A gray sky and a constant threat of rain hung over Galveston on Saturday.

For that reason, Cindy Anthony said she was thankful for the Mardi Gras tradition her family started 20 years ago: renting a two-bedroom hotel room at Gaido’s Seaside Inn on Seawall Boulevard.

On Saturday, just an hour before the kickoff of the first parade down Seawall, the room was packed with friends and family members feasting on fried chicken and desserts.

“It had to be 1998 or 1999, we just flat can’t remember,” Cindy Anthony said. “We used to have a flatbed and one year the weather was really bad. We were barbecuing in the rain and we decided ‘That’s it, we have to get a room.’”

For two decades now, that room on the bottom floor of the hotel has been Mardi Gras central for the family. Children have grown up, and some of the frequent celebrants are no longer around to join in. A cake in the room was dedicated to a beloved aunt who always brought sweets to the party.

The tradition is so ingrained that there’s not a lot of preplanning that has to happen to get a good crowd.

“It’s the same Bat-time on the same Bat-channel,” she said.

Seawall Boulevard is typically seen as the center of Mardi Gras on the first weekend of Mardi Gras. Two large parades, put on by the Krewe of Aquarius and the Krewe of Gambrinus, travel down the Gulfside highway before making a turn for the paid-entry downtown district.

The parades draw hundreds of spectators, even on a dreary February day like Saturday, where temperatures stayed in the 50s and rain occasionally fell on the crowds.

Despite the weather, the party was still on along the street, where many people started claiming prime parking spots early Friday morning. Some showed up even earlier and ate the cost of the over-parking tickets the city handed out.

Mark Reagan, a Santa Fe resident, said his group of 60 family members have been setting up on Seawall Boulevard for 10 years.

“It looks a little smaller,” he said about the pre-noon crowd. “But they’ll be here for the parade, and then they’ll disappear.”

His setup included a professional-style grill set up on the back of a trailer, and a row of tents with tables and chairs set up underneath them. Underneath the Mardi Gras beads, some from the party were bundled up in winter coats and hats, and in one case, a full-body insulated camouflage coverall.

They planned to tough out the weather, which way the wind blows.

“We’ve been here years before where it rains,” he said. “You just bring more canopies.”

Farther down the street, Josh Stanford was setting up cooking rabbit and his boudin. From Pearland, and originally from Louisiana, Stanford said his family had started renting a house near the seawall and spending Mardi Gras in Galveston two years ago.

“It’s a good family event, and the kids love the floats and catching the beads,” he said.

There was never a question that his family would avoid Mardi Gras this year, he said.

“We were going to come regardless,” he said. “It’s tradition now.”

Forecasts called for a warmer day today, with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s.

The second weekend of Mardi Gras festivities will begin Friday. Early forecasts for that day from the National Weather Service in League City warned of a possibly rougher time, with thunderstorms possible Friday night and Saturday.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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