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Rex Duke®, the world's first and foremost Mardi Gras parade critic, holds court as the Carnival season gets underway.

Hail, fellow revelers! With Fat Tuesday fast upon us, there is not a moment to waste. An early Carnival season both brings the excitement of parades faster, but on the other hand, we have less time to savor the anticipation. Shortly a new season's worth of beautiful floats, outrageous satire, glorious marching bands, mounted riders, flickering flambeaux and a host of special guests will march under the stately oaks of St. Charles Avenue and fill the grand avenues of surrounding locales. And there will be a bounty of shiny doubloons, strands of pearls, blinky beads, stuffed toys, cups and all the memorabilia that can bear a krewe insignia. Mardi Gras always unites young and old, tradition and new inspiration. This year, mighty Endymion returns to its Mid-City route. On the West Bank, krewes have juggled the schedule a bit, moving Choctaw up to the first weekend and on an altered route. And more krewes have returned from Katrina-imposed hiatus. Younger krewes have much to celebrate, like Nemesis, which honors LSU's national championship as it marches with the team's cheerleaders and mascot.

My loyal scribes at Gambit Weekly have helped me compile maps, lists of royals, previews of themes and throws. Now I, Rex Duke®, the world's foremost Mardi Gras parade critic, unveil my annual preview of Carnival. I'll return after the final float has unloaded its riders at their ball to deliver a recap of the best and worst of Mardi Gras 2008.

Now, let the parades begin!

Friday, January 25

Oshun 6 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: Once Upon a Time
Floats: 15
King Shango: Robert Norris
Queen Oshun: Kim Gibson
Throws: Logo medallion beads, signature cups and doubloons

The Krewe of Oshun kicks off the Carnival parade season on St. Charles Avenue by delving into the wonderful world of children's stories with the theme 'Once Upon a Time." Young and old parade goers alike will recognize familiar faces on floats like 'Cat in the Hat," 'Humpty Dumpy" and 'Charlotte's Web."

Cleopatra 6:30 P.M.
Location: West Bank
Theme: Cleopatra Presents Bits and Pieces of the Past
Floats: 20
Queen: Danielle W. Champagne
Throws: Queen's cups, key-chains, shoe-and-purse necklaces, logo balls and frisbees

The all-female crew of Cleopatra commemorates 35 years with a tribute to its past. Each float represents one of Cleopatra's previous themes, such as 'Queens and Enchantresses," 'Whirl of Pearls," 'I could have danced all night," 'I'll see you in my dreams" and 'Girls Just Wanna have fun." Look for key-chains and girly shoe-and-purse necklace throws so you can have your own bits and pieces to keep as mementos.

Pygmalion 6:45 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: Heroes of Fact and Fiction
Floats: 16
King: Jake Romano
Queen: Linda Patin
Throws: Fibreoptic beads, aluminum doubloons, cups, medallion beads

Pygmalion honors heroes from Superman to the Heroes of Katrina, including police and firefighters of New Orleans. Look for a maid whose collar bears the NOPD and New Orleans Fire Department's logos. Real-life heroines include Susan B. Anthony. The young krewe promises an inspiring night along the parade route.

Excalibur 7 P.M.
Location: Metairie
Theme: A Knight in the Castle
Floats: 20
King: Samuel T. Alcus
Queen: Wanda Voss
Throws: Stuffed plush castles, foil banners, visors

Excalibur takes us on a tour of famed castles around the world, from Disney World's Cinderella Castle to England's Windsor Castle to Russia's Kremlin. Lucky parade-goers can even take home newly designed stuffed plush castles, or a host of other medieval-themed throws. The krewe sports the largest plumed collars of any parade organization. The local band Bag of Donuts ride as guest Grand Marshals.

Atlas 7:30 P.M.
Location: Metairie
Theme: Hollywood Movies
Floats: 13
King: n/a
Queen: n/a
Throws: Signature cups and beads

Atlas is ready to bear the weight of the world again. The krewe returns to the streets after a couple of years of cancelled parades. The heavens will be lit by the theme 'Hollywood Movies." Each float will take on a classic like 'South Pacific," 'Hair" and 'Grease."

Saturday, January 26

Choctaw 11:30 A.M.
Location: West Bank
Theme: Worldly Travels
Floats: 20
Chief: Frank Ruiz Jr.
Princess: Jina Hughes Ellingburg
Throws: Choctaw plush spears, beads with Choctaw emblem, footballs

Choctaw's 'Worldly travels" includes some local attractions, with floats representing the streetcar and a South Louisianan shrimp boat. The procession also will offer enticing glimpses of travel destinations from Mexico to Ireland. The krewe's royals are the Chief and Princess as well as this year's Medicine Man, Trey Elfer. The krewe throws signature plush spears and other icons of Native American heritage.

Adonis Noon
Location: West Bank
Theme: Adonis Celebrates 10 Screaming years
Floats: 14
King: Oscar 'Buddy" Blank
Queen: Emily Ann Bourg
Throws: Adonis vinyl dolls and emblem cups, special doubloons

The members of Adonis, named for a conspicuously attractive Greek, defy their love of beauty by marking the krewe's 10th anniversary in the grips of horrors and frights. Floats will be headed by the 'Creature from the Black Lagoon," 'Vampire" and 'Werewolf." The krewe expects to have a frightfully good time on its new route and parade time slot.

Pontchartrain 1 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: Throw Me Something, Mister!
Floats: 14
King: Dan Arthur Smetherman
Queen: Kristy Michelle Bowen
Throws: Frisbees, footballs in Saints black and gold, Tulane's olive green and blue, LSU's purple and gold colors

Brush up on your parade krewes and schedule before heading to the Pontchartrain procession. Each float will represent another krewe, referencing it by its parade date. The organization's 22-ounce cup lists 2008 parades and dates. Pontchartrain sponsors a high school marching band contest judged on the 4100 block of St. Charles Avenue, and the U.S. Marine Corps Band will play the national anthem at Gallier Hall.

