Confessions of...A Mardi Gras Krewe Captain

By Rachel Mosely
February 21, 2012
New Orleans
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> tenthumbs/myBudgetTravel</a>
It's not all beads and booze at New Orleans's biggest bacchanalia. Take it from the leader of one of Mardi Gras's most celebrated floats.

New Orleans is a town that takes its partying seriously. To prep for the signature fete of Mardi Gras, local clubs known as krewes toil year-round planning balls, recruiting celebrity guests, and building massive, intricate floats—think wire frames fashioned into eye-popping shapes like dragons, Roman gods, and castles that are often "animated" by the bigger krewes—for their individual Mardi Gras parades. Native son Sonny Borey, a krewe captain for 19 years, agreed to give us a behind-the-masks tour.



Staging a parade is like putting on a traveling musical

My background is in theater—I have a master's of fine arts in directing. My mom owns a costume store where we sell beads, sequins, rhinestones, pearls—anything you'd need for Mardi Gras. So to me, staging a parade is just like putting on a big, traveling musical, except you're doing two or three of them at the same time. Out in the streets. With thousands of spectators. It does sometimes present a headache or two.


I started the krewe with famous singer Harry Connick Jr.

Harry Connick Jr. and I actually started the Krewe of Orpheus together. I taught him years ago, in speech theater, at Jefferson High School here in the city. Even then, he was fabulous on that piano—an absolute talent from the beginning. And every couple of years, he still comes down and joins the Orpheus parade.


Believe it or not, Mardi Gras is a family holiday

I may have had my share of youthful indiscretions—some things I've seen aren't fit for print in a family publication. But a lot of Mardi Gras's bawdy reputation is hype, and most of the uninhibited are tourists. For locals, Mardi Gras is a family holiday. People set out picnic lunches and barbecue, and their kids dress up in costumes. New Orleanians wouldn't do anything that would embarrass their mothers. This town is too small, and you're never too old to be chastised.


Misbehave and you could get kicked off the krewe

Some of the older, traditional krewes aren't open to public membership. Most still aren't even coed! But the newer krewes, like Orpheus and Bacchus, let anyone of good character join—men and women, all races and creeds. Unfortunately, we have had to deny membership renewals. Anyone who smokes, imbibes too heavily, or even removes their mask during the parade faces expulsion.


You wouldn't believe how expensive it is to be part of a krewe

Parading with a krewe is not cheap, to be honest. Aside from their dues, some members spend around $2,000 for beads and other trimmings. But when you're on that float, you're a rock star! Hundreds of thousands of people are screaming for your attention. Even though you've been up for 18 hours working on the float, you still have the fortitude to go dance at the post-parade ball for another six hours.


Mardi Gras after Katrina surprised us all

The year after Katrina, we weren't sure we were going to have Mardi Gras, but the crowd turned out to be wonderful. Usually, people are out there screaming and scrambling for beads, but that year many just stood with signs, thanking the krewes for carrying on the tradition. We showed the world New Orleans was back.



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Cruise Ports Secrets I Wish I'd Known Before My Last Vacation

