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 1st to April 2nd 2020) so read ahead for everything you need to know about tips and tricks for Universal Mardi Gras with kids.
Universal Mardi Gras entertainment
A couple of hours before the Mardi Gras parade, you can find entertainment in the Universal Studios park. The parade performers are out and about and make for some great photo ops; Harrison loved seeing their cool costumes and they were all really friendly and willing to pose for photos.
The performers were also handing out 2020 Mardi Gras doubloons in different colors that both of the kids loved to collect and play with, and they made a cute (and free!) souvenir from the day. There are also decorations in the New York area of the park and some cool photos spots dotted about.
The other Mardi Gras entertainment are the weekend night concerts. These concerts are held at the Music Plaza Stage and feature some pretty cool artists (this year featured Marshmello, Gavin DeGraw, Diana Ross and REO Speedwagon and you can find the full 2020 concert line up here).
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. With numerous different booths and lots of different New Orleans style food and drink options to try, you’ll definitely want to save some room.
The food options range from around $4-$7 per portion and they’re just sample size portions, not really enough to make up a full meal. The food is set up in the French Quarter Courtyard and opens at 4pm.
If you think there are going to be more than a couple of things you want to try, then you might want to consider the Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard. Pricing varies based on how many items you want to try:
5 items for $30
10 items for $50
15 items for $60 (this is just for Annual Passholders)
This is a great option if you’re there as a family and want to try a few different items between all of you, or if you’re just super hungry and want to try multiple dishes.
As with most Cajun food, a lot of the dishes have some spice to them and some have a definite kick to them! My eldest son doesn’t like any kind of spice and we had to be careful what we picked, but my toddler loves spicy food and really enjoyed trying smaller portions of the dishes.
Oddly enough my eldest loved the Gator Bites ($7) which looked and tasted a lot like chicken, and my youngest really loved the Red Beans and Rice with Shrimp ($6) – and we all loved the Beignets and the King Cake!
As well as the food options there are some great drinks to try, including specialty drinks in souvenir cups, non-alcoholic drinks and even ice cream floats, which are new this year. There is also a Mimosa Bar set up in Cafe La Bamba just across the street with different flavored mimosas such as Pineapple Mint and Caramel Apple (this opens at 3pm).
We spent about two hours trying the different food and drink options before the parade, and I’d definitely recommend trying to find some time to walk around that area either before the parade or after.
The Courtyard area can get very crowded, but if you step just a couple of streets over you’ll find plenty of places to sit and eat.
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 Treasures of the Deep, 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:
5.15pm: February 11th
5.45pm: February 20th & March 2nd
6.00pm: February 2nd-7th
6.15pm: February 9th-10th, 12th-14th, 17th-19th, 21st, 23rd-28th, March 1st, 3rd-6th
7.00pm: March 12th
7.30pm: March 9th-11th, 16th-19th, 23rd-27th & March 30th-April 2nd
7.45pm: February 1st, 8th, 15th, 16th, 22nd, 29th, March 7th, 8th, 13th-15th, & 28th-29th
Aside from how amazing the floats are, the best part of the parade is the people riding on the floats throwing beads to the crowd. My kids absolutely love collecting these beads, and the crowds go absolutely 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 new 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 sat in this area to watch the parade this year and it was 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.
If you’re an Annual Passholder, then I’d suggest heading to the Annual Pass viewing area in front of Mel’s Drive-In. Everyone entering this area needs to have an Annual Pass, and the area is always less crowded than other parts of the parade route (although we found it to be more crowded than the Little Jesters kids area).
Having less people in the area means better chances to see the floats and catch some beads, plus you get to see the parade twice as it both enters and exits the park (it takes about 15 minutes for the parade to loop back around but I think it’s worth hanging out and waiting to see it again).
If you’re not an Annual Passholder, I would say the best area 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 decor in that area.