Feet don't fail us now! Universal's Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval is one of our favorite annual events at Universal Orlando Resort. From the delicious global cuisine (now also available at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal's Volcano Bay) to the rockin' weekend concerts to the streetmosphere you'll find peppered around Universal Studios Florida throughout the day, this is one party you don't want to miss. However, our favorite aspect of this festival may just have to be the nightly parade where ornately jaw-dropping floats make their way through the streets and bundles of beads fly through the air. The vibe is truly unlike anything else Universal has to offer. Whether you're looking to enjoy the procession from the ground or participate in it from a float, I'm about to break down all the dazzling details about Universal's Mardi Gras parade.
Overview of Universal's Mardi Gras Parade
If you didn't know any better, you'd swear you're in New Orleans! Capturing the spirit and electricity of the Big Easy during Carnival season, the Universal Mardi Gras Parade is a family-friendly promenade through the streets of Universal Studios Florida featuring stilt walkers, brass-band musicians and, of course, world-class parade floats.
What makes these floats so special is that they're designed and created by Kern Studios, the premier float builder for New Orleans' many Mardi Gras parades. (Out of the 32 parades that occur in Orleans Parish during Carnival season, Kern Studios designs and builds 20 of them, making up 70 percent of all the floats on parade.)
The Universal Mardi Gras parade typically features 12 spectacular parade floats each year: six traditional ones that you'll see return year after year (such as the famous "King Gator" and two-story riverboat) and six brand-new ones that revolve around that year's parade theme. This year, Universal decided to go with "Mythical Realms of Mardi Gras," an epic theme that features frogtastical creatures such as serpents, phoenixes and pegasi.
The parade route travels clockwise, starting in Hollywood near Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show and circling through Production Central and New York, before making its way back through the gates it entered from.
Dates and Times of Universal's Mardi Gras Parade
Universal's Mardi Gras Parade takes place every night of the event, except for March 31. Below is the provided list of when the parade starts each night as it varies from day to day. Be sure to check the Universal Orlando app on the day of your visit to confirm, as start times are subject to change.
Parade starts at 5:15 p.m. on:
- Feb. 7
- March 30
Parade starts at 6:15 p.m. on:
- Feb. 5-6
- Feb. 8-9
- Feb. 12-16
- Feb. 22
- Feb. 26 - March 2
Parade starts at 7:30 p.m. on:
- Feb. 17
- Feb. 20-21
- Feb. 23-24
- March 3
- March 6 - April 16
Parade starts at 7:45 p.m. on:
- Feb. 4
- Feb. 10-11
- Feb. 18-19
- Feb. 25
- March 4-5
How to Ride a Float in Universal's Mardi Gras Parade
If you don't mind sacrificing an extra two or three hours of your day at Universal Studios, one of the coolest things you can do as a guest is hopping on one of the beautifully custom-built floats and throwing beads down the parade route. Unfortunately, while every guest has the ability to be a float-rider, not every guest will have the opportunity as spaces are limited. If you want to try your luck though, here's how to join the Virtual Line:
- Search for "Mardi Gras Parade Float Riding" on the official Universal Orlando app.
- Passes will be available from around 3 p.m. until one hour prior to the parade's start time.
- Once reservations open, click Reserve Virtual Line Experience Pass and select the number of frogs in your party.
- Choose the available time you'd like to return to ride your float.
That's it! It goes without saying that you should definitely hop in the Virtual Line as early as possible if you want to snag a spot as passes are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Don't expect that they'll be slots open later in the day. (Slots went within seconds when we attempted to grab one on opening day.)
If you're one of the lucky few to join a krewe, head to Animal Actors on Location! anywhere between one hour and one hour and 45 minutes prior to the parade start time to retrieve a wristband. Your spot is not guaranteed until after you've received your wristband and, if you don't pick it up at least one hour prior to the parade start time, your spot will be forfeited. More information will be given once you've arrived at the check-in location.
All frogs riding a float must be at least 18 years old or accompanied by a parent or legal guardian and must be at least 48 inches tall. You must be able to board the float and stand for the duration of the parade. If you're sensitive to motion, Universal advises against riding altogether. If you have a disability, you may request accommodation at least 48 hours prior to your float reservation. Standard manual wheelchairs can be accommodated. If you or someone in your party uses another mobility device, you or they must transfer into a standard wheelchair provided at check-in. For additional details, contact Guest Services at 407-224-4233.
