The Mardi Gras celebration at Universal Studios Florida is typically held every night from early February to mid-April and is completely free with your theme park admission. Universal puts on quite the show for Mardi Gras with the one of the best theme park parades, amazing concerts, food, music and more.
This a family-friendly event while it is completely age appropriate for younger children, it is still a super fun time for adults.
Mardi Gras 2021: International Flavors of Carnaval
Due to the COVID pandemic Universal had to cancel most of the 2020 celebration but has made some adjustments to it’s Mardi Gras lineup for 2021. Beginning on February 6th and running until March 28th, this years experience is a bit toned down as compared with prior years, but a welcome way to turn the page to a new year.
This years Mardi Gras celebration includes a number of unique experiences and offerings which include:
Mardi Gras Food and Beverage Offerings
The International Flavors of Carnaval is a food festival featuring specialty cuisine and drinks from a variety of international regions. These include:
- Pernil & Mofongo
- Picadillo Empandas
- Pina Verde
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
- Pineapple Trini-Chow
- Queen’s Park Swizzle
- Carib Lager
- Crawfish Boil
- Twisted Tater
- Pork Schnitzel Sliders
- Bavarian Pretzel
- Vegan Bratwarst
- Weihenstephaner Kristalweissbier
In addition to the delicacy from those regions above, there were also be food & beverage offerings from Spain, Belgium, The Bahamas, Brazil, Cuba, Canada, Italy, Colombia and France.
Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard
If you are a foodie and looking to sample a number of different food and drinks, Universal’s Tasting Lanyard might be the way to go. Tasting Lanyards include food and drink samples in all the 13 countries features at Mardi Gras 2021.
- 10 item sample Tasting Lanyard – $55 plus tax
- Annual Passholders can purchase an exclusive lanyard for $65 plus tax which includes 15 sample items.
Mardi Gras Entertainment
Guests will find a number of “Pirate Treasure” themed floats as well as several of Universal’s Mardi Gras floats on display throughout the streets of Universal Studios Florida. In addition, there will be live entertainment including roving musicians and street performers providing the famous Mardi Gras beads.
In place of the concerts the Music Plaza Stage will be set up as an outdoor courtyard with tables and three themed floats.
Mardi Gras Tribute Store
First there was the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, then the Holiday Tribute Store, now there is the Mardi Gras Tribute Store. Fully set up for this years celebration, guests will enjoy a number of Mardi Gras themed rooms that include fresh pastries as well as merchandise and souvenirs.
Mardi Gras Scavenger Hunt
This new experience is a Universal first during Mardi Gras. More details and pricing will be released soon as we will update provide updates as soon as available.
Check out our video tour of Universal’s Mardi Gras 2021: International Flavors of Carnaval
Pre 2021 Mardi Gras Experiences at Universal Studios Florida
When there is not a global pandemic taking place, the Mardi Gras experience at Universal Studios looks and feels completely different. The events, experiences and attractions that are typically offered are as follows.
The Mardi Gras Parade
One of the best parts of the entire Mardi Gras celebration is the parade which is held every single day during this event. Starting and ending at the gate Hollywood’s Esoteric Studios near LaBamba, the parade takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. The parade wraps through Hollywood and goes along to New York, back towards Mel’s Drive In and finishes where it starts.
The parade is modeled after the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans and has a mixture of floats, street performers, dancers and stilt walkers. Every year there are new float themes but we have always found the first float to be the “Riverboat” with “King Gator” bringing up the rear. And of course there is always a King and Queen who have them own float. Floats are made by Kern Studios which is the same company that has created the floats in the New Orleans parade since 1947.
The best part about the entire parade is the beads. Each float has a number of volunteers tossing beads to the crowd. If you pick the right spot, you can get a huge amount of beads. And there is a great place for kids to watch the parade too. In front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop in the Hollywood area is “The Little Jester’s Parade Viewing Area”.
The parade start times vary ranging from 5:45 PM to 7:45 PM so be sure to grab a times guide or check the Universal app for the parade time during your visit.
ENDLESS SUMMER TIP TO GET MORE BEADS: we have found that it is not too crowded if you stay right outside the starting gate and you get the chance to catch beads at both the beginning and end of the parade route (effectively doubling the chance to get beads).
How do I get on a float?
Typically Universal Orlando offers its annual passholders the ability to volunteer as a bead tossing float rider on a first come first serve basis. The requirements are that the passholder be at least 18 years of age or 48 inches in height and accompanied by an adult. Last year Universal posted the notice on-line in its Annual Passholder Facebook Group and many of the weekend dates were filled within the first few hours.
Endless Summer has been on a float for each of the past three years and we consider it the absolute best time we ever had at a theme park. We consider this one of the best benefits of being a passholder. Watch our video below which shows the action while riding on “The Gator” float.
