Residents know how to have a good time in Lake Charles and southwestern Louisiana.
“We consider ourselves the Festival Capital of Louisiana. We have more than 75 fairs and festivals each year,” said Tico Soto, sales director for the CVB “No matter when you come, something is going on.”
Lake Charles has one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana, outside New Orleans.
“It’s a Louisiana celebration; we sell ours as family friendly,” said Soto. “It starts 12 days after Christmas, with festivals, pageants and balls throughout, although the majority start on the Friday before Fat Tuesday.”
One event that sets the Lake Charles Mardi Gras festivities apart is the Royal Gala on the Monday night before Fat Tuesday, when the captains of the area’s more than 50 krewes model their elaborate costumes for the public.
“Most krewes have private balls,” said Soto. “It’s the only way for the public to see their costumes. It’s basically set up like a catwalk, and they show off their costumes. You can see the elaborate stitch work.”
Groups that can’t make it to Lake Charles during Mardi Gras can still see examples of the glitzy costumes at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in a former school building in the Historic Charpentier District. The museum has the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in Louisiana.
Another major festival occurs in early May when Contraband Days celebrate the legend of pirate Jean Lafitte.
“We kick off the summer with a two-week pirate festival,” said Soto. “Its premise is that Jean Lafitte left contraband throughout southwest Louisiana, and he has come back to find it.”
“We have a local group of buccaneers who take over the city of Lake Charles for two weeks,” said Hartman. “They declare pirate rules.”
There are parades featuring floats resembling pirate ships, with buccaneers throwing out beads and doubloons, similar to at Mardi Gras. There are boat parades, bathtub races, sports tournaments, a carnival and several concerts featuring big-name musicians from country to zydeco.
Among the other festivals in Lake Charles are Louisiana Railroad Days in April, the Downtown at Sundown Concert Series on Fridays in May and June, the Sulphur Heritage Festival in June, the Cajun Music and Food Festival in July and the Great Acadian Awakening in October.
A sure bet
It’s not a roll of the dice about what is the top attraction in Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana. “Our No. 1 attraction is casino gaming,” said Hartman. “We have three casino resorts.”
As Hartman said, all three casinos — the newly renamed L’Auberge Casino Resort (it dropped “du Lac” from its previous name), the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel and Delta Downs Racetrack Casino and Hotel — are resorts that offer a range of activities in addition to slots, poker and roulette.
Visitors can choose from upscale dining and shopping, spas, golf courses, big-name entertainment and horseracing.
The largest casino, the 26-story L’Auberge on Contraband Bayou, has 1,000 hotel rooms and 70,000 square feet of Las Vegas-style gaming, with 70 table games, nearly 1,600 slot machines and a large poker room. It also has an 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course, eight restaurants, a spa, shops, entertainment and swimming pools with a lazy river.
The Isle of Capri has more than 1,800 slots and 50 table games and a 28-table poker room. Accommodations are in the all-suite tower or the remodeled Inn at the Isle. There are four restaurants and headline entertainment.
Delta Downs in nearby Vinton, La., 30 minutes from Lake Charles, combines exciting live thoroughbred and quarter horse racing with gaming in its casino, which has more than 1,600 slots and video machines. The resort also has a hotel, restaurants and entertainment in its Delta Event Center and its Gator Lounge.
Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB