Let’s be honest, from here in the UK, Florida isn’t the first place you think of as a weekend destination, but then when Universal called and said ‘hey, fancy a long weekend at Universal Orlando Resort for Mardi Gras 2017?’, my response was ‘hell, yes! Let me grab my suitcase’.
What’s all this, then?
As well as being famous for being one of the largest, most exciting theme parks around, Universal Orlando Resort is also home to Florida’s biggest family-friendly party: Mardi Gras! Much like the New Orleans version, Universal’s Mardi Gras is a riot of music, dancing and entertainment. Here’s what to expect:
What goes on during Mardi Gras?
During Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration, there’s a jaw-dropping, illuminated nightly parade featuring huge festive Mardi Gras floats, complete with foot-tapping New Orleans-inspired music. There are also are confetti cannons, dozens of colourful dancers and crazy stilt performers in breathtaking costumes, and even amazing live concerts. Oh and let’s not forget beads… beads, beads, beads! Everyone crowds around to watch the floats go past and catch colourful strings of beads thrown from the floats. This year’s parade features six all-new floats themed around mythical creatures:
Fancy a few numbers? Of course you do…
There’ll be around four million beads thrown, and 2, 050 pounds of confetti used on 12 floats, with 85 performers in the parade every day. The largest float, the River Boat, can carry 60 guests. The parade floats travel 642 miles from Kern Studios in New Orleans to Universal Orlando (Kern Studios has been creating floats for Universal Orlando for 22 years), oh and one very happy gang of journos, who got to dress up and throw beads! Here we are on our gorgeous jester float after the parade:
Do I have to buy a ticket?
No! That’s the best thing about Mardi Gras, if you’re there and have Universal Resort Orlando tickets, then all this extra fun, including the incredible concerts and the nightly parades are completely free. Just like all the fabulous holiday celebrations (check out my post on Grinchmas here – top fun), and Halloween Horror Nights, it’s all included, so no matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something amazing to see and do.
You mentioned Cajun cuisine?
Oh yes, while you’re there, visit The French Quarter Courtyard for delicious, authentic New Orleans-style street food, oh and while you’re munching, enjoy performances by bands brought direct from Bourbon Street.
What about the music?
On selected nights during Mardi Gras, you can see some of the world’s biggest music acts on the Universal Music Plaza Stage, right in front of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Universal’s ridiculous 65mph roller coaster (I did it! But only once – it turns my legs to jelly). And – even more mad – while you’re watching a show, the Rockit is still all lit up and flinging people around over 17 stories high – a quite spectacular sight at night with all the lights. This year, performers included three-time GRAMMY Award winner NE-YO, disco legends Earth, Wind and Fire, and Jason Derulo.
We were lucky enough to see Fifth Harmony, the American girl band originally formed on the X Factor in 2012 and famous for hits like ‘Worth It’ and ‘That’s My Girl’, and I have to say they were incredible. The crowd was completely mad and we danced and sung the evening away. What an experience.
How can I get on a float?!
Seriously, you need to get on a float! I was telling a friend that it’s literally the best form of therapy. There’s no way you can feel anything other than ecstatic when you’re dressed in a colourful outfit, on a big, flashing, sparkly float, dancing to funky music, throwing out lovely strings of beads to people with arms outstretched ready to catch them. People call out to you, they grin, they wave! You have little moments when you chuck someone some beads and they catch them… it’s just awesome. If you’re staying at a resort hotel, just register at the front desk for your chance to join in. The best fun.
What else can I do at Universal Orlando Resort?
I’ve got a huge guide to Universal Orlando Resort coming very soon, but until then, where do I start? There are two awesome parks: Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Both are home to some of the world’s most exciting and innovative theme park experiences, including brand new (and completely jaw dropping) Skull Island: Reign of Kong, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley, and one of my favourite bits: the colourful, wonky world of Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure. Oh and don’t forget, Universal’s brand new water park: Universal’s Volcano Bay will be opening its doors in May too! For great dining and entertainment, there’s the gorgeous Universal CityWalk, offering all sorts of dining and entertainment for every member of the family, from fine dining to the fabulous new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen.
What’s the best Universal Orlando Resort on-site resort hotel to stay in?
I absolutely adore Loews Sapphire Falls – click here for my full article about this delicious hotel. It’s so easy just to hop onto a water taxi which takes you straight to the parks. Other options include the fab, retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort and the beautiful Loews Portofino Bay Hotel – check my things to do and places to stay in Orlando article for loads of information and pictures on both these hotels. There’s also the amazing Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
I want to go: get me there!
Well, Universal’s Mardi Gras 2017 will run for 50 days, daily from February 4th until March 25th, so you could still make it (info below), but for next year, Mardi Gras is officially 13th Feb, so if you book any time around there you should be fine. I’ll add the exact dates here as soon as I know them.
First up: don’t forget airport parking: I always use APH Meet & Greet parking – I’ve got to know a lot of the staff now and they’re always just so friendly and helpful. Turn up, meet your driver outside the terminal and he whisks your car away while you head to your flight. Easy peasy.
7 nights in Orlando from £1745pp
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, room only accommodation at Loews Sapphire Falls with car hire and the Universal Explorer 2 Park Ticket included – including entry to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Price is per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on 8th March 2017.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport… adults from £20, kids from £12. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected.
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0344 557 3859 or visit one of our 110 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide. For more info on Universal Orlando Resort, click here: www.UniversalOrlando.co.uk
Massive thanks, as usual, go to the wonderful Kevin and my wonderful fellow travellers: Lindsay, Jonathan, Lewis and James (or as I know them Bob, Vicky, Bob, Bob and Bob) for being the best company xx