Ginger Parrill's first thought was to drop her son Jon off with a friend who would take him to the Mardi Gras at the Greenbelt Armory.

Parrill, who recently fell on a patch of ice and sprained her ankle, was concerned about being on crutches and in the company of hundreds of active children.

"I thought about staying home and just letting him go. Then he said to me, 'Oh come on, Mom, it won't be that bad,' " the Riverdale resident said.

Parrill, who was among about 550 people who packed the armory's gymnasium last Saturday for the festivities, was right about the crowds. But she acknowledged after being there that "I'm glad I came."

The indoor carnival, which was followed by a masquerade ball for adults later Saturday, was sponsored by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning offices and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Mark Biggins, facility manager of the Langley Park Community Center, one of the park department's centers, said the carnival and ball were designed to bring residents of northern Prince George's County together and to help beat the winter doldrums. It was the first time that the park department had offered such a winter outing.

"This is new to us, but if it works out we intend to make it an annual event," said Kathy Knowles, facilities director of the Prince George's Plaza Community Center, another park department center.

Biggins said employees were enthusiastic about the events, because the park department offers an array of activities for children in the summer, spring and fall, but not many activities are available during the winter.

Employees of park and planning offices organized the events and volunteered to make decorations and dress up for children.

The 2 1/2-hour Mardi Gras carnival with games, face painting and mini-lessons in Cajun culture attracted crowds of children even before the doors opened at noon.

Kjrsten Keane, 9, and her 5-year-old brother Timmy, of Laurel, were among the first to go in.

"She told me we had to be here 15 minutes early so she could get her face painted," said their mother Darlene Keane as she watched a woman delicately dot paint on one of her daughter's cheeks.

Brothers Tim and Todd Mathers and their cousin Andy Mathers and friend Colin Hourihan were looking at what the Mardi Gras had to offer when they paused to talk about -- what else -- the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. They debated who was their favorite player. "Doug Williams," said one of the boys. "No. Ricky Sanders," said another. "Timmy Smith," another said.

Dorothy White, grandmother of 8-year-old Rashawn White and her cousin Keaunte White, 6, said the Mardi Gras turned out to be more than she expected. "I think what they're doing here is great. They love it," White said with the eager girls tugging on her sleeve.

Four-year-old Katy McCrawley was most impressed with Robin Hirsch, who donned a furry bear costume to greet children.

"What's your name?" Katy yelled at the bear. "What's your name?" she yelled again.

Even 4-year-old Mandi Tresente was impressed with the bear, though not enough to shake hands. "Noooo!" she squealed as her mother Karyn Tresente apologized to the bear.

"She's a little shy," Tresente said.