It’s been a quarter century since Universal Orlando began hosting its popular Mardi Gras parties, and this weekend Universal Studios Florida kicked off its 25th annual Big Easy bacchanalia, featuring parade floats, food, and music direct from New Orleans. This year, Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2020 celebration runs nightly from February 1 through April 2, and you can “let the good times roll” with our complete Unofficial Guide to everything you need for enjoying this fan-favorite event.
Introduction to Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2020
You are no doubt familiar with the gigantic Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, or at least the idea of it. Well, Universal Studios has a yearly festival as well. Sure, it’s not quite as bawdy as its French Quarter compatriot, but it is exceedingly fun and probably a better event to bring the kids along.
Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of Fat Tuesday (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before Ash Wednesday on the Catholic calendar and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People bid “farewell to flesh” with a carnival where they indulge in the meat and drink they’re about to forswear.
Mardi Gras is the New Orleans variation on this tradition—which is echoed in other cities from Venice to Rio de Janeiro. Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons—namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts.
Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family-friendly event”—minus the bare breasts, of course—and amazingly it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic. Much like Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1932, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after the parade (on select nights), much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.
In 2020, the good times roll every evening February 1–April 2. Viewing of the parade and concerts are included with any valid admission, and all annual pass holders are admitted in the evening, except Seasonal Pass holders who are blocked out on concert nights. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/unimardigras.
Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 Parade
Universal’s version of a Mardi Gras parade includes the crazy characters of the New Orleans version but is much more compact. Floats are updated every year with new themes, and 2020 features “Treasures of the Deep” like the Lost City of Atlantis and Shipwreck Island, but you can always count on the massive King Gator float and multistory Riverboat to roll down Universal’s boulevards. The floats are each accompanied by dozens of strolling performers and stilt walkers, while costumed revelers ride upon them and toss colorful plastic beads to the crowds below.
The parade typically follows the same route as the daily Superstar Parade but in reverse, starting and ending at Hollywood’s Esoteric Pictures gate near the Horror Make-Up Show and traveling clockwise around New York and the waterfront.
Viewing Tips: The parade takes about 15 minutes to pass by any one spot, and it lasts around 45 minutes. The parade generally begins at 7:30 p.m. or 7:45 p.m., but it may step off as early as 5:15 p.m. on certain nights. Times vary with operating hours, so check the park map for details. You can find good viewing anywhere along the parade route, and unless you insist on standing right up front, there’s no need to save your spot more than 10 or 15 minutes in advance.
Special reserved viewing areas are also available for annual pass holders (near Mel’s Drive-In), American Express card holders (across from Hollywood’s Brown Derby), guests with disabilities (near Macy’s in New York), and young Little Jesters and their families (in front of the Brown Derby).
Watch this video to experience the complete 25th anniversary Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 parade as seen from the Universal Orlando Annual Passholder viewing area on opening night:
If you really want to get in on the action, it’s possible to volunteer as a bead-tossing float rider. Annual pass holders can sign up for themselves and a guest online; you must RSVP at least one week in advance. Some slots may also be saved for on-site resort guests; watch Universal’s website for preregistration or inquire at your hotel’s Ticket Center.
A limited number of same-day float rider reservations are available to regular park guests. Use the Universal Orlando smartphone app to secure a Virtual Line reservation time, which are available a few hours before the parade on a first-come, first-served basis.
Riding the float takes 2 to 3 hours, and you’ll probably miss the beginning of the concert if you participate. All riders must be at least 18 years old (or accompanied by an adult) and 48 inches tall; space is limited and availability is not guaranteed.
Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 Live Concerts
Every Saturday night (and select Fridays and Sundays) during the Mardi Gras event, after the parade concludes (approximately 45 minutes after it begins), a big-name concert kicks off on Music Plaza Stage underneath Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. The concerts are a definite highlight of Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration. With dozens of great musical acts entertaining the crowd at no extra cost, there is really no downside to these fantastic concerts, other than the extraordinary crowds that popular artists can draw.
Here is the current Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 headliner concert schedule (subject to change):
- Feb. 1: The Roots
- Feb. 8: Karol G
- Feb. 15: Bell Biv DeVoe
- Feb. 16: +Live+
- Feb. 22: Kool & the Gang
- Feb. 29: TLC
- March 7: REO Speedwagon
- March 8: Dustin Lynch
- March 13: Luis Fonsi
- March 14: The All-American Rejects
- March 15: Diana Ross
- March 20: Chris Young
- March 21: Earth, Wind & Fire
- March 22: Marshmello
- March 28: Why Don’t We
- March 29: Gavin DeGraw
Viewing Tips: There is no additional charge for Mardi Gras concerts; they are included with park admission. All concerts are standing-room only and first come, first served. Crowds can be enormous, and folks sometimes start lining up shortly after park opening for the hottest acts. There is no extra-cost VIP area available, but there is an ADA-accessible viewing section for guests in wheelchairs near the tech booth, and a section for hearing and visually impaired guests at the far left side of the stage, near the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit entrance. Large video screens broadcast the stage to those standing in the far back, so consider watching from the New York Battery Park area if you aren’t an überfan of the artist.
