Every spring, Florida's biggest party comes alive during Universal Mardi Gras. Universal Orlando Resort plays host to the hoppin' New Orleans celebration, complete with Cajun food favorites, toadally amazing concerts and entertainment that would make the Big Easy proud. The party kicked off its 25th anniversary on Feb. 1, 2020, and concluded early March 15, due to COVID-19. Pirates and sea creatures took over Universal Studios Florida with the festival's "Treasures of the Deep" theme, along with specially themed food and floats! The best part? All of the extra fun was (and usually is) included with regular Universal Orlando park admission!
Between gorgeous weather, all-star concerts, killer food and a festive parade ... what more could you ask for? During Universal Orlando's annual event, Music Plaza Stage is graced with some popular performers during weekend concerts. French Quarter Courtyard is chock-full of parade dancers, jazz bands 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. Take a peek at our ribbiting guide for Mardi Gras, including treasurable tips about a brand-new food tent and a new virtual line system for signing up to ride on a float in the parade. Let the good times roll, frog friends!
Universal Mardi Gras Parade
Universal celebrated 25 years of Mardi Gras in 2020, and the headlining parade had SIX new floats for its "Treasures of the Deep" theme. Arrr, matey! These new floats were inspired by a treasure map, the sunken city of Atlantis, creatures of the deep and a treasure-filled shipwreck island. We saw lots of pirates and parrots, and skulls and sea creatures, as beads and confetti fly in the air. The show-stopping King Gator float remained as the grand finale, and King Gator sported a dazzling makeover.
It's important to 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 2020, it varied from night to night with a starting time 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'd highly recommend looking for a spot! The earlier, the better!
Universal Mardi Gras Parade Times 2020
The parade started at 5:15 p.m. on the following date:
- Feb. 11
The parade started at 5:45 p.m. on the following dates:
- Feb. 20
- March 2
The parade started at 6 p.m. on the following dates:
- Feb. 2-7
The parade started at 6:15 p.m. on the following dates:
- Feb. 9-10, 12-14, 17-19, 21, 23-28
- March 1, 3-6
The parade started at 7:30 p.m. on the following dates:
- March 9-12
The parade started at 7:45 p.m. on the following dates:
- Feb. 1, 8, 15, 16, 22, 29
- March 7-8, 13-15
Catching beads and watching the parade performers and floats go by is definitely a Mardi Gras must-do. But if you will be at the parks multiple days during the Mardi Gras season, we suggest switching things up and try getting to RIDE on a parade float. There are two different ways to go about this. Annual passholders can sign up for a chance to be a float rider with up to five guests (who must have valid park admission) here. Passholders must sign up by noon the week prior to the date they would like to ride, and the random selections will be made three days prior. (Seasonal passholders cannot sign up for dates on Mardi Gras concert nights.)
If you're not an annual passholder, download the official Universal Orlando app. When you open the app, look at the top of the home page, which rotates with featured information. Once you see the Mardi Gras event information pop up, click on it. It will take you to a screen that looks like this. Under the "Parade" tab, you will find instructions for the new float-riding virtual line system. Virtual Line Passes are available first-come, first-serve with limited availability each night. They are available a few hours before the parade begins, and you must be in the park to reserve. Once it's available, tap "Reserve Virtual Line Pass" and select the number of people in your party. Then, choose the time you would like to return to ride your float.
Float riders must be 18 years old and sign a waiver to participate on their own, or be at least 48 inches tall and accompanied by a parent or guardian (over 18 years old) who could sign the waiver. Riders must return within their virtual line return window. The float riding experience takes about two to three hours, so keep that in mind if it's a Mardi Gras concert night, as you may miss the beginning of the performance.
Universal Mardi Gras Concerts
Universal Mardi Gras always has a super impressive lineup of performers from all different music genres for its concert series. During weekends throughout the celebration, Music Plaza Stage hosts some of radio's finest bands and artists. In 2020, we boogied down with Grammy-award winners The Roots on the first night of Mardi Gras.
