The Best Mardi Gras! Galveston Parades
By day, in my opinion.
Growing up in South Louisiana, I’ve been to countless Mardi Gras parades across the state. I’ve been to Rio for Carnival and started going to Galveston’s Mardi Gras in the 90s. There is something special about watching a marching band dance their way along the seawall with the beach at your back or catching beads tossed from a float rolling through the Historic Strand District.
Here are the parades that I think make Galveston’s Mardi Gras special. I’ve organized them by day, because most locals refer to them as “the first Saturday day parades” or “the second Sunday parades”. Mardi Gras! Galveston happens over two weekends and continues on Fat Tuesday. This year, February 10 thru February 21.
A Brief History
To understand the start of the first Friday, you have to understand how it all started.
Galveston’s first recorded Mardi Gras celebration was in 1867 and included a masked ball and theatrical performance from Shakespeare’s “King Henry IV”. By 1873, visitors from around the state were attending the festivities. Among them were Governor E.J. Davis and a party of state officials and legislators who rode in the Mardi Gras parade that year. Dubbed “The Eras of Chivalry,” the parade boasted brilliantly decorated floats fashioned after campaigns and characters from the 6th through the 15th centuries. Brilliant and lavish carnivals were celebrated through February 1941, when the country turned to defeating the Axis powers. For the next 40 years, Mardi Gras celebrations were primarily private events.
In 1985, native Galvestonian George P. Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, launched the revival of a citywide Mardi Gras celebration. The Mitchells had long dreamed of restoring the Island’s splendid tradition, and the grand opening of their elegant Tremont House hotel in the historic Strand District provided the spark to do so.
|Preparing for the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Award Honoree Parade in front of The Tremont House.||This year: Feb. 10 @ 7pm|
First Friday (February 10, 2023)
Today, Mardi Gras! Galveston begins with the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Award Presentation and Honoree Parade. This award was established to honor Mitchell and other individuals, corporations, foundations and groups vital to Mardi Gras’ rebirth and preservation. After the awards ceremony, the parade kicks off the party.
|The Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade on The Strand||This year: Feb. 10 @ 8:30pm|
The first Friday continues with The Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade, which has been breaking World Records for having the most decorated umbrellas in a single parade since 2011. I participated that year, but my poor little attempt at decorating an umbrella would pale in comparison to the elaborate spectacles created today. In 2019 an impressive 1,980 participants danced along on their route, stopping to perform the “Hokey Pokey” under the iconic Mardi Gras Arch next to The Tremont House. Over the years, fans from all around Texas have traveled to Mardi Gras! Galveston to claim a spot in the Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade. This lively, bedazzled parade continues to gain momentum and an even bigger turn-out is predicted for 2023.
|My posse at the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Parade||This year: Feb. 11 @ 12pm|
First Saturday (February 11, 2023)
On the first Saturday, the big parades start on the seawall. Those being the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius and Krewe of Gambrinus parades. This is the day I usually get on my bike and cruise the seawall. Thanks to my friend, I know just where to go. He usually gets to the seawall early and grabs a parking spot across from Beerfoot Brewery. I’d tell you what’s in his ice chest, but your not supposed to drink on the seawall! Do rules really count during Mardi Gras?
|The Jolly Jester Jaunt – Official Mardi Gras! Galveston 5k||This year: Feb. 11 @ 11am|
Meanwhile on the first Saturday, downtown is alive with its own action.
Runners dawning Mardi Gras themed t-shirts, socks and jester hats will “jaunt” through the Entertainment District Saturday morning for the Jolly Jester Jaunt, the official 5 Fun Run that ends with free libations and a balcony party! The free stuff is for the runners, not us lazy folks that might have a headache. For those so inclined, who can think of a better way to get some exercise and have some fun, than jaunting with your friends and family down the Strand in joker hats and crazy socks?
|Krewe d’iHeart Media Parade featuring art cars from the ArtX Group||This year: Feb. 11 @ 3pm|
Then comes the Krewe d’iHeart Media Parade. I like to think of it as a baby Houston Art Car Parade. The parade features art cars from the ArtX Group in Houston, combined with decorated jeeps from the community. Entries came from as far away as Canada to participate in the last parade.
