Mardi Gras runs from February 4 through April 15, 2023 at Universal Studios Florida! This guide covers info about this family-friendly New Orleans-inspired event, everything new to the party, concerts, parade viewing & crowd tips, what to expect, and how to maximize your time & money.
Before we get started, it’s important to note that Universal Orlando has changed a lot about the way Mardi Gras is celebrated at USF. Following last year’s modified event with parked parade floats and no concerts, the entire event is back to normal for the second straight year.
This guide will cover what to expect during Mardi Gras 2023 at Universal Orlando, and will give you an idea of what to prioritize, and more. With those caveats out of the way, let’s start with a review of Universal’s Mardi Gras…
We won’t bury the lede–Universal Studios Florida absolutely crushed it. Mardi Gras is the best event to date at either Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando since the theme parks reopened last summer.
We’ve frequently praised Universal Orlando for its post-reopening entertainment presence, which permeates both parks with a palpable sense of life and energy. You normally wouldn’t describe theme parks as listless since they’re normally associated with excitement, but in the months since reopening things have sometimes been muted. That’s not the case at Universal Studios Florida, and this is especially true during Universal’s Mardi Gras.
What makes Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration so great is that it truly feels like a party. In the days we’ve visited Universal Studios Florida during the event thus far, there hasn’t been a single time when we couldn’t hear live music.
Most of the time, you can also see street performers no matter where you are (with obvious exceptions like within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Springfield from the Simpsons, which maintain their thematic integrity during the festivities).
Universal Studios Florida has undeniably done an exceptional job of once again creating a spectacle. Universal’s Mardi Gras feels like a party. It does not feel like Universal has “made lemonade out of lemons” as has been the case with other events at Walt Disney World and Universal, which up until now, has been praise.
Universal Studios Florida’s Mardi Gras is the real deal, and the closest we’ve felt to having a “normal” theme park experience since before the parks closed.
For the event, there’s a formidable lineup of musicians from a range of genres to Universal Studios Florida for its Mardi Gras concert series. During weekends throughout the event, the Music Plaza Stage hosts big-name bands and artists. These concerts would typically take place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 pm throughout Universal’s Mardi Gras.
Those concerts always pack the park. This is obviously an unpopular opinion judging by crowds, but we’ll take talented “no-name” performers all around the park that can be enjoyed at our leisure over “big name (10 or more years ago)” performers that require effort to see. Accordingly, we usually visit on dates when concerts are not happening.
For Universal’s Mardi Gras 2023, the regular parade is back. It’s an authentic New Orleans Mardi Gras parade with dazzling floats, colorful costumes, and beads, beads and more beads. There are even a limited number of spots for guests to ride on the parade, which can be reserved daily via Virtual Line in-park.
The Mardi Gras parade features 6 new floats along with 6 returning fan-favorite floats. The newcomers fuse Mardi Gras flare with cosmic-inspired elements like comets, rockets, Martians, and more.
Then there’s food–the culinary component of Universal’s Mardi Gras is huge. There are food booths serving up cuisine from over a dozen countries and cities, including Puerto Rico, France, Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, Spain, Canada, and of course, New Orleans (which has multiple booths). All food booths open at 11 am and operate until 30 minutes before the park closes.
Our days at Mardi Gras essentially consist of grabbing something to eat from a booth, finding a spot near a stage to sit (ideally in the shade), and enjoying the snack and entertainment. Universal’s in-park restaurants can be hit or miss, but these booths are mostly-exceptional. We’d put this ahead of EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival.
We’d highly recommend purchasing the Universal Mardi Gras Food & Beverage Card and Lanyard. Unlike past years, this is essentially a discount gift card rather than a tasting lanyard with a set amount of redemptions. There’s one version that costs $65 for a $75 gift card, and another that’s $120 for a $150 card. Obviously, the latter is the better deal–but requires spending more.
Additionally, Mardi Gras Food Tents offer discounts for Universal Orlando Annual Passholders: 15% off for Premier Passholders or 10% off for Preferred Passholders.
Over by Revenge of the Mummy, you’ll find the Mardi Gras Tribute Store, which is really cool and not to be missed. Think of this as a walk-through attraction rather than a gift shop. The jazz parlor, nautical cemetery, and pirate-themed rooms are all well-themed and moody—Universal could totally do a Mardi Gras Horror Nights in the spring.
These are exquisitely designed, but not the best photo ops due to the moody (and dark) lighting. Most if not all of the merchandise for sale here can also be found elsewhere in USF, but there are many snacks–particularly sweets–that are unique to this location.
Speaking of which, Universal’s Mardi Gras merchandise is also a lot of fun. There are a ton of designs that you can find up front in the Universal Studios Store or at pop-up stands throughout the park.
I love the mugs, cups, pins, and even the shirts–although as the owner of a light-furred cat and person who lives in Florida, I once again question why are so many of the shirts black?!
No special event would be complete without a (paid) scavenger hunt, and Universal’s Mardi Gras does not disappoint on that front with the “Krewe Crawl.” For $7.95, you get a treasure map to all of the Krewe Crawl spots, where you’ll receive a stamp from a Universal Team Member at each location.
Upon collecting all twelve stamps, you’ll head to Silver Screen Collectibles in Hollywood to redeem your prize. (Spoiler: it’s beads adorned with a masquerade mask.)
Walt Disney World fans and others reading this may be apprehensive about the vibe of a Mardi Gras-themed event, especially given the reputation of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. While we definitely would not take kids to HHN, in our view, Mardi Gras is entirely family-friendly. It’s not comparable to HHN or even the real Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Nevertheless, there are probably two areas of concern: outfits and alcohol. The costuming is lavish, ornate, and gorgeous. Sure, there’s a bit of cleavage, but it’s literally no worse than the Halloween episode of WandaVision. If this is something that bothers you, good luck ever watching any television, movie, or even visiting Florida during hotter months. It’s a total nonissue.
As for alcohol, we’d liken Mardi Gras to Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT. Universal does a pretty good job of limiting booze sales, and long lines at the food booths and restaurants are another roadblock to drunkenness. Nevertheless, you will likely see some guests who have had too much, especially later in the day.
If this is a concern, consider visiting earlier in the day and hopping over to Islands of Adventure later in the day. We’ve never had any major issues with this, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The same can also happen with “drinking around the world” groups at EPCOT.
Even if you don’t mind the party scene, we’d still consider avoiding Saturdays and Sundays.
More Floridians have weekends off from work than weekdays. On top of that, Universal currently has a resident ticket deal, which will likely draw even more locals on weekends.
Consequently, non-holiday weekdays have pretty low crowd levels, whereas weekends are total chaos. Typically, crowds are slightly elevated on Fridays as compared to other weekdays, but still not even remotely on par with Saturday or Sunday.
The moral of the story for tourists is to avoid weekends. Seriously, do Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on weekends, do Universal Orlando midweek. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress, and that’s by far the best way to avoid crowds at both Walt Disney World and Universal.
Ultimately, as is probably clear, we are huge fans of Universal’s Mardi Gras party. It’s not just the best thing either Walt Disney World or Universal have done since reopening–it’s a top 5 event of the year. Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida is a gigantic jubilee, infusing the park with an exceptional energy and creating a family-friendly incarnation of the iconic New Orleans event.
Between Universal’s Mardi Gras and the Epcot Festival of the Arts, the two theme parks in Central Florida are making a compelling case for visiting during the winter (just keep in mind that right now is not the off-season for either). Both are normally annual highlights at their respective theme parks, so that’s something to keep in mind if you can’t plan a quick getaway. For those reading at home, planning a Winter or early Spring 2023 trip to Orlando that overlaps with both is highly recommended. This “season” is right up there with Halloween and Christmas.
Have you been to Universal Studios Florida for Mardi Gras? How do you feel about the energy and atmosphere of the party? Do you like the dispersed parade approach, or prefer the full thing all at once? Thoughts on food, merchandise, entertainment, crowds, or anything else? Agree that Universal Orlando is doing an excellent job with atmosphere and entertainment during Mardi Gras? Any other highlights at Universal for you? Thoughts on anything else covered here? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this year, or are you waiting until 2023 or beyond? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!