One of our favorite times of the year is Mardi Gras, and Universal Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Orlando Resort is a great family friendly way to experience the holiday in a totally safe environment. Universal Mardi Gras with kids can be so much fun with great live concerts, delicious New Orleans inspired food and drinks, and a fantastic parade where kids can catch beads and see some amazing floats – and it’s all included in the price of a ticket!
As Universal Orlando Annual Passholders we visit Universal Mardi Gras as often as possible during it’s run (from February 4th to April 16th 2023) so read ahead for everything you need to know about tips and tricks for Universal Mardi Gras with kids.
Universal Mardi Gras entertainment
Although Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the day at Universal Studios Orlando, the entertainment really kicks off in the evening. A couple of hours before the Mardi Gras parade, you can find parade performers and entertainers out and about, saying hi and taking photos and dancing around.
These make for great photo ops for the kids; the boys loved seeing all the costumes up close, and everyone was so friendly and happy to pose for a photo. You can find most of the performers on the main stretch into the park and around the food booths set up by Transformers.
There are also decorations in the New York area of the park and some cool photos spots dotted about. I love the King and Queen of Mardi Gras but my kids thought the giant heads were creepy! This year the festival has really expanded to take up the entire park, so you’ll find photo spots, food booths, and entertainment all over the place if you walk around.
The other Mardi Gras entertainment are the weekend night concerts that run through the first few weeks of the festival. These concerts are held at the Music Plaza Stage at 8.30pm and feature some pretty cool artists. This years line up looks like this:
- February 4th: Patti LaBelle
- February 10th: JVKE
- February 11th: Goo Goo Dolls
- February 18th: Maren Morris
- February 19th: WILLOW
- February 25th: 3 Doors Down
- March 4th: Sea Paul
- March 5th: Lauren Daigle
These concerts can get very busy, especially if someone new or super popular is playing, and if you want to get a good spot near the front you’ll need to get there early. The grassy area in front of the stage is all on one level and everyone tends to stand up so if you want to see a show with a little kid, then you might want to get there on the earlier side so they can see.
If you’re not that bothered about being near the front, it’s easy enough to catch some of the concert from the street or even just walking by, especially since there are big screens where you can get a pretty good view of the stage.
Universal Mardi Gras food
My main reason for visiting anywhere ever is the food, and Universal Mardi Gras have really upped their game with the food this year. There are more food booths than ever, not just in the French Quarter courtyard as in previous years, but dotted around the park. The food this year is also inspired from around the world, instead of just from New Orleans.
The food options range from around $5-$15 per portion and they vary in size; some portions are very small, but others are a really good size and could be shared. The food booths are open throughout the day, but they tend to get busier in the evening when the festivities are really kicking off.
We sampled some of the typical Cajun dishes like jambalaya, beignets, and gumbo, and they were all fantastic; the jambalaya was my favorite of the day.
A lot of the dishes are on the spicier side, so if you have little ones that aren’t used to spicy food, that’s something to be aware of. This is a great opportunity to try some new foods from around the world however, and my kids were surprisingly willing to try the different dishes.
As well as the food options there are some great drinks to try, including specialty drinks in souvenir cups, non-alcoholic drinks and even an entire booth dedicated to Bloody Mary’s!
Universal Mardi Gras parade
My boys favorite part of Universal Mardi Gras is easily the parade, which is pretty fantastic as far as parades go.
My favorite thing about the Mardi Gras parade is that it changes every year, which keeps things really fresh and new. This year the theme of the floats is Planet Mardi Gras, and the colors and decorations are amazing. The parade times change over the course of the celebrations so that’s something to keep in mind, and this year there is no parade March 31st.
- 6.15pm: February 5th-9th, February 12th-16th, February 26th, March 2nd
- 7.30pm: February 17th, February 20th-24th, March 3rd, March 6th-April 16th
- 7.45pm: February 4th, February 10th-11th, February 18th-19th, March 4th-5th
Aside from how amazing the floats are, the best part of the parade as far as my kids are concerned is the people riding on the floats throwing beads to the crowd. They absolutely love collecting these beads, and the crowds go crazy trying to catch them!
There are tons of beads to go around so don’t worry if you don’t manage to catch many from the first couple of floats, there will be so many chances later. Position kids in the front and close to the curb to give them the best chance of being able to catch them, but there will be lots to pick up off the floor as well.
In my opinion, there are a couple of places I’d recommend watching the parade to have the best view of the floats, and the best chance to catch those beads!
Visiting Universal Mardi Gras with kids, this year the best place to sit is the Little Jester’s area outside the Brown Derby Hat Shop. This dedicated kids area is perfect to allow little ones the best view possible since no adults will be stood in front of them, and they’ll have the best chance to catch beads.
We’ve sat in this area to watch the parade for the past couple of years and it’s perfect. All the kids made new friends and talked while waiting for the parade, the adults stayed at the back so the kids could see, everyone behaved well with catching the beads and making sure even the littlest kids got some beads, and those on the floats throwing the beads made a big effort to make sure all the kids caught some.
Because the Little Jester’s area is at the start of the parade and close to the exit, you won’t have as long to wait to see everything go by, and you’ll be able to head out quickly at the end.
Another good place to watch from is Production Central towards the front of the park or the New York area. Production Central allows you to exit the park or to step away from the parade route as quickly as possible after the parade begins, and New York provides a pretty cool backdrop for photos with most of the Mardi Gras décor in that area.
If you want to be one of the people riding the floats and tossing out beads, this year Universal has given guests the opportunity to sign up to do so using the Virtual Line option on the Universal Studios Orlando app. Sign up spots become available online from around 12pm until one hour before the parade time or once they are all gone.
To ride a float, you must be at least 48 inches tall and anyone under 18 must ride with a parent or guardian. You also need to wear a face covering while you’re on the float. The whole experience takes a few hours so be sure you’re okay on losing that park time before signing up.
More resources for visiting Universal Orlando Resort with kids:
Things to do with a toddler at Universal Studios Orlando
A Complete One Day Itinerary for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort: a Complete Review