You might be surprised how many songs sound familiar to you by the outstanding array of artists Universal Mardi Gras has to offer. 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! As Kool & the Gang sing, "Celebrate good times ... come on!"
Performances usually begin at 8:30 p.m. on each concert night. Concerts typically take place on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout Universal Mardi Gras.
Universal Mardi Gras Concert Lineup 2020
Feb. 1: The Roots
Feb. 8: Karol G
Feb. 15: Bell Biv DeVoe
Feb. 16: +Live+
Feb. 22: Kool & the Gang
Feb. 29: TLC
March 7: REO Speedwagon
March 8: Dustin Lynch
March 13: Luis Fonsi
March 14: Flo Rida
March 15: Sugar Ray
Concert crowds will vary depending on the popularity of the artist and day of the week ... Fridays and Saturdays generally bring in larger crowds than Sundays. If you can, we recommend landing your concert viewing spot about an hour ahead of time for a spot on the grass.
Universal Mardi Gras Food and Drinks
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 sample-sized portions and introduced Universal Mardi Gras tasting lanyards in 2019 — and they were back again in 2020! You could get five items for $30 or 10 items for $50 (and annual passholders have an additional option of 15 items for $60). You get multiple sample-sized dishes for one price, and you don't have to fish for your wallet since they simply scan the barcode on the lanyard. The best part is that we can return anytime during Mardi Gras and are able to use the tasting lanyard until we run out of items. (The lanyards can also be used for bottled water, popcorn and pretzels during regular park hours.)
The lanyard allows us to try more unique tastes, but also comes in handy when a flavor is a little too intense to commit to a full serving. It's easier than ever to test all of the foods with the tasting lanyards! And it's especially useful with the new Carnival Around the Universe food tent.
This special food tent explored tastes from different carnivals around the world and switched out its offerings every two weeks. First up was Trinidad & Tobago, and we were excited that all of the menu items are plant-based! The dishes were flavorful and had kicks of spice. We tried the Grilled Pineapple Trini-Chow and the Chickpea Double, which are pictured below. For the remaining weeks, the food tent featured carnival cuisine from Louisiana Creole, Brazil and Germany.
Enough about the food ... let’s talk about drinks! Universal Mardi Gras had several new drink offerings this year. A certain number of these drinks were only be available as a pair with the purchase of a food item at the location where they're served. New event-exclusive drinks included High Seas Twister (a rum punch), Baby Cakes (vodka drink that tastes like king cake) and Blue Voodoo (a blue margarita). Opt to pair Hoodoo Cold Brew (pecan vodka cold brew) with beignets, or a Cajun Bloody Mary with jambalaya. The mimosa bar, which has eight fun flavors, also returned from 2019.
Tad and Lily looooved the new Float Floats, which are ice cream floats inspired by the parade floats. Indulge in the Shipwreck float (pineapple soft serve ice cream, chocolate soft serve, pineapple soda, cotton candy and waffle cone flag), the Sunken City of Atlantis float (vanilla soft serve, wild berry soda, mango boba and gummy shark) or the Mardi Gras float (pineapple and lime soft serve ice cream, grape soda, blueberry boba and waffle cone flag). They were available at Schwab's Pharmacy in Hollywood, and one float counted as one credit with the tasting lanyard.
Universal Mardi Gras Atmosphere
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! Some pirates even played a Simon Says-style game with a group of young buccaneers.
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. We joined a big dance party that got everyone up on their feet — even the Mardi Gras parade performers!
We checked out the new, incredibly-themed Mardi Gras Tribute Store, located next to the Jimmy Fallon ride. Not only can you get fancy beads, masks and event merchandise there, but there are also plenty of photo-ops. With a dark and eerie atmosphere, it felt like we were stepping inside a creepy New Orleans cemetery and mausoleum. We assured Lily that nothing would pop out at her, but the young ones could get a little frightened by the atmosphere alone.
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 festive floats, atmospheric decor and delicious cuisine really give 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 new 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! Let us know if you have any questions about Universal Mardi Gras in the comments below.