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at Universal Orlando Resort
You are no doubt familiar with the gigantic Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, Louisiana, or at least the idea of it. Well, Universal Studios has a yearly festival as well. Sure, it’s not quite as bawdy as its French Quarter compatriot, but it is exceedingly fun and probably a better event to bring the kids along to.
Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of “Fat Tuesday” (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before “Ash Wednesday” on the Catholic calendar, and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People would bid “farewell to flesh” with a “carnivale” where they would indulge in the meat and drink they were about to forswear. Mardi Gras is the New Orleans, Louisiana, variation on this tradition — which is echoed in other cities from Venice, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons — namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts. About 20 years ago, Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family friendly event,” and amazingly it is — minus the bare breasts, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic; much as Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Blaine Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1947, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after each parade, much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.
In addition to the parade and headliner Mardi Gras Live Concerts (the concerts are only on select weekend days), Universal carves a miniature Bourbon Street out of their New York backlot. Chef Steve Jayson and his culinary team pride themselves on the authentic N’awlins flavors they bring to the French Quarter Courtyard, an area between Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers with temporary food and beverage booths that open at 4:00 p.m. each Mardi Gras event night. The jambalaya, andouille sausage, and beignets are all pretty good. You can eat to the beat and enjoy live blues and zydeco musicians direct from Louisiana on the French Quarter stage. Universal started this tradition more than a decade ago to support New Orleans artists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The good times roll on from February through March, or even longer in some years (although festivities have been limited to weekends some years). Viewing of the parade and concerts is included with any valid admission, and all annual passholders are admitted in the evening, except for Seasonal Pass holders who are blocked out on concert nights. For more information, visit Universal's Mardi Gras page.
See our Mardi Gras Parade page for more details on the centerpiece of Universal's Mardi Gras celebration.
Every Mardi Gras event night, after the parade concludes (at approximately 8:30 PM), a big-name concert kicks off on the Music Plaza Stage near Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. The concerts are a definite highlight of Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration. With great musical acts entertaining the crowd at no extra cost, there is really no downside to these fantastic concerts, other than the extraordinary crowds popular artists can draw.
To get an idea of the quality of the acts, performers in recent years have included heavyweights from the past -- Diana Ross, Kool & The Gang, REO Speedwagon, Huey Lewis and the News, Styx -- and present, such as Fall Out Boy, Adam Lambert, Jessie J, Yandel, Hunter Hayes, and T-Pain.
In addition to the headliners, Universal also has as small stage near in the French Quarter food stalls, where authentic New Orleans musicians play zydeco and blues before the big show.
Concerts usually start at 8:30 PM or 9:00 PM, but see our Universal Studios Florida Showtimes page for specific times. Note that showtimes may not be released until very close to the show date and that they may change, so verify the start time once you get to the park.