If you're planning a cruise, chances are high that you'll be traveling to the Caribbean. According to's annual report, nine of the ten most popular cruise ports in the world are in the Caribbean (or close enough to count). The website's list, which is compiled from cruise quotes requested by potential customers, shows that Alaska is also a perennial favorite for cruisers. Several Inside Passage ports made the cut, with Juneau coming out as the most requested cruise stop in the 50 states. With so many people wanting to go to the same places, you might worry about crowds—but you don't need to. It turns out that even the hottest port has a few places where you can get off the beaten path. Here are some recommendations that will make you feel like you're in the know, before you get off the ship. 19 GORGEOUS PHOTOS OF THE PORTS   #1 Nassau, Bahamas Just 180 miles from Miami, the Bahamas are usually the first or last stop on an eastern Caribbean cruise (even though the archipelago is technically in the Atlantic). People love the islands—there are approximately 700 in all—for first-class snorkeling, casinos and fine dining, and it's top four ports are Nassau, Princess Cays, Great Stirrup Cay and Half Moon Cay, it's the most requested country in the world for cruising, according to CruiseCompete. Two of them made the list for the top ten most visited ports in 2011, including the capital, Nassau, which is a major shopping center. Secret: If you'd rather mingle with locals than join the crowd heading to Senor Frog's, take the Number 10 Jitney to Arawak Cay, where you'll find several stands serving up fried seafood. Go to Goldie's, and order a cold Kalik beer with some conch fritters; if you go to the back porch, sometimes you'll see workers pulling up the conch from the water. #2 Cozumel, Mexico Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula continues to draw sun seekers who want some culture with their cruise, particularly this year when the Mayan calendar predicts the end of days. But there's plenty of room for fun, too. Cozumel, an island off the coast, offers countless snorkeling and water-based activities, as well as gorgeous beaches: Corona ads are often shot here. Secret: Can you stand the heat? If so, the Mayan Steam Lodge/Temazcal experience—a spiritual sauna-like ceremony that includes native rituals—may be for you. Afterward, you'll jump into the property's freshwater cenote (underground spring) to cool off (there are also showers, if you'd prefer to rinse off there). The four-hour excursion costs $80 per person, and includes transportation to and from the ship. #3 Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands If you're on an eastern Caribbean cruise, you'll probably stop in St. Thomas, as it's one of the world's busiest cruise ports. A Mecca for duty-free shopping, the Charlotte Amalie port has plenty of jewelry, perfume, and electronics stores; check prices at a few shops before you buy to ensure the best deal. St. Thomas can also be a good place to unwind on a beach or provide a good jumping-off point for exploring the nearby island St. John, which is quieter and less developed. Secret: While everyone else on your ship heads for the famed Magens Bay beach, pick up some groceries at Crown Bay Marina for a picnic lunch and catch a ferry to Water Island, sometimes considered the fourth Virgin Island. Not only is the sea at the island's palm-lined Honeymoon Beach calm, the cove is quiet—you won't find the shops or tour operators here that you see on other St. Thomas beaches.   #4 Philipsburg, St. Maarten / St. Martin One island, two cultures: With portions settled by the French and the Dutch, the island is one of the smallest to be governed by two countries (don't worry, though, almost everyone speaks English). Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, rivals St. Thomas for duty-free shopping, while the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the French side are filled with  fine and casual restaurants with French flair where you can find dishes like escargot (snails) or bouillabaisse (fish soup). Secret: If you don't want to join the crowds breathing jet fumes at Maho Beach, take a short cab ride to French Cul-de-Sac, where you can catch a ferry to Pinel Island (regular service starts around 9 a.m.). 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If you don't have time to catch a show, pick up a CD for $16 in one of the souvenir shops in George Town. #6 San Juan, Puerto Rico It's hard to escape history in Puerto Rico; its capital, San Juan, dates back to the 16th century. The immense San Felipe del Morro fortress anchors Old San Juan and Ponce de Leon, the island's first governor, is buried at the Cathedral of San Juan. If you venture off into the countryside, you'll find beaches, rain forests and a bioluminescent bay where you can kayak. Secret: Puerto Rico's cuisine is infused with unique Latin flavors that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the Caribbean. Why not spend a few hours learning how to duplicate the recipes at home? Flavors of San Juan teaches you how to make either tapas or Puerto Rican food in two-hour group classes that include a full meal and a recipe book that you can bring home., advanced reservations required, $98 per person for a 2-hour group class   #7 Grand Turk, Turks &amp; Caicos Although technically in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Caribbean, the island chain of Turks &amp; Caicos has the glorious, talcum-powder-soft sand beaches and turquoise skies that make the region famous. While luxury vacationers flock to Providenciales and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Christie Brinkley, and Keith Richards have homes on Parrot Cay, Grand Turk has become the country's main cruising center, with a large terminal and new shops. Secret: If you love stamps (or love someone who does), make a stop at the Philatelic Bureau, located on Church Folly street. 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Visitors often spot seals, whales, and otters nearby.   #9 Roatan, Honduras The Bay Islands, which lie about an hour north of the Honduras mainland, have become a major attraction for cruise ships, which come for the area's colorful fish and clear, warm waters. Roatan has become the center of commercial development for the islands, and you'll find countless opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and interacting with marine life such as grouper, moray eels, turtles, and rays. Secret: Give your tastebuds a charge with a jam and jelly tasting at Marble Hill Farms on the East End of the island. Sample flavors include hibiscus jelly, mutton pepper jelly (made with chili cabro, this one has quite a kick) and island plum jelly made from fruit grown on the property. You'll need to take a taxi to get to The Farm; once you're there, have spiny lobster for lunch at their restaurant, the Crow's Nest.   #10 Princess Cays, Bahamas Eleuthera, one of the Out Islands is the other Bahamas port that made the top ten. Here, you can swim and sunbathe at private beaches and resorts without safety concerns (the U.S. State Department does warn about the possibility of muggings and other crime occurring on New Providence Island, where Nassau is located). Secret: Located on the island of Eleuthera, the private beach resort owned by Princess gives you a glimpse of how laid back life on the Out Islands can be. Most people spend their time on Princess Cays either on the beach or in the water (head to the sand early to corner a lounge chair and bring your snorkel gear to get up close and personal with the colorful corals, fish, and sponges that blanket the ocean floor). 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The 6 Most Inspiring Travel Films of the Year

