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Mardi Gras 2019 at Universal Orlando – complete insider’s guide

Welcome, party people, to the biggest bash this side of the bayou! You’ve just found the world’s most popular insider’s guide to the biggest Mardi Gras celebration in Orlando.

Every spring, the fun and excitement of the Big Easy makes its way to Universal Orlando Resort for an authentic celebration that completely transforms Universal Studios Florida into a family-friendly version of the famed New Orleans street party.

To learn everything there is to know about Mardi Gras 2019 – from the food in the French Quarter Courtyard to how you can sign up to ride a float – we strongly recommend that you read this guide from top to bottom.

Skip to: Overview | Concerts | Parade | French Quarter Courtyard | Food | FAQ | Photo galleries

 

Mardi Gras 2019 – overview and explanation

From Saturday, February 9 to Thursday, April 4 (which is approximately nine days shorter than last year’s event), Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration combines unparalleled theme-park entertainment with an elaborate Mardi Gras parade, dozens of colorfully-costumed performers, authentic New Orleans bands, and delicious Cajun cuisine (the last two of which can be found in the French Quarter Courtyard). On select nights, there’s even live concerts by nationally- and internationally-recognized recording artists.

It used to be that the parade and food vendors were relegated to specific nights only (typically on the weekends). Fortunately, Universal changed that starting in 2017; now, guests can get fully into the Big Easy swing every single night of the event’s two-month-long run.

What about admission?

Here’s the best part about the whole set of fesitivities — they’re completely free! As long as you have a ticket to get through the Universal Studios Florida turnstiles on a Mardi Gras event date, you have access to everything, from the concerts to the parade to the French Quarter Courtyard.

What about the weather?

Concerned about the weather the night you plan on getting some beads? Check out our Orlando weather page to learn more and be fully prepared for your visit.

 

Mardi Gras 2019 – concerts

Mardi Gras 2018 Passport newsflash
The first announced acts for Mardi Gras 2018 at Universal Studios Florida

NOTE: no information has been released yet on 2019’s event. In the meantime, we’re keeping our coverage of 2018 up, to help give you an idea of what to expect.

Music constitutes such a big part of New Orleans’s Mardi Gras traditions, and it’s no different at Universal Orlando – in fact, the concerts are easily the most popular part of the resort’s annual celebration.

Typically, the concerts begin at 8:30 pm, not too long after that night’s parade wraps up (you can see below for a full list of the parade start times, but we can tell you right now that the parade starts at 7:45 on concert nights). You should double-check the park map for all times that evening, however, just to be safe.

What is this year’s concert lineup?

Here is the full roster of the musical acts that will be descending upon Universal Studios Florida for Mardi Gras 2018. (Please note that dates that appear in bold are either Fridays or Sundays; all the others are Saturdays.)

You might notice that there are no concerts for the last two weekends of the event. While this could simply be a matter of timing — Universal might yet announce some artists to close out the party — we could also be looking at the very first Mardi Gras to feature concert-less Saturdays (perhaps a function of having the celebration go on until April, which is also a first).

How does concert seating work? How far in advance should I get there?

In order to talk about seating at the Mardi Gras concerts, we first have to say that there are actually no seats to be found; it’s all general standing. The Universal Music Plaza is an open field, so to speak, so you get to watch the performance from wherever it is that you’re standing when they start playing music. There is no VIP area to upgrade to, and there is no special viewing section to access, whether you have Express Passes or are staying on-site at one of Universal’s hotels (though we should probably note right here that there is, indeed, an ADA viewing area, which is located in the middle of the Music Plaza and which is accessible via the side facing Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. See the team members that are working the concert for assistance).

So, given all this, how early do you need to get there? If you want to be somewhat close to the stage, you need to get to the plaza at least two to six hours before the concert starts — the more popular the musical act, the earlier you need to get there. Saying that the area gets very crowded is a bit of an understatement — so if you just have to get good “seats” for a particular band, plan on skipping that night’s parade and waiting in line instead.

(Crowd levels will also be influenced by spring break, so you will want to review our Universal Orlando crowd calendar.)

Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras
Universal Music Plaza – empty
Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras
Universal Music Plaza – full

Front-row alert: want to see your favorite artist from the front row at Universal Music Plaza? There are no special requirements for this other than a willingness on your behalf to line up in the morning for an evening concert. These Matchbox Twenty fans, for instance, were lined up before 10:00 am to see their favorite band up close:

 

Mardi Gras 2019 – parade

NOTE: no information has been released yet on 2019’s event. In the meantime, we’re keeping our coverage of 2018 up, to help give you an idea of what to expect.

Universal’s Mardi Gras parade is an elaborate affair, providing guests with the chance to dance along with street performers and collect beads by the handful as the colorful floats wind down the streets of Universal Studios Florida.

