Every week is Mardi Gras. Universal’s take on Mardi Gras continues weekends through May 31
By Peter Covino
In New Orleans, the big Mardi Gras party comes to a grand finale Tuesday, but at Universal Orlando, the parades, food and live entertainment continues right on until the end of May.
The party at Universal Studios has grown through the past 15 years and has become a nice alternative to New Orleans, without that city’s high prices and huge crowds.
At Universal’s Mardi Gras you get authentic Cajun cooking at the French Quarter Courtyard, as well as Mardi Gras floats, built by Blaine Kern artists, the same builders of the New Orleans floats. The floats, which number about a dozen, appear nightly in the Mardi Gras parade. And there also is nightly musical entertainment, a schedule that includes Weezer, Kool & the Gang, Foreigner, Nelly and more.
The floats, designed by Universal creative artists, and built to specification in New Orleans, are always the highlight of Mardi Gras, and this year the event features three all-new floats and a revitalized favorite, the Jesters float.
The Jesters float has gotten a refresh, said Patrick Braillerd, creative development show director at Universal Orlando, and it leads off the parade in 2014.
Every year, the creative team includes some new floats in the parade and some one old are “retired.”
“It’s always hard to decide which floats go and which ones stay,” said Braillerd, particularly since the designers do feel a personal attachment with their creations.
This year’s float theme is Around the World in 80 Days.
Beads are always a big part on the parade, just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Brailler said about 166,000 beads are tossed nightly from the passing floats to eager Universal guests.
And don’t forget the food. The chefs at Universal have really stepped up their game in this area in recent years and are producing a really nice jambalaya. The dishes now feature Andouille sausage as an ingredient, a specialty New Orleans sausage that really makes a difference in New Orleans cuisine.
The food menu also includes seafood gumbo, poor boys and that traditional New Orleans sandwich, the muffuletta, a sandwich created by Italian immigrants in the city. The sandwich (which is a super-sized handful in New Orleans) includes olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham and provolone.
Featured desserts at the French Quarter include king cakes, cheese cake, dessert shots and beignets.
In addition the area dedicated to serving up New Orleans specialties, some of the restaurants at Universal Studios may also feature some menu items in celebration of Mardi Gras, throughout the event.
The guest musical lineup for Mardi Gras includes:
Collective Soul, March 1; Prince Royce, March 8; Cody Simpson, March 14; Foreigner, March 15; A Great Big World, March 21; Gavin DeGraw, March 22; Kelly Rowland, March 28; Weezer, March 29; Skillet, April 5; Lynyrd Skynyrd, April 12; Kool & the Gang; Nelly, May 3; The Wanted, May 10; The Roots, May 17; Cher Lloyd, May 24 and Huey Lewis the News, May 31.
Grammy winner Robin Thicke had been scheduled to perform last weekend, but his appearance was cancelled. Universal officials said the show will be rescheduled again during the Universal event.
Saturday’s music performers, Collective Soul, will perform at 8 p.m. The French Quarter Courtyard opens at 4 p.m., while the parade starts at 7:15 p.m.
In addition to headline acts, New Orleans bands will also perform throughout the event.
Admission to Mardi Gras is included with tickets to Universal Studios. Mardi Gras is held on select nights through May 31.
Universal offers on-site discounted vacation packages which include deluxe on-site hotel accommodations, early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; complimentary Universal Express Unlimited ride access; and on-site transportation via water taxi or shuttle bus to the theme parks and Universal CityWalk. The package must be booked by March 31 and use promotion code UNIPLAY at time of purchase.
Flower & Garden
Disney’s big springtime event, the 21st Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, returns to Epcot, March 5.
The 75-day festival continues daily through May 18.
Once again, Epcot will be transformed into a gardener’s paradise. The event also always includes HGTV celebrity designers, gardening demonstrations and hands-on workshops.
This year’s event also includes a Disney-Pixar “Cars” playground and the return of the Flower Power concert series.
The music evente features some of the most popular bands and performers from the 1960s and ‘70s at the America Gardens Theatre.
Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 5:30, 6:45 and 8 p.m. The concert series is included in regular Epcot admission. More info: 407-W-DISNEY (934-7639) or www.epcotinspring.com.
The concert series opens up with The Guess Who “American Woman.”
It’s a party of a different sort at Bok Towers. Peak bloom season has officially arrived at Bok Tower Gardens, at that makes it one of the best times of year to visit the National Historic Landmark.
During this annual rite of spring, visitors can observe more than 150 varieties of camellias and hundreds of azaleas along with nun’s orchids, irises, coral bean, Mexican flame vine, and other flowering plants.
This week it was the azaleas that were getting the most attention, according to Greg Kramer, Gardens’ director of horticulture. The first few weeks are the best time to view azaleas and camelias, he said.
Violas, snapdragons, dianthus, delphiniums, holly hocks and other annuals also escort the arrival of spring with glorious displays of color. Trees in bloom include native plums and deciduous magnolias.
On March 8-16, the Gardens will also present the 22nd International Carillon Festival. Admission to the gardens is $12 for adults and $3 for children. For tickets and more information, visit www.BokTowerGardens.org.