We have now entered that sweet spot in the year when the weather is nice, the crowds are lighter and SeaWorld and Universal are cranking up popular festivals with free concerts to generate foot traffic.
SeaWorld’s Seven Seas Food Festival, returning for a third year, has been a big hit with culinary marketplaces throughout the park and local craft beers. This year brings some new foodie flavors and concerts including the Fray on Saturday (How to Save a Life, Over My Head) and Sugar Ray (Fly) on Sunday, included with admission. Other acts coming this year include Flo Rida (Feb. 23) and 98 Degrees (Feb. 24)
And Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration,which has been going on every year since 1996, stretches far beyond the actual Mardi Gras in New Orleans and this year brings a new parade, more Cajun food offerings and a concert lineup that includes Grammy-winning rapper Macklemore and superstar Pitbull.
Here’s what to expect.
Seven Seas Festival
This festival is in its third year and is credited with helping SeaWorld record its first positive uptick in attendance and revenue in years. It opens Saturday and runs through May 5 on weekends. New this year, an evening version from 4-9 p.m. Feb. 15, with all food and drink booths available to visit for Valentine’s weekend.
SeaWorld made a big leap in quality in its food offerings. A 15-item sampling can be a good deal to share among you party. Insider tip: It’s best to use the sampler on food instead of drinks to get the most value. You’ll find a full menu on the SeaWorld’s website. Some highlights include:
• All-American Market: Meaty is the word here. There’s the bacon hot dog slider topped with coleslaw, onions and spicy mustard; a buffalo meatloaf slider topped with arugula, smoked bacon and pimento cheese; and a mac and cheese topped with blue cheese crumbles and bacon
• Asian Market: Classics include Peking duck lo mein (noodles with crispy duck, oriental vegetables and teriyaki sauce) as well steamed pork buns with gingered grilled pineapple and hoisin sauce.
• Brazilian Market: You’ll find Brazilian picanha steak served with oven roasted potatoes and tomato chimichurri and gluten-free dishes such as bacon wrapped sweet plantain with guava horseradish sauce and Brazilian cheese bread.
• The Florida Market brings back the popular shrimp mac and cheese and frozen key lime martini.
Saturday: The Fray
Sunday: Sugar Ray
Feb. 16: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Feb. 17: Little River Band
Feb. 23: Flo Rida
Feb. 24: 98 Degrees
March 2: Lifehouse
March 3: Cole Swindell
March 9: Lee Brice with LOCASH (5 p.m. start time)
March 10: I Love the ‘90s feat. En Vogue, Kid N Play, Coolio, Tone Loc, Rob Base, Young MC (5 p.m. start time)
March 16: Bret Michaels
March 17: Gente De Zona
Concerts will begin at 6 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday unless otherwise noted. Reserved seating can be purchased online. Visit SeaWorld.com/Orlando.
Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras
For more than 20 years, Universal’s Mardi Gras parade party has brought a nightly parade and Cajun food.
The 12-float parade this year will include six new floats featuring animals from the arctic, jungle, ocean and more. The floats are the real deal. Universal hires Kern Studios, which has been creating floats for New Orleans’ Mardi Gras since 1947.
They are changing up the food this year, serving more “tasting sizes” to encourage trying multiple dishes. Look for frog legs, crab etouffee and craft beer flights to join the traditional line-up of gumbo, jambalaya, and po boys.
The items will roll out onto the French Quarter Courtyard located in the New York area starting at 4 p.m. from Saturday through April 4.
In Universal’s French Quarter, look for a new mimosa bar with flavors such as caramel apple, raspberry rosemary, mojito mint. For a non-alcoholic sip, the Bayou Bog Water promises a mix of lemonade and ginger ale festooned with gummy worms and fish and blueberry boba.
Feb. 16: Gavin DeGraw
Feb. 17: Dan + Shay
Feb. 23: Macklemore
March 2: Sabrina Carpenter
March 9: Becky G
March 10: Sean Paul
March 16: Steve Miller Band
March 17: Ziggy Marley
March 24: Pitbull
March 30: Bazzi
Included with admission, which starts at $114. Visit UniversalOrlando.com.