Each year, Universal adds a few new floats to its reportorie, replacing some of the older ones and thereby keeping the proceedings fresh and engaging. In 2015, for example, a “party” float was added to the lineup (and the crowd-favorite Gator and Riverboat floats were returned after a lengthy refurbishment period); 2016 saw four newcomers that celebrated different cultures and festivals from around the world (Venetian Carnival, Oktoberfest, Fourth of July, and Rio de Janeiro Carnival); and, in 2017, a massive six additions were trotted out, all based off of mythical creatures (Manticore’s Majesty, The Rise of the Garuda, The Dance of the Dragon, Phoenix from the Flames, Garden Sprites, and The Flight of the Pegasus).

Mardi Gras 2017 at Universal Studios Florida
Phoenix from the Flames in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2017 parade
Garden Sprites at Universal's Mardi Gras 2017
Garden Sprites in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2017 parade

For 2018, Universal has once again introduced six brand-new floats to the processional (which means that half of the parade will be all-new!), with each one being themed to the celestial — or, more specifically, to the zodiac. Look for Taurus, Virgo the Maiden, Scorpius, Andromeda, Orion the Hunter, and Orphiuchus to make their way throughout the park during this year’s Mardi Gras.

The Orion the Hunter float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orion the Hunter float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orion the Hunter float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orion the Hunter float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Virgo the Maiden float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Virgo the Maiden float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Virgo the Maiden float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Virgo the Maiden float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orphiuchus float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orphiuchus float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orphiuchus float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Orphiuchus float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Taurus float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Taurus float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Taurus float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Taurus float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Scorpius float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Scorpius float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Scorpius float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Scorpius float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Andromeda float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Andromeda float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Andromeda float in Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade
The Andromeda float in Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade

Parade times

The parade starts at 5:15 pm on Feb. 6
It starts at 6:45 pm on Feb. 4, 5, 7-9, 11-15
It starts at 7:15 pm on Feb. 16, 19-23, 25-28, Mar. 1, 2, 5-9
It starts at 7:45 pm on Feb. 3, 10, 17, 18, 24, Mar. 3, 4, 10-31, Apr. 1-7

As a friendly reminder, the Mardi Gras parade is about 20 minutes in length, from beginning to end.

Where is the best place to watch the parade?

The Mardi Gras parade starts at the bottom of the map seen below, right next to the Horror Make-Up Show theater, and then it follows the purple line all the way around Universal Studios Florida, ending back where it began.

Universal's Mardi Gras 2018 parade route
Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018 parade route

So, where’s the best spot to watch the parade? For this event, it’s more about finding a strategic area based on what you’re most interested in:

I’d like to leave the park as quickly and as early as possible. Then you will want to line up along Hollywood Blvd, near where Terminator 2 3D: Battle across Time used to be and where the Little Jester’s parade viewing area is located. This will allow you to quickly exit Universal Studios after the parade has passed.

I’d like to have an opportunity to see the parade twice. In this case, you will want to line up in front of Mel’s Drive-In, located on Hollywood Blvd. Because the parade’s route has it beginning and ending at the same spot, anyone near Mel’s will be able to see it twice.

I’d like the best spot for taking pictures. This is somewhat a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, based on our experience, lining up in the New York backlot near Finnegan’s Bar & Grill or Louie’s Italian Restaurant will get you the best pictures. We believe this is because the building facades along Delancey Street really help the parade floats look like they’re traveling down a real city street, like you might actually see in New Orleans.

I’m going to the concert afterwards. If you really want a good spot for the concert, you’ll need to skip the parade altogether (as we’ve already discussed). But if you really want to see both, then for the parade you will want to line up in Production Central, basically as close as you can get to Universal Music Plaza.

Universal Mardi Gras 2018
Universal Mardi Gras 2018
Universal Mardi Gras 2018
Universal Mardi Gras 2018
Universal Mardi Gras 2018
Universal Mardi Gras 2018

Because the Mardi Gras floats are mostly two-story, and because virtually all the street performers are on stilts, you don’t lose much not being in the very front of the crowd. Of course, wherever you choose as your viewing area, being in the front of the crowd will give you the best shot at collecting beads and taking the least-obscured photos. To do this, choose your area based on the information above and get there 45 minutes to an hour before the parade start time.

Special parade-viewing areas

The Little Jester’s viewing area for kids is located next to where Terminator 2 3D used to be, near the very front of the park.

The ADA viewing area is in front of the Macy’s facade in the New York backlot, right by Revenge of the Mummy.

The annual passholder viewing area is in front of Mel’s Drive-In, right at the start of the parade.

How do I sign up to ride a Mardi Gras parade float?

