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Mardi Gras 2023 Review

The Mardi Gras season at Universal Orlando Resort is a hidden gem in my opinion.  I love the festive atmosphere, international food booths and high quality entertainment.  This is not a separately ticketed event, so you just get to show up and enjoy! For the basic overview of Universal Orlando Resort's Mardi Gras 2023 Celebration, click here

We spent a long weekend in February visiting the Universal Orlando Resort, and our main goal was to enjoy Mardi Gras. We used the food booths for several meals, saw the parade and caught a concert. 

First, everything is colorful and lively across Universal Studios Florida, this is definitely the hub of the event although it has trickled out into other areas of the destination. 
 
I’m all about the food so we were excited to “taste the flavors of Carnaval” and have some old favorites and try some new things. What we did find challenging though was actually finding the booths we wanted to try. We couldn’t find any sort of map or guide to which booth was located where, and they are throughout the park so it took some exploring.

The CocaCola Freestyle cups also got in on the festive vibes this year, and we found this to mostly be a great way to stay hydrated throughout the day. But more than a few times we ran into freestyle machines with no ice and limited options available which was disappointing. 
The Japan booth location and atmosphere is one of the best done around the park, it’s tucked away in the streets and feels like it belongs there. We tried the bao bun sampler because I love some bao!

This dish was beautiful but didn’t wow me. The savory flavors were good but perhaps they had been sitting out too long? The booth was a bit hidden so there wasn’t anyone else ordering around the same time as us. The sweet option (the white one) despite being flavors I normally like, was just a bit weird. 
Japan: Nikuman Bun Sampler
trio of soft fluffy steamed buns filled with char sui pork, teriyaki chicken,
and a sweet coconut matcha custard
Spain had some fun and unique options like a Sangria Flight and Paella.  The seafood and rice dish was very well done and a good size portion.
Spain: Paella Mixto
saffron yellow rice, chorizo, squid, mussels, and shrimp
Italy always has something we would like, and arancini is high on my list of yummy Italian bites!  They offer a "tour of Italy flight" so you get to try three great options in one! The classic with marinara was my favorite, but I appreciated the creativity.
Italy: Tour of Italy Arancini Flight
tomato basil with marinara, mushroom with garlic cream sauce,
and seafood served with basil pesto
The Germany booth was a personal highlight for me.  The schnitzel was hot and crispy and the kasespatzle was cheesy and gooey.  For the price, this one felt more like a small meal than a small bite and really fueled me for the day!
Germany: Chicken Schnitzel with Käsespätzle
fried chicken thigh cutlet served with baked spätzle and beer cheese sauce
If you like the adult libations, we highly recommend getting a souvenir refillable cup.  Once you make the purchase, most booths will have a beer or mixed drink option that you can refill the cup at a discount.  There were a few booths with specialty drinks that were not included in this, but overall we got a great value out of ours! 
The India booth had a lot of vegetarian options which was great. We tried the Onion Bhaji and were pleasantly surprised at how hot, fresh, crispy and flavorful this was! An "onion fritter" doesn't sound terribly exciting on the surface, but this was very good.
India: Onion Bhaji(V)
curry spiced crispy onion fritter with green chutney dipping sauce
Towards the end of the night, the booths did start running out of some food items which was disappointing. Additionally, they close about 30 minutes before the park close in our experience. So if there's something you really have your heart set on trying, make sure you get there earlier in the day. I wanted the strawberry waffle from Belgium, but they only had s'mores left. It was very good though and I quite enjoyed it!
Belgium: Liège Waffle S'mores
pearled sugar chocolate chip waffle, topped with marshmallow cream,
chocolate sauce, and graham cracker crumbs
You can find some of the entertainers out and about during the day which makes for some great photo ops. Their stilt abilities are wildly impressive and I found their costumes to be just beautiful!
Guests started lining the streets for the parade well in advance of the start time. If you wanted an actual bench or seat, we are talking about 2 hours of waiting. We wanted a curb spot, and while they were filling in, we had plenty of choice with about an hour to go. We found a great viewing spot to be near the start of the parade, anywhere from Horror Makeup Show to Bourne Stuntacular. If you really want to maximize your bead collection, go right in front of the Horror Makeup Show since that's where the parade starts and finishes. We went a bit closer to Bourne and found the view to be great and since it was near the start, we found the float riders had a lot of energy and spunk still. When we saw it the next night passing by from later in the route, they didn't seem to have the same excitement.
The view while we waited 
We decided to divide and conquer while we had time to kill. My husband went to get us drink refills in our refillable cups, and when he got back I went to get us snacks from the Tribute Store which was across the street. The tribute stores get a lot of hype, and I thought this was well decorated and had a lot to offer, but I personally wouldn't wait to get in.
Tribute store decor
Tribute store treats
After venturing through the Tribute Store I came out with a few snacks to try and a lighted flower crown to wait for the parade. I opted to try a macaron, a whoopie pie, and a mask brownie. There was no description of what the brownie was at the Tribute Store and the team member couldn't tell me either, but oh my goodness, I will dream about this brownie forever. It was so rich, topped with what we believe was some sort of caramel cream, and the chocolate mask on top was delicious as well. If you like chocolate, pick this for sure. The macaron was good too, but the whoopie pie was forgettable.  It was supposed to be "king cake" flavored but we found it just vanilla with no other depth and very sweet.
Mask Brownie
Maple Bourbon Macaron
Once it was time for the parade, everyone stood up and the energy was flowing!  There was music, confetti, dancers, and of course, plenty of beads!  I loved how some floats had beads colored to go along with their themes and we loved collecting all the colors!  It was hard to get great photos even though we had a good spot because 1) it was dark outside, and 2) it was hard not to dance with the music! The floats were beautiful and had so much to see, and the dancers had great personalities as they made their way down the streets. Here are a few of my favorites.
 
Beads from one night parade viewing
The concert nights seem to be limited this year, but we were excited for 3 Doors Down. We planned to get there about 30 minutes before the show, but things happened and we got stuck on the wrong side of the parade. The viewing area was at capacity and it was honestly a madhouse. We considered giving up but we persevered. The show was really great and longer than expected but worth the wait. It’s really cool to see a concert with a rollercoaster going in the background. If you are a fan of any of the acts performing, I'd highly recommend getting there early!
Our view for the show
After you wrap up your day at the parks, the celebrations don't have to stop there.  In Citywalk there are a few food booths around or you can venture into the Dead Coconut Club, a highly themed bar and nightclub.  The spot was busy but we were able to find a seat or easily get up on the dance floor.  I loved all the details in the decor and enjoyed just taking it all in after a long day at the parks.  
If you want more treats, we learned you can get some of the same Mardi Gras options from the Tribute Store outside the parks at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium.  They also have a specialty milkshake for the season, but we were too full to try that.  However, we used this opportunity to get ourselves another mask brownie!


Toothsome treats display 
What is your favorite part of Universal's Mardi Gras Celebrations, or what would you most look forward to if you were to visit?  Let us know in the comments below!


Maci Schau
Maci is an avid foodie and loves trying out new restaurants and seasonal food offerings in the parks.  You can email Maci at maci@kingdomkonsultant.com.

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