COVID-19 has canceled this year’s traditional Fat Tuesday festivities in New Orleans and other cities around the world, but Universal Studios Florida is still letting the good times roll with a new socially distanced International Flavors of Carnival event, so we’ve got your Unofficial Guide to all the food and fun at Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2021 celebration.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2021 International Flavors of Carnival event takes place daily at Universal Studios Florida from February 6 through March 28, and is included in regular park admission. Last year’s 25th anniversary Mardi Gras celebration was cut short by the pandemic, and this year’s festival has seen many modifications in light of the ongoing health crisis.
The traditional parades and big-name concerts remain on hiatus, but you’ll still find tons of specialty foods to consume, entertainment to enjoy, and beads to take home.
Get the party started by watching this video featuring highlight from opening night of Mardi Gras 2021 at Universal Orlando, then read on for all the details about this year’s event:
Universal Orlando Mardi Gras 2021 Parade Floats and Entertainment
In order to promote social distancing, certain staples of Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration have been 86’ed in ’21, including the nightly parade through the park, and concerts on the Music Plaza stage. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of fun to be found around Universal Studios Florida, because for the first time ever Mardi Gras is being celebrated in every corner of the park.
Since the Mardi Gras parade floats can’t come to the people, this year the people can go to the floats, which have been positioned all around the entire park. This works out even better social distancing-wise than the indoor walkthrough with Christmas parade floats and Macy’s balloons that Universal hosted inside a soundstage last holiday season, since it spreads guests throughout the Studios.
The parade floats may not move, but they are all lit up with brilliant LED lighting, and accompanied by the familiar Mardi Gras music.
Fan favorite floats like the King Gator and Riverboat are all out on display, along with several new pirate-inspired floats created by Kern Studios exclusively for 2021.
You’ll often find costumed performers perched atop the floats, interacting with guests and tossing bead necklaces to the crowd. Catch as many as you can, but just be observant of the social distancing markers placed around each float.
Between the floats, you’ll spot dancers and other entertainers on small stages throughout the streets. You might even catch a strolling band of musicians playing Big Easy jazz tunes!
2021 International Flavors of Carnival Food and Drink
In the absence of the usual entertainment offerings, Universal has doubled down on the delicious Mardi Gras dishes and drinks they usually serve in the park’s New York area, and created a new globe-spanning food festival that has spread across the Studios.
For the first time, Mardi Gras guests will find over a dozen temporary booths and tents positioned around the park, serving nearly 100 different menu items, most unique to this event.
While the scale of Universal’s new event doesn’t quite compete with Epcot’s long-established food festivals, for a first effort we we’re pleasantly surprised by the quality, variety, and especially value of everything we tasted.
Food samples are priced from $4 to $13, with most items averaging $7-$8. Portion sizes are fairly generous compared to many Epcot offerings.
Drinks are even a better deal at $5 to $7 for beer, wine, and liquor cocktails. Beer and cocktails are served in 9 oz pours, compared to 6 oz for similarly priced drinks at Epcot; wine is served in 3 oz pours.
After so many years of eating off garbage can lids at other theme park food festivals, we were happy to see how many cocktail tables and high-tops Universal has provided around the park, including these adorable upcycled bongo drums found outside the exit of Fast & Furious: Supercharged.
If you’re hungry for more than just one or two bites, be sure to invest in a Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard. All guests can purchase a 10-item tasting package for $55 plus tax, and Annual Passholders can pick up a 15-item lanyard for $65.
Whichever one you get, you can use your credits on any item marked on the menu with the Universal logo, which is virtually everything — including all alcoholic drinks 9 oz or under, and all food items — even the $13 crawfish and shrimp boil. That translates into $5.50 per dish or drink for regular guests, which can save you a few bucks if you use it only on items costing at least that much, and pay cash for anything cheaper.
Annual Passholders, on the other hand, save money on almost everything with a per-item cost of only $4.33. Order 8 $8 dishes and 7 $6 beverages with an AP tasting lanyard, and you’re paying just $65 for $106 worth of dining and drinking!
You can pick up at Mardi Gras 2021 Tasting Lanyard at any food booth, or at the dining reservation cart at the park’s front entrance. They are only on sale through March 28, but they never expire; even after Mardi Gras ends, you can use remaining credits on popcorn, pretzels, or bottled water in any of the three Universal parks. And if you’ve got a leftover tasting lanyard from 2020, they will honor it this year as well!
Mardi Gras Tribute Store
The other big new attraction at Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2021 is the event’s first ever Tribute Store, which follows in the footsteps of the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, and Holiday Tribute Store.
Located inside the Macy’s facade next to Revenge of the Mummy, the Mardi Gras Tribute Store isn’t merely a retail opportunity; it’s an immersive experience that demonstrates the impressive artistic talents of Universal’s visual merchandising team.
The store’s exterior and initial rooms recreate New Orleans’ iconic Preservation Hall, known as the birthplace of jazz.
In this opulent room, guests can order custom-printed metal wall plates and cell phone cases, or pick up some special beads that are far fancier than those tossed in the streets.
The Tribute Store’s second chamber is an eerie moonlit graveyard, complete with mausoleum crypts, and a retro wax mold-making machine that spits out $6 skulls.
Finally, the back half of the Tribute Store is dedicated to Louisiana’s pirate lore. This section includes a ship’s hold full of plundered booty, and an ghostly ship’s graveyard of barnacle-crusted boats.
Here lurks another wax mold machine; this one makes small sailing ships.
It’s in the final section that you’ll find a bakery case full of sweets, including the retuning vegan brownie skulls.
These throbbing gelatin treats, which debuted during Halloween as beating hearts, are back as grinning skulls.
There’s also a small selection of Bayou Bites, including a crab-stuffed pastry. If you’ve got a Tasting Lanyard, you can use it on these items as well (but not on bakery case items.)
Even the checkout counter and exit hallway are elaborately themed, making the Mardi Gras Tribute store a definite must-see.
If you can’t wait to walk through the Mardi Gras Tribute Store in person, watch our complete POV walkthrough video:
Bonus: Universal’s Cinematic Celebration Returns
Although most of the nighttime spectaculars at Orlando’s theme parks remain dormant, Universal has revived their Cinematic Celebration fountain and fireworks show on select nights during Mardi Gras 2021.
I was a little worried that the terraced viewing area in Central Park would be overcrowded, but guests did a great job observing social distancing on Mardi Gras’ opening night. I was even able to secure an ideal center spot only five minutes before showtime.
Currently, Cinematic Celebration is scheduled to be shown on Saturday, February 13. Keep an eye on Universal Orlando’s show times calendar for additional future performances, or just watch our video of the complete show (available in 4K HDR if you have the proper equipment) from the comfort of your couch:
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.