A Family Friendly Mardi Gras

Bryan Jones

Photo by Michelle Stevens

For the next two months Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. will host a family-friendly version of the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. As the air fills with the smell of cajun cuisine, the park will be filled with guests wearing beads and masks while employees strut around on stilts wearing eye-catching costumes.

Mardi Gras at Universal Studios’ begins in the French Quarter Courtyard where visitors can experience the sounds of authentic New Orleans bands every night before the headliner concert. Since 2006, according to a press release from Universal, more than 20 bands have traveled straight from New Orleans to Orlando to perform blues, jazz and zydeco music for attendants. The French Quarter is also where guests can experience delicious cajun cuisine, including jambalaya, gumbo, beignets and much more.

The celebration started on Feb. 11 on Saturdays and select nights and will be extending through April 14, according to a press release from Universal.

During each celebration there is a parade where guests can dance along with street performers and collect beads by the handful as vibrant floats travel through the park during the Mardi Gras parade. This year’s floats include a theme focusing on the earth’s different ecosystems including bayous and swamps, coral reefs, the rainforest, the deep blue sea and polar regions. The parade’s authenticity is guaranteed, as the parade’s hand-crafted floats are built by Blaine Kern Artists, which is the same company that designs the floats for the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.

For the crowds that swarm the park, some of the most exciting parts come from the nightly parades and live performances by some of today’s most popular artists, including names like Big Time Rush, the Plain White T’s and Cyndi Lauper. On Feb. 18, Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson took the Music Plaza Stage and performed hits from her recent album, “Stronger,” along with some popular singles and a cover of Demi Lovato’s hit song “Skyscraper.”

According to the press release, Hot Chelle Rae will play their hit “Tonight, Tonight” during their performance on March 23, and singer-songwriter and Grammy Award nominee B.o.B, known for his multiple top singles “Nothin’ on You,” “Airplanes” and “Magic,” will perform on March 24. Additional performances include Billboard magazine’s “Female Entertainer of the Century” Diana Ross; Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B group of all time; teen sensation Big Time Rush; 2012 Grammy nominee for “Best New Artist” J. Cole; and four-time Billboard Latin Music Award winner Prince Royce.

Each night the employees fill the floats with different specially selected groups of park visitors and give them the chance to throw beads into the waiting hands of excited revelers. With a belly full of authentic cajun food and a neck full of beads thrown from extravagantly hand-crafted float attendants, visitors will likely be surprised that they are not actually in the Big Easy.