Some people go to the movies for the story or the characters. We saw The Descendants and started wanderlusting for the next available flight to Hawaii. Here, we nominate six 2011 films in Budget Travel's newly minted category of Most Travel-Inspiring Film. Plus: We've arranged a BT-exclusive Real Deal for each movie to get you going on your very own on-location vacation. SEE PHOTOS OF THE PLACES!   The Descendants HAWAII The dilemma for Honolulu lawyer Matt King (George Clooney): Should he cash in and sell his family's spread of virgin sand, lush mountains, and waterfalls to developers? You'd have a hard time leaving the place too, given that the secret beaches of 3,000-acre Kipu Ranch, where part of the movie was filmed, sit on the south side of Kauai-and are only accessible by private boat. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to Hawaii.   The Way SPAIN When his son dies while hiking the 450-mile Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, Tom (Martin Sheen) looks for solace on the path his son never finished. The Camino, a medieval Christian pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees and through hamlets like Santa Marina de Valdeon, attracts a motley collection of lost souls. By the end of the road, Tom and his companions find comfort in their shared heartbreaks and challenges, and in the boundless landscape they pass along the way. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to the Camino del Santiago.   The Hangover Part II THAILAND What happens in Vegas... gets repeated in Thailand. This sequel finds the bad-luck bunch headed to another wedding, this one at the luxe Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton in tropical Krabi. Naturally, the boys (Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms) stir up their usual party-hardy trouble, including an unfortunate encounter in Bangkok with a group of monks at the Ancient City's Phra Kaew Pavilion. Needless to say, it ends ugly. Fortunately, the scenery never does. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to Bangkok.   War Horse ENGLAND Steven Spielberg's latest is certainly truth in advertising: There's a war (WWI) and a horse (Joey) that goes off to battle, alongside the teenager who owns him (Jeremy Irvine). But the film's emotional touchstone in many ways is the Devon farm where they live. It's idyllic yet stolid, the antithesis of the horrifying battle scenes and the very symbol of what makes war worth the fight. The home is "played" by the 18th-century Ditsworthy Warren House, in South Devon's Dartmoor National Park. Appropriately enough, the British army often leases the house and surrounding moors for military training. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to Devon, England.   Rio RIO DE JANEIRO Rio may be kid-friendly and animated, but it follows all the romantic comedy rules, from the oil-and-water love story between two macaws to the dreamy setting. Of course our fine feathered friends live happily ever after-they've got Rio's twinkling Guanabara Bay, a blossom-filled ride on the Santa Teresa trolley, and all of Carnival playing matchmaker. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to Rio de Janeiro.   Midnight in Paris PARIS When writer Gil (Owen Wilson) wants to get away from it all, he doesn't just mean a vacation. In this Woody Allen comedy, Gil gets transported back to the Paris of the 1920s and its Lost Generation. There's nothing like chilling with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the bracing Gertrude Stein to cure a bad case of writer's block, though the present-day scenes at Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur, and Versailles provide their own kind of moveable feast. Book an exclusive Budget Travel Real Deal to Paris.   SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 21 Girl Trips You Absolutely Love 12 Most Beautiful Lakes in the World To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap Top Travel News of 2011 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage    