There are three different ways that a guest can attempt to ride one of the colorful parade floats through the streets of Universal Studios Florida, tossing beads to thousands of cheering spectators (we say “attempt” because signing up doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be chosen). Let’s break down each of the ways:

Annual passholders

  • Space is limited, and signing up does not guarantee a spot
  • Must be 18 years of age (or accompanied by an adult)
  • Must be at least 48 inches tall
  • No bags or strollers
  • Floats can accommodate guests in push wheelchairs with advance notice

All annual passholders can sign up here.

UPDATE (1:45 pm, 01.22.18): all parade-float spots have been filled already.

On-site hotel guests

Starting in 2017, Universal has allowed a limited number of Universal Orlando on-site hotel guests to also participate in the Mardi Gras parade. The same restrictions as above apply here.

The link to register is advertised as UniversalOrlando.com/MardiGrasFloat; however, this link does not work. Guests have had success visiting the ticket counter at their on-site hotel or stopping by Guest Services at Universal Studios Florida, so that’s precisely what we recommend you do this time out.

Standby

Each night, two hours prior to the parade time, there is a standby line that forms outside of A Day in the Park with Barney in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. Should there be spots on the floats due to the previously-outlined guests not showing up, a limited number of those in the line may be allowed to ride a float. (Pro tip: this is most likely to happen on a weekday.)

Want to know about about this experience? OI contributor Dani wrote a great blog post about it a few years ago.

One last thing!

Once the parade starts going, it keeps going for the next 20 (or so) minutes – if you’re on the wrong side of the route, you won’t be able to cross it in order to leave Universal Studios Florida. Families (especially those with young children) should certainly make note of what time the parade starts that night and take pains to not get stuck in the park.

 

Mardi Gras 2019 – French Quarter Courtyard

French Quarter Courtyard at Universal's Mardi Gras 2018
French Quarter Courtyard at Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018

NOTE: no information has been released yet on 2019’s event. In the meantime, we’re keeping our coverage of 2018 up, to help give you an idea of what to expect.

The heart of Universal’s Mardi Gras is located, ironically enough, in New York. This section of Universal Studios Florida is where the French Quarter Courtyard can be found, which is home to “character” meet-‘n-greets and authentic New Orleans music.

Yes, that’s right – guests can groove to the soulful sounds of real, live bayou bands every night of the festivities. Since 2006, nearly two dozen musical groups have traveled straight from the Big Easy to Universal Orlando to perform blues, jazz, and zydeco music for party-goers, adding to the vibrancy of Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration.

New Orleans band playing at Universal's Mardi Gras
New Orleans band playing at Universal’s Mardi Gras

This year, you can dance (and eat!) to the sounds of:

  • February 3 – 20: Free Agents Brass Band
  • February 21 – March 6: Naughty Professor Brass Band
  • March 7 – 20: New Breed Brass Band
  • March 21 – 31: Young Pinstripe Brass Band
  • April 1 – April 7: Dirty Bourbon River Show

For 2018, Universal will continue its newfound tradition of having these bands perform on the street throughout the area instead of having them be perched on a small nearby stage.

 

Mardi Gras 2018 – the food

NOTE: no information has been released yet on 2019’s event. In the meantime, we’re keeping our coverage of 2018 up, to help give you an idea of what to expect.

Universal’s annual event features an array of delicious “N’awlins-style food and spirits” available in (more or less) two different locations.

Food tents

There are several different tents set up all around the French Quarter Courtyard that serve small bites, tasty desserts, and, of course, beer.

Voodoo Chicken Tender Platter – $12.49 – choice of voodoo hot or chili garlic. Served with fries and coleslaw.
Fried Stuffed Pockets – $11.99 – spicy chicken, ground beef, and cheddar cheese. Served with chips.
Twisted Tater/Fried Chips – $7.99 – sour cream and chips, garlic butter, seasoned salt, or salt and vinegar.
Mini donuts – $7.99
Beignets  – $7.49
Loaded Fries – $7.99
Canned Beer – $7.99 – Bud Light, Miller Lite, Truly, Cigar City
Bottled Soda – $3.29 – Coca-cola, Diet Coke, Sprit
Bottled Water – $2.99

Food at Universal's Mardi Gras 2018
The Grilled Chicken Muffaletta Sandwich Platter $11.99
Food at Universal's Mardi Gras 2018
The Fried Shrimp Platter is $12.99

The food and drink tents open at 4:00 pm every day and close around 8:45 on on concert nights, but the individual booths may extend their hours depending on how busy it is. In addition, we should point out that select food stands may not open on non-concert nights.

