By Nick Fortuna
If you love a good parade but don’t feel like traveling all the way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, then you’re in luck. The Pensacola Mardi Gras Grand Parade is this Saturday, Feb. 22, and it’s followed Monday by the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse’s Lundi Gras Parade in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
The vibe at this year’s Pensacola Mardi Gras Grand Parade will be even more celebratory than usual thanks to the presence of the University of West Florida football team, which beat Minnesota State in December to win the NCAA Division II national championship. Shortly after the win, it was announced that the team would serve as grand marshal of the biggest annual event in the school’s hometown.
The parade’s opening ceremony will start just after 1:45 p.m., but college football fans will want to get there earlier. At 11:30 a.m., the players, coaching staff, school president, mayor and other guests will have a lunch and meet-and-greet with the public on the plaza of the Studer Community Institute, located at the corner of Spring and Garden streets. The team will be recognized for its accomplishments, and players will sign free commemorative posters for fans and take pictures with them until 1:30 p.m.
The Grand Parade starts at 2 p.m., rain or shine. New this year will be the Second Line Processional of Royalty, made up of Pensacola’s best krewes (social organizations that hold balls and put on parades), making its way up the parade route to the starting point and the UWF meet-and-greet. This traditional walking and dancing march is a chance for the community to see Pensacola’s krewe royalty up close before they join their whole krewes and floats for the parade.
This year’s Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade will be among the largest ever, with more than 210 floats entered and approximately 6,000 people participating. More than 60 krewes and their royalty are expected to participate in the Second Line Processional of Royalty.
“Every year, we are pleasantly surprised by the growth of Pensacola’s Mardi Gras krewes,” said Danny Zimmern, president of Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc. “The 2020 celebration now includes over 85 krewes that have had balls, fundraisers and other gatherings and community events, all culminating with their participation in the biggest day for all of Pensacola.”
More than 100 volunteers help organize the Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade, which was first held in 1874. This is the 19th year for organizer Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc.
The theme for the Lundi Gras Parade is “Mutiny in the Bay,” and the parade of more than 95 colorful and festive golf carts begins at 5 p.m. Monday.
“This year’s Lundi Gras Parade will be even more eventful than last year, as we have fully transitioned from a carnival-themed krewe to a full-fledged pirate-themed krewe, more suitable for all of our community events throughout the year,” said Ginny Cabell, a board member for the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse. “Instead of a king and queen, like in past years, we have changed to Captain Longbeard (Albert Ghergich), Lady Claiborne (Noel Allen Lizana) and their honor guard riding on our newly remodeled pirate float with exciting new features, which we will unveil at the parade. It’s a must-see float for sure.”
There will be awards for the best-decorated cart, the best interpretation of the parade theme, the best men’s costume and the best women’s costume. All costumes and decorations must be family friendly.
Beginning at 2 p.m., the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse will provide food at a tailgate party at the Bay St. Louis Depot, and visitors must bring their own beverages. Attendees are encouraged to wear pirate- or Mardi Gras-themed attire.