As for other prohibited items and behaviors, smoking, eating and drinking aren't permitted — as are oxygen tanks, strollers and large bags. Small bags and personal items, however, may be stowed on floats during the parade. No horseplay or harassment of any other guest(s) and/or performer(s) is tolerated. Plus, if you appear intoxicated or are heavily consuming alcohol at check-in, your spot will be forfeited. Avoid all contact with any stage lighting or audio equipment onboard your float and follow any instructions the attendants of your float provide — especially concerning loading and unloading procedures.
As I mentioned above, the entire float riding experience can last anywhere from two to three hours. That means, on concert days, you will miss the beginning of the concert. Universal Orlando will try to keep all parties together. However, on rare occasions, larger groups may need to be split into different floats. All riders must wear "The Krewe" costume (a colorful smock that goes over your clothes) provided at check-in. Floats are assigned at random prior to check-in so you can't request which one you want to be on — not that you should feel a need to! They're all breathtakingly gorgeous and foster a hoppin' party atmosphere onboard!
Something to note: Due to extensive construction currently hoppening at Universal Studios and attraction entrances where frogs aren't able to stand and view the parade, the driver's side of the float is going to grant you a lot more opportunities to throw beads down the route than the passenger's side. Your float captain will assign your space on the float based on the number of frogs in your party. Both sides are equally as fun — you just have to pace your bead throws significantly more on the driver's side. On the passenger's side, you'll have more than enough beads to get you through the entire route!
Mardi Gras Float Ride and Dine Experience
Trying your luck with the Virtual Line isn't the only way you can score a spot on a float this year! We were so frogcited when Universal announced the Mardi Gras Float Ride and Dine Experience as a way for festive froggies to guarantee a place in the parade. Starting at $84.99, frogs can enjoy a three-course meal at one of four participating restaurants and secure a spot on a float in the parade the same day!
A reservation grants each frog one appetizer, one entrée, one dessert and one nonalcoholic beverage at either Finnegan's Bar & Grill, Lombard's Seafood Grill, The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar or NBC Sports Grill & Bar. The best part? While this is a prix fixe meal, you can still pick from the full menu! On days with a 6:15 p.m. parade start time, dining reservations are for 3 p.m. only and on days with a 7:45 p.m. parade start time, dining reservations are at 4:30 p.m. only — so plan the rest of your dining experiences around those unorthodox meal times.
Prices, dates, times, experience details and benefits are subject to availability, change and/or cancellation without notice. The price you pay for a reservation does not include admission to Universal Studios. Separate park admission for the same date as the parade and prix fixe meal is required. Your purchase must be made 24 hours prior to the event date. (Oh, and just because I've been asked this a lot, no, you are not eating on the float. You're eating at the restaurant.) Be sure to have your confirmation email on hand so your waiter can confirm your reservation once you get to your table.
Tips for Viewing Universal's Mardi Gras Parade
If you've decided you wanted to simply enjoy the parade and catch as many beads as possible, there are several different areas we recommend viewing the parade from, so choose your own adventure and decide beforehand which one's going to work best for your frog squad.
For the best vantage point: If you're looking to capture some great footage of the parade, hop on over to The Bourne Stuntacular (between the attraction entrance and gift shop). This point best allows you to see the parade coming down the street, float after float, just as they were designed to be viewed!
For frog squads with tadpoles: If you have a little tadpole in tow, hop on over to the Little Jester's Parade Viewing Area at the front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop. This unobstructed viewing spot opens one hour before the parade starts and is meant for kids 10 and under.
For maximum bead acquisition: If you're looking to bulk up your bead collection, hop on over to the Horror Make-Up Show theater. As this is both the starting and ending point of the parade, you'll be able to score twice as many beads as everyone else on the route!
For ADA viewing: Frogs in need of ADA-accommodated viewing should hop over to the New York area and look for the Macy's facade right next to Revenge of the Mummy.
For annual passholders: Universal Orlando APs should hop over to Mel's Drive-In for a special reserved viewing area.
For frogs who want a good concert view: If you're watching the parade on a concert night and want to see the performance immediately after (and I do mean immediately), stake out your spot between Super Silly Stuff and The Tonight Shop in the shadow of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit — essentially, right in front of the Music Plaza Stage. This will give you the absolute best chance of scoring a decent concert view since you'll be right next to the viewing area. As soon as the last float passes, (safely) make a mad dash for the entrance.
Wherever you decide to stand, we recommend snagging a spot at least 30 to 45 minutes before the parade starts. The parade takes about 45 minutes to make its way around the park but only about 15 minutes to pass by any one spot. Keep those times in mind as you're making your game plan for the night and be sure to get your catching (or throwing) arm ready!
Have you seen or been in the Universal Mardi Gras parade before? What tips do you have? Share with us in the comments below!
Related: Our Jubilant Guide to Universal Orlando Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval