Universal & Busch Gardens Add Mardi Gras Flavour

Universal Orlando Resort Tickets , Busch Gardens® Tickets , Orlando , Seasonal Events , Expert View Column
A dish of jambalaya on a table next to a sequined mask and multicoloured beads
By AttractionTickets.com’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
If you’re ready for a party, Central Florida’s theme parks are the place to be!

Fans of Universal Orlando Resort and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay have plenty to celebrate in the New Year as both parks turn on the Mardi Gras style with plenty of extra pizazz – plus great food.

The sounds, sights and tastes of New Orleans during the famous Fat Tuesday commemoration are all brought front and centre, and it is a time of genuine revelry for the next few weeks.

Technically, Mardi Gras is dedicated to the events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. The name is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’ and reflects the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the fasting of Lent.

In reality, it has become one extended series of carnival events and parades, with its own distinctive foods – like King Cake and beignets – and traditions.

Best of all, it is all completely free with regular admission (apart from the food, of course), so there is extra value to be had in your Two and Three-Park Explorer Tickets (for Universal) and the SeaWorld Parks 3-Visit Ticket (for Busch Gardens) at this time of year.

There are definite similarities between the offerings at the two parks, but also some unique experiences of their own, so it’s best to look at them separately.


Universal Orlando

In the big Universal resort, the Mardi Gras festivities are confined to the Universal Studios Florida park from February 3 to April 7, and they come with two headline events that keep people coming back for multiple visits.


Three women laughing while sharing a plate of food


In recent years, Universal has expanded its food offerings beyond the typical Cajun fare of New Orleans to include international kiosks from places such as Germany (with Chicken Schnitzel), Mexico (with Chilaquiles Verdes), China (featuring a spicy Szechuan Noodle Salad) and Puerto Rico (with the signature plantain dish, Pastelons).

But you should definitely pay attention to the “tastes of the Bayou,” including the delicious Shrimp Gumbo and rich Jambalaya, as well as plenty of King Cake and beignets!


Mardi Gras Food at Universal Orlando Resort


The park’s unique Tribute Store in the Hollywood area is also completely re-themed for the occasion and provides a fabulous array of event merchandise, from masks and beads to T-shirts and Mardi Gras-styled treats.

Live music, dancers and street performers in elaborate costumes are also part of the party, but it really kicks into high gear each day (usually at 5pm) with the excitement and razzamatazz of the daily Parade. From the builders of the famed New Orleans version, Universal’s cavalcade of magnificent themed floats is an exercise in eye-catching design and flair.

This year there will also be six new floats to enjoy, inspired by earth, wind, fire, water, the sun and the moon, and the whole Parade comes complete with frenzied bead-throwing to the audience along the route from Hollywood to New York and back. And, the more animated you are along the sidelines, the more the bead-throwers on each float are likely to send them your way!


Mardi Gras Universal Orlando Resort


Want an even more hands-on experience? You can actually sign up to be among the float bead-throwers! Every day, Universal takes requests for park guests to be part of the Parade and we can attest that it is a LOT of fun. Reservations are accepted in-park on the Universal Orlando app, and you can find out more about it on this link.

Finally, at weekends, the Saturday and/or Sunday nights conclude with a headline concert from a variety of international music stars, covering a range of musical genres. This year’s line-up includes Queen Latifa, Barenaked Ladies, Ava Max and KC and the Sunshine Band, and you can be sure of a real party atmosphere to send you off dancing into the night.


Busch Gardens

Head down main motorway I-4 to Tampa and you find this popular African-themed park that combines great rides with superb animal habitats. And, during weekends from January 13 to March 3, the Mardi Gras experience is added to the mix.

The phrase “Let the good times roll” was inspired by the original New Orleans event, and Busch Gardens definitely lives up to that command, with their own style and elements to give each Friday, Saturday and Sunday a true party vibe.


Busch Gardens Mardi Gras


From noon to park closing time (usually 8pm), that Fat Tuesday spirit takes over and adds more tasty themed food, live music from a Bourbon Street-style brass band, an afternoon parade and a unique Bead Balcony, from which costumed performers toss thousands of strings of beads to an enthusiastic crowd periodically.

The Cajun-themed menu includes must-try dishes such as Crawfish Etouffee, po’boy sandwiches, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, a Blackened Chicken Slider and, of course, plenty of those scrummy beignets. For dessert flavours, look for the Creamery, with two all-new dishes in Chicory & Chocolate Crepes and a Crepe Suzette.


Busch Gardens beignets


There are 11 food and drink kiosks set around the Bird Gardens section of the park, which includes the event stage and the Springs Taproom for an array of craft beers, while a special selection of cocktails is on offer at Hurricanes and The Voodoo Lounge.

Finally, everything is rounded off with Busch Gardens’ own Mardi Gras Parade up to four times each afternoon and evening, with musicians, performers and stilt walkers to ensure the proper New Orleans style.

It is a neat and attractive package that sits nicely alongside the park’s other, varied attractions, and adds real value at this time of the year. Just remember to go easy on the cocktails!

Have you tried either Universal Orlando or Busch Gardens for Mardi Gras before? Tell us about it on the friendly AttractionTickets.com Community Facebook page, on Twitter or Instagram.

Universal Orlando Resort Tickets , Busch Gardens® Tickets , Orlando , Seasonal Events , Expert View Column