Mardi Gras parade honors New Orleans' tricentennial

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- There's a big party going on in New Orleans for Fat Tuesday - it's Mardi Gras time.

The first of thousands of Mardi Gras revelers are heading into New Orleans' streets to cap off the Carnival season with parades and merrymaking.

The 300th anniversary of this Louisiana port city will feature prominently in Fat Tuesday's baudy festivities.

Rex, New Orleans' oldest parading Carnival group, will have 21 floats commemorating the Crescent City's first century.

Rex is one of two major parades rolling Tuesday. The other is Zulu.

The state holiday climaxes a two-week Carnival season, which draws about 1 million visitors and pumps about $840 million into the city's economy, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The family party along the parade routes generally ends after Thursday's parades, but the French Quarter's rowdier Mardi Gras continues until midnight, when a wedge of mounted New Orleans police officers clears the streets.

The parties on Bourbon Street will pick back up early this morning, one last hurrah before Ash Wednesday and the fasting season of Lent.

Mardi Gras is usually one of the busiest nights in the big easy for police.