FAQ Orlando

Universal Studios’ Mardi Gras

Universal Studios Orlando Mardi Gras parade

January 2012: During the day, Universal Studios Orlando is a theme park, but at night it’s a party from Feb. 11 through April 14 when it celebrates Mardi Gras. Modeled on the R-rated New Orleans version, Universal cleans up the festivities to roughly a PG-rating as it strives to turn jazz, liquor, and sin into something resembling family fun. And on most levels, Universal succeeds. At the very least, female Orlando guests don’t lift their shirts and flash parade floats. New in 2012, Universal adds a bit more Mardi Gras by hosting not only big-name acts, but also a separate jazz band to round out the French Quarter atmosphere.

While most things at Universal’s Mardi Gras seem to favor adults – the half-naked buff performers, street vendors hawking alcohol, and live bands – kids focus on the beads. Like its namesake in Louisiana, the bawdy parade floats feature about a dozen people throwing bead necklaces to the crowd. The bead tossers, generally volunteers, tend to favor kids and screaming young adults, and some parade viewers end up with 20 or more green, gold, blue, and red necklaces. For kids, collecting beads quickly becomes a competition, and the family member with the most is the winner. (Tip for the super-competitive: Catch the parade where it starts and again where it ends to double your kids’ bead-collecting time.)

It’s not New Orleans. Few people throw up in the street, and the nearby restaurants don’t have the incredible Cajun cuisine that made New Orleans famous. Still, it’s hard not to tap your feet and feel a sense of anticipation as the gaudy parade passes by. Some female performers wear costumes tight enough to be painted on, and men culled from a nearby Gold’s gym sparkle with body glitter. An atmosphere of sexual electricity wafts through the air without actual nudity or, for that matter, actual sex. It’s fine for families with an occasional wink-wink between Mom and Dad.

Universal Orlando has hosted its Mardi Gras celebration for more than 15 years, and big-name bands playing on selected nights draw vacationers as well as local residents. Mardi Gras is included in the cost of admission to the park, and most performances take place on a Saturday.

Headliners in 2012

The B-52s: Feb. 11
Kelly Clarkson: Feb. 18
Boyz II Men: Feb. 19
Diana Ross: Feb. 25

(Not yet announced): March 3
Big Time Rush: March 10
J. Cole: March 16
Jill Scott: March 17
Hot Chelle Rae: March 23
B.o.B.: March 24
Plain White T’s: March 30
Prince Royce: March 31

Cyndi Lauper: April 7
KC & The Sunshine Band: April 14

New Orleans Bands

The Daddy Mack Blues Band: Feb. 11
Lil Malcolm and the House Rockers: Feb. 18
Lil Malcolm and the House Rockers: Feb. 19
John Lisi & Delta Funk: Feb. 25

Beth McKee & The Sliders: March 3
Gravy: March 10
Lil’ Brian & The Zydeco Travelers: March 16
Lil’ Brian & The Zydeco Travelers: March 17
J.J. Caillier & The Zydeco Knockouts: March 23
J.J. Caillier & The Zydeco Knockouts: March 24
Soul Project: March 30
Soul Project: March 31

Rockin’ Jake: April 7
Big Al & The Heavyweights: April 14

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Universal’s website.

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