How to Eat Your Way Across America!

If you're like us, you consider travel an opportunity to taste. And we're not just talking metaphorically. We're talking about filling your plate with chicken and waffles, downing a bag of freshly fried pierogies, or asking for seconds of BBQ. We're not saying all eating rules are null and void on the road, but, y'know... That's why we put together this east-to-west guide to America's greatest regional treats. From Jersey Shore taffy to Hawaiian chocolate-covered macadamia nuts—with plenty of sweet spots in between—we've mapped out an all-American, binge-worthy tour you can take from the comfort of home. Idaho: Idaho Spud Of the 13 billion pounds of Idaho potatoes grown annually, none are as sweet as these spuds: coconut-flecked dark chocolate surrounding a springy cocoa-flavored marshmallow center. No actual potato here! But like the venerable veg, they're nothing if not versatile. Melt 'em down for fondue or ice cream topping, whip them Bavarian style into a pie, or pop 'em in the freezer for a ice-cream-like treat—or, you know, straight out of the package just like folks in the Gem State have been doing since 1918. Get it: The confection was invented by Boise's Idaho Candy Company, which offers tours of the factory and has a shop onsite.; $4.99 for a pack of six. Hawaii: Chocolate-Covered Macadamia Nuts Honolulu's Ellen Dye Candies was the first to market the chocolate-dipped nuts back in 1927. The “Godiva of the Pacific” sold the company to Mamoru Takitani 33 years later. Under the new tiki banner Hawaiian Host, Takitani perfected the recipe and created a brand as iconic today as the crunchy milk chocolatey spheres are addictive. Descendents of the Dye family got back in the game in 2010 with varieties that include a touch of chili pepper, ginger, and sea salt all hand-dipped in haute chocolate made from locally grown and roasted cacao. Get it: Order online from Waimea Chocolate Company (; from $8 for a six-piece box). Or find more mass-market brands—Hawaiian Host, Mauna Loa—anywhere and everywhere on the islands (around $6 for 14 pieces). California: Turtles It's a story too sweet to be true. Legend has it that back in 1932 Los Angeles, See's Candies chef Louis “Gordy” Hooper wooed Bobbi in the packing department with a surprise gift of soft vanilla caramel and chocolate poured over toasted pecans, inspired by her pet turtles. It took off, and so did the lovebirds, forming their own company up in Oakland and delivering orders on a beat-up Harley Davidson (allegedly a gift/blessing from Mary See herself). The candies have survived, but alas, the meet-cute doesn't have legs. Get it: Turtles went mass market and are sold in drug stores nationwide. For a more local version, See's sells the treats under the name pecan buds at the company's numerous old-timey, black-and-white stores on the West Coast.; $20.40 for a one-pound box. New Mexico: Bizcochito Biscochitos in the north, biscochos in the south—or simply “that cookie grandma makes”—bizcochitos (with a “z”) were christened as America's first official state cookie in 1989. Anise and cinnamon combine with a touch of wine or brandy in these Latin-inflected shortbread crumblies, first introduced by Spaniards to then-Mexico in the 16th century and now a staple at Christmas celebrations as well as quinceañeras and weddings (the traditional diamond shape represents purity). The secret to the flaky melt-in-your-mouthness? Love. And lard. Get it: Golden Crown Panaderia sells classic bizcochitos in their Albuquerque shop and online (; $4 a dozen in store; $16.95 a pound online) Osito's Biscochitos spices things up with a raspberry/habanero version (; $39.99 for a 92-count tin). Wisconsin: Candy Raisins When Necco closed shop in Milwaukee back in 2008, along with local factory jobs went Candy Raisins. The odd little gumdrops had been a local rite of passage since 1930: Yellow-tan with a wrinkly top, the taste