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The 108th celebration of Mardi Gras! Galveston is February 22-March 5.
The 108th celebration of Mardi Gras! Galveston is February 22-March 5.
Photo by Kim Christensen

Mardi Gras! Galveston, Home of Beads, Balcony Parties and Tricked Out Floats

France's monarchy may have ended with the imprisonment and subsequent beheading of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, but their decadent legacy lives on through the kings and queens of Mardi Gras, parades and floats, parties and balls, eating and drinking a bit too much, and lots and lots of beads.

It's a fair system and even plebeians can ascend to the throne if lucky enough to find the tiny baby in their slice of sugary king cake. Glory comes to the newly-anointed: ruler for the night or year, prosperity, and the honors of hosting next year's party or buying the next cake.

The 108th celebration of Mardi Gras! Galveston begins February 22 and — the more you immerse yourself in the festivities, floats and krewes — the more fun you'll have, even if you live in Houston.

Z Krewe is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Meet this year's royalty: Ashlynn Baldwin, Queen Zanie XXV, and Kirby Reed, King Zanie XXV.
Z Krewe is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Meet this year's royalty: Ashlynn Baldwin, Queen Zanie XXV, and Kirby Reed, King Zanie XXV.
Photo by Alexander Doong photography

Z Krewe

"It was just a group of friends that started the krewe in 1994," says Kristi Castanie, Z Krewe president for 2017-2019. "They wanted to establish a krewe where anybody can join and anybody can be royalty. My husband and I, when we joined, we didn’t know a soul. We just happened to buy a balcony ticket for this party, went and had a blast, and they asked if we wanted to joined the krewe. We have been full members ever since; now I’m the president.

"This year’s royalty are Ashlynn Baldwin and Kirby Reed, both new members," says Castanie. "Ashlynn is actually our first legazy — everything in our krewe is 'Z' — and her parents are members of the krewe. You don’t have to be a member of a fraternal organization or a sorority."

The Z Krewe is hosting four of those gateway parties, or Zestivals, this year. The first is member only and Zestival 4 is already sold out, but it's worth it to try to get in to Zestival 3 or 4. It's a fairly new location for Z Krewe, in the Jockusch Building, and their balcony wraps around both The Strand and 21st, offering great views of the live music stage, the parades and the crowds. The Z Krewe only throws the quality, 33-inch beads ("we don't allow rice beads to be thrown from our balcony"), and beads are available for purchase at the counter.

Access to the Zestival includes hearty snacks all day long (think hamburgers, hot dogs and nachos), a fully open bar, catering for dinner, and either a DJ or band. Perhaps best of all is actual plumbing for when nature calls. "In the women's restroom we have three stalls, two sinks, and all of the employees of Yaga's clean the restroom; it's never dirty," adds Castanie,

Zestivals 2 and 3 are scheduled for February 23 and March 1 at noon to midnight Saturday and 6 p.m. to midnight Friday at the Jockusch Building, 2025 Strand, Galveston. For information, visit mardigrasgalveston.com/parties. $100 to $140.

Adam Socie, aka, PilotFx, was racing against the clock to finish the new double-decker float, the Thalasar III.
Adam Socie, aka, PilotFx, was racing against the clock to finish the new double-decker float, the Thalasar III.
Photo by Jim Cunningham

Krewe of Thalasar

The big excitement this year for the Krewe of Thalasar is that they're putting the finishing touches on a new double-decker float. In the past, this krewe has kept membership attainable and fees low by working on the float themselves, but this year they're partnering with Texas aerosol artist Adam Socie, aka, PilotFx, who is known for his colorful murals.

The top level will look like an old sailing ship with a wood grain look and portals, while the lower deck features a hammerhead shark, a sea turtle, and other underwater creatures. Plus the krewe's original float, which already contains a nice purple and green diamond pattern against a yellow background and is covered by a gradient banner, is getting a glittery makeover for this year's parades.

The Thalasar IV is about to get a glittery touch-up.
The Thalasar IV is about to get a glittery touch-up.
Photo by Felicity Dodson

"We can fit about 50 on the double deck and we can fit about 45 on the single deck," says Felicity Dodson, past president of the Krewe of Thalasar. "There’s a fully-functional self-contained plumbing system, like a porta-potty system; the [double-deck] float has both a men’s and ladies' room.

Dodson says theirs was one of the first floats to have the party music vibe with electronics and speakers, beginning in the late '90s or early oughts."We run generators and wire the full speaker system up for the full parade and of course we have lights for the night parades."

During the year the krewe, which was founded in 1986 by former Aggies and A&M staffers but now is open to all, has a strong focus devoted to charities, as well as social events that include a pub crawl, tubing in New Braunfels and the annual ball.

"Our theme this year is “Rise of the 80s” and we will have decorations and music to fit the theme. Our party has the best balcony in The Strand, facing Saengerfest Park at 23rd and Strand," says Dodson, adding that the public is invited and tickets include full buffet dinner, drinks and entertainment.

"Rise of the 80s" ball is scheduled for February 22 from 8 p.m. to midnight at The Trumpet Building, 2217 Strand, Galveston. For information, visit eventbrite.com/e/2019-krewe-of-thalasar-80s-mardi-gras-ball-tickets-53354060431. $105.54.

Mardi Gras! Galveston

Mardi Gras! Galveston is scheduled for February 22 through March 5 in Galveston. For information, about tickets, parades, balcony parties, entertainment, parking, hotel packages and local dining, visit mardigrasgalveston.com.

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