by Kellie Abrahamson
Arguably one of the biggest parties anywhere, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of those things everyone should at some point in their lives experience. But if getting out to the Big Easy is not an option for you, take a trip to Orlando instead. Mardi Gras is in full swing at Universal Orlando and the whole family is invited to grab some beads, sample some authentic Cajun cuisine and see some first-class entertainers perform on the park’s stages. Recently, I was able to check out and even take part in the fun and it’s not something I will soon forget!
Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration kicked off last month and will run every Saturday night through April 18th, and also on Friday, March 27th. In addition to the food and the entertainment (which we’ll get to in a minute), party-goers will also see hundreds of costumed characters and a massive parade full of elaborate floats. This year’s parade theme is “Stories” and each float features characters and settings taken directly from literature. The floats were designed by New Orleans parade gurus Blaine Kern Artists, Inc., and cover a wide range of genres from Horror to Romance.
During my visit, the folks at Universal were kind enough to let me experience the parade from a whole new perspective. Donning a shiny orange suit and cowboy hat, I boarded the Western-themed float and threw souvenir beads to an assembled crowd of thousands. While I personally had a blast, it was apparent that the crowd had an even better time. It was a sea of smiles and cheers as we passed by and helping to give people that reaction made even wearing that ridiculous outfit worthwhile.
Food and drinks are a big part of Mardi Gras and Universal has you covered on that front too. Delectable Cajun and Creole fare is served in the “French Quarter,” a replica of New Orleans’ famed district. From gumbo to jambalaya to king cake, you and yours can chow down on the same food you’d find in the Big Easy. Be sure to give the andouille sausage a try; it’s delicious! And no party would be complete without some alcoholic libations. While not super-authentic, jello shots are sold at virtually every turn and beer carts are on every corner.
Throughout the evening guests will have the opportunity to see live music by bands straight from the Bayou. Ten New Orleans bands will showcase their tunes during Mardi Gras, taking to a stage set up in the French Quarter. As if that’s not enough, each night concludes with a live concert by big name acts at Universal Orlando’s beautiful new stage. The massive structure resembles the Hollywood Bowl and has large screens on either side of it so the entire crowd can see all of the action. Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo were performing on the night I went to Mardi Gras, and big names like Kelly Clarkson, MC Hammer and Nelly are all slated to take to the stage at one point or another during the event. A complete listing of the musicians performing at Mardi Gras 2009 is below.
Admission to Mardi Gras is included in park admission but if you just want to experience just the celebration itself tickets are $45.99. The park is also offering Florida residents a very special rate for season passes for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. From now until April 18th you can buy a season pass for just $99.99 through specially-marked Coca-Cola and Wendy’s products. That’s a steal! For more information about Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2009, or to purchase tickets, visit universalorlando.com/mardigras.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS MARDI GRAS 2009 CONCERT SERIES
Mardi Gras Dates
Headliners (Performances on Main Stage)
New Orleans Band (Performances in French Quarter)
Saturday, March 14
Mem Shannon and The Membership
Saturday, March 21
The Honey Islands Swamp Band
Friday, March 27
Boys Like Girls
Jumpin Johnny Sansone
Saturday, March 28
Jumpin Johnny Sansone
Saturday, April 4
Saturday, April 11
Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers
Saturday, April 18
Lil Brian and the Zydeco Travelers