Though the original Mardi Gras celebration ended in New Orleans last month, Universal Orlando still celebrates the colorful festival for another four weeks with a high-energy showcase of big name bands, cajun cuisine, a colorful parade – and plenty of beads.
But behind the scenes, Universal’s art and design team strives to improve the event, which has taken place each year since 1996. At the helm is show director Laura Wallace, who also recently had a hand in Grinchmas and the streets of Halloween Horror Nights 22.
In a backstage tour, Wallace described the inspiration behind this year’s Mardi Gras parade additions: four stunning all-new floats, each inspired by a different culture. Included are Mexico’s Day of the Dead, China’s Lunar New Year, India, and New Orleans itself. To create them, Universal works closely with Blaine Kern Studios, the group responsible for the actual Mardi Gras floats seen in Louisiana each year.
Take a walk backstage with Wallace to see these unique floats up close in the video and photos below, also including a few words from Universal’s Executive Chef Steve Jayson about the gumbo, jambalaya, and other tasty treats offered during the celebration.
Video: Mardi Gras 2013 behind the scenes at Universal Orlando with parade floats and food
While these floats are readied backstage before each nighttime parade, costumed performers, including plenty of stilt-walkers, are on stage entertain guests who await the evening’s entertainment, ultimately appearing again alongside the new and returning floats.
After dark, when the music is blaring and spirits are high, colorful lighting illuminates the entertainment as the Mardi Gras parade makes its way through the streets of Universal Studios Florida. This year, Wallace explained, the parade follows a different path than in previous years due to ongoing construction in the park, traveling along the same route and direction as the Grinchmas parade and daily Superstar Parade, beginning near Mel’s Drive-In. But regardless of where the parade begins and ends, guests line the streets awaiting their opportunity to shout for beads and coins to be thrown off each float.
Amidst this year’s Mardi Gras merchandise early in the year was a shirt professing, “You Throw ’em, I’ll Show ’em!” specifically referring to the beads, but also jokingly making a reference to a particular adults-only Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. The shirt is no longer available and Wallace emphasized that Universal’s brand of Mardi Gras is entirely family-friendly by design, from the visiting band selection to the parade and other entertainment. While there are more than a few female and male stilt walkers wearing less than an average theme park performer would, there’s nothing too revealing – and that behavior isn’t encouraged (or permitted) by guests either.