The Krewe of Neptune, which over the years had been relegated to a handful of colorful floats tagged onto the end of the Gulf Coast Carnival parade on Mardi Gras Day, will be making history this year with its own nighttime parade, with weathercaster Jim Cantore as celebrity grand marshal, and with a new parade route.
And after two years of being rained on, members of Neptune feel they're due for a great, history-making parade.
The Neptune parade -- with 50 units, including four marching bands and 17 colorfully lighted floats imported from Kern's Mardi Gras World in New Orleans -- will roll on Saturday, Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, at 5:30 p.m. on a route through downtown Biloxi but turning toward Caillavet Street when it reaches the Saenger Theater.
Captain of Neptune Kenny Beverin expects floatriders to throw a million strands of beads during the parade, which is double the amount Neptune normally allots.
Choosing Cantore, The Weather Channel forecaster who's known for his in-the-storm reports, as grand marshal was a nod to 2015 being the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
"It seemed like a natural fit to bring in the world's most famous weatherman," Neptune President Gerald Everett said. "He was honored and excited. And we've been assured that it's only going to be raining beads that day."
Neptune, Everett said, is looking to launch what could become a popular tradition: a huge nighttime parade on the Saturday before Mardi Gras.
"We've been working on this since last March or April, when we talked to our float builder in New Orleans," Everett said. "He pointed out that the Saturday before New Orleans is just as big as Mardi Gras Day, so we started putting it together with city officials, and looked at the new route, and we've worked on it for months.
"It's hard to say what the size of the crowd will be. We've done all we can do to advertise. Social media is about to kick us off, we've been there so much. We're getting daily emails now from Jackson, New Orleans, Mobile, the North Shore (of Lake Pontchartrain). We feel like we have a family oriented parade where people can come and have a great time.
"And if we have weather like we have today, it wouldn't shock me to see crowds like we used to have on Mardi Gras Day."
The theme of the floats, he added, will play right into the idea of a family oriented Carnival.
"Each one of the parades that Kern does has a theme, and we were able to get the one that salutes theme parks," Everett said, "so you'll see floats representing the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Sea World, Dollywood and theme parks from across the country."
The Saturday evening parade also affords Neptune riders a chance to recuperate, Neptune Captain Beverin said. "With a Saturday parade, they'll also be able to spend Fat Tuesday with their families. And parading on Fat Tuesday, that next day is always a killer."
For Saturday, he said, the advice is "to come early and enjoy the day in downtown Biloxi. All of the bars and restaurants will be open, and some have brought in special entertainment for the day."
See the Neptune route
See the Neptune floats
Released by Vincent Creel, Public Affairs Manager, City of Biloxi