Yes, Disney has Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, while Universal boasts Halloween Horror Nights and Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular – but one of the best and most fun annual events to be found at either of the theme park resorts is actually a little something called Mardi Gras, which, until recently, it seems, was a little-known secret to Florida locals and annual passholders. And, best of all, it’s absolutely free – no need for pesky separate tickets or dessert party add-ons.
Plan on checking out the family-friendly version of New Orleans’s most wonderful time of the year? We’ll tell you everything there is to know.
Where is it?
Like nearly every other Universal Orlando annual event, you’ll find the festivities located at Universal Studios Florida.
When is it?
Unlike real, boring Mardi Gras, which is really just one day of the year (for 2016, that’s Tuesday, February 9) but which is celebrated by the Big Easy starting the Friday beforehand, Universal decides to stretch the fun out for nearly two-and-a-half months (and thereby filling in that quiet section of the calendar in between A Celebration of Harry Potter in January and the Summer Concert Series in May). This year’s dates range from Saturday, February 6 to Saturday, April 16, hitting every Saturday in between and, on occasion, a few Fridays and Sundays, as well.
That gives you and your loved ones plenty of time to eat, drink, be merry, and, of course, collect bucketfulls of beads.
What is there to do?
Why, eat, drink, be merry, and collect bucketfulls of beads.
The main draw is the weekly concert, of which there are 14 for 2016, but there’s plenty of other associated activities and after-parties to partake in. Here are the highlights:
The French Quarter Courtyard – located in the park’s New York section – is the place to hang out before the main action kicks off (it typically comes to life at 4:00 pm and then closes up shop usually around 8:00 pm). Universal flies in smaller bands right from New Orleans to perform all throughout the area, making the atmosphere appropriately authentic, and sets up tons of food vendors to hawk such Cajun fare as gumbo, jambalaya, and Shrimp Po’ Boys. Oh – there’s also quite a colorful cast of characters making the rounds for pictures, meet-‘n-greets, and general hijinks; expect to see the likes of jesters and stilt walkers mingling with party-goers.
Forget the concert – for many attendees, this is the highlight of the evening.
Universal’s Mardi Gras parade is festive, interactive (prepare to collect literally hundreds of beads), and long – roughly half an hour in length. Those stilt walkers make a return appearance, as do dancers and other “outrageous” street performers.
Every Saturday – and a few special weekend days scattered throughout – Universal has a big headliner come and perform at its Music Plaza, located in Production Central. Admission is free, just like with all the rest of Mardi Gras, but prepared to be shuffled around like cattle – space gets tight quickly.
For this year, Hunter Hayes will kick off the action on February 6, while Yandel wraps everything up on April 16. Expect to see the likes of Fall Out Boy, Barenaked Ladies, and Diana Ross(!) appearing in between. See the full Mardi Gras 2016 concert schedule here.
When the parade floats disappear, the food vendors pack up shop, and the concert comes to a crashing close, hightail it out of Universal Studios Florida and hoof it over to CityWalk, which stays open until 2:00 am and which will welcome you with no cover fee (if you hang on to your ticket stub, that is). Pat O’Brien’s is the official “Mardi Gras headquarters,” but there are four other bars and clubs to imbibe at – assuming you’re over 21, of course.