Carnival here has definitely lost some of what it once was, at least in the eyes of out-of-towners. First and foremost, at least in my family, that's what Mardi Gras was always about...family. It was the one time aside from Christmas and Easter when the whole family got together. Most of the men in my family have ridden, and in some of the more illustrious parades (myself included) and its definitely a spectacle that should be on everyone's bucket list but a little asterisk to add to that bucket list is that for the real Mardi Gras experience you need to venture away from the Quarter and downtown.
A vivid recollection of mine is a guy I met online once told me he'd never go back to New Orleans because the "whole city smelled like piss". I instantly knew that he'd never left the French Quarter during his stay (or he'd peed himself and never realized it)