Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando isn’t as decadent or seedy as it’s namesake in New Orleans. Nor is it as short. In fact Mardi Gras at Universal goes on for almost three months. The event is full of great food, a great parade and huge concerts. It’s also full of great big crowds and can make you want to pull your hair out. With that in mind, here’s a few tips to get the most out of your time this spring at Universal’s Mardi Gras.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is the only consistent festival happening in Orlando every Saturday night from the first part of February until the last part of April. The parades happen at park closing, which is 8 o’clock p.m. and the concerts happen immediately after the parade. The parade can be seen starting at the Fear Factor Live stage, and winds all the way down the streets of New York in front of the Mummy coaster, right past the stage area and Rockit, back down by Terminator and back around, ending at Beetlejuice. The concert is on the main stage area in the front of the park, and starts promptly as soon as the parade passes. There are several large monitors near the front of the park.
The parade used to happen nightly at park closing when the event first started. It then went to weekend nights, and has eventually downgraded to just concert nights. The parade is consisted of about 10 floats, each with different themes and each with a parade of stilt walkers, dancers and characters. These characters do interact with the crowd (usually the kids and the drunks that yell the loudest) but they are in the parade, and will not stop long (nor with everyone) for pictures. The floats feature people throwing beads and in some cases coins from the tops of the floats. They are instructed to get rid of the beads, but try to throw sparingly so that they have enough beads for the whole route.
- The parade is popular-Find your spot at least an hour before hand.
- Try to find a spot close by a place that sells food and drink-the less you have to walk, the more secure your spot.
- If you want to catch beads, find a spot away from little kids. They are targets for those throwing beads and you are more likely not to be tossed any. Instead find a spot away from the rest of the crowd.
- If you have kids, find a spot away from large groups of grown ups. They tend to get greedy when throwing beads and can make for some pretty heated arguments as they reach up and snatch beads out of the hands of crying children
- The parade ends and people go walking behind it. You can try to catch the parade again, but the crowds in those areas not visited by the parade will be very very heavy.
- Tossers look for those without beads, if you catch beads, shove them in your pockets
Concerts have evolved from having just has beens and wannabes to big time stars. The park used to have the lesser known acts in the beginning of the event because it was less crowded. They then realized that during the Spring Break crowds are busy anyway, and it doesn’t matter if you book a big name or has been the crowds will come. The end result is hugely popular acts like Pitbull in the normal slower days of February, and large crowds non stop.
- Decide if you want to see the concert, or catch beads at the parade. You’re not going to be able to get a good spot for both. If you are lined up early enough you can get within five feet of the main stage.
- If you choose to wait for the concert, keep checking the area in front of the stage for people lining up. In the past they have opened the gates to allow people to wait by the stage as early as 5:00p.m.
- Keep an ear out for soundchecks. The bands usually do them between 1 and 4. Depending on the band you could get a whole concert. Back in 09 Bare Naked Ladies played a 45 minute set.
- If you choose the parade, hang back a little. Don’t go rushing towards the front of the park-you’ll only meet more crowds. Instead take your time, stop for a drink and wait the crowds out. You wont get to see the concert up close and personal, but with all the huge screens you’ll still be able to see the band and hear the music.
Mardi Gras also features a list of smaller bands directly from New Orleans. These bands play on a smaller stage in the French Quarter starting usually around 5. At this time they also open the vending stands which features Cajun Cuisine, beer, and pastries. Added this year is glass blowing…because nothing says Mardi Gras like hand blown glass…yeah. Also in this area and the areas surrounding you are likely to run into the characters and stilt walkers from the parade. They are most eager to pose for pictures.
- Line up for the Beignets (fried doughnuts without the holes and covered in sugar) early. If you wait until later the line will get quite busy
- Most of the “authentic” Cajun Cuisine has some kind of seafood in it. If you’re allergic to shellfish, or if you just don’t like it you are limited pretty much to Red Beans and Rice or the sausage and peppers. They also have other things in the French Quarter such as Wings and Pizza. There is no King Cake
- The stage in the French Quarter is a lot smaller, the bands perform several times throughout the night
- The characters and stilt walkers wear little clothes, and those are very revealing. If you are the easily offended Disney mom type, or you feel that attire is inappropriate around children you may want to skip this area.
Promptly at 8 p.m. all of the rides close, and the parade starts. After the parade the rides do not reopen. This causes the crowds to be insanely concentrated, and the majority head straight towards the front of the park towards the concert.
- Relax-Walk the opposite direction of the crowds or find a seat. Give the mad rush time to get to the front of the park.
- There is little to no crowd control. Take small children by the hand (put small ones on your shoulders) and stick as much as possible to the sidewalks. Forming chains of humans works fairly well also.
- There isn’t much to do after the parade ends, so relax a bit and grab a drink at one of the open stands. Also you can get to either the Central park area or the area near Shrek and watch the concert. Take your time, you’re not going anywhere soon.
- Stay calm. The crowds can try your patience, but cooler heads will prevail.
Remember that this is one of the most popular events at the park. Couple that with the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and national headlining acts and you get some of the craziest crowds this side of the Mississippi.