Big parade weekend kicks off in Nola

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The big weekend was set to kick off Thursday night with the Muses parade and its celebrity rider, Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges. Bridges, who ended segregation in New Orleans public schools in 1960 by enrolling at a previously all-white elementary school at age 6, was to ride aboard the krewe’s signature float, a brightly lit red high-heeled shoe.

On Monday, actor Gary Sinise and New Orleans musicians Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Harry Connick Jr. will ride in the Krewe of Orpheus parade. Joining them will be Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Mariska Hargitay, the Imagination Movers family-friendly rock band, and Animal Planet’s Tillman, the skateboarding bulldog.

Carnival season culminates Tuesday with the pageantry of the Rex and Zulu parades and as many as 1 million people reveling in the streets.

The celebration follows Super Bowl weekend, with sold-out hotels, some 150,000 visitors and $432 million in economic impact, said Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hotels are near capacity for this weekend, “but there’s still some availability,” Schulz said. “The hotels aren’t as booked as they were for Super Bowl, but they’re very full, so that’s a good sign that it’s going to be a very successful Mardi Gras.”

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