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2017 Dates: February 4 through March 25.
Held at Universal Studios Florida
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 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). In 2017, the party will run from February 4 through March 25; 2016 and 2015 dates continued into March and April, and in 2014 it stretched all the way into June. Viewing of the parade and concerts are 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, vist Universal's Mardi Gras page.
The Mardi Gras Parade
See our Mardi Gras Parade page for more details on the centerpiece of Universal's Mardi Gras celebration.
See our Mardi Gras Live Concerts page for more details on the headliner performances that follow every running of the Mardi Gras parade.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on January 12, 2017