When it comes to springtime festivities at Central Florida’s theme parks, it doesn’t get much better than Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras Celebration.

Returning to the park on Feb. 1, 2020, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the annual blowout. Guests can let the good times roll with nightly parades, see street performers in colorful costumes, and catch all the beads flying through the air. While there is so much to see and do, here are the top 5 ways to best experience everything that Universal’s Mardi Gras has to offer:

1. Get a taste of New Orleans

Head to the New York section of Universal Studios Florida to experience the French Quarter Courtyard, a space dedicated to New Orleans-style food and drinks. Open every day at 4 p.m., here you can satisfy your hunger with a couple of beignets, split a po’ boy with your best boys, and enjoy the sounds of Southern music from The Big Easy.

To get the most out of your Cajun and Creole food tour, consider picking up a Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard. This add-on allows you to enjoy a variety of food offerings in sampling sizes, and there’s an exclusive lanyard for Passholders as well. New for this year is the Carnival Around The Universe tent, where guests can try a new menu every two weeks, featuring cuisine of global Carnival celebrations.

If you’re looking for more of a true dining experience, book a Bayou Boil. Held on select nights in Universal Studios Florida’s Battery Park, diners can settle in for a Louisiana-style crawfish boil. If seafood isn’t your thing, chicken and Andouille sausage is available by request. With this dining experience, you’ll also get an exclusive view of the parade as you indulge in King Cake, beignets, sparkling wine and assorted non-alcoholic beverages.

For those with more of a sweet tooth, satisfy your craving and get exclusive views for both the Mardi Gras parade and Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration with the Mardi Gras Feats & Floats Dessert Party. Everyone will gather an hour before the parade at Cafe La Bamba for specialty desserts, sparkling wine, sparkling cider, and non-alcoholic drinks. Then everyone will head over to an exclusive viewing area in Central Park for the Cinematic Celebration nighttime spectacular.

2. Hear authentic “N’awlins tunes”

Experience New Orleans’ signature sounds with performances from real Louisiana bands, with genres spanning jazz, blues, and zydeco. The performers will change throughout the party season, so be sure to check back on the following dates to hear new tunes:

  • Feb. 1-13: Dirty Bourbon River Show
  • Feb. 14 – March 6: Free Agents Brass Band
  • March 6-21: New Breed Brass Band
  • March 22 – April 2: Naughty Professor Brass Band

3. See music’s biggest acts live in concert

If there’s one thing that can’t be missed about Universal’s Mardi Gras, it’s the headlining performances from some of the biggest names in music at the Music Plaza Stage. The best part? These concerts are included with admission! Some of the performers on this year’s lineup include The Roots, TLC, The All-American Rejects, and Marshmello.

4. Catch all the beads!

One of the most iconic Mardi Gras experiences is the parade. Get your group of party animals together and find a good spot, as float-riders will be throwing beads galore — and it’s not Mardi Gras without beads around your neck.This year’s parade has a “Treasures of the Deep” theme, with floats inspired by a treasure map, the sunken city of Atlantis, creatures of the deep, and a treasure-filled Shipwreck Island.

If you’ve got kids in your party, there’s a viewing area just for them! The Little Jester’s Parade Viewing Area is located right in front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop, and offers an unobstructed view for the smaller party-goers. Access to this area is available starting one hour before the parade begins.

5. Ride a Mardi Gras float!

You haven’t truly experienced Universal’s Mardi Gras until you’ve ridden on a float, tossing beads to park-goers below. It’s a unique, fun experience that is available to Universal Orlando Passholders (and regular day guests, depending on availability). Passholders also have an exclusive viewing area for the parade in front of Mel’s Drive-In, if you miss out on riding a float, but still want to get in on the bead-catching action. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’re a Passholder, you can sign up in advance for a chance to be a float rider. However, signing up does not guarantee a spot, so you’ll want to keep an eye on your email once sign-ups open. If you’re a regular day guest, there are occasionally spots open day-of to ride in the parade. Simply find a Team Member near the float rider gathering area (usually in KidZone by A Day in the Park with Barney) and ask if there are any spots available on the floats. Openings aren’t guaranteed, but the sooner you ask, the better your chances might be.

A bonus tip? If you’re looking for something Instagramable to commemorate your experience, stop by the first-ever Mardi Gras Tribute Store in New York to check out New Orleans-inspired elements and two Insta-worthy photo walls.

If you’re planning a hotel stay, consider staying at a Universal Partner Hotel, like the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando, or the Home2 Suites by Hilton Orlando near Universal. Right now, you can save up to $150 on Universal Orlando vacation packages if you stay four or more nights at a Universal Partner Hotel. You can learn more about this offer here.

Universal’s Mardi Gras is a great way to kick off a new year at the parks!

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