Also open to the public is the NFL Experience, a theme park for football lovers set up at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Jan. 30-Feb. 3. It’s $25 to enter and includes interactive games and a regulation-size goal post where fans can kick field goals. Fans can also visit the NFL Experience’s media area, where player and celebrity interviews are held.
“We opened the area to fans for the first time last year, and the feedback was incredible,” said Mary Pat Augenthaler, the NFL’s director of special events. She said the media area includes “Radio Row” and the NFL Network. “Last year some fans spent hours just in that one section. Not everybody can go to the game, but in here you feel like you’re a part of the central nervous system of the Super Bowl.”
As Super Bowl fans leave town, a new wave of revelers will arrive for Mardi Gras weekend. That’s when some of the city’s largest parade organizations, known as superkrewes, hold their glitzy balls and parades.
Parade groups have been working for months to make this year bigger and better than ever. The Krewe of Endymion is boasting it will have the largest float in city history for its Feb. 9 parade, led by pop singer Kelly Clarkson.
The Bacchus parade and its yet-to-be-named celebrity rider rolls on Feb. 10, and the Orpheus parade rolls on Feb. 11 – the eve of Fat Tuesday known as Lundi Gras – with actor Gary Sinise, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Mariska Hargitay and New Orleans musicians Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Harry Connick Jr.
Visitors who can’t catch the parades in person may opt for a visit to Mardi Gras World, the enormous studio and warehouse where floats are made and stored. Tours include a stop in the prop shop, where artists create and paint float decorations and sculptures.
This year, Mardi Gras World is also the site of a Guinness World Record attempt by New Orleans artist Stephan Wanger to create the world’s largest Mardi Gras bead mosaic. Visitors can help cut and place beads one by one onto a 42-foot-long, 8-foot-tall board etched with the New Orleans skyline.
“It’s something we want hands from all over the world to be a part of,” Wanger said. The first bead was placed in November, and the last will be placed on Feb. 13, the day after Mardi Gras known as Ash Wednesday.
One thing the city won’t be short on is music. Super Bowl weekend kicks off with a gospel concert on Feb. 1 at the UNO Lakefront Arena with performances by Fantasia, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Winans and Bishop Paul S. Morton of New Orleans. Dozens of local acts will be performing throughout the weekend on stages along the Mississippi River and in the French Quarter. On game day, Beyonce will be the half-time performer.
Other local attractions include steamboat cruises – many with live jazz – on the Mississippi, the recently-expanded World War II Museum, Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas and New Orleans Museum of Art by City Park. Just outside the city, options include airboat tours of Louisiana swamps and bayous and plantation home tours.
Foodies can indulge in charbroiled oysters, seafood gumbo, fried softshell crab po-boys and shrimp and grits. The city has 52 more restaurants than it did in 2002 – the last time New Orleans hosted a Super Bowl. Newer restaurants include Susan Spicer’s Mondo and Donald Link’s Cochon. Chef John Besh, who owned two restaurants before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, now owns eight – including Luke, Domenica and Borgne.
But with the two major events bringing thousands of people in, reservations are going fast at old favorites like Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s and Brennan’s.
“We had one party book the entire restaurant for the Friday before Super Bowl, so we have no tables that night,” said Regina Keever, co-owner of Bayona, a Spicer restaurant in the French Quarter.