A taste of Mardi Gras close to home


Universal Studios’ New Orleans party includes brass bands, beads and crawdads

Mardi Gras
Confetti flies while parade participants throw beads during Universal’s Mardi Gras parade on Feb. 22.


I recently took a trip to Universal Studios Florida, but I could have sworn I was transported to New Orleans.

As my friend Amanda and I approached what is usually the park’s New York section, we quickly saw that it was dressed up like the French Quarter. We were flanked by dancers in sequined pants, feathered costumes and vibrant masks. Smells of king cake and Cajun cooking wafted through the air.

Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration, happening daily through April 4, features a nightly parade, brass bands, dancing in the streets and plenty of food inspired by New Orleans cuisine.

We opted to eat dessert first and split a king cake. It proved to be a little messy, but so good. Icing dripped onto the plate and sugar sprinkled my lips. We needed the extra napkins we had grabbed.

Gator bites, etouffee

Amanda is a vegetarian, so she couldn’t share my next samples, but I had a chance to try some gator bites and crab etouffee. The gator tasted like a slightly chewy version of chicken, but if the chicken also went for a swim. If that makes sense.

The other dish involved some rice, clumps of crab meat and a thick sauce that had a slight kick to it. It was very satisfying and filling.

At one point, I heard a brass band starting to play and ran off to see what the commotion was about. The dancers had taken to the streets — some on stilts — and shook their arms and hips to the music. Some lady bumblebees made sure to give the younger attendees some attention, sometimes dancing with them.

At first glance, it looked like the performers were just wearing colorful attire. But then I realized that some sported gator heads. Others resembled bright birds, sequined seahorses or clawed “crawdads.”

Performers dance in the streets of Universal Studios during Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration. It continues through April 4.

Swamp float too

This can be explained from this year’s theme, which is “party animals.”

Blake Braswell, show director for Universal’s Mardi Gras, highlighted some of the critter creations that attendees can expect to find at this year’s festivities.

“(The floats) cover everything from the Arctic regions to jungles to flower beds and insects like bees,” Braswell said. “My favorite is our swamp float. It’s very Florida. It’s got all our crawdads and shrimp and characters that are running around.”

As it turned out, that was the float upon which Amanda and I had the privilege of riding. After stuffing ourselves with a few Cajun creations, it was time to get oriented for our experience aboard the swamp float.

Art of throwing beats

King cake is one of the featured food items.

Team members instructed us to throw beads at parade-goers like a frisbee or with an underhand swing. They emphasized not to whip them at folks overhand, which I can understand.

We exited the backstage area atop our swamp float and saw thousands of people waiting for beads to rain down. The king frog led us through crowds, while the royal crawdad brought up the rear.

Lights flashed and joyful music played. I got to see all of my adoring Central Florida Explorer fans cheering at me from the audience. Just kidding – I know most people weren’t there to see me.

Pitbull and Paul

But it did feel good to see all of those smiling faces, young and old, out in the crowd. It felt even better knowing that I helped make their experience even just a little bit more fun.

You don’t have to be the Central Florida Explorer to also have this parade float experience. Universal pass-holders also have the opportunity to sign up for float rides on Universal’s website.

In addition, acts including Pitbull, Becky G, Ziggy Marley and Sean Paul will be gracing the stage at Universal Studios through the end of the Mardi Gras celebrations.

All of the details can be found at www.universalorlando.com.


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