Other parades circle downtown this day and the big seawall parades also make there way downtown. You can catch the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius and Krewe of Gambrinus parades when you’re not catching beads from a balcony or listening to the concerts. This year, Ghostland Observatory performs at 6pm.
|Mariachi Band during a Fiesta Gras! Parade||This year: Feb. 12 @ 1pm & 4pm|
First Sunday (February 12, 2023)
Mardi Gras! Galveston celebrates Hispanic Heritage with Fiesta Gras!, on the first Sunday. Mardi Gras attendees can catch two parades (1:00pm & 4:00pm).
|Danny Weber Memorial Fire Truck Parade||This year: Feb. 17 @ 7pm|
Second Friday (February 17, 2023)
This day is a Salute to Texas, when first responders, veterans and active service members get free admission to the Downtown Entertainment District.
The first parade of the evening is in memory of Fire Chief, Danny Weber. A much-loved tradition, The Danny Weber Memorial Parade features more than 25 Fire Trucks from South East Houston, League City, Hitchcock, La Marque, Jamaica Beach and Galveston. The impressive chorus of sirens and horns that fill the Entertainment District continues to captivate Mardi Gras! Galveston attendees, making this parade a crowd favorite.
|Krewe Babalu “All Krewe Parade”||This year: Feb. 17 @ 8pm|
|Z Krewe Z Processional, the place to be for beads||This year: Feb. 18 @ 1pm|
Second Saturday (February 18, 2023)
This is a busy day with six parades, including a processional by one of my favorite krewes. The Z Krewe Z Processional takes place in the Downtown Entertainment District at 1pm. The parade features bands, military units and zany revelers from multiple clubs, and is led by Big Daddy and Big Momma, followed by King and Queen Zanie and their royal Zoots and Zaftigs. Hundreds of “Zannies” throw beads to the crowds and continue to do so after the parade from their private balcony on The Strand. Z Krewe takes bead-throwing to the next level with their awesome assortment of unique and fun necklaces!
|Jumpin’ Jays Bumpin’ Bus Parade – So Fly It’ll Make You Wanna Die||This year: Feb. 18 @ 6pm|
If you’ve been to any Galveston parade in recent history, be it July 4th, Christmas or Mardi Gras, you have probably seen the Dancing Queen and her sister Dancing Queen 2 rolling down the street with tunes blaring and people dancing. The crazy thing is that they belong to Carnes Funeral Home’s parade krewe and sport the slogan, “KEEP DANCING!!!… WE CAN WAIT!!!”. If you can’t laugh at death, you’re at the wrong festival.
I’m so pleased that they now have a parade named in their honor. The Jumpin’ Jays Bumpin’ Bus Parade – So Fly It’ll Make You Wanna Die rolls downtown at 6pm. Get your groove on, catch some beads, and sing along to some Abba:
You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl
Watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen
|Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade||This year: Feb. 18 @ 6:30pm|
The Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade starts on the seawall at 6:30pm. Crowds grow large as Galveston’s oldest Krewe parades from the seawall down 25th Street and around the Downtown Entertainment District. The Grand Night Parade features a magnificent fleet of colorful floats, marching bands from all over the state, dignitaries, and more! This is the parade that’s usually on Houston’s KPRC TV channel. I hope they cover it again so all those couch potatoes at home can enjoy the fun.
|Family Gras! wraps up the second weekend||This year: Feb. 19|
Second Sunday (February 19, 2023)
This is the day the families emerge with the kids. It’s Family Gras!
The Shriners Hospital for Children & Sunshine Kids Parade is at 12pm. Sunshine Kids and Shiners children, along with their families, enjoy lunch & throw beads off a balcony on Strand Street and enjoy the parade.
|Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade||This year: Feb. 19 @ 1:30pm|
Family Gras! continues with the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade at 1:30pm. The Humane Society created the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade 23 years ago, and this crowd-pleasing event has been going strong ever since! Leading the parade each year is the “Elite Pet Owner”- a title awarded at the annual, Paws Gala, which is held each September. This year, the winner was Concetta Maceo.
The Firefighters Children’s Parade follows at 3pm. In 2005, the Galveston Firefighters stepped forward to “Save the Children’s Parade” by assuming the role of parade coordinator. The Firefighters felt that since the parades are the main attraction to Mardi Gras, and because the Children’s Parade was the only Mardi Gras activity geared toward children, it was important to keep the tradition alive.
|Mystic Krewe of Aquarius “Fat Tuesday” Parade||This year: Feb. 21 @ 6:30pm|
Fat Tuesday (February 21, 2023)
The Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Parade annual “Fat Tuesday “ Mardi Gras Parade makes its way through downtown at 6:30pm. A local favorite, the all Krewe parade features marching bands, dance teams and participating Krewes and his a huge exclamation mark at the end of Mardi Gras.
The next day begins Lent and the good Catholics put the parties aside while other Galvestonian’s start planning for St. Patrick’s Day and Shrimp Festival!