was floral, honey-ginger perhaps, a mystery. Also a mystery: the name (there are no raisins in the mix). But, in a lesson for Occupy Sweet Street, devotees rallied, started a website, and inspired 7,000-plus to sign a petition—and it worked. Sort of. Using what is thought to be the last bags in existence, the people behind Osmanium Candy Company reverse-engineered a new version called Candy Sunshine. The fruits of their labor debut in March 2012. Get it: Candy Sunshine will be available at many shops in the Milwaukee area, including Candyman Snack Shop (7259 W. North Avenue; 414/393-7647) and Half Nuts (9617 W Greenfield Ave., West Allis, 414/476-6887). You can also order directly from Osmanium (; $5 for a pack of three bags). Florida: Coconut Patties When it comes to chocolate-covered-coconut, sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Down in Florida, the homespun creamy crunchy coconut squares offer bigger flavor decisions: plain, key lime, orange, mango, almond, or piña colada. Versions of the candy have been enjoyed for decades, but Orlando's family-owned Anastasia Confections took them from the home kitchen to the masses when it started boxing them up as Sunshine State souvenirs in the early '80s. Get it: Brands like Anastasia are found in tourist shops and drug stores (; $5.99 for a nine-piece box). For a fancier, hand-dipped version, try Melbourne's Grimaldi Candies, near the beach (; $10.85 for eight pieces). Virginia: Peanut Brittle Paul Bunyan might have dug the Grand Canyon out west, but down in the south, lumberjack folk hero Tony Beaver made peanut brittle. The legend goes that he stooped a flood by dumping peanuts and molasses into a river, not only averting disaster but also creating a tasty treat. It's one of America's oldest candies, one that soldiers survived on (and popularized) during the Civil War. January 26 was even declared National Peanut Brittle Day. And that's no tall tale. Get it: Forbes Candies—an 80-year-old institution—sells their classic peanut brittle at five shops in Virginia Beach.; $5.99 per pound. New Jersey: Salt Water Taffy From America's archetypal seaside resort comes the quintessential beach treat. Although businessmen like Joseph Fralinger and Enoch James built a boardwalk empire out of the pastel-hued chews, legend has it the first pieces were sold in 1883 after a tidal surge swamped David Bradley's Atlantic City candy shop, soaking his stock of taffy in sea water. Later, when a young girl came in and asked for a bag, he sarcastically told her to help her herself to the “salt water taffy.” You, and your dental fillings, won't be surprised to hear that the name stuck. Get it: Fralinger's Original Taffy and James Candy carry more than 40 flavors of taffy at shops up and down the Atlantic City boardwalk; $5.95 per pound in stores or $8.99 per pound online. Vermont: Maple Sugar Candy From the Algonquin sinzibukwud (“drawn from wood”) to today's Grade A, maple syrup has been a staple since pre-colonial times. The simplicity is refreshing. One ingredient: sugar maple sap. One process: boiling. Keep the boiling going and you get sugar, which is compressed into leaf shapes and enjoyed in all its tooth-aching glory. Maple sugar is actually twice as sweet as regular sugar, so much so that sour dill pickles make a great accompaniment. Trust us! Get it: Family-owned since 1782, Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks sells the candies in the shape of leaves, hearts, and even rabbits (; $8.95 for a 12-piece box). Alas, they don't carry pickles. Pennsylvania: Peanut Chew Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews were the original PowerBar, back when candy was considered a low-cost nutritional supplement (anyone remember Sperry’s Chicken Dinner bar?). The chews were formulated in 1917 for ration boxes, and four years later these gobs of rich molasses and peanuts all slathered in dark chocolate were wrapped up for the general public and sold as Chew-ets. They've been a hit ever since. Get it: The Peanut Chews are easily found at most gas stations and grocers, particularly around Philadelphia, and online.; $24.83 for a 24-count box. Maine: Whoopie Pie Who knew creamy frosting smooshed between two moon-shaped pieces of chocolate cake could engender such controversy. Is it a cookie, a pie, or a cake? Did German immigrants in Maine invent it in 1925? Or did the name instead come from Pennsylvania Amish farmers who would find their rival version in their lunch pail and shout “whoopie!”