EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published in February of 2020 and then underwent extensive updates and editing in January of 2022 to remain current and relevant.
Since 1995, Universal Orlando Resort has been bringing the fun and flavors of the Big Easy’s Mardi Gras celebration to the streets of Universal Studios Florida. For select nights from February to April, you can catch an outrageous and colorful parade (my favorite part of the event), enjoy live entertainment and concerts, indulge in food and drinks from around the world, and catch a whole lot of beads. It’s the cherry on top to a day of thrills and excitement in the theme parks! Authenticity is the name of the game as Universal’s event stays true to the traditional roots of the New Orleans street party so many know and love. However, there are a few unique Universal twists too.
There’s a ton to see and do during Universal’s Mardi Gras, along with different ways to experience the event. Luckily, you have plenty of opportunities to do it all. Whether you’re a local planning multiple nights of Mardi Gras festivities or looking to get the most out of your vacation with us, check out this guide on everything you need to know about Universal’s Mardi Gras to help plan your visit.
THINGS TO DO
Just like New Orlean’s famed Mardi Gras parade, we have a spectacular parade that hits the streets of Universal Studios in the evening, with colorful parade floats, even more colorful performers (one word — GLITTER!), and of course, beads!
Our parade floats are designed and built in partnership with Kern Studios, the same team that creates the parade floats up in New Orleans. Every year, there’s a new theme developed for the floats along with the iconic floats, like King Gator. Each one has a unique costume designed for the bead throwers and a batch of beads colored to match the look and feel of the float.
You have two ways to experience the parade: 1) as a Bead Catcher and 2) as a Bead Thrower. Both are equally as fun as the other and depend on what you would like to do for the night.
Being a Bead Catcher allows you more time to enjoy the French Quarter Courtyard and rides in the park, while also being able to grab a good spot for the concert.
Being a Bead Thrower means you get to ride on the float (!!), and it requires day guests to sign up for limited spots via the Virtual Line on The Official Universal Orlando Resort App. If selected, you have to check-in before the parade — and, yes, it can take time to get back over to the concert area when the parade is over. However, there’s nothing quite like tossing beads at a mass of people cheering to get your attention — it’s SO MUCH FUN and allows for you to be a part of the action.
My recommendation? Both! Come one night and catch. Come another night and throw.
- Best places to watch (and catch beads!): I’m a fan of watching the parade in the Hollywood section as you can see it when it first starts and also when it’s coming back around to the end. Another favorite spot is in the New York area, right past Finnegan’s Bar & Grill. There’s more space to move around and catch beads and you get to see a couple of great confetti pops.
One of the big differences that allows our Mardi Gras event to stand out is the live concert that takes place select nights on the Music Plaza Stage. We bring in some of the biggest names in music, with a diverse lineup every year of pop, rock, country, latin, and more. It’s an awesome way to close out your day in the parks.
- Arrive early: I recommend getting there around 2-3 hours before the concert starts, to claim a spot up near the front. The lawn area fills up fast. For certain artists, there will even be a queue you can jump in before it opens for guests. Check with a Team Member in-park for details on the day of the concert.
- Mobile order: So, you’ve got your spot up front, but your stomach is starting to rumble. We’ve got you covered. You can order food to be delivered to you using The Official Universal Orlando Resort App. Pizza fries, anyone?
French Quarter Courtyard Entertainment
Before the live concerts take place on the main stage, head over to the French Quarter Courtyard in the New York area of Universal Studios for even more live entertainment. You can enjoy live music from real Louisiana jazz and zydeco bands as you stroll the food and drink tents. Or drop a dance move and snap a picture with the incredibly talented, fun, and glittery Mardi Gras performers.
- For the French Quarter Courtyard festivities, I recommend arriving early to snag a park bench or table to enjoy the music and food. This area can get a bit crowded at night when it gets closer to parade time!
