Go or no?
Even though the Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando lacks the unadulterated wildness of the real thing, it's still an enjoyable experience for the family. It runs every Saturday night through April 18, with an additional date on Friday, March 27. Musicians direct from New Orleans open the street party in the French Quarter at 5 p.m. This Saturday's featured guest performers are Barenaked Ladies. The parade starts at 8 p.m. through March 28 and at 9 p.m. through April 18. Mardi Gras is included in park admission to Universal Studios, open at 9 a.m., with tickets starting from $75 per person. Admission after 5 p.m. on Mardi Gras event dates is $45.99. For more information, visit UniversalOrlando.com/MardiGras.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a reputation for being a wild celebration where anything goes. Partygoers unleash their excitement onto the streets in a blur of music, beads, drinking and flashing of the flesh. Some end up going home with more souvenirs and fewer recollections than others. But Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando, which is advertised as the most authentic Mardi Gras celebration outside of the Big Easy, has none of the overindulgence of the city, although it is a cheerful treat for the entire family. Here's a little sampling of what you'll see if you go:
What? No Lucky Dogs?
The courtyard setting is a replica of the famed French Quarter district and offered Cajun cuisine booths. But don't go there expecting a Commander's Palace experience. The booths' small menus were limited to jambalaya, shrimp gumbo, andouille sausage hoagies, and red beans and rice. But a couple of booths did offer beignets and the not-so-NOLA funnel cake.
Marie Laveau would love it (or not)
The featured drink was the Voodoo Juice, sold at one of the many Voodoo bars along the courtyard. A fruit punch with Don Q Rum, it came in a souvenir Mardi Gras tall plastic glass with flashing lights. Although the drink was big, it was only the juice that was abundant, as the liquor pour was weak. Not worth your $10.
Definitely rated G
The street party started at 5 p.m., with kings and queens, cowboys and cowgirls, fairies, Indians and pirates all on stilts handing out beads to arriving guests, as jazz, blues and funky live music from New Orleans Chris Klein and the Boulevards filled the air. Because I was on a media tour, I ended up spending almost an hour in a conference room before being led to the Mardi Gras. And instead of encountering second lines on the streets, I experienced the parade from one of the 13 Wonderful World of Literature theme floats and threw beads to a screaming crowd of about 23,000 people. Wearing a ridiculous costume on the Western float, I thought of the humiliation of looking goofy and unattractive while my beloved one, who accompanied me, threw beads to attractive women below. The only flashing came from the souvenir cocktail glasses.
No partying on Bourbon
Instead of drunks passed out on the sidewalk, only confetti pieces filled the streets of the French Quarter when the parade was over. Most of the crowd had moved to the main stage to view rock vocalist Pat Benatar. Maybe they wished they'd had a few more Voodoo concoctions in them when the 56-year-old singer turned her back to the crowd and fiercely shook her booty to the notes of Invincible.
No Zulu beads for you!
Colorful beads flew abundantly during the night parade, but they were very simple ones with no trinkets attached. However, shops offered Mardi Gras beads from $2.82 to $ 37.56 (!), as well as feather masks, jester hats and feather boas.