New Orleans, the Big Easy, is known for many things. Jazz, art, voo doo, and of course tantalizing Cajun cuisine. Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is a popular annual event, but not necessarily because of the special food and beverages offered during this special time of the year. Yet, if you head to Universal Orlando to take part in Mardi Gras, your experience isn’t really complete if you don’t let your taste buds in on the fun.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is held each weekend from the beginning of February to mid-April (specific days and dates vary by weekend) and personally it is one of my favorite things about visiting Universal. The fun is definitely saved for the afternoon and evening. It’s touted as “Florida’s Biggest Party.” While this is one heck of a marketing claim, it isn’t too far off the bulls-eye, in the eyes of this Florida Native. I’ll confess, I am not a fan of most of the in-park counter service food offered here at Universal, but I will say some of the better quick style food can be found during Universal Mardi Gras.
On event nights the Mardi Gras mood starts to really set in at 4pm. The French Quarter Courtyard opens up for the evening and the parade performers start to make their way into the streets for some of the best photo opportunities you can find in any Orlando theme park. The French Quarter Courtyard is located just after Monsters Café and winds around the corner along Gramercy Park opposite The Revenge of the Mummy attraction.
There are multiple booths each with two or three different food offerings. This being the “biggest party in Florida” there are also plenty of booths with impossible-to-miss signs simply marked “BAR”. Let’s take a look at each booth more closely.
Since I typically pop into Universal Mardi Gras in the late afternoon hours I usually enter the French Quarter Courtyard from the Gramercy Park / Monsters Cafe side. Therefore the first two booths that I encounter are two of my favorites.
Cajun Shrimp / Andouille Sausage / Red Beans and Rice
As you can see Universal Orlando doesn’t apply cute or creative names to each booth in the way that you find at Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Each booth simply states what it serves on its sign. Here at this booth I have enjoyed the Cajun Shrimp ($10.99) as well as the Red Beans and Rice ($4.99). If you are a big fan of Cajun, N’awlins style food you will most likely feel a tinge of disappointment here. However, the flavors are good enough to satisfy any craving you may have for this style cuisine thanks to the music, decorations, and atmosphere. The Red Beans and Rice leave a little to be desired, the beans can sometimes be undercooked leaving them slightly crunchy. Traditionally the beans have been simmering in a sausage broth so long that they breakdown turning the sauce into a thicker gravy, but I have on occassion found this to not be the case here. The Cajun Shrimp consists of about 12 medium sized shrimp tails that have been steamed in tantalizing Cajun spices. These tender tails are placed around a bowl of the Red Beans and Rice. It’s a good plate to share, but at $10.99 I feel there is an option right next door.
Before we move on I must point out the Andouille Sausage ($8.99). This style sausage is quite savory with sweet undertones and Cajun spices throughout. Here at Universal Mardi Gras it is served on a hoagie roll with sauteed peppers and onions. It is still on my list to try.
Jambalaya / Cajun Sampler / Gumbo
This booth is pretty much at the top of my list. It’s not the absolute best New Orleans style food you’ll ever have, but by Universal counter service food standards it’s darn good, especially the Shrimp Gumbo. At the previous booth I mentioned that at $10.99 the Cajun Shrimp platter was good, but not the best value. If your mission is to sample some sizzling Cajun grub, then I suggest the Cajun Sampler ($11.99). I’ve had the Jambalaya on its own ($8.99), it’s not too spicy, in fact a few hits of Tabasco sauce would do well, and there is a fair amount of sausage and shrimp considering many places go heavy on the rice. The Gumbo ($5.99) is a decent deal on its own. It’s very hearty, the shrimp are piled on top, and its a pretty generous serving, there’s also a healthy amount of veggies. Of course, if it’s blazing hot out, a bowl of steaming Shrimp Gumbo may be too hot to handle! The Cajun Sampler includes the Jambalaya, Gumbo, and a sample size Andouille Sausage.
