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 2020 – from the food in the French Quarter Courtyard to how you can sign up to ride a parade float – we strongly recommend that you read this guide from top to bottom.
Mardi Gras 2020 – overview and explanation
UPDATE: due to the COVID-19 closure, Universal has announced a new ending date for its Mardi Gras celebration: Sunday, March 15.
From Saturday, February 1 to Sunday, March 15, 2020 (originally announced as Thursday, April 2), 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 festivities — 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 2020 – concerts
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.
The concerts this year all 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 it 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 2020. (Please note that dates that appear in bold are either Fridays or Sundays; all the others are Saturdays.)
- Saturday, February 1: The Roots (official site, popular video, @TheRoots)
- Saturday, February 8: Karol G (official site, popular video)
- Saturday, February 15: Bell Biv DeVoe (official site, popular video, @OfficialBBD)
- Sunday, February 16: Live (official site, popular video, @Freaks4Live)
- Saturday, February 22: Kool & the Gang (official site, popular video, @KoolntheGngLIVE)
- Saturday, February 29: TLC (official site, popular video, @OfficialTLC)
- Saturday, March 7: REO Speedwagon (official site, popular video, @kcreospeedwagon)
- Sunday, March 8: Dustin Lynch (official site, popular video, @dustinlynch)
- Friday, March 13: Luis Fonsi (official site, popular video, @LuisFonsi)
- Saturday, March 14: Flo Rida (official site, popular video, @official_flo)
- Sunday, March 15: Sugar Ray (official site, popular video, @sugarrayband)
NOTE: originally, The All-American Rejects were scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 14, and Diana Ross on Sunday, March 15, but the escalating situation with COVID-19 caused them to cancel their performances. Additionally, before Mardi Gras’s run was cut short, Universal had originally announced the following acts for the projected final two weekends of the event:
- Friday, March 20: Chris Young (official site, popular video, @ChrisYoungMusic)
- Saturday, March 21: Earth, Wind, & Fire (official site, popular video, @EarthWindFire)
- Sunday, March 22: Marshmello (official site, popular video, @marshmellomusic)
- Saturday, March 28: Why Don’t We (official site, popular video, @whydontwemusic)
- Sunday, March 29: Gavin DeGraw (official site, popular video, @GavinDeGraw)
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.)
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:
— Orlando Informer (@OrlandoInformer) March 16, 2013
Mardi Gras 2020 – parade
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.
Learn what the new parade floats (and theme) are, the best place(s) to watch it, and, even, how to ride those floats yourself in our devoted page to Mardi Gras’s parade.
Mardi Gras 2020 – French Quarter Courtyard
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 (that is, some of the colorful dancers that are part of the parade) and authentic New Orleans music.
Yes, that’s right – guests can groove to the soulful sounds of real, live bayou bands “pulled straight from Bourbon Street” 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.
French Quarter Entertainment Lineup
This year, you can dance (and eat!) to the sounds of:
- Feb. 1-13: Dirty Bourbon River Show
- Feb. 14-29, Mar. 1-5: Free Agents Brass Band
- Mar. 6-15: New Breed Brass Band
For 2020, Universal continues the tradition (which started back in ’17) of having these bands perform on the street throughout the area instead of having them be perched on a small nearby stage.
But the real star of the French Quarter Courtyard is…
Mardi Gras 2020 – food and drinks
Universal’s annual event features an array of delicious “N’awlins-style food and spirits,” including the traditional food tents of the French Quarter courtyard, the brand-new Carnival around the Universe tent (which features timed-exclusive dishes and sips from carnivals throughout the globe), and a massive lineup of various drinks, ranging from the non-alcoholic frozen slushies and floats to a whole host of mimosas and cocktails.
It’s grown to be so much, we have a whole guide devoted just to it. You can find the complete insider’s guide to Mardi Gras’s exclusive food and drinks here.
Mardi Gras 2020 – add-on experiences
Just in case Mardi Gras was starting to look like Halloween Horror Nights a little too much, there’s also a fair bit that’s being imported from Universal’s Holidays celebration, as well – and nowhere is this clearer than in all of the premium add-on experiences that are now tacked on to the event’s run.