Get a taste of the Mardi Gras concert experience with these excerpted highlights from The Roots’ opening night performance on Feb. 1:
In addition to the headliners, Universal also imports authentic New Orleans musicians to perform near the French Quarter stalls before the big show. You can eat to the beat and enjoy live blues and zydeco musicians from Louisiana busking on the French Quarter corners. Universal started this tradition in 2004 to support New Orleans artists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Musicians and limited food options are still offered on non-concert event nights.
- Feb. 1 – Feb. 13: Dirty Bourbon River Show
- Feb. 14 – March 5: Free Agents Brass Band
- March 6 – March 21: New Breed Brass Band
- March 22 – April 2: Naughty Professor Brass Band
Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 Food & Beverages and Merchandise
In addition to the parade and concerts, Universal also carves a miniature Bourbon Street out of its New York back lot. Chef Steven Jayson and his culinary team pride themselves on the authentic N’awlins flavors they bring to the French Quarter Courtyard, an area between Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers, with temporary food and beverage booths that open at 4 p.m. each Mardi Gras event night.
The jambalaya, po-boys, and shrimp gumbo are all pretty good. New for 2020 is a “Carnival Around The Universe” with menus of global cuisine that rotate every two weeks. This year’s themes will feature:
- Trinidad & Tobago (Week 1 & 2): Grilled Pineapple Trini-Chow, Pholourie, Chickpea Double
- Louisiana Creole (Week 3 & 4): Softshell Crab Slider, Cauliflower Dirty Rice
- Brazil (Week 5 & 6): Pao de Quiejo, Sweet Plantains
- Germany (Week 7 & 8): Sauerbraten, Grilled Bratwurst, Warm Pretzel
Naturally, there are also prodigious quantities of adult libations on tap. We suggest sticking with the authentic Louisiana beers like Abita, and skipping the souvenir cups of overly sweet pre-mixed signature cocktails.
In 2020, you’ll also find signature ice cream floats served during the event at Schwab’s Pharmacy, along with special snacks and cocktails throughout CityWalk.
If you plan on indulging in more than a few bites, buy into a Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard, which entitles you to a set number of designated food or drink samples; credits don’t expire until the event’s run ends, and a special discounted lanyard is available exclusively for Annual Passholders that includes 15 samples for $60 plus tax.
To memorialize your Mardi Gras experience, don’t miss the Mardi Gras Tribute Store, located next to Revenge of the Mummy in the New York area. There, you can shop for T-shirts and beads in an immersive bayou environment that’s recalls a Halloween Horror Nights maze, minus the jump-scares.
Check out a full walkthrough video of the brand new store here:
Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2020 Add-On Options
While all the Mardi Gras event entertainment is included in your park admission, guests who are really hungry to indulge in the celebratory spirit can enhance their party with the following Mardi Gras add-on options.
On select nights, Battery Park is host to the Bayou Boil. The all-you-can-eat Louisiana-style boil features crawfish, shrimp, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. The Bayou Boil is served in a large dish for your family to share and comes with a glass of wine and unlimited soft drinks. The experience lasts for a bit over an hour. The portions are generous, and servers make sure your dish is always topped. At parade time, you’ll have special access to the Cafe LaBamba Courtyard, where King Cake, beignets, sparkling wine, and nonalcoholic beverages await. The Bayou Boil costs $59.99 plus tax per adult ($39.99 per child) and begins at 2:45 p.m.
Not a fan of seafood? Consider the Mardi Gras Feast & Floats Dessert Party, held on select nights between March 9 and April 2. For the price of $49.99 ($29.99 for kids aged 3-9), guests get the best views for both the Mardi Gras parade and Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration lagoon show. You’ll watch the parade from the Cafe La Bamba Courtyard while enjoying an assortment of specialty desserts, sparkling wine and cider, and nonalcoholic drinks. When it’s time for the Cinematic Celebration, you’ll have access to an exclusive viewing area in Central Park where you can sip additional nonalcoholic beverages while seated on blankets. The parade and fountain show viewing areas each open one hour before their respective performance.
To learn more about Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2020, visit universalorlando.com/mardigras. For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.