’s New Orleans. New Orleans is a fantastically wild and fun place any time of the year, but not the type of Mardi Gras destination most people would consider a great low-key stay or a family oriented vacation. Head out of the bubble and book a trip to Lake Charles, Louisiana for Mardi Gras instead. It’s less congested, family friendly and piece of Americana that shouldn’t be missed. The area is known for Cowboy Cajun, but no matter what the label, the overriding fact is – it is Louisiana southern to the core, which means great hospitality, friendly people, amazing food with abundant history.
I flew in from Los Angeles on United and the flight was surprisingly short and easy. Three hours to Houston and on a prop plane for under an hour to Lake Charles airport (which, by the way, looks just like a southern plantation).
Floats, beads and fun are not just for the kids at the Children’s Parade which makes its way through the streets of Lake Charles. An event doesn’t get much more family friendly than this and the floats are aimed to dazzle little eyes and imaginations. There’s a carnival with local arts and crafts booths where the parade launches, and I recommend a walk through the floats before the parade starts. Check the yearly Children’s Parade Map to get a good spot.
Iowa Chicken Run
A highlight of my Lake Charles trip was visiting the neighboring town of Iowa
(pronounced I-o-way) for a homespun parade and a chicken run. Iowa is the quintessential Cowboy Cajun town and many of the locals attended the occasion on horseback. The festivities start with a parade of floats created out of decorated flatbed farm trucks – some including an outhouse or bbq. Entry to the fun is $8 in advance, $10 at the door for adults and $5 for children 12 and under — gumbo is free, there’s other home cooked food to purchase and a dance in the evening to top off the fun. Anything involving obscurity and action usually catches my attention and I was looking forward to chasing chickens through neighborhoods for prizes. I never did get to catch a chicken as I was very politely informed that it’s usually just children, drunks or adults who like taking candy from kids that participate, so I stuck to enjoying the live music and the wonderful hospitality of this charming place. Parade starts at 503 E. Highway 90, Iowa, LA. For more information, please contact Rodney Victorian at (337) 842-1875, Kimmy Bellard at (337) 884-1403 or see the Lake Charles Mardi Gras Calendar
I’ve traveled to many different countries and loved every minute of going abroad – Lake Charles, Louisiana reminded me of the cultural discovery a traveler can have packing up and crossing into other borders, but its right here in the U.S. It is in many ways just as fascinating fun and eye-opening as a foreign destination. And, let’s face it, for those of us from a cosmopolitan center in the U.S. – there are many tucked away parts of our country that are foreign and waiting to be discovered and explored. Above all the warmth emanating from every person I met in this part of my country gave me a great familial feeling that will stay with me for a very long time. So, Laissez les bons temps rouler, ya’ll!
About the Author
Cynthia Cunniff’s writing background spans marketing, PR, magazine editorial and travel blogging. She’s a graduate of the creative writing program at CSU Long Beach and went on to UCLA to further her writing skills. Growing up as a military dependent, she lived in several foreign countries and several parts of the US. Post college she returned to international living and resided in London for close to a decade, where she took advantage of proximity to the rest of Europe and traveled extensively. She currently lives in the beautiful South Bay of Los Angeles, and Tweets about traveling in the U.S. and throughout the world @localpathworld.