In the restaurants

There are three quick-service restaurants that also get in on the action, each offering up an exclusive bayou dish:

Bayou Surf & Turf Burger – Classic Monsters Cafe – an all-beef burger topped with pepper jack cheese, sauteed Cajun shrimp, fried pickles, and delicious Cajun mayo. Served with fries and coleslaw.
Cajun Chicken & Andouille Sausage Pizza – Louie’s Italian Restaurant
Bourbon Street Stinger Burger – Mel’s Drive-In

And since you’re already in the Classic Monsters Cafe, you might as well stay there and take advantage of its ample seating and relatively low crowds. Actually, you may want to eat in there regardless of which refreshments you’re enjoying – you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to cool off and catch your breath.

 

Mardi Gras 2018 – FAQ

NOTE: no information has been released yet on 2019’s event. In the meantime, we’re keeping our coverage of 2018 up, to help give you an idea of what to expect.

What – you still have questions about Universal Studios Florida’s Mardi Gras bash? No problem – we’ve got the answers for you.

Do you have any tips or tricks?

Boy, do we:

Is Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida appropriate for young kids?

The French Quarter Courtyard, the pre-party, and the parade are well done and totally kid-friendly. We definitely recommend bringing along everyone in the family! Many Mardi Gras “characters” walk the streets near Universal Music Plaza and the French Quarter Courtyard, handing out beads and posing for photos. Mixed with the New Orleans party music filling the air, it’s a very festive atmosphere.

Universal Mardi Gras 2017
Universal Mardi Gras 2017
Universal Mardi Gras 2017
Universal Mardi Gras 2017
Universal Mardi Gras 2017
Universal Mardi Gras 2017

The part of Mardi Gras that may not be quite so family-friendly is the free concert on select nights after the parade. Universal is able to get some pretty big names to play, and since the concert is free to anyone who has admission to the park, they can get packed – and we mean packed. We wouldn’t recommend bringing the kids around the Universal Music Plaza anytime towards the end of the night, unless you happen to be going when a decidedly unpopular or older band is playing.

Luckily, it’s very easy to enjoy Mardi Gras’s family-friendly party atmosphere and parade while steering clear of the Music Plaza. In fact, Universal has set up a special parade viewing area just for kids called Little Jester’s – it’s located to the former Terminator 2 3D, and it opens an hour before the parade starts. And, surely by design, Universal has put this special viewing area right next to the park exit, so you can easily leave with your kids once the parade passes.

To view the location of what used to be Terminator inside Universal Studios Florida, open our special interactive map by clicking here. (Be sure to switch it to Satellite View.)

I need beads, beads, and more beads, please

Beads are the central icon of Mardi Gras, and don’t you worry – you’ll be able to collect them ’til your little heart’s content. And, even better, the vast majority of these quintessential items are absolutely free to you.

How do you collect beads? There are two central ways: by watching the parade (a number of employees and guests line the floats and fling the coveted items ’til their arms are sore and about to fall off) and by meeting-and-greeting with the Mardi Gras “characters” that line the streets by the Music Plaza and French Quarter Courtyard (though sometimes they’ll make you earn your beads, such as by dancing with them).

Specialty beads at Universal's Mardi Gras 2018
Specialty beads at Universal’s Mardi Gras 2018

And in case the standard-issue beads just aren’t to your liking, Universal also sells specialty ones (for $3.99) at the main Universal Studios Florida gift shop and at two merchandise stands: one across from Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and the other across from Fast & Furious: Supercharged.

What about Universal’s Superstar Parade?

Universal’s Superstar parade, the daytime processional that similarly makes is way through Universal Studios Florida, continues to run daily during the Mardi Gras season. The only change to note is that, on Mardi Gras event dates, the parade is scheduled at 3:00 pm. On non-event dates, the parade runs at its usual time of 5:00 pm. (To learn more, be sure to visit our Superstar Parade page.)

Are there any benefits for annual passholders?

Yes!

Annual passholders are eligible for a special viewing area in front of Mel’s Diner; in addition, Premier and Preferred passholders can each get a 10% discount between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm at the French Quarter’s food tents. Even better, for one day only – on Saturday, February 3, the very first day of the festivities – all passholders received an hour of early entry to the French Quarter, starting at 3:00 pm.

Finally, it should be noted that Seasonal Passholders aren’t eligible to attend Mardi Gras concerts, as all concert dates fall under the blackout dates.

(Need some more info or explanations on what all these various levels of Universal Orlando’s annual passes are? No problem – check out our complete guide to annual passes.)

 

Mardi Gras 2018 – photo galleries

Below are our various photo galleries from Unviersal’s Mardi Gras 2018.

Pre-party photo gallery

« 1 of 2 »

Mardi Gras 2018 – parade photo gallery

« 1 of 4 »

Mardi Gras 2018 – concert photo gallery

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