Mardi Gras Tribute Store
A new experience has come to Mardi Gras! The Tribute Store is more than your typical gift shop — it will transport you through the Mardi Gras experience, while also offering themed merchandise to buy like beads, masks, T-shirts… All the requirements for a great Mardi Gras! There are photo ops throughout the store and the level of detail with the props and characters are perfect for Insta. You can find the Tribute Store across from the French Quarter Courtyard.
One of the great things about Mardi Gras is that the rides and attractions throughout Universal Studios are open during the event, too. All of your favorites like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D, and more. Make sure to check your park map and the Universal Orlando Resort Mobile App for ride times. And with all the Mardi Gras festivities, this typically allows for shorter wait times.
- One of my favorite things to do is ride Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit while one of the concerts is playing down on the Music Plaza Stage. Not only is the ride AWESOME at night, but it’s pretty cool to see the concert crowd down below with the music blasting.
After Party in CityWalk
If you don’t want the party to stop after the park closes, head over into Universal CityWalk. There are themed Mardi Gras food and drink options that you can try, like a Mardi Gras themed Voodoo Doughnut. Toothsome (chocolate paradise) and Pat O’Brien’s (dueling piano bar) also offer exclusive foods and beverages for the event.
WHAT TO EAT
French Quarter Courtyard
We’ve already talked about the entertainment in the French Quarter Courtyard, now let’s chat FOOD! In the Courtyard, you’ll find all of the mouth-watering bites and sips for the event with rows of tents and bars. You can find the classic Cajun dishes like jambalaya and gumbo, and other unique creations our Food & Beverage team has developed. You can also find festive signature drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
My Top Recommendations:
- Jambalaya — I always look forward to the event’s jambalaya! In 2022, Chicken and Andouille Sausage is on the menu.
- Beignets — A classic must-have! You can’t go wrong with these little fried treats dusted with powdered sugar.
THINGS TO KNOW
No Extra Cost to Party!
The greatest and most important thing to know about Universal’s Mardi Gras? It’s included with your park admission or Annual Pass* to Universal Studios Florida. There is no extra cost to experience all the fun and excitement, and it makes for a great addition to your family’s spring vacation.
The App Will Be Your Best Friend
Think of The Official Universal Orlando Resort App as your personal little robot butler in the palm of your hand. You can view the menus of each food and drink kiosks and, with your virtual wallet set up, you can even mobile-order to where you’re waiting for the concert. Also, the app helps you keep track of ride wait times, confirm parade and concert start times, and even sign up for float riding using the Virtual Line.
WHAT TO BRING & WEAR
Deciding what to bring or wear to a theme park can be tricky. The general consensus is to pack light and wear layers, but Mardi Gras can be a unique event to think through. Here’s a list I’ve put together throughout my years of attending the event.
- Small bag (emphasis on small): There’s no real reason to bring a big bag with you to Mardi Gras, unless you’re traveling with little ones. You want to stay light and nimble to maneuver the concert crowds and catch beads. Try to carry your tickets and cards in a lanyard or sport one of those nifty phone cases with the card slots. If you do need to bring a bag, opt for a fanny pack or small crossbody that can fit into one of the free small lockers.
- Phone charger: This will come in handy if you’re sitting around waiting for the concert or parade to start. Plus, you may need it after all the photos you’ve taken and posted on social media.
- Check the weather: Mardi Gras falls in that weird Florida-weather timeframe when the temperature can flux from being hot during the day and chilly at night. So, make sure you check it ahead of time and consider bringing a light jacket just in case. Also, don’t forget those pesky rain showers that can pop up!
- Comfy shoes: This is kind of a duh when going to a theme park, but especially important during Mardi Gras, since you’re going to be doing some quick walking and dodging. I also recommend close-toed, as your feet may get stepped on during the concert.
- Your krewe: The best way to experience Mardi Gras is with your friends and family. Grab the krewe and come party with us!
OK, so who’s ready!? Share your excitement and tips in the comments below and don’t forget to share your pics using #UniversalMardiGras. My one guarantee: you’ll have “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” stuck in your head and handfuls of beads you won’t know what to do with at the end of the night.