NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Despite threatening skies, the Mardi Gras party carried on as thousands of costumed revelers cheered glitzy floats with make-believe monarchs in an all-out bash before Lent. In the French Quarter, as usual, Fat Tuesday played out with all its flesh and raunchiness.
Crowds were a little smaller than recent years, perhaps influenced by the forecast of rain. Still, parades went off as scheduled even as a fog settled over the riverfront and downtown areas.
Police, who had to deal with massive waves of visitors- first for Super Bowl and then for Mardi Gras- reported no major problems other than Saturday night when four people were shot on Bourbon Street. A suspect has been arrested.
There was a heavy police presence in the tourist-filled Quarter, where crowds began to swell in the early afternoon and would be bursting at the seams by the time police on horseback declared the party over at midnight.
The family side of Mardi Gras unfolded along stately St. Charles Avenue, where some groups camped out overnight to stake out prime spots for parade-viewing. A brief rain shower as the final float in the Krewe of Rex parade passed by didn't dampen the enthusiasm there.
Cliff Kenwood and his wife, Jennie, of New Orleans, brought their two children- 8-year-old Ivy and 6-year-old Jack- to the festivities. Each was dressed as a skeleton and Cliff Kenwood wore a banner around his hat referencing the recent publishing changes to the city's newspaper- The Times-Picayune.
The costumes poked fun at the paper's decision to cut back from a daily publishing schedule to three days a week. "We're black, white and dead all over," Jennie Kenwood said laughing.
She said their family kept their subscription even though they thought about canceling. "We can't do it to them. We don't want them to die," she said.
Rain or shine, it was a last chance to soak in some fun during the Carnival season, which ends with the start of Lent on Wednesday.
The Krewe of Zulu led the festivities from city neighborhoods to the business district, followed by the parade of Rex, King of Carnival, and hundreds of truck floats decorated by families and social groups.
In the French Quarter, many revelers had drinks in hand before sunrise. Some donned tutus, beads and boas. Some hadn't been to bed since Monday's Lundi Gras celebrations.
"We'll be in the French Quarter all day," said Bobbie Meir, of Gretna, La., with feathers in her hair and fingernails painted purple. "The sights today are jaw-dropping. It's a ton of fun and the best party in the world. Nobody does Mardi Gras like we do."
On Bourbon Street, women wore bustiers, fishnet stockings, bikini bottoms and little else. Some flashed flesh to attract the attention of people throwing beads from balconies.
"We're a flock of peacocks," said Laura Komarek, a recent New Orleans transplant from Minneapolis who moved to the Big Easy for a teaching job. Komarek and a group of friends walked Bourbon Street wearing leotards and large colorful feathers on their bottoms.
Sipping a hand-grenade, one of Bourbon Street's signature cocktails, Komarek said this was her first Mardi Gras.
"This is a totally different experience than any other event I've ever been to in my life. I'm so happy, having a blast with my friends without a care in the world."
The costumes were plentiful. Many revelers were clad in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras- purple, green and gold. There were cows, bees, pirates and jesters. One reveler rode through the French Quarter on a bike dressed in a U.S. Postal Service jersey adorned with syringes, referencing the doping scandal for the famed cyclist.
Among the revelers wearing plastic breasts and buttocks over their clothes was Mardi Gras first-timer Phil Weipert, of South Lyon, Mich.
"This is one big awesome party," said Weipert, who also had on a purple boa and matching hat with a gold crown. "I'm going to have to give up parades for Lent. I was going to give up booze but I'm definitely going to have to give up parades. I've been to like nine of them and I'm hooked."
Parading started at dawn, led by 82-year-old clarinetist Pete Fountain and his Half Fast Walking Club. Fountain and his group were clad in garish red suits and feathered hats.
"This is my life," he said, referring to his 63rd parade with the group he founded. "We're going to make it before it rains."
Mardi Gras also took on a Super Bowl flavor.
Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl stars Jacoby Jones and Ed Reed, both Louisiana natives, were aboard a Zulu float. Reed was wearing a traditional Zulu grass skirt.
Nearby, three men identifying themselves as the "Superdome lighting crew" dressed in jump suits with home-made patches reading "Entergy" and name tags saying Larry, Shemp and Curly, a nod to the comedy troupe The Three Stooges.
Peter Menge, 41, of New Orleans, said the power company was an easy target for lampooning after the 34-minute blackout during the Super Bowl. "The power just goes out here a lot," he said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu led the Zulu parade on horseback in a black shirt and jeans, flanked by mounted police officers.
At Gallier Hall, the old City Hall, Landrieu went to the bleachers to toast the Zulu and Rex monarchs, dancing to the music with others in the stands, including Archbishop Gregory Aymond, clad in his traditional clerical uniform adorned with strands of Mardi Gras beads.
For some, Mardi Gras had an even more special significance.
Kristina Goodner, 30, and Ben Goodner, 45, of Los Angeles watched the parades outside a St. Charles Avenue bed-and-breakfast. The Goodners got married at Disneyland, where Ben Goodner works, but the wedding had a New Orleans theme, including a zydeco band, a second line dance and a king cake. They decided to turn a previously planned family vacation to New Orleans into their honeymoon.
"It's been fantastic," she said. "Aside from the drunk college kids, everyone here is so welcoming."
Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.
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