NEW ORLEANS- The streets of the French Quarter came alive Saturday night as Krewe du Vieux kicked off the city's first major carnival parade of the season.
The satirical, sometimes naughty parade is known for its handmade floats, brass bands, and wild costumes.
"The Krewe du Vieux really represents so much about New Orleans," said Don Marshall, King of Krewe du Vieux 2011 and founder of the parade which began 25 years ago. "The creativity, the spirit, the music, the culture and everything."
And tourism officials are optimistic that this year's Mardi Gras season could be draw some of the biggest crowds yet.
"So you guys party for like a whole month, we just get the 4th of July parade back home, so I'm loving it," said Dan Woke, a visitor from Maryland. "New Orleans is awesome, I love it here. It's my first time here, first time in the South."
And this is just the beginning. Thousands of people are expected to flock to New Orleans over the next few weeks to celebrate. And with this year's late Mardi Gras coinciding with Spring Break, tourism officials are expecting bigger-than-usual crowds.
"From all the signs we've seen so far, Mardi Gras 2011 is going to be fantastic. We're seeing very strong demand, most of our hotels are already sold out for Mardi Gras weekend," said Kelly Schulz, vice-president of communications for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The CVB estimates Mardi Gras has a $145 million annual economic impact. And it's hoping at least a million visitors and locals take part in the Fat Tuesday festivities. A number of tourists are already enjoying the carnival celebrations.
"It's a once in a lifetime thing, it's quite fun to come," said Amelia Smith, a visitor from London who watched the Krewe du Vieux roll.
And with hands full of beads, and lots of other throws, parade-goers say, Krewe du Vieux's kick off for carnival is just a glimpse of what's to come.
"Krewe du Vieux nailed it!" said Lauren Pettingill, a long-time local parade goer.