My knowledge about Mardi Gras was limited to knowing the approximate date (sometime in February), that people on floats throw beads at the crowds, and that it's rowdy. Today we would visit a warehouse where the floats are built and also where past creations are stored.
Kern Studios is a family-owned business that built its first Mardi Gras float on the back of a mule-drawn garbage wagon in 1932. Today they build floats costing thousands of dollars for the many "krewes", the social groups who band together to host Mardi Gras balls, and fund and ride on the floats. Mardi Gras World is one of several warehouses where they build and store floats, and it's the one you can tour to see how the magic is made. The day we visited was cloudy and gray, a perfect time to be indoors.
The guided tour was actually quite short, but after that you could stay and take photos as long as you wanted. The guide pointed out parts of past floats, or even whole floats, and talked about which krewe used them and what year. Not information I was going to remember long.
We also saw pieces that were already being built for next year's parade, only 319 days away. They reuse as many items as they can, so a statue of King Kong may someday resurface as The Little Mermaid. Most of the large pieces are built from styrofoam and/or papier-mâché to be as light as possible.
One interesting tidbit on the tour was Pixie the sculpting robot, a digital fabrication tool. A float designer will create a two-dimensional sketch of a float prop, then turn it into a 3D computer model that Pixie can understand. Then the robot can create the styrofoam sculpture unattended.