When I was in college, my friends and I road-tripped to the Big Easy to experience Mardi Gras. It was everything you’d imagine it to be; revelry at its finest.
So when I heard that Universal Orlando had fine-tuned the art of family entertainment by finding a way to make the historically raunchy, month-long celebration kid-friendly, I was skeptical.
I was also wrong.
I recently spent a Saturday evening at Universal Orlando Mardi Gras with my family, and we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to party with our kids without worrying about what we might inadvertently expose them to (and still be in bed by 10:30 p.m.!).
The first thing we did was fuel up on spicy Cajun jambalaya, which you can find in a special section of the theme park created especially for Mardi Gras and designated the “French Quarter Courtyard.” Our family has always loved Cajun food, and we couldn’t wait to dig in! Street-side vendors cook everything from grilled Andouille sausage to gumbo in charming, rustic booths reminiscent of those you find in the original French Quarter. In true New Orleans tradition, we wrapped our meal with the sweet, fried, doughy goodness otherwise known as beignets (my personal fave).
To keep everyone entertained while chowing down on "Nawlins" cuisine, street performers direct for the Big Easy provide a totally different taste of the city. From the gypsy brass sound of the Dirty Bourbon River Show to the bluesy tune of harmonica player Grady Champion, the folks at Universal Orlando pluck the lineup of musicians straight from the current New Orleans scene, so you're getting an authentic bayou experience. All of the eating, drinking and street music took me back to spring break, circa 1994, minus the drunken debauchery (of others, of course!). This was a much more G-rated experience, though just as boisterous and fun.
After taking in a few rides, including our family’s favorite, Despicable Me’s Minion Mayhem, we lined up for the queen bee of the festivities: the Universal Orlando Mardi Gras parade. Before you ask, yes, there were plenty of beads—166,000 of them to be exact. That’s how many are handed out every single night during the Mardi Gras festivities.
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We had a hard time keeping up with how many were tossed on us from the beautiful floats, including three newbies tied to the novel by Jules Verene, Around the World in 80 Days. The theme of these three jaw-dropping floats were land, air and water, and they did not disappoint! The floats are all designed by Blain Kern Artists, the same folks who have been designing the famed parade floats in New Orleans since 1947. My son had his hands up practically the whole time as the huge floats in the shape of everything from a ferryboat to an airplane cruised by alongside trumpet players and dancers tossing out beads.
When the parade winds down, live performances by the top music artists currently on the radio rev up. On the night we visited, we watched Gavin Degraw perform. Others on the roster include the band Daughtry, hip hop artists Nelly, Robin Thicke, and a pop band from the UK. It was pretty cool to watch Gavin perform while the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster zipped by above the stage.
We slipped away after a few songs to ride E.T. Adventure, which we’d missed the last time we were there. One of the things I love about Universal Florida is that you can do things with your kids that connect to your childhood, too, and the E.T. ride was no exception. They loved the idea of riding a bicycle in the sky alongside E.T. as much as we did.
For families who love the rides, I recommend you do the same and slip away from the concert when it kicks off as there were no ride lines just about everywhere we went.
We went home pumped up and at the same time exhausted from all the excitement, but most of all, we walked away thrilled that were able to sorta, kinda party with our kids!
All of the Mardis Gras festivities are included with regular admission. The celebration wraps up on June 7. If you want to plan your visit around the musicians performing, here’s the schedule:
As they say in New Orleans,"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" — Let the good times roll!