While hope is on the horizon, the pandemic still affects nearly every area of our lives – from wearing masks in public to limiting our social contact. Many special events have had to be either canceled or modified, including Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration. While there’s still plenty of festive fun to enjoy, the pandemic has forced the cancellation of what used to be considered crucial pieces of the event – the nighttime parade and live concerts. Without these offerings, is Universal Mardi Gras still worth a visit? Let’s talk through the event’s changes and potential benefits of each.
Mardi Gras Atmosphere
In lieu of a set parade time, Universal has spread out its popular Mardi Gras floats around the park. Each unit includes live performers dancing and throwing beads to those who ask.
If you’re worried about being pelted with a stray necklace, you needn’t be concerned. From what I witnessed, team members have been trained to carefully toss or hand the beads only to guests that are actively requesting them. They were not just randomly throwing them into the crowd.
The benefit to this constant entertainment is that the park maintains a livelier, more Mardi Gras-esque atmosphere throughout the entire day. In year’s past, the park has felt fairly normal for most of the daylight hours until exploding into a festive fever at night. With this new format, guests get to celebrate all day long, enjoying the floats or photo opportunities on their schedule.
Which brings me to the next benefit. With this atmosphere, guests do not have to find a spot and wait for the parade to start ahead of a scheduled time. You can simply enjoy the performances at your leisure. And there’s an added bonus for those sensitive to loud noises. Any accompanying float music is played at a much lower volume than during a formal parade. I barely used my hearing protection.
The biggest drawback, of course, is quite obvious. There’s no anticipation of a large or exciting event to keep you going through the day. Yes, you can visit the floats anytime you want, but you’re missing the choreography and excitement that generally accompanies a live performance.
Additionally, the lack of concerts is a real bummer. While I generally avoid super loud venues (which means that I miss out on a ton of live music opportunities), Universal’s concerts can often be heard throughout the park – giving guests of all comfort levels the ability to enjoy the booked acts.
Expanded Food Festival
In past years, the food festival portion of the Mardi Gras event was confined to the “French Quarter Courtyard.” It mainly consisted of New Orleans cuisine, including beignets, jambalaya, gator bites, and po’ boys. Last year, Universal added a Carnival Around The Universe tent offering a rotating menu of festival food from across the globe.
For 2021’s festival, Universal has vastly expanded their food options. Booths and tents are available around the entire park offering food from Italy, the Bahamas, Cuba, and more.
If you’re looking to try a variety of different foods, this change is great! But if you’re looking to be immersed in Mardi Gras celebrations and the unique culture of New Orleans, this expansion can be a distraction. While I’m excited to see Universal widening its available food options (and almost every booth had a vegan dish!), the overwhelming amount of alternatives took me out of the experience. I would much prefer an overemphasis on cajun food and varieties to spread around the park.
While we’re discussing the food festival, I HAVE. to mention the tasting lanyards. Offering incredible values for both regular guests and annual passholders – it’s definitely worth considering a purchase!
Lanyards cost $55 for regular guests and include 10 items. Annual passholder lanyards cost $65 plus tax and include 15 items. At that price, the passholder lanyard comes out to about $4.33 an item. Qualifying items include any tasting sized dishes or drinks (including alcohol) at Mardi Gras booths as well as popcorn, pretzels, and bottled water anywhere in the park. Prices for the tasting items can reach up to $13, making either lanyard choice a pretty amazing value!
Additionally, there’s no expiration date – so you can continue purchasing popcorn, pretzels, and water with your lanyards after the festival is over.
If you’re looking to burn some time (and money) while learning about New Orleans heritage, the brand new Krewe Krawl might be for you! For $7.95, you can purchase a map showing you the locations of several Universal Studios skeleton displays. Each display is beautifully themed and includes written information about a different piece of Bayou culture.
Once you find all the skeletons and get your redemption stamps, you can show your completed map to get a prize – beads! (You know, the same thing they’re giving out for free at the next float.)
To be 100% fair, these beads are larger than the free ones distributed around the park…. but still….
So, Krysti, is Universal Mardi Gras worth it?
The answer is, it really depends on your budget and motivations for attending. If you’re looking for atmosphere and lots of available food and drink, then this is the place for you. Bonus points if you don’t mind being nickeled and dimed for things like the Krewe Krawl. If, however, you’re looking for something that feels more like a specific event, then you may want to wait until next year when (hopefully) things can feel a little more like they did in the before times.