Has human civilization reached its zenith? If you ignore politics, social issues, and other things that actually matter, the answer just might be “yes.” At what other point in history could we have a movie where Vin Diesel and John Cena play angry brothers with rocket cars and magnet planes? More importantly, when else could you see almost all of humanity’s greatest works, from culture to architecture to tradition, gathered in a single city? Yes, I’m talking about Orlando: the modern-day fertile crescent. Only instead of creating things it just sort of… recreates them.
Universal Orlando sums up the majesty of Orlando perfectly. Where else could you visit Harry Potter’s London, Jimmy Fallon’s New York, Homer Simpson’s Springfield, and E.T.’s home planet in the same hour? In one afternoon you can eat in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, party in Dom Toretto’s garage, and get a photo with your head inside the mouth of Jaws. (Not Richard Kiel, unfortunately, but the shark. You know the one.) Combine this with some of the other popular tourist destinations in the theme park capital of the world, and you could hit pretty much the whole planet in under a week—if you can handle the lines.
Part of Universal’s attempt to cram as much of the world as possible into its theme parks is its annual Mardi Gras celebration, which is running at Universal Studios Florida every day through April 2. Mardi Gras is known for its food, music and parade, and you’ll be able to find all of that at Universal Studios during that time, with concerts from a diverse line-up of current hitmakers and all-time legends. If you can’t make it to New Orleans, it might be the next best thing—and even if you can, you still wouldn’t be able to hop on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster in the Big Easy. So consider it a push between the real Mardi Gras and Universal’s fun replication of it.
Here’s what to expect from Universal’s Mardi Gras celebrations.
When you get down to it, pretty much all traditions and human interactions boil down to the food we eat during them. Universal fully embraces the Cajun heritage of Mardi Gras with a full slate of seasonal treats, ranging from snacks to full meals. You’ll be able to grab a delicious beignet or king cake donut when you’re feeling like something sweet, pick up some crab étouffée or fried gator bites when you’re in the mood for a sitdown meal, or even just munch on a po’ boy on the go. Expect a wide range of Mardi Gras specialties at the French Quarter Courtyard, including a colorful variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails.
The daily Mardi Gras parade has a new flotilla of gorgeous floats, each one with a dazzling light display and a story to tell. One float looks like a giant treasure map, complete with the face of a sky god blowing great gusts of wind across the sea. The map on the float’s side actually foreshadows the other new floats to come, from a giant pirate ship (complete with dueling pirates onboard), to another float that depicts that ship’s inevitable final resting place at the bottom of the ocean. Universal devoted the same level of craft and attention to these floats as they do to designing their rides and other theme park environments, making them a spectacle that needs to be seen.
Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration also includes a series of concerts from top performers from the past through today. And don’t worry if you’re not that big on zydeco music—these shows might be pegged to Mardi Gras, but they aren’t just about Mardi Gras music. The lineup includes concerts from Diana Ross, TLC, the All-American Rejects, Marshmello, and more. The shows happen on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays now through March 29, and are free with park admission. So you can watch Brendan Fraser get killed off in the coda to the amazing roller coaster The Mummy Returns, and then see Diana Ross herself sing “Theme from Mahogany” just a few feet away. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.
For the first time Universal has created one of its tribute stores for Mardi Gras. If you’re familiar with the similar tribute stores they’ve opened during Halloween Horror Nights, you probably know what to expect: it’s an elaborately designed, minutely detailed retail space that captures the look and feel of some of New Orleans’ most legendary spaces. You’ll enter through an homage to Preservation Hall, and find yourself in the midst of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Instead of the long-gone citizens of New Orleans, though, these crypts are full of bargains—or at least of t-shirts and Mardi Gras masks. From there you enter into the heart of the bayou, with a small wooden shack amid lush vegetation and the sounds of frogs and insects. Don’t worry—that witch doctor on the porch won’t hurt you. This store is so beautifully designed that it made me wish Universal would cook up a full attraction based on New Orleans, whether it’s a ride or a walkthrough exhibit. It’s definitely the most stylish (and skull-heavy) way to buy an enamel pin in the theme park.
If Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration sounds like something you’d love to check out, you’ve got a couple of months to make it down: it runs through April 6, almost a good six weeks after the real Mardi Gras wraps up.
For more on Mardi Gras at Universal Studios, go here.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.