Mardi Gras parade guides are fine when you're at home, but smartphones have upped the ante for timeliness and ease of use when you're in your third hour of standing on St. Charles Avenue, craning your head over the crowd to see if the first float is finally on the horizon.
The following apps advertise themselves as Mardi Gras guides and Carnival-related activities. All are free.
WWL-TV Eye on Carnival Parade Tracker
WWL's sponsored app comes in two different builds for iPhone and iPad. Both have a chronological list with dates, times and locations of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany Parish parades. Click on any parade and you get a serviceable map showing routes (the map can be balky if you try to zoom in or out). On parade days, a moving red dot will show you where the front of the parade is in real time. There's not much else here except a link to the WWL website (www.wwltv.com) and the station's Mardi Gras Twitter account (@mardigrasparade), which promises parade alerts and the latest information as parade days approach. That's all there is to it, and it's about all you need when you're out on the route. (Disclosure: WWL-TV is the television partner of Gambit.)
WDSU Parade Tracker
Open WDSU's app and you're greeted with the evening's expected low temperature, chance of rain and a list of that day's parades — a nice touch. The maps here zoom much more smoothly than those on WWL's app, and it promises the same real-time GPS tracking, but WDSU is missing a good number of smaller parades that WWL includes (Krewe du Vieux, Chewbacchus and others), and it's made specifically for the iPhone (though it does work on the iPad). There are also some nice timewasters here if a parade breaks down and you're bored on the sidewalk: slideshows, a news section and a "live" tab, which promises live video of all the pageantry once the season really gets going.
Mardi Gras Party & Parade Guide
This guide lists parades first by neighborhood, then by date, so you can get a one-stop look at all the parades in a particular area. But the included maps don't have exact routes (why?), though they do include all the Houma parades, which other apps tend to omit. There are other features, including a rudimentary "Hot Spots" guide to a few bars, restaurants and music clubs, and a social media function where you can log in via Facebook or Twitter, check in at parades and earn "points." The music feature is a great idea, but the execution is lacking — 30-second sound clips, all from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and many that have nothing to do with Carnival ("La Vie En Rose"?).
A very stylish app that looks like the most sophisticated of the bunch — until you notice it hasn't been updated since last year's parades. Sad trombone. Useless.
Children's Mardi Gras Matching Game
Very young children might like this simple Concentration-like matching game. Touch pairs of cards to reveal Carnival icons (jesters, crowns) and try to make matches. There doesn't seem to be a multiplayer option, so it's strictly a solitaire game. Kids who like to play with their parents' iPads might enjoy it for a while, but that's about all there is to it.
Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus
The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus' geek credentials must have led them to create this single parade/krewe app, which in addition to a route map and a krewe history has a list of frequently asked questions, a science fiction multiple choice quiz, a small photo section and a shopping tab where you can buy krewe memberships, throws, T-shirts and more. It's all unslick and charmingly homemade — much like the krewe's parade itself.