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Think going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year is out of the question? Think again. This year's celebration, Feb. 18-28, will be the best one yet, with more energy, spirit and emotion than ever -- and some of the most over-the-top costumes and masks.

New Orleans is a city that loves a party, and this year its residents need one like never before. Gras starts a season of death and resurrection and the symbolism and timing of this is not lost on New Orleans locals. This will be a Mardi Gras for the ages.

For people who have never been to the annual celebration, this is the year to go. And for those who have gone before or make it a tradition, they won't be disappointed. Below is a list of tips for when you get to New Orleans for this year's Mardi Gras (for less than a plane ticket in years' past if you book now!) and other facts:

  • The New Orleans You Know and Love. The regions where tourists are likely to stay like the French Quarter and the Garden District/Uptown (and where most of the Mardi Gras festivities take place) made it through Hurricane Katrina with little or no damage. If you've been to these areas before, you won't see much of a physical difference. (I do suggest visiting the places that were hit hard, however, to see firsthand the devastation this beloved city and its people have endured.)
  • Most Hot Spots Are Alive and Well. Almost every popular restaurant in the city, from favorite institutions like Galatoire's and Arnaud's, to Bacco, Palace Cafe, Upperline, Brigsen's, Dick & Jenny's, Bayona, Cafe Du Monde, Central Grocery, Mother's and more in the French Quarter/Uptown, are open again.
  • Some Need a Little More Time. The biggest name that remains closed is Commander's Palace, however, it should be open again in a few months. Other places like Mr. B's Bistro, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse and Marisol are still undergoing repairs but should also be open again soon. Institutions from harder hit areas like Mid-City, such as Liuzza's and Mandina's, are still either renovating or figuring out their next steps.
  • Best Dining Experience. Because staff is short, many of the chefs are spending more time than ever in the kitchen, so you've got their full attention right now. Restaurants are delighted to be back in business and grateful for their visitors. All of this means that this food-oriented city is producing higher-than-usual quality cuisine, so you will have an exceptional culinary experience at the city's eateries. Take advantage of this and make your reservations early!
  • Tight Quarters. Many hotels will be booked with relief and construction workers, so if you're in a bind, call Bed and Breakfast Inc. (tel. 800/729-4640; www.historiclodging.com) for alternate places to stay. Visitors should also consider hotels in Metairie. While it may be a little far from the action, Metairie may have more available hotel rooms.
  • Patience. While most restaurants and hotels are open for business, keep in mind they are short-staffed. So while service will be the best it can be, because of the lack of resources, guests may have to wait longer than usual for services like room service and housekeeping.
  • Royal Treatment. Tourism is New Orleans' number-one industry so you'll feel more welcome than ever. The locals will really appreciate the economic boost.
  • The Big Day. Costumes can only be seen on Mardi Gras, which is Feb 28 -- Fat Tuesday. Though there are slightly fewer parades scheduled for this year, those that are taking place will be spectacles. Herczog says to expect the most innovative, satirical and intricately constructed costumes that are spectacles in themselves and will reflect all the resilience of the creative locals.
  • Pack Your Mask. Everyone is invited to dress up and the better your costume, the better the beads you will get. But don't be intimidated or embarrassed by such artistic competition -- simply wearing a "dollar-store" mask makes you a participant, not just an observer, and your fun quotient will rise accordingly.
  • Don't Overdo It. Most importantly, emergency services are very backed up at this point due to shortage of staff and open hospitals. So while New Orleans wants tourists and visitors, if you're in poor health, this may not be the best year to go. And while there's never a good time to party too much, this is definitely not the year to do it.

Are you heading to NOLA for Mardi Gras? Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Louisiana Message Boards today.