Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando: Family-Friendly Fun

Lisa Fritscher February 1, 2015 No Comments



Mardi Gras Parade

Universal’s Mardi Gras parade floats were custom-built by New Orleans’ famous Blaine Kern family.

Universal Orlando is well known for its thrills and chills, especially the frighteningly intense Halloween Horror Nights. Yet the two gated theme parks are packed with opportunities for families to have fun together. For parades, bands, food and fun, check out Universal’s version of Mardi Gras, held every spring inside Universal Studios.


What Is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras is many things to many people, depending on where they are located and what their particular interests happen to be. Officially, Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday, and the last hurrah before the solemn season of Lent begins. The season surrounding Mardi Gras is more properly titled Carnival season, but modern day usage makes the terms interchangeable, with Fat Tuesday often known as Mardi Gras Day.

The undisputed epicenter of Mardi Gras in the United States is New Orleans, though Mobile, Alabama’s celebrations actually began first. Outside of a few select cities, however, Mardi Gras is not generally celebrated across the U.S. The holiday is not officially recognized in Florida, but Universal Orlando mounts a several-month party that is well worth a visit.


About Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando
Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando began as a small celebration during the 1990s. Over the course of a few nights, guests could experience Louisiana-style music, watch parades and eat Cajun food. Even in the early days, however, the attention to detail was mind-blowing. In New Orleans, one family has been responsible for the majority of the Mardi Gras parade floats since 1947. Universal contracted with those float creators, the Blaine Kern family, to rent and transport authentic floats each year for its celebration. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, many floats were destroyed. Blaine Kern family members traveled to Orlando to design and build custom floats specifically for Universal Orlando.

Concert Stage

The concerts are included with park admission and are held on a well-equipped permanent stage.

Today, Universal’s Mardi Gras has expanded dramatically. The event runs on select nights from mid-February through the first week of June. Each night features a concert by a major performing artist in genres ranging from country to hip hop to rock and roll. The concerts are held on the large stage near the Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster inside Universal Studios, and open-admission viewing is in a massive plaza that replaced the former prop boneyard.

In the French Quarter Courtyard, located near Battery Park in the New York area, food vendors provide a vast array of traditional New Orleans foods from po’boys to beignets, and even traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. Local New Orleans bands show off their skills on a small, intimate stage, playing such traditional sounds as blues and zydeco.

Of course, the highlight is the parade, which winds its way through the majority of the park. Towering floats, riders clothed in colorful costumes, and even stilt walkers recreate the fun and excitement of an authentic New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. And just like in New Orleans, expect the beads and doubloons to fly freely! Try giving the traditional shout, “Throw me something, mister!”


Tips for Parents
All Mardi Gras events and activities are included with your regular Universal Studios admission. Expect reasonably large crowds, as the festivities draw quite a few locals. However, the crowds are usually much smaller than those at Christmas and other peak travel times, and everyone is generally laid back and having fun.

The French Quarter Courtyard opens at 4 p.m., while the parade steps off around dusk. The concert is held after the parade. Note that there is little seating along the parade route and none at all in the concert viewing plaza. If you don’t mind not actually seeing the band, benches are available just outside the plaza and throughout Battery Park, and it is easy to hear the music. Chairs, even foldable camping chairs, are not allowed inside the park.

Mardi Gras Parade Float

The Mardi Gras parade travels through the majority of Universal Studios, providing great viewing in several areas.

If your kids have enough stamina, it is entirely possible to tour the parks during the day and then focus on the Mardi Gras festivities at night. However, many families prefer to break up their experience, arriving for Mardi Gras in the late afternoon and touring the parks on a different day.

If you happen to have annual passes, you can sign up to ride on the floats. You must submit your request by noon on Friday one week prior to the day you would like to ride. Visit the annual pass holder section of the Universal Orlando website for details. Note that all children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult when riding on a float.

Keep in mind that the parade floats are large, moving pieces of machinery. Keep your kids off the barricades and well back from the parade route. Also keep in mind that while the crowd is generally relaxed, some people get overexcited about catching beads. For the best results, follow the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade rules: If something lands on the ground, put your foot on it to claim it. Do not bend over to get it until the moment has passed, or you risk having your hand stepped on. If you and someone else catch opposite ends of a string of beads, the one with the larger section gets it—of course, it is always better to let it go if the other person becomes agitated or upset. Being hit in the head by a flying strand of beads hurts, but at least the Universal Orlando float riders throw one string at a time. Being hit by a flying bag of beads hurts significantly worse, and is not an uncommon experience in New Orleans!

If you want an up-close view of the concert, position yourself along the portion of the parade route closest to the stage. As soon as the parade ends, make your way directly to the viewing plaza without stopping. Room is often available toward the sides of the stage even when the center section is packed. If you anticipate that you or your kids will need to use the restroom or water fountains, head to the right when facing the stage. Restrooms and fountains are located just across the street.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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