Giant figures adorn Mardi Gras floats – photo © New Orleans CVB/Jeff Anding

The event: New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is the daddy of America’s carnivals and around one million people take to the streets over the final two weeks of Carnival to experience its world-famous parades and parties.

When: Parades start on February 4 this year, with the culmination on Fat Tuesday, February 21.

What happens: Dubbed the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”, the 2012 Crescent City Carnival season features 57 parades in the greater metro area, more than 1,000 floats and 100,000 participants. Join the crowds in Downtown to grab multi-coloured beads and doubloons tossed by riders on the carnival krewes’ decorated floats as they pass by, then down Mardi Gras mojitos in the bars.

Do it: Trek America is incorporating Mardi Gras into its 21-day Southerner tour for the first time this year. Departing on February 15, it also takes in Washington DC, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and an overnight cowboy camp, and costs from £1,779 with flights. Leger Holidays combines Mardi Gras with visits to Nashville, Memphis and Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion and birthplace at Tupelo on an 11-day tour, from £1,249 with flights.,

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