NEW ORLEANS - Krewes across the city are gearing up to kick off the first major parade weekend of Carnival. The parades are rolling a week early to make way for the Super Bowl next Sunday.
But for many of the krewes rolling this weekend, that's creating some logistical nightmares and financial headaches.
Among the 11 krewes affected are Cleopatra and Choctaw, which normally parade on the West Bank but are rolling on the East Bank for the first time in history this year because of logistical issues associated with the Super Bowl.
“[City officials] figure if we come over to the East Bank, they wouldn't have to be splitting police up during Super Bowl season,” said Dolores Kepner, captain of Cleopatra. “That was good for New Orleans, that was good for all of us.”
But not everyone agrees. Leaders in the Krewe of Choctaw say membership dropped drastically this year because of the early roll and route change.
“They do need to recognize that it created not only huge headaches and logistical nightmares, but some actual, real, hard-cost expenses,” said Scott Brennan, Krewe of Choctaw board member. “Tens of thousands easily is probably what we've personally seen [as far as] impact between lost membership dues and extra expenses, easily tens of thousands.”
The early roll also meant a major time crunch for receiving imported throws, especially because of delays from a dock strike in California last month.
Cleopatra opted to spend thousands of dollars to overnight throws and vital costume pieces.
“We had to fly things in from China and we had to overnight everything from New York so that was quite expensive, but as I say, you have to do what you have to do,” said Kepner.
Most krewes received their throws at the last minute.
“Our signature logo bead is a streetcar float with a Choctaw logo on it,” said Brannon. “It came in yesterday, so we were sweating that, it's been in customs, in the docks, loaded down.”
Rolling early has also created a logistical nightmare when it comes to loading floats.
Since Choctaw and Cleopatra are rolling on the East Bank instead of the West Bank this year, they are not loading in their usual parking lot. Instead they parked in the only space they could find -- a dark alley near the river in the Lower Garden District.
“Normally we've got a large parking lot that is well lit, easy to secure and monitor,” said Brannon. “Now we're staging in an area like this. It's difficult.”
Still, Kepner said that Cleopatra’s membership actually increased this year. She attributes it to excitement on the East Bank surrounding another female night krewe, and said the krewe is still deciding whether it will return to the West Bank next year.
Meanwhile, Choctaw said it is already looking forward to it’s return to it’s regular West Bank route next year.
But, in the true Carnival spirit, the krewes say it's all worth it to parade in New Orleans.
Last time New Orleans hosted a Super Bowl in 2002, the NFL compensated krewes that rolled early. City officials say, that's because 9/11 prompted a last-minute change in date for the Super Bowl.
This time, they say, krewes had a one-year notice that they would roll early.
“Nobody prepares better than the city of New Orleans. We're the envy of cities around the world in the way that we can present large events,” said Scott Hutcheson, the mayor’s adviser for cultural economy.
Hutcheson sits in on the mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Committee, which consists of krewe captains, and said he had not heard any complaints about the early roll.
But krewe captains said the 11 parading groups rolling early collectively wrote a letter to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city council members in the fall, asking for a meeting regarding the logistical hardships of rolling early and the possibility of compensation.
Krewe of Pontchartrain Captain Sam Scandaliato said the city has not responded. “Everybody else gets compensation for everything else they do, but the Mardi Gras clubs, who bring a lot of money into the city, they ignore us, and we're back year after year after year,” said Scandaliato.
Meanwhile, a spokesman said the NFL said it is not considering reimbursing those krewes rolling early this year because the Super Bowl date has been scheduled since 2009.