This two-part extra starts off with an all-you-can-eat Louisiana-style crawfish boil in Battery Park that features crawfish, shrimp, potatoes, corn on the cob, and, upon request, chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya, along with one alcoholic drink and unlimited soft drinks (sodas, sweet tea, lemonade, and water). Then, afterwards, guests are treated to an exclusive viewing area for the Mardi Gras parade in front of Cafe La Bamba that comes replete with unlimited desserts (namely, King Cake and beignets), sparkling wine, and non-alcoholic drinks. (Note that additional alcoholic beverages can be purchased during either portion of the event.)
When one adds in the meet-‘n-greet element (Mardi Gras performers during the boil and various Universal characters at the parade viewing area) in addition to all of the food and drinks, the Bayou Boil is, hands down, a great value – and, in our opinion, a must-do experience. It is nothing short of a great enhancement to the overall Mardi Gras vibe.
The price is $59.99 for adults and $39.99 for children (ages three to nine), plus tax; Premier, Preferred, and Power Passholders get a 20% discount. Please note that the Bayou Boil is only available on the following nights:
- Feb. 1, 8, 15, 16, 22, 29
- Mar. 7, 8, 13-15
And one final thing: even though there are multiple slots per evening, seating is still limited, which makes reservations highly recommended – just call 407-224-FOOD.
Mardi Gras Feast & Floats Dessert Party
This long-named add-on gives guests an exclusive viewing area for both of Universal Studios Florida’s nightly spectacles during this time of year: the Mardi Gras parade and Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration nighttime show. For the former, participants will lounge at Cafe La Bamba and munch on specialty desserts, sparkling wine and cider, and non-alcoholic drinks; for the latter, they’ll recline on blankets in the nighttime spectacular’s VIP area (located in Central Park) and sip on non-alcoholic drinks.
The price is $49.99 for adults and $29.99 for children (ages three to nine), plus tax; Premier, Preferred, and Power Passholders get a 20% discount. Please note that the Mardi Gras Feast & Floats Dessert Party is only available on the following nights:
- Mar. 9-12
Mardi Gras 2020 – Tribute store
For those unfamiliar, the Tribute store started off life as a perennial – and fan-favorite – part of Halloween Horror Nights (Universal’s biggest annual event, and the one that Mardi Gras seems to inch more closely to with every passing year). Typically placed right next to Revenge of the Mummy in the New York backlot, it has grown in size and sophistication over the years; in addition to housing a veritable avalanche of HHN-themed goodies, it has also become something of a themed experience unto itself, containing lots of scenes or Easter eggs from one attached property or another (2019’s HHN Tribute store, for example, contained three different rooms themed to Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, and Universal’s Classic Monsters).
The Mardi Gras Tribute store is no different. It consists of three different rooms: a small, jazz parlor-esque entryway, ripped straight out of New Orleans’s French Quarter; a cemetery modeled after the legendary, 187-year-old Lafayette Cemetery No. 1; and a bayou located several miles south of the city. All are highly detailed and utilize sound and smell effects in addition to visual cues in order to create a highly immersive experience – the perfect environment in which to buy some special, 25th-anniversary merchandise and to take lots of photos. (Speaking of which – housed inside the special shop are two Instagram walls, expressly designed for just that purpose.)
Mardi Gras Tribute store – photo gallery
Mardi Gras 2020 – FAQ
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.
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 in front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop, 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.
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).
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.
Are there any benefits for annual passholders?
Annual passholders are eligible to sign up to ride the parade floats, get a special viewing area in front of Mel’s Drive-In, receive a discount at the French Quarter food tents (10% for Preferred and 15% for Premier), and are granted exclusive admission to the food tents on Saturday, February 1 – the first day of the festivities – from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.
Finally, it should be noted that Seasonal Passholders aren’t eligible to attend Mardi Gras concerts, as all of them fall under 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 2019 – photo galleries
Mardi Gras 2019 – pre-party photo gallery
Mardi Gras 2019 – parade photo gallery
Mardi Gras 2019 – concert photo gallery
We have an entire community of Universal fans discussing the event right now! When you’re done here, join us for vacation planning and more in our Facebook community.
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