Laissez les bons temps rouler! Let the good times roll! Officially Mardi Gras is Tuesday February 12th, but Universal Orlando’s annual Mardi Gras is just kicking off a two month long celebration of bands, beads, and this year some of the most elaborate and authentic floats the park has ever seen. We were able to go backstage and check out the floats as they were readied to take to the streets for the first performance of the season.
Mardi Gras kicked off Saturday at Universal Studios Florida for the 18th year. While the parade always uses some of the same floats, this year sees four all new floats, each themed to this year’s theme “Colorful Cultures Around the World”. The new floats include floats based on the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, the Elegance of India, Chinese New Year, and the Jazz and Blues of New Orleans.
With each new float comes brand new characters. This year some of the highlights include the stilt walkers from the Day of the Dead Parade which are made to resemble the skeletons that are used in much of the decorating. There are also Mariachi skeletons, and more.
On the Chinese New Year float you’ll see some great Imperial warriors with traditional lanterns. The lanterns actually light up. Also included are belly dancers and lots of great musicians with the other two new floats.
The Elegance of India features lots of bright colors, and references to the country’s religious beliefs, wildlife and architecture.
The New Orleans float pays tribute to jazz great and New Orleans native Louis Armstrong.
Imperial dragons and a huge Chinese dragon make up the colorfully beautiful float for the Chinese New Year Celebration.
Flames are featured on the New Orleans and the Mexico Floats. Fans of Halloween Horror Nights might get a little nostalgic as the float passes by. The float emits the same type of fog that’s used for Horror Nights and smells exactly the same.
More pictures from backstage:
Another great tradition of Universal’s Mardi Gras is the food and sounds of New Orleans. This year is no exception, although the original location has been disrupted by the construction of the new Transformers ride at Universal Studios Florida. The party moves from a small alley between Monsters Cafe and Central Park, right to the streets of New York.
Just like in years past, starting at around 5p.m. the party takes to the streets before they get into the parade action. The characters that you see in the streets are the same ones that are in the nightly parade. They will pose for pictures, and some will even offer you beads. Of course, if you want beads you’re at their whims…so be prepared to perform for the performers!
In the middle of the streets of New York, directly across the street from The Mummy coaster is the French Quarter Stage. Here you can see bands direct from New Orleans with an authentic Cajun sound.
It wouldn’t be Mardi Gras without food! This year the park is offering more authentic Mardi Gras food than ever before with the addition of King Cake, Funnel Cake Sticks, and tons more offerings like Jambalaya and a crawfish boil.
We caught up with Executive Chef Steve Jayson to ask about how authentic the food is.
“We studied and took trips to Mardi Gras to make sure that we got the food just right” he explained “Only our King Cake doesn’t have a baby in it, believe me you don’t want to host this party at your house next year, so we’ll keep doing it for you!”
This year the parade is a little bit shorter than in years past. The number of floats is down, however the amount of beads is up. Due to construction, and a shorter parade path the park the length of the parade is down to just under 30 minutes. The amount of beads remain the same, which makes the chances of you leaving with buckets of beads even greater.
The parade starts at around 8p.m. every night, line up to get your spot early, as the curbs all get super crowded.
While the floats are amazing works of art in the daytime, it’s during the parade that they really come to life. Brimming with bead tossers and strands of beads flying out from every direction makes each float the center of attention for everyone on the streets
The Mexican Day of the Dead float features tons of great costumes, decorations and even fire and fog!
While the parade used three floats from last year, and four new floats from this year, there are five floats that are traditional must haves.
The Riverboat, Dionysus Krewe, The Mardi Gras Court, and of course the King and Queen. These floats are used every year. The parade ends when you see the big King Gator rolling down the street. King Gator and the Riverboat are the two biggest floats in the parade, each with about 18,000 strands of beads flying out from each direction.
Check out the full parade!
Immediately following the parade, the concert kicks in. The first performers of the season were Lifehouse who performed songs from their new album as well as some of the old favorites.
Check out the full Mardi Gras Parade in picture form!
If you’re looking to get a good spot for the concert, unfortunately you’re going to have to forfeit catching a lot of beads in the parade. This year will see a lot of big named acts and a lot of fan favorites, so the waiting will begin early. However, with the Music Plaza stage, as long as you’re in the streets in front of the stage you’re not going to have a problem seeing whatsoever. The park also puts up huge screens at the corners for those who like to hang back and avoid the crowds.
Mardi Gras runs all the way until April 20th and will feature more big name acts. Mardi Gras, the parade, all the beads and the concerts are all included in park admission.
For more information on Mardi Gras, visit the official Universal website!