<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22310955@N02/5472050187/">Mardi Gras World - 2011</a> by
If you're not in town for the real thing, here's a fun (and family-friendly) backstage look at the history and artistry of Carnival. The massive 400,000-square-foot complex, just upriver from the New Orleans Convention Center, has an enhanced guided tour through a maze of video presentations, decorative sculptures, and favorite megafloats from Mardi Gras parades such as Bacchus, Rex, and Endymion. A gift shop offers souvenirs like masks, beads, and Mardi Gras posters, as well as tickets for the tour, during which participants can sample king cake and coffee and see artists at work on papier-mâché and fiberglass floats. For special events, visitors enter through a plantation alley that is part Cajun swamp-shack village, part antebellum Disneyworld (Kern was a friend of, and inspired by, Walt Disney). Hour-long tours begin on the half hour.