Mardi Gras revelry takes over New Orleans

Queen Zulu Tanyanika Phillips leads the Zulu parade in New Orleans' French Quarter on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.

NEW ORLEANS - Revelers hit the streets Tuesday to celebrate Mardi Gras, lured to the French Quarter and stately oak-lined avenues by the chance to snag beads and baubles from seemingly endless parades in the final unfettered party before the somber season of Lent.

The French Quarter was full of costumed revelers. Wearing a bright orange wig, a purple mask and green shoes, New Orleans resident Charlotte Hamrick walked along Canal Street to meet friends.

"I'll be in the French Quarter all day," Hamrick said. "I don't even go to the parades. I love to take pictures of all the costumes and just be with my friends. It's so fun."

Brittany Davies of Denver was struggling through the early morning hours. Still feeling from the effects of heavy drinking the night before, her friends had her out again early Tuesday.

"They're torturing me," Davies joked. "But I'll be OK after a bloody Mary."

At the Superdome, the predominantly African-American Zulu krewe loaded their floats with their signature decorated coconuts, a parade crowd favorite. Most were in the traditional black-face makeup and afro wigs krewe members have sported for decades.

Meanwhile in the Garden District, clarinetist Pete Fountain prepared to lead his Half-Fast Walking Club on its annual march down St. Charles Avenue, the traditional start of the daylong series of parades.

After Zulu, the parade of Rex, king of Carnival, would make the trek down the avenue and to the city's business district, with hundreds of thousands of people pleading for beads and doubloons.

Fountain, 82, gave a "thumbs up" to start off and his band launched into "When The Saints Come Marching In" as they rounded the corner onto St. Charles Avenue shortly after 7 a.m. It was the 52nd time that Fountain's group has paraded for Mardi Gras. This year, the group wore bright yellow suits and matching pork pie hats for its theme, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."

Along St. Charles, groups of people, many in costumes, breakfasted as children played in the street. Small marching groups were already on the move. The Skeleton Krewe, 25 people dressed in black skeleton outfits, were on their way to the St. Louis Cathedral.

Tom White, 46, clad in a pink tu-tu, bicycled down the avenue with his wife, Allison, on their way to the French Quarter. "I'm the pink fairy this year," said White. Allison White was not in costume. "He's disgraced the family enough," she said of her husband.

But Tom White was in the spirit of the day. "Costuming is the real fun of Mardi Gras. I'm not too creative but when you weigh 200 pounds and put on a tu-tu people still take your picture."

Members of Pete Fountain's Half Fast Marching Club parade through the streets of New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.
AP Photo/Bill Haber

The stakeout for prime spots along the Mardi Gras parade route started Monday, with legions of Carnival die-hards jockeying for the best places to vie for beads thrown from floats on Fat Tuesday.

Stephanie Chapman and her family had set up in their usual spot on the St. Charles streetcar tracks. They'd arrive at 4 a.m. on Tuesday and would be staying for the duration. "This is a beautiful day and we'll be here until it's over. It won't rain on my parade, But if it does I won't pay any attention," she said.