Complete Guide to Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 UPDATED

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Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 guide

Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration starts on Feb 8, 2014.

Today we tackle one of my favorite theme park topics: the annual Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. Universal Studios Mardi Gras holds a special place in my heart because, back in the late 1990s when I worked in Universal Studios Florida’s entertainment department, I was a talent supervisor for the parade, and got to walk with it nightly. (I’ll never get “Iko Iko” or “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” out of my skull.) So I’m thrilled to share Touring Plans’ complete guide to Universal’s bead laden bacchanalia, bringing you all the info you need to laissez les bons temps rouler!

[UPDATED 3/12/14: Scroll down for late-breaking news on the Mardi Gras extension and rescheduled Robin Thicke concert!]

Background

Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of “Fat Tuesday” (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before “Ash Wednesday” on the Catholic calendar, and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People would bid “farewell to flesh” with a “carnivale” where they would indulge in the meat and drink they were about to forswear. Mardi Gras is the New Orleans, Louisiana, variation on this tradition — which is echoed in other cities from Venice, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons — namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts. About 20 years ago, Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family friendly event,” and amazingly it is — minus the bare breasts, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic; much as Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Blaine Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1947, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after each parade, much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.

 

Universal Studios Mardi Gras Schedule

For 2014, the Universal Studios Mardi Gras celebration has expanded to epic proportions, running all the way from February 8 (a week before the New Orleans parades step off), and not ending until June 7, over three months after the actual Mardi Gras holiday. But don’t show up expecting the party on just any night in that range; there are only parades and concerts on the following select nights:

Friday Nights: March 14, 21, 28

Saturday Nights: February 8, 15, 22; March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19; May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; June 7

Sunday Night: February 16

 

Admission

Unlike some other evening theme park events (like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights or Disney’s Very Merry Christmas Party), every night of Mardi Gras is free! Well, not exactly free (TANSTAAFL), but at least included in any valid form of of admission, including all levels of annual passes — even Power Passes that would otherwise be blocked out during spring break (April 12 & 19). There are also Florida Resident discounts available, including a $69 online-only Mardi Gras ticket for admission after 5 p.m.

 

Mardi Gras Parade

The parade is naturally the centerpiece of the Mardi Gras party, and Universal’s version has all the color and crazy characters of the original (only much more compact). Floats are updated every year with new themes, and the inspiration for 2014′s additions is Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. But you can always count on the massive “King Gator” float making, along with other favorites like the multi-story Riverboat, to roll down Universal’s boulevards. The floats are each accompanied by dozens of strolling performers and stilt walkers, while costumed revelers ride upon them tossing colorful plastic beads to the crowds below.

 

Here’s a complete video of the 2013 Mardi Gras parade:

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And here is the 2014 Mardi Gras parade. It was shot on a rainy opening night, which explains the lack of stilt walkers:

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This year’s parade steps off from the Esoteric gate near the Horror Makeup Show, circles counter-clockwise past Music Plaza Stage, and exits the park through the same gate it entered:

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The parade lasts around 25 minutes; before daylight savings begins it typically starts around 7:15 p.m., and at 8:15 p.m. after the clocks spring forward. Times may vary with operating hours, so check the park map for details. You can find good viewing anywhere along the parade route, and unless you insist on standing right up front, there’s no need to save your spot more than 10 or 15 minutes in advance.

Special reserved viewing areas are also available for Annual Passholders (near Mel’s Drive-In), American Express cardholders (near Finnegan’s), guests with disabilities (near Macy’s in New York), and young “Lil’ Jesters” and their families (near Terminator 2: 3-D).

If you really want to get in on the action, it’s possible to volunteer as a bead-tossing float rider. Annual Passholders can sign up for themselves and a guest online; you must RSVP at least one week in advance. American Express Cardholders who purchased their tickets with an AmEx can sign up to ride 90 minutes before each parade in KidZone. All riders must be at least 18 years old (or accompanied by an adult) and 48″ tall; space is limited and availability is not guaranteed.

 

Mardi Gras Concerts

Every event night, after the parade concludes (approximately 45 minutes after step off), a big-name concert kicks off on Music Plaza Stage underneath the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster.

Universal Studios Mardi Gras concert Lifehouse

Lifehouse opening the 2013 Universal Studios Mardi Gras concert series.

Here’s the 2014 Universal Studios Mardi Gras Concert lineup:

FEB 8 DAUGHTRY

FEB 15 BARENAKED LADIES

FEB 16 THOMAS RHETT

FEB 22 ROBIN THICKE (Rescheduled to June 7)

MAR 1 COLLECTIVE SOUL

MAR 8 PRINCE ROYCE

MAR 14 CODY SIMPSON

MAR 15 FOREIGNER

MAR 21 A GREAT BIG WORLD

MAR 22 GAVIN DEGRAW

MAR 28 KELLY ROWLAND

MAR 29 WEEZER

APR 5 SKILLET

APR 12 LYNYRD SKYNYRD

APR 19 KOOL & THE GANG

MAY 3 NELLY

MAY 10 THE WANTED

MAY 17 THE ROOTS

MAY 24 CHER LLOYD

MAY 31 HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS

JUNE 7 ROBIN THICKE (Rescheduled)

The concerts are standing-room only and first-come/first-served; crowds can be enormous, and folks sometimes start lining up shortly after park opening for the hottest acts. There is no extra-cost VIP area available, but there is an ADA accessible viewing section near the TWISTER¬†restrooms. Large video screens broadcast the stage to those standing in the far back, so consider watching from the New York Battery Park area if you aren’t an uber-fan of the artist. And after the concert concludes, the Universal Cinematic Spectacular show lights up the central lagoon (approximately 10:00 p.m., see park map for details).

 

French Quarter Food and Fun

Chef Steve Jayson and his culinary team pride themselves on the authentic N’awlins flavors they bring to the French Quarter Courtyard, an area of temporary food and beverage booths set up in New York that opens at 4:00 p.m. each Mardi Gras event night.

Here’s a video interview from last year with Chef Jayson explaining his creole and Cajun culinary creations, which include jambalaya, gumbo, and beignets:

 

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You can eat to the beat and enjoy live blues and zydeco musicians direct from Louisiana on the French Quarter stage. Universal started this tradition a decade ago to support New Orleans artists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This year’s lineup is as follows:

FEB 8 REMEDY KREWE

FEB 15-16 SOUL PROJECT

FEB 22 ROCKIN’ JAKE

MAR 1 BIG AL & THE HEAVYWEIGHTS

MAR 8 DADDY MACK BLUES BAND

MAR 14-15 MISSISSIPPI RAIL COMPANY

MAR 21-22 THE BIG EASY PLAYBOYS

MAR 28-29 DIRTY BOURBON RIVER SHOW

APR 5 JOHN LISI AND DELT FUNK

APR 12 BETH MCKEE & THE SLIDERS

APR 19 GRAVY MAY 3CHRIS O’LEARY

MAY 10 T BIRD & THE BREAKS

MAY 17 GRADY CHAMPION

MAY 24 CHA WA

MAY 31 NAUGHTY PROFESSOR

 

CityWalk After Party

If you don’t want to stop the fun after the park shuts down, CityWalk’s seven clubs offer free admission to all park ticket-holders (including annual Passholders) after every Mardi Gras concert.

 

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Posted on March 12, 2014

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