Universal Orlando boasts some excellent seasonal events. Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) has well-earned being the best fright themed event in world. HHN runs from early September until end of October each year. In the span of a few weeks later, Universal Orlando transforms into a wonderland of the holidays from mid-November until after New Year’s Day.
The magnificent holiday events at Universal Orlando are followed by a few weeks without any big events. In current schedule, the Rock the Universe festival style concert weekend happening at the end of January. However just as HHN has expanded, Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando emerged from a smaller seasonal event to arguably the best INCLUDED FREE WITH THEME PARK ADMISSION event in Orlando area.
For 2023, Mardi Gras celebration at Universal Orlando runs from Feb. 4 through April 16. Universal Studios Florida functions as main base for Mardi Gras activities. Perhaps, you desire a different theme park vacation this late Winter/early Spring. The Mardi Gras celebration at Universal Orlando provides a solid option. So why visit Universal Orlando during that time of year (besides the great weather)? Let me give you a few reasons…
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO COST
Almost every part of the Mardi Gras is included with your theme park admission to Universal Orlando. Yes, there are a few upcharges for some special opportunities. However, even those cost very little in scheme of things. Guests can spend large amounts of time in the theme parks without feeling “nickeled and dimed” to death. Yes, you will need to buy theme park food (more on saving for that later). Yes, theme park tickets can be expensive. However, if you visit Universal Orlando for 4 or more days, a seasonal/annual pass could be a budget saver. Universal Orlando fails to be perfect for a budget minded group. Still, Universal Orlando continues to treat guests most of the time as treasured.
UNIVERSAL EVENING PARADE
Okay, the Mardi Gras parade may not start when the sun goes down. Still, the parade will finish in the darkness. Now, this parade functions as more than just a parade. The Mardi Gras parade consists of floats constructed by Kern Studios. This company creates most of the actual floats used in New Orleans for their Mardi Gras. Universal Studios Florida created a window in honor of Blaine Kern himself. If you are not visiting Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, these floats are as close as you can get.
Beads serve as a fun aspect of Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando. Before some of you become alarmed, beads are acquired in very family friendly ways. When the floats come rolling through the parade route, guests (paying customers) will be riding the floats throwing beads to the crowd. Yes, you read “guests” throwing beads to the crowd. Procedure on selection of those guests varies. Annual pass holders usually have the chance to sign up in advance for slots on floats. Other guests need to check with guest services and/or hang out around Animal Actors Theatre where float riders meet before the parade.
Even if you do not get the chance to ride on of these floats, the experience of watching may be worth most of price of admission. The floats are well done. The music and lights add to this experience. Make sure to pay attention while watching the parade because beads will be flying. In addition to all of that, there will be festive performers entertaining during the parade but more about them later.
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT HOTELS
The on-site Universal/Loews hotels make any vacation better. The overall value normally for these resort hotels rises during Mardi Gras. Since much of the Mardi Gras celebration happens during traditionally slow or moderate crowd level times of year, the hotels cost less. If you can find a way to visit avoiding the big Spring Break weeks, you may find a great deal on accommodations.
Though I cannot guarantee anything close to this deal, I have 7 days booked at Dockside Inn and Suites during Mardi Gras for $74/night. Now, this is a standard room at the value level resort (3-star level) hotel. Still, if you tend to vacation during same time as Universal Orlando Mardi Gras (even if it is Spring Break), your travel expert can find a good deal also.
In addition, Mardi Gras is not limited to just the theme parks. Based on previous years, guests find special food options at their resort on-site hotel. When you factor in early theme park admission of ONE HOUR and free efficient shuttle bus transportation to the theme parks, staying on-site offers a solid deal. You can select to upgrade to a premier level resort hotel to get unlimited express pass included with your stay. All in all, the resort hotels at Universal Orlando are great value.
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO FOOD
Remember, I mentioned saving on food. Mardi Gras season makes that way simpler. Now, you can find all types of seasonal Mardi Gras dishes across the resort from Voodoo Doughnut to full service seasonal options. One thing that sets Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando apart are the food booths. Based on last three years of Mardi Gras, Universal Orlando believes in offering guests as many combinations of quality food as they can make fit the theme.
