Aren't their costumes incredible? I love the feathers on her mask.
French Quarter CourtyardFor the Mardi Gras celebration, Universal Orlando has recreated the French Quarter, to give guests a real New Orleans feel.
The French Quarter Courtyard is beautiful. There are flowers everywhere, and great New Orleans inspired decorations. Each afternoon they have a different New Orleans Jazz, Blues, or Zydeco band preform, which you definitely don't want to miss. It felt a lot like being in the real French Quarter with the performers and booths with food and drinks available for purchase. I even saw a henna tattoo artist at one of the booths.
I know you can't read words like "French Quarter, New Orleans, and Mardi Gras" without thinking about food, and you are wondering exactly what food is available in those booths. Cajun food, and it is delicious. The amazing smells from the food booths hit you as soon as you walk into the courtyard.
We tried the Creole Gumbo (this was Katarina's favorite), Jambalaya (this was Thomas' favorite), and Andouille Sausage.
I could have eaten more. They had amazing-looking Muffalettas, and I saw Thomas eyeing some Shrimp Po' Boys. But we had to save room for dessert, because Mardi Gras wouldn't be complete without at least one slice of King Cake. I had two.
My very favorite New Orleans dessert is, and always will be, Beignets. All of my childhood trips to New Orleans included at least one visit to Café du Monde. I was excited to see Universal Orlando didn't forget the most important French Quarter treat. I'm sorry to tell you I didn't get a picture of all the Beignets I ate yesterday, mostly because I was too busy eating them, and didn't take a break to pull out my camera. They were SO very good. You will just have to take my word that they looked beautiful and very powdered sugary.
Mardi Gras ParadeOnce you take care of the food, Mardi Gras is all about the parade. Universal Orlando has been celebrating Mardi Gras for the last 19 years. To keep it exciting and new, they rotate show directors each year. We got the chance to interview this year's Creative Development and Show Director, Patrick Braillard. He was in charge of developing the theme of the parade and helping to design new floats.
One of the new floats for 2014 is actually an update of their classic Jester Float. It is the first float of the parade this year, and they wanted it to set the tone with colors, fun, and glitter. Glitter is a huge part of the float decorating each year. They actually order hundreds of pounds of glitter that arrives packaged in five gallon buckets.
The team in charge of the Mardi Gras parade turns to master float makers when it is time to bring their ideas to life. Each of Universal's Mardi Gras floats are built by Blaine-Kern Studios, the same group who has been building the floats for the parades in New Orleans since 1947. You can see the craftsmanship that goes into every detail on these floats.
The most important thing about Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras Celebration is that the entire thing is family-friendly. I grew up in Pensacola, less than an hour away from Mobile, Al, and a few hours away from New Orleans, so Mardi Gras celebrations feel a little bit like home for me. We took Katarina to her first parade when she was less than a year old, but I know it can be hard to find parades that are family-friendly. It is really nice to attend a Mardi Gras event that is fun for everyone.
She didn't catch a lot of beads that day, but she had a super cute hat.
Katarina made my beads extra awesome by making a star.
During each Mardi Gras parade at Universal Orlando, over 160,000 strands of beads are tossed out to the crowd. That is a lot of beads. They also pass out gold doubloons to commemorate the event's theme. So you are sure to go home with a great haul.
Around The World In Eighty DaysThree new floats were created especially for this year's theme - Around The World In Eighty Days - based on Jules Verne’s classic book. They highlight travel by sea, air, and land. The boat on the sea-themed float is named The Lissa, after Patrick Braillard's wife, which is really sweet.
One of the most impressive parts of any parade at Universal is the stilt walkers. They are very talented. I would fall flat on my face if I tried to do that (I've fallen flat on my face without stilts, so I know better than to ever attempt it). My favorites in this parade were the Steampunk stilt walkers. Their costumes were amazing, and a perfect companion to the Around The World In Eighty Days theme.
Classic FloatsMixed in with this year's themed floats were the classic Mardi Gras floats.
I loved these floats inspired by New Orleans. The details of the jazz musicians and dancers were awesome. And they didn't skimp on the glitter, either.
Just in case the glitter and beads aren't enough, the floats also shoot confetti out into the air. There are twelve floats in all, with stilt walkers, and dancers in between. The parade concludes with the King and Queen float. Each night the king and queen are selected from the group of annual passholders who are signed up to toss beads.
Gavin DeGraw Concert
The fun doesn't end with the parade. Each evening of the Mardi Gras Grand Celebration, there is a different concert at the Universal Music Plaza.
The night we attended, the musical guest was Gavin DeGraw.
Gavin was awesome, and it was the perfect end to the evening.
You still have time to celebrate Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando. It will continue on select nights through June 7, 2014. If you are going to spend the whole day at Universal Orlando, admission to the Mardi Gras Celebration is included in your ticket. You can also buy special "After 5" tickets if you want to eat some great food, attend the parade, and see a concert, but don't want to spend the entire day visiting the park. The concert schedule and other information is available on the Universal Orlando website.
*I was given media tickets to attend this event with my family, and was not compensated in any other way. I was not required to say nice things in this blog post, eat my weight in beignets, or double my weight with beads. Those choices were all mine, and they were good.