?  Well, in 2011 the Maine legislature fired the first shot, naming the whoopie pie the Official State Treat. Your move, Pennsylvania. Get it: The treats are found at shops all over the state, but Labadie's Bakery claims to have baked the original back in 1925 (; $26.95 per dozen). Oprah approves of Wicked Whoopies (; $26 per dozen). Tennessee: Goo Goo Cluster Said to be the first-ever combination candy bar, this choco-covered sugar bomb of caramel, marshmallow, and peanuts was once promoted as a “nourishing lunch for a nickel.” That was way back in 1912, and for its centennial Goo Goo Clusters got a makeover. Out with milk chocolate shortcuts (i.e. no more additives and partially hydrogenated oils), in with fluffier nougat, slicker packaging, and real pecan chunks in a Supreme version. Many in Nashville think its name is in deference to the Grand Ole Opry (GOO), but company lore nods towards babes: a candy so good they'll “ask for it from birth!” Get it: The candies are deliciously ubiquitous and can be picked up at Cracker Barrels and Kroger markets throughout Tennessee as well as most tourist shops in Nashville.; $3.95 for a three-pack. Louisiana: Pralines Pralines (praw-LEENS) are to the south what maple candy is to the north, a sweet to celebrate the local plenty. In this case, sugar cane and pecans (puh-CAHNS). French settlers in the 17th century brought over the treat (named for diplomat Caesar du Plessis-Praslin) and soon swapped out the traditional almonds for the local nut. The secret to the deconstructed candy is to combine the milk, cream, sugar, butter, and nuts together in one pot and scoop the mixture onto a marble slab. No secret to sweet-toothed New Orleans locals: Samples are easy to come by. Get it: Swing by Southern Candymakers when you are in New Orleans for handmade pralines and other chocolate treats (; $21.95 for a one-pound box). And yes, they give out samples. Ohio: Buckeyes Thanks to the official state tree, Ohio is known as the Buckeye State, and the famed Ohio State athletics teams battle as the Buckeyes. So it should come as no surprise that the favored regional sweet has the same moniker as the tree's shiny nut. Buckeyes (which, like the nut, are named after their resemblance to the eyes of a white-tailed deer) are a peanut butter mixture dipped into chocolate. Just don't mistake it for the real thing; the latter is toxic (and markedly less delicious). Get it: Visit Schmidt's Fudge Haus in the German Village outside Columbus to see buckeyes being handmade.; $10.99 for a half-pound box. Washington: Aplets &amp; Cotlets An immigrant success story for our taste buds, Aplets &amp; Cotlets were the brainchild of Armenian fruit farmers at Liberty Orchards in Cashmere, Washington. When faced with a surplus in their orchard, they turned to their homeland for inspiration. The result: a new take on Turkish Delight featuring walnuts jellied with apple and apricot (“cot”) juice instead of the traditional rose water. More than 90 years on, the sugar-dusted Confection of the Fairies draws about 80,000 pilgrims a year to the orchard, and once wrangled with the nutty-toffee Almond Roca over official state candy status. The fight ended at an impasse. Get it: Liberty Orchards is where to go for the original creation, as well as varieties like pineapple, cranberry, guava, and rose-pistachio.; $9.50 for 16 pieces.