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Mardi Gras 2016: Zulu parades with brand new floats on Fat Tuesday

The purples, greens and golds of Mardi Gras glittered brightly under a sunny, clear sky on Tuesday (Feb. 9), as New Orleans and cities around the region took to the streets to celebrate the final day of the Carnival season.

Fat Tuesday dawned chilly and windy, with temperatures in the 40s. Parade-goers saving spots on St. Charles Avenue huddled in their jackets, hoods up and hands tucked firmly in pockets. As the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club's parade turned the corner from Jackson Avenue to St. Charles, a biting wind knocked over canvas folding chairs and threatened to whip off wigs, hats and other festive headgear.

But the cold didn't stop people from holding frozen fingers in the air as they clamored for coconuts and beads from the Zulu float riders adorned in colorful, feathered finery.

"Throw me some sunshine!" shouted one person eager for warmth. 

Tuesday's parade was particularly special for Zulu, as it marked the krewe's 100thyear of incorporation. Zulu introduced 10 new floats this year -- the first time it's owned its own floats. The krewe also offered a twist on its coveted coconut throws: New signature coconuts, dipped in black or silver paint and stamped with a seal.

Mardi Gras 2016: Zulu parades with brand new floats

The social aid and pleasure club hit New Orleans streets at 8 a.m.

"(Mardi Gras) is fun because it's really festive," said 8-year-old Jonas Kinabrew, who had just watched Zulu roll by. "It really represents the culture of New Orleans."

"There's a levity that's contagious," said his grandmother, Stephanie Jumonville, who lives in the University area.

On another stretch of St. Charles, the wind was quieter and the sun began to warm those below. As they waited for Rex, the king of Carnival, to arrive, children tossed foam footballs and parade-throw Frisbees in the street. Booming sound systems provided a soundtrack of hip-hop, pop music and occasional Mardi Gras classics, as as kids and adults alike paused to dance for a minute or two. 

North Side Skull and Bone Gang wakes up New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Treme's skeleton-costumed North Side Skull & Bones Gang continued a nearly 200-year-old tradition, waking up New Orleans before sunrise for Mardi Gras.

Lenard Givens of Slidell tended the charcoal on a smoker grill, working on a feast that included hamburgers, hot dogs, pork chops, chicken and smoked sausage. The red beans and dirty rice were already done.

"We're trying to make a day out of it," Givens said, noting that it's better to have too much food than not enough.

Of course, Carnival is also a chance for New Orleanians to show off their creative costuming skills, and Fat Tuesday is no exception. Hundreds and hundreds of do-it-yourself costumers gathered in the Bywater neighborhood for the Society of Saint Anne foot parade, which marched toward the French Quarter. Stiff breezes off of the nearby Mississippi River occasionally buffeted the cardboard animals, pirates, walking hazard cones, feathered exotic dancers, space alien karaoke performers and other ambulatory absurdities, as they coursed happily through the narrow streets. 

The 800 block of Bourbon Street was packed shoulder to shoulder at noon for the 52nd Annual Bourbon Street Awards show, where Crescent City costumers vied for cash prizes. An amazing, many-tentacled, kinetic, purple kracken costume took the top award, with an alarming twelve-foot spider close behind.

Dressing up is an annual Mardi Gras tradition for the Schwank family, who walked down St. Charles as Blue Bell ice cream tubs on Tuesday. Charleen and John Schwank, who live in Lakeview and were at the parade with their son Michael, started planning costumes together as high schoolers three decades ago. They typically choose something food-related like Tabasco sauce or Blue Plate Mayonnaise.

"We were thinking, what other (food-related costumes) would New Orleans people love," said John Schwank. Their topical costumes helpfully noted that they're "listeria-free."

Mardi Gras Indians take to the streets on Mardi Gras Day 2016

The Red Flame Hunters finish their suits and head to the streets where they face off with Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day February 9, 2016. 

In Metairie, the cold appeared to have led many to eschew costumes in favor of warmer attire like camouflage hunting jackets. But the temperatures didn't stop the celebration, which parade-goers described as a family-oriented and "down-to-earth." The Argus, Elks Krewe of Jeffersonians and Krewe of Jefferson truck parades drew hundreds of thousands of visitors, which one parish official said was the best turnout he'd seen in the last couple of years.

Bringing the festive atmosphere north of Lake Pontchartrain, the Covington's Lion's Club and Mystic Krewe of Covington parades rolled downtown.

"What a great day to be in downtown Covington," Covington Mayor Mike Cooper said. "I don't believe I've seen crowds like this in some time."

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Rex and his entourage made their way through adoring fans from Uptown to downtown, in a parade inspired by exotic "Royal Gardens." Each of the floats had unique throws, and the collectors in the crowd eagerly tried to grab as many of the elegant plaster medallions, cups and pillows as they could.

Mardi Gras Day: Rex parades through New Orleans

The King of Carnival met his loyal subjects in a sunshine-filled Mardi Gras.

On Tuesday night, the Rex and Comus courts planned to meet, and New Orleans police officers were expected to conduct their annual midnight sweep of Bourbon Street, marking the end of Carnival until next year. But for one last day, the city savored the king cake, the bright colors and beads, the parades and the parties.

"It's a beautiful day, the city is revived," said Ann Richardson Berkey, who was on St. Charles. She's from New Orleans but moved to California and hadn't been to Mardi Gras since 1967. "It's great." 

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