Shangri-La 2 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: The Many Travels of Shangri-La
King: Capt. Cory F. Heitmeier
Queen: Paula G. Ponamsky
Floats: 17
Throws: Anniversary krewe beads, footballs, plush dragons, lantern beads and the Sexy Lady Bead

On its 35th anniversary, Shangri-la aspires to party around the world. Floats include 'Carnival in Venice," 'Mexican Fiesta" and 'A Day at the Circus." WWL-TV's Angela Hill is the krewe's guest grand marshal. The parade's many Asian-themed signature floats are complemented by medallion beads with Chinese characters and Asian icons.

Caesar 6 P.M.
Location: Metairie
Theme: Caesar's Dream Destinations
Floats: 29
King: Joseph Dempsey
Queen: Jessica Devon
Throws: Lighted fibreoptic Caesar beads, plush stuffed dogs

The mighty Caesar conquered far and wide, but this parade will take his followers to new lands. Some of the Dream Destinations include Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies and Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Each float has its own themed souvenir bead. Caesar's signature float carries a fibreoptic-lit seven-headed hydra, and the krewe is known for the exquisitely lit headdresses of royals. Pack your bags and hail Caesar.

Sparta 6 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: In 3/4 Time
Floats: 18
King: secret
Queen: Ms. Shayna Lynn Beevers
Throws: Lighted medallion beads, Spartan plush Trojan horses, Sparta mystery throw

The Knights of Sparta never miss a beat. They parade 'In 3/4 Time" in salute to popular dances like 'The Vatican Waltz," the 'Starlight Serenade Waltz" and the 'Emperor's Waltz." Regardless of the conventional wisdom about Greeks bearing gifts, everyone will want to take home this year's stuffed plush Trojan horse.

Pegasus 6:45 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: From to Sea to Shining Sea
Floats: 15
King: Robert D. Higgins
Queen: Kim Norris Muller
Throws: Polystone medallions, red, white, and blue plush horses

'From Sea to Shining Sea" and from Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue to Tchopitoulas and Julia streets, Pegasus takes wing. Its 51st anniversary procession bears tribute to historical figures from explorer Christopher Columbus to great Americans like George Washington.

Sunday, January 27

Alla 11:30 A.M.
Location: West Bank
Theme: Alla's Out of This world
Floats: 34
Maharajah: Michael Leman
Maharanee: Allison Crosby
Throws: Plush spears, long plush roses, rubber light-up UFO's

Alla aims for universal appeal this year, but floats 'The Bodysnatchers," 'Creatures of Mars" and 'Giant Robots" aren't the only reasons that Alla's out of this world. For the first time in Mardi Gras history, two brothers will have ruled back-to-back as Maharajah. The also krewe introduces a new signature float honoring first responders.

Carrollton Noon
Location: Uptown
Theme: Name That Tune
Floats: 24
King: Ralph Jules Romaguera Sr.
Queen: Katherine Dileo
Throws: 3-D medallion beads and cups

The onetime neighborhood-based Krewe of Carrollton will be on the tip of your tongue with 'Name That Tune." Floats are named for a variety of popular songs like 'Jingle Bell Rock," 'I Just Can't Wait to be King" and 'Proud to be an American." Keeping with a neighborhood feel, signature thows include the 'Carrollton Street" tile beads.

King Arthur 1:15 P.M.
Location: Uptown
Theme: New Orleans Loves a Parade
Floats: 20
King: Patrick Clementine
Queen: Sherry Watters
Throws: Magician dolls, queen and king bobbing heads, special beads, doubloons in 15 different colors

Normally the Knights of the Round Table make this krewe's world go around, but this year parades themselves do it. This year's theme celebrates a host of popular parades, from St. Joseph's to St. Patrick's Day. In another local twist, the krewe introduces a signature Streetcar float this year. Merlin dolls and other krewe memorabilia reflect Arthurian legend.

Nemesis 2 P.M.
Location: Chalmette
Theme: n/a
Floats: 22
Royal Knight: Anthony A. Fernandez
Goddess of Nemesis: Audrey Hutto Scivicque
Throws: T-shirts, medallion beads, spears, footballs, cups

LSU cheerleaders and Mike the Tiger mascot will join the Knights of Nemesis for a championship celebration. Catch a Nemesis football to commemorate the Mardi Gras when LSU was national champion. The determined young krewe stages its third parade.

Rhea 2 P.M.
Location: Metairie
Theme: Déja Vu
Floats: 20
King: Vincent Catania III
Queen: Patsy DeSoto Catania
Throws: Frisbees, umbrellas, medallion beads, court cups, captain's cup

Follow the bouncing ball as Rhea treats fans to a celebration of sports. Each float echoes themes of Rhea's past floats such as LSU-themed 'Geaux Tigers," the Saints- themed 'Bless You Boys" and a tribute to 'All that Jazz and the New Orleans Zephyrs" featuring mascots Boudreaux and Clotile. The special captain's cup is a nostalgia piece displaying his picture from a 1977 Rhea Parade.

Centurions 5:30 P.M.
Location: Metairie
Theme: No Biz Like Show Biz
Floats: 21
King: William R. Cox Jr.
Queen: Amy Michelle Cox
Throws: Foam centurion swords, light-up beads, Centurion doubloons and cups, coozies

There's a lot of funny things happening on the way to the forum. These Romans will be singing show tunes in this year's parade, 'No Biz Like Show Biz." Classic productions include 'Phantom of the Opera," 'Peter Pan" and 'Miss Saigon." Students from the Magnolia School will be riding on the 'Grease" float.

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