Only during Mardi Gras is it perfectly normal to throw things at people, eat sugary cakes and wear clashing colors—purple, which symbolizes justice, green for faith and gold for power. Every year more and more people crowd downtown Palafox, making each Mardi Gras bigger and better than ever.
Watching and developing that growth is Pensacola Mardi Gras, Inc. President Danny Zimmern. He’s participated in Mardi Gras events in Pensacola for that past 25 years. This is his tenth year with Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc.
“It’s really grown,” Zimmern said of Pensacola’s Mardi Gras. “It was pretty much just one weekend and a pub crawl on Fat Tuesday. Now, it’s expanded into a season starting with The Twelfth Night on Jan. 6.”
This year, Palafox will be closed to celebrate Fat Tuesday, Feb. 21—your last chance to indulge before you have to give up your favorite vices for Lent.
Pensacola Mardi Gras, Inc. has seen an increase in applicants signing up for parade festivities with an estimated 5,000 individuals signed up to participate in the grand parade. Six new krewes will also be added to the mix. And the krewes, Zimmern said, are what make the parade.
“It starts with the krewes,” he said. “With the time and energy they put in their floats they are having as much fun or more than everyone.”
But it’s not just good beads and moon pies they’re after. Krewes not only want to be a part of the fun, but they want to do some good for the community.
“It’s a whole lot more than beer, it’s an outlet to have fun and contribute to social change,” Zimmern said of the Mardi Gras krewes.
Artis Hardwick and his Krewe of Blues have the look of a “soul man,” complete with black suits and fedoras. The krewe is only two years old, yet they have done two food drives, given 10,000 diapers to Gulf Coast Kid’s House, served at soup kitchens and delivered food for Appetite 4 Life.
“It’s a lot more fun being a part of a krewe—it’s another family,” Hardwick said. “We do a lot for the community and the fun part comes after, when we celebrate what we’ve done.”
Whitney Fike and her Krewe of Hip Huggers dress in 1960s-era costumes complete with go-go boots and peace signs. They spread peace and love at local nursing homes. Decked out in their outfits, the coordinated members perform a choreographed number.
Kelly Blackwell and the Krewe De Marginaux—a newbie krewe—will be parading down Palafox for the first time this year.
“I truly love this group of people,” Blackwell said. “They are fun, young and young at heart.”
The krewe is still in the deciding stages of what they want to do for the community. They’ve thought about cystic fibrosis, because of a member’s son, which everyone is in support of. Blackwell also points out she’d like to raise money for downtown improvement projects, specifically in the Belmont and Devilliers area.
Even though Blackwell and the rest of the krewe are new to Pensacola Mardi Gras, they already feel like family.
“The camaraderie among friends and family is something that contributes to our lives in so many ways, enriching them and making them full of adventure,” Blackwell said. “You work together as a team during preparations and then you get to celebrate as a team, which is really just another family.”
For Fike, joining a krewe was a no-brainer. Born and raised in Pensacola, she has always been involved with Mardi Gras activities.
“I was raised around King Cakes, beads and all that jazz,” she said.
Pensacola’s Mardi Gras aims to keep a family friendly atmosphere present with each event. This year, Sacred Heart Hospital is sponsoring a family viewing area during the Grand Parade. There will be no alcohol, but there will be bounce houses and a face painter.
Last year, the police estimated about 100,000 people spread out downtown for the Grand Parade. This year should be no different. Zimmern is excited about the growth of Pensacola’s Mardi Gras, especially the big Fat Tuesday.
“We’re going to send Mardi Gras out with a bang,” Zimmern said. “—and then get some rest.”
When the party’s over, be sure to donate your Mardi Gras beads to ARC Gateway. Through Pollak Industries, adults with developmental disabilities will sort and repackage the beads to sell to krewes next year. The revenue helps sustain programs and gives vocational training and job opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities. Drop-off locations can be found on ARC Gateway’s website, arc-gateway.org.
