It’s the BEST time of the year at Universal Orlando.
You may think it’s Christmas or Halloween season when Universal Orlando shines the best, but I’m here to present my (possibly controversial) opinion — it’s Mardi Gras! Last year, I visited Universal Orlando for the Mardi Gras celebrations and I was blown away by what was offered. In fact, I think one of their seasonal offerings put Disney World to SHAME.
Universal Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval has a lot to offer each year at Universal Studios Florida! From food booths spread around the park to a limited-time tribute store to live entertainment, there’s a lot to see.
If you haven’t been before, you can compare it somewhat to an EPCOT festival — you can stop at spots around the park to purchase seasonal food items, shop exclusive merchandise, and even watch concerts featuring major artists on select nights. However, there’s one place where Universal stands out above EPCOT.
Throughout the Mardis Gras celebration, Universal hosts a parade each evening. Colorful floats, decorative dancers, over-the-top stiltwalkers, and of course, lots and lots of beads! But the thing that really makes the parade special? YOU can be in it!
You’ll have to sacrifice a few hours of your theme park time to participate because you have to check in early, but it’s a very cool experience. Almost anyone has the option to participate, but there are limited spots, so you may not get the chance.
The best way to make sure that you get a spot on a float is to reserve the Mardi Gras Float Ride and Dine Experience or to use the online reservation system for Annual Passholders. But for day guests who haven’t secured their spot in advance, it’s sometimes possible to make it onto a float with the virtual line.
A few hours before the parade (times vary each night, so check the schedule before you go), Virtual Line passes may show up in the Universal Orlando app if you search “Mardis Gras Parade.” These slots are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis and may not be available at all, depending on how many people had pre-reserved the float riding experience that day.
So what happens once you get a spot on a float? Well, you head to the Animal Actors on Location theater at a specified time, where you will be sorted into groups depending on the float you’re assigned to. You’ll get dressed in your costume for the evening (which is essentially kind of like an apron with coordinating colors to match your float).
And then, shortly before the parade kicks off, you’ll be led backstage! This was one of the coolest parts of the experience for me personally, as you get to see all the floats and performers lined up and ready to go. You’ll get a MASSIVE pile of beads to throw from the floats, and you’ll be given a quick lesson in how to throw them for maximum effectiveness.
After that, it’s time to roll out! You get to ride high above the crowds, tossing beads to your adoring fans below. And it’s an absolute BLAST! I definitely ran out of beads a little early because I got way too excited and didn’t ration properly.
So if you ever visit Universal Orlando during Mardi Gras season and you’ve got time to spare, I highly recommend checking this out! It’s honestly a shame that more theme parks don’t offer the option of signing up to ride in their parades. I would do this again and again if given the chance!
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Have you ever been to Universal Orlando for Mardi Gras? Tell us in the comments!