The heart of Mardi Gras is the Universal Studios "French Quarter Courtyard." Tucked away and a little bit off to the side, this is where the celebration continues and the New Orleans-inspired food creations begin. As you approach, the wonderful aroma of the food beckons you to come closer.
Booths are colorful and have wonderful signage so there is no doubt as to what you're standing in line for. I spoke with some friends who said they didn't' think it was quite as good as the real thing, but it was obvious Universal worked very hard to make this food as authentic as they could, right down to every last detail. The jambalaya, pasta, beignets, and shrimp po boys were crowd favorites.
Here in the French Quarter Courtyard, there is also a terrific bonus in the nearly twelve hand-picked, authentic New Orleans bands that perform the best of New Orleans Jazz and Zydeco. Guests have been grooving to the soulful sounds of these authentic New Orleans bands every night before the headliner concert since 2006. In fact, more than 20 bands have traveled straight from The Big Easy to Universal Orlando to perform music for party-goers, and I think it really adds to the authenticity of Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration. The French Quarter Courtyard opens at 4:00pm and closes at concert time, but (hooray!) the food booths may extend their hours if it is a busy night.
Our next leg of the event took us backstage to view some of the re-designed and totally brand new floats. In case you were wondering, 2014 brings us three new floats and one revamped float, to be exact. Blaine-Kern Studios has been the face of Mardi Gras since 1947 and builds floats not only for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but also for Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando. When they say they have authentic Mardi Gras parade floats at Universal, they mean it. The authenticity and detail of the float designs are just as intricate as they are in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the only difference being that they are built to be used for months instead of just once.
"One of the things we wanted to focus on this year is we wanted to tell a story," said Patrick Braillard, Creative Development and Show Director at Universal Orlando. Braillard and Curtis Hopkins, Senior Scenic Designer for Universal Orlando, were talking about stories they wanted to tell through the Mardi Gras parade and suddenly the team had an epiphany. "We knew we had the previous floats from last year, which were from China, India and Mexico and we thought, well, that’s kind of a tour around the world so we thought, 'Oh, around the world in 80 days.' That gives us the opportunity to turn our theme park and the parade into a steampunk turn-of-the-century, fun-filled spectacle." So there you have it, that is how this year's theme became "Around the World in 80 Days" based off of the Jules Verne book of the same name. The different floats feature many modes of transportation on land, sea, and air.
Universal updated its iconic jester float featuring multiple masks, jester images and lots of glitter. "The jester float is a mainstay at our parade and we wanted it to be brighter and more vivid," Braillard said.
The Lissa is named after Braillard's beautiful wife. The crowd chuckled when he mentioned his wife was flattered at first, but later picked on him a bit for thinking of her when he created something this large!
If you are looking for a more family-friendly party atmosphere and parade, you can easily steer clear of the Music Plaza. The Little Jester’s Parade Viewing Area has been set up just for kids. It is located next to the Terminator 2: 3-D attraction and it opens one hour before the parade starts. They really thought of everything because Universal has even put this special viewing area right next to the park exit to make it a little easier to leave with your kids once the parade passes.
Every spring, the fun and excitement of The Big Easy makes its way to Universal Orlando Resort for Mardi Gras – an authentic celebration that completely transforms Universal Studios Florida into a family-friendly version of the famed New Orleans street party. I hope you have enjoyed this photo tour of Universal Mardi Gras with a focus on the French Quarter Courtyard, Food, and Floats.Tweet
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