Michael Caswell Photography

New Orleans Wedding Send-Offs and Second Lines

Weddings in New Orleans and throughout the rest of the country will often conclude with a grand send-off by guests at the end of the reception, which is a wonderful way to end the night. But here in the Crescent City, we have an option that you will be highly unlikely to find anywhere else, your own second line parade through the streets.

Second Line Parades

Second Line Parade to New Orleans Wedding Reception

If you live in this area, you almost certainly know what a second line parade is. And if you've visited from out of town, particularly in the French Quarter on weekends, you have most likely witnessed a few of these. While "second line" has a specific traditional and historic definition stemming from unofficial marchers who would follow behind a Mardi Gras krewe's parade, the term has come to be more broadly used to include parades for weddings and other special occasions. The parade essentially consists of the newly married couple and all their guests being led through the streets with a brass band. While sometimes the brass band is at the very front of the procession, my preference is to have the couple first, then the band, followed by the guests. Having the couple at the front of the parade, with the band behind them, makes for much better photographs.

I've photographed hundreds of second line parades at weddings, and they never get old! I love the excitement of the newly married couple as they revel in the energy of the cheering crowds along the streets and balconies of the French Quarter, and the guests have a great time as well. Visitors lining the streets will stop and pull out their phones to capture pictures and video of the parade as it passes, undoubtedly sending these to friends and family to show how they just learned how awesome weddings in New Orleans are!

And by no means is it necessary that you have a huge guest count to have a second line. While I've done many with hundreds of guests in attendance, I've also done them with only a dozen or two, and they all had a fabulous time regardless.

Sometimes the parade is scheduled to take place in between the ceremony and reception. If both are taking place in the same venue and are utilizing the same space, this can serve as a perfect way to give the staff time to turn the space around and prepare it for the reception with the least amount of disruption and inconvenience to your guests. If the reception is at a different location (but still within walking distance), there's no better way than a second line to get everyone there!
In some cases, the ceremony and reception venues are too far away to feasibly do a second line between the two. In that case, if the couple really wants to do a parade, the solution is to second line from the ceremony to a pickup point several blocks away, where buses are waiting to transport everyone to the reception site. This is usually the case if the ceremony took place in the French Quarter, such as at St. Louis Cathedral or Jackson Square, but the reception is elsewhere in the city. But in other instances, it's the opposite, with a ceremony somewhere else, but the reception is in the French Quarter or Warehouse District. For those weddings, you can arrange for transportation to bring everyone to a drop-off point within walking distance of the venue, and start the second line there.
The parade can also take place at the end of the reception. Of course, in New Orleans, this doesn't necessarily mean the end of the night, as usually the second line simply moves the party from the reception venue to one of the Vieux Carré's many well-known bars, where the after-party continues through to the wee hours of the morning.

One issue to be aware of is that as of 2018 the NOPD will no longer issue second line parade permits for parades starting after 10:30pm. The goal is to have all parades finished by 11:00pm, reducing disruption to residents of the French Quarter (it's easy to forget that the Vieux Carré is actually a neighborhood, with many people calling it home!). If your reception is ending prior to 10:30pm, this will likely not affect you, but for receptions ending later, and you want to have a second line parade, you'll have to move it up to be after the ceremony. There are some other permit changes that were announced at the same time, which may affect a post-ceremony second line, specifically restrictions on allowing parades on certain major streets during afternoon rush hour.

Whether your parade is set for after the ceremony or after the reception, there are a few logistical items that need to be taken care of. Most importantly, after deciding the time, destination, and desired basic route for your parade, you need to obtain a permit from the New Orleans Police Department and arrange for the police escorts, as unauthorized parades will be halted by law enforcement officers. You'll likely want umbrellas (possibly decorated), and personalized hankies for the guests to wave around. And you'll need to pick your musicians, which is certainly something you don't want to skimp on. The Pin-Stripe, Kinfolk, and Algiers Brass Bands are just a few of my favorites.
These arrangements are relatively easy to make, and any good New Orleans wedding planner will know how to handle this. If you don't have a wedding planner, some venue coordinators can also assist you with this process.
And don't forget to accommodate any elderly family members who might night be able to walk this distance. In the past, transportation in the form of a taxi or mini-bus would be utilized, but in recent years, pedi-cabs have become commonplace in the French Quarter and are ideal for this purpose, with the open-air nature of these bikes allowing these guests to feel like they are participating in the festivities more than they would if they were inside an enclosed vehicle.


There are a wide variety of elements that can be used for guests to give the couple a grand departure at the end of the reception. Some are more challenging or more easy to execute, and in some cases there are venue restrictions that influence the decision as well.

In most cases, a send-off and a second line parade at the end of the wedding are mutually exclusive because of the characteristics of each. However, if you really want both, the best way to do this is to split them up. Usually this means having the second line right after the ceremony, and the grand departure at the end of the night, though I did have one recent wedding that did the opposite, having sparklers right after the ceremony, with a brief horse-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter, and then at the end of the night a second line.


Sparkler Send Off at Marigny Opera House Wedding

Sparklers are undoubtedly the most common send-off method, and for good reason... they look great! But they are also the most difficult to coordinate. Imagine the guests lining up and being handed sparklers in a situation where no one is truly in charge. Without instructions, a few of them might start to light theirs, which causes everyone to think it's time to light them. Meanwhile, the couple are still inside the venue, preparing to leave, gathering their belongings, saying a few last goodbyes, perhaps grabbing a last drink. A few minutes elapse, and when the couple emerges, all the sparklers have burned out already, leaving the guests only holding little metal sticks.