At times there may be last minute openings to ride on the floats and typically we see a “stand by” line form just outside of the Barney attraction in the Kid Zone area of the park.
For those interested in watching the parade from a special viewing area, Universal offers a parade, dessert and Cinematic Celebration viewing experience. In 2019 the cost was about $50 per person which included a reserved viewing spot in front of the Pantages Theatre Courtyard where you can watch the parade while enjoying non-alcoholic drinks following by another designated viewing area to see Cinematic Celebration. There is a number of specialty deserts and beverages available during this viewing.
Most weekend nights have a Mardi Gras concert and Universal does a great job in bring in a number of different genres and types of groups.
The original planned concert lineup for 2020 was as follows:
- The Roots, February 1st
- Karol G, February 8
- Bell Biv DeVoe, February 15
- +Live+, February 16
- Kool & the Gang, February 22
- TLC, February 29
- REO Speedwagon, March 7
- Dustin Lynch, March 8
- Luis Fonsi, March 13
- The All-American Rejects, March 14
- Diana Ross, March 15
- Chris Young, March 20
- Earth, Wind & Fire, March 21
- Marshmello, March 22
- Why Don’t We, March 28
- Gavin DeGraw, March 29
The concert line up for 2019 was as follows:
- Gavin DeGraw
- Dan + Shay
- Sabrina Carpenter
- Becky G
- Sean Paul
- Steve Miller Bank
- Ziggy Marley
- Prince Royce
All the concerts are held at Universal’s Music Plaza stage which is right in front of the Rip Ride Rockit entrance and begin around 8:30 PM after the parade is concluded. The shows are about 60 to 90 minutes in length and if you are interested in seeing a particular act, you should get there as early as possible since we have seen a line start to form much earlier in the day (even before the Mardi Gras festivities begin and yes, you will miss the parade).
There are no seats at the Music Plaza stage so if you have smaller children that want to see the show, try to get a close as possible as all the space will fill in quickly.
The French Quarter Courtyard – Food & Music
Typically around 4:PM the French Quarter Courtyard opens and kicks off the event for the night. The French Quarter Courtyard which is in the New York section of the park just across from Monsters Cafe and Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York Ride. This is the spot where you can enjoy great live music as well as sample amazing Cajun cuisine.
Universal brings in a number of local bands from new Orleans which play at in the Courtyard. The 2019 lineup was as follows:
- Dirty Bourbon River Show
- Naughty Professor Brass Band
- Free Agents Brass Band featuring Honey Bannister
- New Breed Brass Band
If you love Cajun and Creole food, then this is the place to be. Over the years we have found jambalaya, gumbo, various Po’ boys, King Cake, Crab Etouffee and our favorite, beignets with tons of powdered sugar. There are also a number of specialty cocktails offered as well as non-alcoholic drinks.
Universal offers a the ability to purchase a “Tasting Lanyard” where you can sample between 5 and 15 items throughout the entire Mardi Gras event. Prices start at $30 for five items. There is also a special “Bayou Boil” available on select nights which for $59,99 plus tax you can enjoy crawfish and shrimp as well as potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. There is even chicken and sausage jambalaya available upon request.
There is also a “Mardi Gras Feast & Floats Desert Party” which not only give you specialty deserts and non-alcoholic drinks, but also a special view area for both the Mardi Gras parade and Universal’s Cinematic Celebration nighttime fountain and fireworks show. The 2020 price for this package is $49.99 per person.
Where to stay during Mardi Gras?
Local area hotels book up quickly so it is our recommendation that you get your reservations as early as possible. Crowd levels are typically particular high during the Mardi Gras season due not only to this special event, but there are always school holidays as well as “Spring Break” during this time. And in the spring time there are always large conventions coming to Orlando where many hotels block off room for the convention attendees.
With the high crowd levels we feel that it’s best to try and stay on site at Universal for your Mardi Gras experience. If you don’t want to fight the crowds for boat or bus transportation, our recommended hotel would be The Hard Rock.
Although one of the more expensive hotels at Universal, The Hard Rock is the easiest walk which will lead you at the entrance just outside of the main gate at Universal Studios Florida. The wait to get through security is never long and at the end of the night, you will back at your room in less than 10 minutes. This is especially good if you have enjoyed a few adult beverages during the evening.
If the Hard Rock is outside your budget, the next best hotel would be the either the Lowes Sapphire Falls or the Aventura Hotel. The wait for boat transportation to Sapphire Falls may be lengthy, but so is the walk and after a long night in the parks, you will be glad you waited for the boat.
ENDLESS SUMMER TIP: If you are staying at the Aventura Hotel, don’t take the bus as the wait can be long. Just walk across to Sapphire Falls and hop on the boat.
If any of these hotel recommendations don’t work for you, CLICK HERE to see a list of other on site hotels as well as local area hotels near Universal. You will be glad you did come check out time.