Every spring, Florida's biggest party comes alive during Universal Mardi Gras. Universal Orlando Resort plays host to the New Orleans celebration. The party will return in 2020, kicking off on Feb. 1 and continuing through April 2 each night, with concerts on weekends. Universal Mardi Gras has some of the best food and entertainment you can find, which is why we frogs hop to it year after year. The best part? All of the extra fun is included in regular Universal Orlando park admission.
Between gorgeous weather, all-star concerts, killer food and a fun parade ... what more could you ask for? During Universal Orlando's annual event, Music Plaza Stage is graced with some fun performers, including Macklemore and Pitbull who performed in 2019. French Quarter Courtyard is chock-full of fun performers and delicious food ... beignets, anyone? Last but not least, an authentic Mardi Gras parade graces Universal's streets of New York and Hollywood. This fun, action-packed event takes place nightly during our personal favorite season in Orlando, so you really can't miss it. To help you prepare for next year, take a look at our top tips from 2019's kickin' event, which included the new Universal Studios Mardi Gras tasting lanyards!
Top Tips for a Kickin' Cajun Time at Universal Mardi Gras
1. Share your snacks
New Orleans is known for its hoppin' delicacies, and the Cajun offerings at Universal Mardi Gras are no different. You can find these food booths, which typically open at 4 p.m. every day, at the French Courtyard Quarter across from the Mummy and Jimmy Fallon rides. Bold flavors will ignite your taste buds, and there are so many menu options to choose from! With gator bites, jambalaya, beignets and so much more, you'll want to try everything.
Whether you're one half of a dynamic duo, or visiting with your entire frog squad, we recommend taking the sampling approach. In fact, Universal moved to new sample-sized portions for 2019 and introduced a Universal Mardi Gras tasting lanyard. Not only did this allow us to try more unique tastes, but also helped when a flavor was a little too intense to commit to a full serving. It was easier than ever to test all of the foods with the tasting lanyards, and we hope they return in 2020! We got multiple sample-sized dishes for one price. We were able to choose from 5 items for $30 or 10 items for $50 (and annual passholders had an additional option of 15 items for $60). The best part was that we came back another night during Mardi Gras, and we were able to use the tasting lanyard until we ran out of items.
2. Sip on speciality drinks
Enough about the food. Let’s talk about drinks! Universal Mardi Gras served up several signature neon-colored cocktails, including Ragin’ Rumbalaya, Carnival Cocktail and Vicious Voodoo (which is a combo of the previous two). Leap enjoyed the variety of craft beer options, while I checked out the brand-new mimosa bar, which had fun flavors to choose from. For those who skipped the alcohol or had tadpoles who didn’t want to be left out, the Bayou Bog Water was a mocktail combination of gummy worms and fish, blueberry boba, lemonade and ginger ale.
3. Strategically plot your parade spot
We may be getting ahead of ourselves here — first of all, be sure to check the Universal Mardi Gras times guide upon arrival to know when the nightly Mardi Gras parade is taking place. In 2019, it varied from night to night, and started sometime between 5:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Those later showings are when you really have to plan ahead!
If you want to attend the concert at 8:30 p.m., we recommend getting a spot right along the edge of the street in front of Music Plaza Stage for a quick turnaround to snag a concert spot. Our personal fave parade spot is in the New York area in front of The Mummy ride. There is also a small area reserved for passholders in front of Mel's Drive-In, and a family viewing area near the Brown Derby Hat Shop in Hollywood. These are great locations, but don't bank on them unless you arrive early ... they fill up quickly!
To land a solid parade spot anywhere, try lining up about 30 minutes ahead of time. On weekends, crowds are heavier, so arrive 45 minutes early ... and if you have a larger group or want front-row seating, find your spot at least 60 minutes ahead of the parade start. Front-row seating (or standing) gives you and your tadpoles a better shot at catching beads. This is half the fun for us, so we recommend it!
Universal Mardi Gras Parade Times 2019
We'll update here with 2020 times, but here are the 2019 parade times so you can get an idea.