Beignets & Funnel Cakes
I usually save dessert for last, but since we’ve just visited the two booths that are on this side of the Courtyard, I figured I shouldn’t move on until we cover the last booth on this side. As a theme park nerd it feels weird that I have never been one to go ga-ga over Funnel Cakes. They are tasty that’s for sure, and they’re made fresh in the fryer at this booth, but personally I’d rather use the calories and carbs to indulge in an adult beverage. Same goes for the Beignets. I’ve heard good things about both. If you have an opinion on these Mardi Gras goodies be sure to let us know in the comments section.
Pizza & Turkey Legs
Now we make our way down the Courtyard towards Revenge of the Mummy. There is one booth that I am just going to breeze by… Pizza & Turkey Legs. The only reason I can come up with for the placement of such generic food in the Universal Mardi Gras food line up is to satisfy those picky eaters who have to stay in their comfort zone. One of those picky eaters is my husband, who during one of our first Mardi Gras visits, went with a slice of pizza (he has since expanded his horizons). In my personal opinion, if none of the other options available at the Courtyard appeal to you then rather than subject yourself to heat lamp pizza or turkey legs, head over to Monsters Cafe or better yet, Finnegan’s. Ok, moving on…
We have now arrived at one of the most unique booths, one that serves a simple snack that looks and feels like a close cousin of carnival or state fair food. Twisted Taters ($5.49) are pretty tasty, with four seasonings from which to choose: season salt, garlic parmesan (aka the bad breath special), salt & vinegar, and sour cream & chives. Twisted taters are potato slices, skewered on a stick, placed in a fryer, and then dusted with the seasoning of your choice. While not the best value, they are fun to eat and there is a certain novelty to them. Though if fried, flavored carbs are what you seek then perhaps I can interest you in some loaded fries.
VooDoo Chicken Tenders & Loaded Fries
This was actually the first booth my husband and I ever stopped at during our first Universal Mardi Gras visit two years ago. The VooDoo Chicken tenders ($8.99) are served with steak fries (which are thicker cut than regular french fries). You can choose from a variety of sauces, my favorite being the namesake VooDoo sauce which is a Buffalo style hot sauce with a sweet hint working a little voodoo on your tongue. Loaded Fries ($6.49) are a little better value than the Twister Taters. You can choose to have your thick, crunchy yet fluffy steak fries topped with bacon, cheese and sour cream, or with gravy and cheese, or Buffalo sauce and blue cheese, or chili and cheese, or garlic Parmesan (which is the weakest option in my opinion). This booth is a great choice for middle-of-the-road diners.
Shrimp Po Boys and Cheesesteaks
We have finally arrived at another booth that serve something a little more traditional for Mardi Gras fare. Po Boys are a sandwich nicknamed “poor boys.” These simple sandwiches were first made in New Orleans using simple ingredients for an inexpensive lunch. At Universal Mardi Gras the Shrimp Po Boy ($8.99) is a pretty good attempt at recreating this staple of casual New Orleans food. The French bread had the right mix of crunch and doughy softness. For some reason the lettuce and tomato was placed in the roll first and then the fried shrimp on top of that; I don’t think that is normally the case. It is finished off with a spicy mayonnaise, very similar to traditional remoulade sauce, though not a perfect recreation. The fried shrimp tasted great, warm, crispy and tender. It is served with french fries.
I haven’t been able to bring myself to order a Cheesesteak. It looks good enough, just doesn’t fit the Mardi Gras mood for me.
Well that about does it for all the Universal Mardi Gras grub you can stomach. Overall, there are some nice values throughout the French Quarter Courtyard, and some not so great. While I do think skipping the food altogether makes a visit to Universal Mardi Gras incomplete, I do think one Cajun Sampler shared among friends or some Loaded Fries will do the trick.
Side note: There is mention about the French Quarter Courtyard serving King Cake. I have yet to encounter it. In fact, the official Universal Orlando blog mentions it, but I have asked Team Members, specifically at the Beignets & Funnel Cake booth, about it with no success and it is not listed on any booth’s menu. If you have had success with trying the Universal Mardi Gras King Cake, help a sister out and let us know about it in the comments. Much obliged!