However, unlike a food festival at Epcot for example, you will not spend $50 on samples of food/drink and still be hungry. Generally, the food options at Universal Orlando feature larger portions for less money than other theme park resorts.
Universal Orlando sells a tasting lanyard, during Mardi Gras, that can be purchased to get items from all the food/beverage booths. This is basically a gift card with a $75 balance that you pay $65 for. You can use the card at the Mardi Gras food kiosks and if you don’t use the full card balance it never expires so you can use it next year. The menus vary from year to year, but guests should expect a significant amount of Cajun style food. Common Cajun style food offered should be jambalaya, shrimp gumbo, Andouille sausage, and beignets, these will be sold as well as international food options.
The Mardi Gras dining options do not stop in the parks. Most CityWalk restaurants offer a special Mardi Gras item or two to enjoy. As mentioned, even the on-site resort hotels will offer food/beverage options.
An integral part of Universal Mardi Gras has been the concerts. These concerts included with admission happen in music plaza area of Universal Studios Florida. Concerts are held on select nights, usually weekend nights. The concert line-ups for 2023 include musical artists Patti LaBelle, JVKE, Goo Goo Dolls, Maren Morris, Willow, 3 Doors Down, Sean Paul, and Lauren Deigel . The concerts start near end of park operating hours on days they happen.
Many of these concerts nights draw large crowds. If you want a good position on the music plaza lawn for concert, I suggest you arrive early. There will be a mobile food ordering pickup area near concerts to acquire nutrition if needed.
Concerts cost nothing extra with park admission. That brings up one variable. Concert days/nights are blocked out (as Universal calls it) for season passholders. If you have the lowest level annual pass, known as a season pass, you may not enter Universal Studios Florida on any day that a concert happens. If you purchase an economical season level pass, you will need to upgrade (usually between $50-80) to a power pass to enter Universal Studios Florida on concerts days/nights. Still, season passholders do get admission to Islands of Adventure on concerts days/nights at Universal Studios Florida.
ADDITIONAL DAILY ENTERTAINMENT
Universal Studios Florida becomes a party atmosphere more as day gets closer to nightfall. The entertainers make sure you can enjoy it. Universal hires bands to play during the day. These bands specialize in signature sounds of genuine New Orleans jazz bands. They play on a steady schedule in the New York area near the Jimmy Fallon attraction.
If that does not sound like enough extra fun, Universal sends parade performers out periodically during the day before the parade. You will see stilt walkers. Also, you will encounter incredible entertainers in extravagant costumes.
Maybe, you lack comfort about waiting in large crowds during a parade. If so, you can interact with performers in a more casual setting this way. Almost every entertainer carries extra Mardi gras beads. They love to interact with guests. Entertainers pose for photos with you also. You will find those entertainers near the music plaza area in the hours before the parade starts.
Fairly recently, Universal Orlando started creating a well-themed tribute store for Mardi Gras. The first one happened in 2020. If you are unfamiliar with the Tribute Store concept, these are incredibly well-themed walk-through attractions. As the name implies, this attraction serves as an incredible store. However, calling it merely a store fails to characterize it. The theming of the rooms in this store shines. The food options sold within the store serve as highlights to many visitors. Merchandise quality within impresses guests and offers lower price points than comparable theme park resorts.
Mardi Gras Float Ride and Dine Experience
New for 2023! Select Dates Feb. 4–Apr. 16.
Get a reserved spot on a parade ﬂoat and toss beads to the crowd. It’s the best way to guarantee your place in the parade!
Plus, enjoy a 3-course meal selecting from the full menu at one of four participating restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort. Hurry as Restrictions apply and the cost is $84.99 for this in 2023.
UNIVERSAL MARDI GRAS CONCLUSION
I have only presented the major highlights of Universal Mardi Gras. Many aspects of Mardi Gras must be discovered by you. Personally, I look forward to my “work” trip to Universal Orlando to celebrate Mardi Gras. Though my “real” job reminds me that Mardi Gras should end at beginning of March 2023, Universal will celebrate with you until April 16th, 2023.
Jon Self is an avid theme park fan. You can follow him at @pastorjonself on Twitter. Jon has been writing and editing in the theme park media world for some time. He also writes for several “foodie” sites and in the faith-based world at faithelement.net