Upcoming Mardi Gras Events
Milton Mardi Gras Parade
Parade route starts at Milton High School, travels south on Stewart Street, east on Berryhill Street and south on Willing Street. The parade will end behind the Santa Rosa County Courthouse. For more information, visit mainstreetmilton.org.
2.17 Krewe of Lafitte Illuminated Parade
The parade will be on Spring Street, between Main and Garden streets. Post-parade party will be at Will Call’s Ready Room.
2.18 Mardi Gras Party at Seville
Celebrate the entire day at Seville Quarter. Start the day with the pre-parade party at 11 a.m. After the parade, head back to Seville for the post-parade dance party in the Phineas Phogg’s room. 130 E. Government St. For more information go to sevillequarter.com or call 434-6211.
2.18 Mardi Gras Street & Dance Party at Sabine Sandbar
From 1 to 5 p.m. get down at Sabine’s dance party with Boogie Inc. From 7 to 11 p.m. enjoy live music by Tim Spencer and Tim Morgan. 715 Pensacola Beach Blvd. For more information visit dalesbigdeck.com.
2.18 Navarre Krewe of Jesters Parade
The Navarre Beach parade will start at 1 p.m. at the intersection of Arkansas and Gulf boulevards and will travel east to the county park at the end of Gulf Boulevard. The Navarre Bridge will close at about 12:30 p.m. The parade’s theme this year is Military Past, Present and Future and is dedicated to Army Pfc. Matthew Colin, a Navarre resident killed in Afghanistan Nov. 16, 2011. For more information, visit navarrekreweofjesters.com.
Pensacola’s Grand Parade
Lineup will start on Spring Street at 10 a.m. and the parade will begin at 2 p.m., rain or shine. South Palafox will close around noon and the entire parade route will close around 1 p.m. The parade is expected to end at 6 p.m., and streets will open shortly after. For more information go to pensacolamardigras.com.
2.18 2nd Annual Pardi Gras
Cryptic Productions and FreQ. Factory will host this event featuring DJs, live painting and local arts and crafts. The event is for ages 18 and up only and tickets are $10 at the door. Presale tickets are available until Feb. 18 for $8. Dolce Vita, 309 S. Reus St. For more information and to purchase tickets visit 2ndannualpardigras.eventbrite.com or call 429-0908.
Mardi Gras at Sandshaker
Head to Sandshaker Lounge & Package to party and enjoy live music by The Mainstream, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. On Fat Tuesday join the Krewe of Wrecks for the Coma Procession. The pub crawl begins at Sandshaker at 6 p.m. and ends at Paradise Bar and Grill, where you can watch the shoebox float competition. 731 Pensacola Beach Blvd. More information at sandshaker.com.
Krewe of Wrecks Parade on Pensacola Beach
The parade begins at 2 p.m., rain or shine, at Via de Luna and Avendia 10 and travels to the Gulfside Pavilion. For more information, visit kreweofwrecks.com.
2.19 Perdido Key Mardi Gras Festival and Cajun Cook-off
The Mardi Gras festival will be held at the Villagio Plaza located at 13700 Perdido Key Dr. There will be live entertainment, vendors and, of course, beads. For $5 you can sample food from the Cajun Cook-off. For more information, visit visitperdido.com.
Krewe of Wrecks’ Red Beans and Rice Luncheon
Join the Krewe of Wrecks on Casino Beach at 11 a.m. The red beans and rice is on the krewe, but you’ll have to buy your own drinks. For more information, visit kreweofwrecks.com.
Palafox will be closed from Garden Street to Government Street, and Government will be closed from Palafox Street to Tarragona Street at 4:30 p.m. The street party will be from 5:30 p.m. to midnight. The king and queen of Mardi Gras will be announced at 6:30 p.m. There will be a live band, DJ and all bars and restaurants will be open. For more information go to pensacolamardigras.com.
Fat Tuesday at Hub Stacey’s
At 6 p.m. head to Hub Stacey’s downtown for the Fat Tuesday Party with Charlie Roberts. 312 E. Government St. For more information visit hubstaceys.com or call 469-1001.