For this reason, it is essential to have someone (or maybe a few people, if it's a larger group of guests) who can take charge and make sure this does not happen. An experienced wedding coordinator is without question an extremely valuable asset to have on hand for this, as they've done many of these departures before, and can make sure that no premature lighting occurs. And when it is go-time, they can get the sparklers lit in the quickest and most efficient manner. Venue staff can sometimes help with this if you don't have a wedding planner, but don't assume this to be the case. Lastly, if you have a particularly assertive friend or relative, they can be assigned this task.

The best way to rapidly light a large number of sparklers is to assign several people (again, planners, venue staff, or a few hand-picked guests) the task of moving down the line with a lighter and lighting maybe one out of four of the guests' sparklers, instructing the other guests to light their sparklers from the ones that have already been lit. Because that effectively multiplies the number of lighters working on the task, and because sparklers seem to light considerably quicker from other sparklers (vs. from the regular flame of a lighter), that will get them all lit in the shortest time possible.


Bubbles Send-Off at Palmettos on the Bayou Wedding

Some venues, especially historic French Quarter buildings, do not allow sparklers near them out of fear of a fire being started, or because of liability insurance restrictions. So bubbles are often the next choice. But even if sparklers are permitted, don't automatically rule out bubbles, as they look great too, photograph well, and are substantially easier to coordinate, since it does not matter if some of the guests happen to start blowing bubbles a few minutes before you are ready to depart (there is usually ample bubble liquid in the vials). I've also had some couples set up bubble machines during these send-offs, to supplement the guest-blown bubbles.

Birdseed, Flower Petals, Confetti

Confetti Wedding Send-Off

These tossable items are another great choice if the venue allows it. My favorite part about this kind of send-off is that it usually ends up being quite chaotic and energetic. As the couple is running through the lineup of guests, they are being inundated with these things being thrown by guests, and there's almost always a groomsman or two who makes it their personal mission to dump a huge double-handful of this stuff onto the fleeing couple. While this may not (or may!) sound like the most enjoyable way to end your wedding, rest assured that it makes for GREAT memorable photographs!

Streamer Sticks and Glowsticks

Wedding Reception at The Greystone in Mandeville

Some venues don't want any throwable material used for send-offs, due to the debris left behind. In these cases, consider a streamer stick send-off. Glowsticks are another great option if it's a nighttime wedding. These can provide a fun, safe, and mess-free way for your guests to see you off at the end of your reception!

Cold Spark Machines

Cold Spark Send Off at Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans

I've had several weddings the past few years use these machines for the send-off, which are typically available for hire through wedding DJs. This type of send-off involves have a pre-planned spot, where the machines (typically two or four of them) are set up, and the couple stops at the designated spot while the operator remotely actuates the machines. They will produce a shower of sparks for 10 seconds or so (though the operator for the above pictured couple ran them for 20-30 seconds, which was appreciated as it gave me a lot of time to capture numerous great images).

These sparks are safe and pose no fire risk, which is always a concern for weddings in the French Quarter... I've even had some couples use these indoors on the sides of the dance floor for a grand entrance into the reception!

In another variation of this kind of send-off, one of my weddings incorporated cold sparks into their second line parade. Rather than have the sparks go off at the beginning, they instead headed out into the French Quarter for the second line, and then when they circled back past the venue, they paused there for the sparks, and then continued on to the destination of the parade.

The Getaway Vehicle

In the case of French Quarter weddings in New Orleans, more often than not there is no limo awaiting the newlyweds after the send-off, as the couple's hotel is usually nearby (if it's not the actual wedding venue). Sometimes couples choose to simply depart on foot, especially if the reception is at the hotel where they are staying. Otherwise, arranging for a horse-drawn carriage to be waiting outside the venue is a popular choice. I can't think of a more romantic way to cap off a wedding reception than a carriage ride through the French Quarter!

For events taking place in other parts of town, the couple will typically depart by limousine, or their own vehicle. In cases of the latter, sometimes their friends will take the opportunity to play a little prank on the newly married couple. This can be as harmless as the traditional tin cans tied to the back of the car or writing funny and/or congratulatory messages all over the windows, or it can be, well, perhaps not quite so harmless.

Such was the case with a wedding years ago at the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in City Park. A few of the groomsmen, tasked with moving the groom's car into position at the entrance of the venue at the end of the night for the couple to make their escape, came up with the idea of filling up the air conditioning vents in the car with baby powder, and then (with the car off) setting the fan switch on high so that as soon as the car was started the next time, a huge cloud of baby powder would spew out of the vents. And that's exactly what happened! He never could get all of the powder out of the car, and ended selling it (fortunately, it was an older car, probably about ready for replacement anyway).

For a more recent wedding, a friend of the couple was kind enough to lend them the use of his gorgeously restored Bel-Air for their send off from the ceremony and transportation to the reception.

But perhaps my favorite departure vehicle story of all time was for a Baton Rouge wedding. This particular bride's comical distaste for El Caminos (that funky looking car/truck/station-wagon vehicle associated with the 1970s) had been an ongoing joke between her and her father for many years, and when he was tasked with arranging post-reception transportation, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. The problem is, you can't exactly just call a limo company and ask them to send an El Camino. So he got creative, and simply drove up and down the streets of various neighborhoods until he found one parked outside a home, and offered the owner some cash to be the couple's chauffeur at the end of the wedding night. The look of amusement on the bride's face when she came out and saw that thing parked in front of the venue was priceless!