Parade starts at 5:15 p.m. on the following dates:
Parade starts at 6:15 p.m. on the following dates:
Feb. 10-15, 18-20, 22, 24-28
March 1, 3, 5-8
Parade starts at 7:30 p.m. on the following dates:
March 11-15, 18-22, 25-29
Parade starts at 7:45 p.m. on the following dates:
Feb. 9, 16-17, 23
March 2, 9-10, 16-17, 23-24, 30-31
4. Check out the concert
Universal Mardi Gras always has a super impressive lineup of performers from all different music genres for its concert series. On Saturdays and Sundays throughout the celebration, Music Plaza Stage hosts some of radio's finest bands and artists. In 2019, we kicked off the very first night of Mardi Gras by rocking out to BUSH!
You might be surprised how many songs sound familiar to you by the outstanding array of artists Universal Mardi Gras has to offer. Bazzi’s hit “Mine” and Dan + Shay’s tune “Tequila” were climbing the Billboard mainstream charts at the time, so it was easy to sing along. Even if the artist isn't your fave, you can't help but enjoy the killer performances they put on and admire their musical abilities!
Performances begin at 8:30 p.m. on each concert night. Concerts take place on select Saturdays and Sundays throughout Universal Mardi Gras. The 2020 lineup has not been announced yet.
Universal Mardi Gras Concert Lineup 2019
Feb. 9 - BUSH
Feb. 16 - Gavin DeGraw
Feb. 17 - Dan + Shay
Feb. 23 - Macklemore
March 2 - Sabrina Carpenter
March 9 - Becky G
March 10 - Sean Paul
March 16 - Steve Miller Band
March 17 - Ziggy Marley
March 23 - NF
March 24 - Pitbull
March 30 - Bazzi
March 31 - Prince Royce
Concert crowds will vary depending on the popularity of the artist and day of the week ... Saturdays generally bring in larger crowds than Sundays. Steve Miller Band attracted those who appreciate groovy 70s rock music. Lily was most excited for Disney star Sabrina Carpenter. If you can, we recommend landing your concert viewing spot about an hour ahead of time for a spot on the grass.
5. Interact with the Universal Mardi Gras parade performers
Many of the parade performers are out and about hanging with guests for a few hours before the parade. From joking jesters to princesses on stilts, there's something fun for everyone. These are awesome photo-ops for your tadpoles to enjoy. Tad loved goofing off with the jesters, and we all know Lily can't resist greeting royalty! You may also even get a chance to snag a hug or a high five from the performers during the parade.
6. Dance along to live bands
Staying true to the New Orleans atmosphere, you can catch the soulful sounds of live jazz and blues performers in the French Quarter Courtyard. With blaring trumpets and beating drums, it’s hard not to dance along to the rhythm.
7. Potentially ride on a float
It’s important to say that there are no guaranteed ways to ride on a float, but you can attempt it a couple different ways. If you’re a passholder, you can try and sign up yourself and up to five other guests (they must already have park admission). If you’re selected, you’ll receive a confirmation email with float ride details. There’s always a chance that selected passholders do not show up by their designated time, so anyone can check the standby line (near Barney’s Backyard play area) about two hours before the parade time. Riders must be at least 18 years old, or accompanied by an adult AND at least 48 inches in height. We haven’t been so lucky to snag spots, but we assume the chances are a bit higher on a weekday.
8. Enjoy the kid-friendly atmosphere
Universal Mardi Gras is the closest thing you can get to N'awlins ... without having to worry about your tadpoles seeing or hearing anything they shouldn't. The fun floats, atmospheric decor and delicious cuisine really gives your little ones a taste of the Big Easy, which is a fun exploration of a different celebration they might not be familiar with. Allow your kiddos to try fun foods, interact with performers and catch all the beads they can during the parade! (Fun fact: The floats in the Universal Mardi Gras parade are designed by Kern Studios, which has created authentic floats in New Orleans for over 60 years!)
Are you ready to put your dancing shoes on and visit Orlando's version of the Big Easy? You're sure to have a blast! Hop on over to our discounted tickets now to plan your Universal Orlando Resort trip when the Mardi Gras fun starts on Feb. 1, 2020.