By MARY FOSTER
updated 2 hours, 11 minutes ago
NEW ORLEANS - Mardi Gras — New Orleans pre-Lenten celebration that ranges from family picnics along parade routes to X-rated flesh-fests on Bourbon Street — went into its final hours with high sprits, mild temperatures and glitzy parades.
Thousands, many already in costume, got an early start Monday on the banks of the Mississippi River for the annual Lundi Gras celebration, which featured music, food booths and a cool, sunny day. New Orleans musicians Charmaine Neville, Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band performed.
Later the king and queen of Zulu, the traditional black parade, and Rex, the king of Carnival, arrived at Woldenberg Park to officially kick off Mardi Gras.
"I just keep calling my friends at work and telling them what they're missing," said Bud Weaver, 31, of Philadelphia. "It's 40 degrees colder there and none of them had beer for breakfast."
Tuesday was predicted to be sunny, with temperatures close to 70.
Eric Leilengay, a beer distributor for the bars on Bourbon Street, said he'd been busy for the last two weeks.
"We've delivered more beer the last couple of weeks than we ever have" Leilengay said. "The bigger bars along here, they're getting 100, 200 cases at a time."
A crew would be on standby in case another delivery was needed Tuesday morning, he said, but if it wasn't early the chances of getting through the French Quarter crowds would be slim.
Tuesday's parades were to kick off at 8 a.m. with the Zulu krewe, followed by Rex and hundreds of truck floats.
Big crowds over the weekend and nearly full hotels bode well for a busy Mardi Gras, tourism officials said.
Mary Beth Romig, a convention and visitors bureau spokeswoman, said officials were cautiously optimistic, given the slumping national economy.
While there have been no official estimates on visitors yet, huge crowds have gathered downtown and along parade routes leading up to Tuesday, a state holiday.
Although there was a shooting after Friday's parades, for the most part events had been peaceful, said New Orleans police spokesman Bob Young.
"Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and not making trouble for anyone else," Young said.
Mardi Gras officially ends at midnight Tuesday. Police, followed by street sweepers, move down Bourbon Street announcing the event is officially over and Lent has begun.
In heavily Catholic New Orleans, many of the revelers will be in church Wednesday to have ashes daubed on their foreheads as they begin 40 days of prayer, penitence and self-denial leading up to Easter.