This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Reasons To Check Out Universal’s Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. The Universal Orlando Resort knows how to throw a party and Mardi Gras is their wildest celebration of the year. Universal’s Mardi Gras brings in big name musical acts, authentic New Orleans food, and a party atmosphere like no other and on top of it all the price is included in the price of regular admission. If you need more reasons than that to attend, here are an additional six.
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# 6 – The Concerts
The music acts that Universal books for the Mardi Gras Grand Celebration are second-to-none in the theme park concert world. While the Epcot Flower Power series of concerts will be featuring acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Village People and Chubby Checker – people you may have literally heard a thousand times before – this year’s Mardi Gras concert lineup includes a mix of classic and contemporary artists. Daughtry, Barenaked Ladies, Weezer and The Roots are just a few of the musical acts that will be headlining this year’s event. There’s also country stars like Gavin Degraw, classic rock groups like Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynryd, and even a Christian rock band with Skillet. Whether it’s Nelly, Collective Soul, or Huey Lewis and the News, you can pretty much count on Universal delivering an act you want to see perform.
As we just found out with Robin Thicke, all concerts are subject to change. You can find the full list of Mardi Gras featured artists and the dates they are playing at Seth Kubersky’s Complete Guide To Mardi Gras 2014. Some of the more well known acts can draw pretty big crowds, and it’s not unusual to see people lining up at the Music Plaza for the concerts just after rope drop, despite the concerts themselves not taking place until around 8PM.
A much more sane idea is to enjoy your day at Universal Studios Florida and then plan on enjoying the concert farther back in the New York area of the park. There will be large video screens set up for you to see the artists and you’ll also have much easier access to the New Orleans style food and drink options.
# 5 – The Merchandise
Since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010, the quality of Universal’s merchandise has skyrocketed faster than the resort’s attendance. Mardi Gras continues the trend with some really interesting and unique items. The main design, which you will find featured on shirts and pins, is almost reminiscent of a steampunk version of Epcot’s Dreamfinder character. Another great idea was using the Minions from Despicable Me in some of the products with the phrase “Minion Mania.” Mardi Gras celebrations are known for beads and you will find a large assortment of beads to wear or giveaway at a relatively inexpensive price of 3 for $10, all of which contain the official Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold (these colors represent justice, faith, and power.)
My favorite piece of merch this year was the Mardi Gras themed mason jar cup. It’s only drawback was that it was made in hard plastic and not glass like the “toothpick holders” and hurricane style glasses. I was disappointed that they did not release a new Uni-Mini figure as the one released for last year’s Mardi Gras event was fantastic and the Jack the Clown Uni-Mini for Halloween Horror Nights 2013 was even better. It also wouldn’t have hurt to include some Mardi Gras themed merchandise as prizes for the Games of Skill, especially the temporary ones put up in the KidZone area of the park (they have regular Minion plush as prizes).
If you like to see characters walking around on stilts, Universal is already the place for you, but Mardi Gras takes it up to an “11″ with a whole slew of new characters out and about interacting with guests. Traditional Louisiana Creole cajun zydeco and blues music can be heard while the bright colors will immerse you in the party setting. Street performers are everywhere and more than willing to pose for a picture. When you walk into Mardi Gras, everything feels different and there is so much more than your average day at USF.
# 3 The French Quarter Courtyard
The French Quarter Courtyard is your hub for Mardi Gras and you will find a lot of activity in this area. With walk-around characters, larger-than-life props, food, drink and live music, the Courtyard is your best chance to get a taste of the Big Easy without traveling to New Orleans itself. The courtyard opens at 4PM each night of Mardi Gras and a temporary stage as been set up at one end that featuring bands from Louisiana and playing authentic blues and Zydeco music.
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment and pour our a glass of VooDoo Juice for a member of the Courtyard experience that is no longer with us. The popular Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana sandwich is nowhere to be found this year, and I’m 100% behind whoever wants to start up a Change.org petition to bring it back.
Foodies rejoice! Mardi Gras is destination dining for those of us that love to eat at theme parks as Universal delivers a whole bunch of New Orleans–style eats. Jambalaya, Shrimp Gumbo, Andouille Sausage Po’Boys and Red Beans & Rice are some of the selections you can order but our favorites are in the area of snacks. Beignets, fried dough sticks, and the King Cake are brought out for Mardi Gras and all three should be on your list of must try desserts. All the various food options during Mardi Gras make the event like a mini-version of Epcot’s Food & Wine festival and allows us the opportunity to eat favorites such as Twister Taters, Muffuletta sandwiches and Fried Sweet Potato Chips.
# 1 – The Parade
There are very few parades that have the “Wow” factor. Most are pleasant distractions, but very few are interesting enough to have you really looking forward to the next float. When the theme parks deliver us a great parade, like Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade, it can become something you want to base you’re entire park day around. The Mardi Gras show is that type of parade and is something you need to see. The traditional floats like King Gator, the Jester, and the Riverboat are wonderful to see each and every year. Each year Universal also has a new theme and creates new floats to go along with it. This year’s theme being based around Jules Verne’s classic tale of adventure, Around the World in 80 Days. Similar to the exotic nature of the walk around characters we wrote about earlier, the floats themselves evoke a sense of exploration to foreign lands.
Of course, this being Mardi Gras, people on the floats are throwing out beads to guests on the street. I have had many arguments with people on how getting candy at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a waste of time as you could just buy your own candy cheaper at a store, but it’s just plain fun to trick or treat at Disney and it’s just as fun to catch cheap beads thrown at you from a float.
It can be even more fun to throw beads from the floats and Universal has a current promotion with American Express that offers guests the opportunity to ride a float. Even if you do not have an American Express card you can always go to the parade float sign up area (located in the KidZone area of the park) about 1 1/2 – 2 hours before the parade to see if they are accepting volunteers. Annual Passholders can also sign up online.
Universal’s Mardi Gras Grand Celebration takes place on selected nights in February through May.
Friday Nights: March 14, 21, 28
Saturday Nights: February 22; March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19; May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Sunday Night: February 16
Thee is no special ticket needed as the celebration is included with your regular park ticket. More information can be found at UniversalOrlando.com
So there you have it: Six Reasons To Check Out Universal’s Mardi Gras 2014. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the Saturday Six where we just may take a closer look at some of the food options available at Mardi Gras. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.