Party Hard at the Best Mardi Gras Orlando Locations
Celebrate Mardi Gras in the heart of the Sunshine State with these excellent area events and attractions.
New Orleans isn’t the only place to party hard during Mardi Gras! It may come as a surprise, but Orlando is one of the best vacation destinations for Mardi Gras excitement outside of Louisiana itself. Although it is a pretty good distance away from the heart of the celebration, Orlando has a thriving community of Mardi Gras revelers who are all looking to have a great experience during one of the wildest times of the year. Best of all, if you plan your trip to Orlando around Mardi Gras, you can enjoy the excitement of the holiday itself in the middle of one of the most popular tourist cities in the United States. So grab your friends and family, make your reservations, and get ready to celebrate Mardi Gras, Orlando style!
What is Mardi Gras?
You may have celebrated Mardi Gras before without ever realizing what it actually is. Of course, even if you aren’t a part of the culture that initially created this holiday, you can still get a lot out of the party spirit that it imbues in everyone who participates! It is always good to understand where celebrations come from, however, so consider this your crash course in all things Mardi Gras.
Based on the pagan holiday known as Saturnalia, Mardi Gras is a Christian variation on this popular springtime festival. Where pagan revelers simply considered this a perfect time of the year to indulge in everything they enjoyed in excess, Christians introduced the concept of Lent as an add-on to the celebration that would eventually come to be known as Mardi Gras. The idea was that partiers could take part in everything they wanted to do, even if it was sinful, as long as the party was over at the end of the festival and they repented of their excessive indulgences for forty days after the event. Lent takes place from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, and so the Tuesday right before this period of restriction came to be known as Fat Tuesday. Today, Carnival is held on Fat Tuesday, and in the United States, it is known as Mardi Gras.
French explorers brought the concept of Mardi Gras from their home country to Louisiana, well before it was ever a state. The first Mardi Gras celebration can be dated back to 1699, and since that time, the festivities have grown and flourished with each passing generation. Mardi Gras is not celebrated as a legal national holiday in the United States, but it is considered one in the state of Louisiana, and many other states throughout the country take part in the merriment when this festive time of year rolls around.
Learn more about the history of Mardi Gras from History.com.
One of the most popular parts of the Mardi Gras celebration is the traditional King Cake. This sweet treat is made of a braided sugary dough laced with cinnamon and formed into the shape of a ring. The cake is topped with a thick, sweet icing, as well as plenty of edible sugary glitter in purple, green, and gold—the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. The ring shape, with a hole in the center, is said to symbolize long life and good fortune. The cake is baked with a plastic baby inside, which is meant to represent the baby Jesus. Finding the piece of cake with the baby inside means that the winner will have good fortune in the coming year, but it also means that whomever finds it must host the Mardi Gras party next time around!
If you feel like it just isn’t Mardi Gras without a King Cake, head to one of the two bakeries in Orlando that prepare this traditional baked good during the season. For about $30, the Benjamin French Bakery, located in Orlando’s upscale Thornton Park district, offers a traditional take on the King Cake that is not decorated in garish colors but still tastes incredible. Head a little bit outside the city proper to Lake Mary, where you can find king cake by the slice from Chez Jacqueline. This variation on the classic does include the more colorful décor, and can come with the baby hidden already or put to the side for you to hide yourself. Other area bakeries tend to offer king cake by the slice on a day to day basis, so if you’re interested in ordering one from a bakery a little bit closer to where you’re staying, it can’t hurt to give them a call and make a special request.
Benjamin French Bakery is located at 716 East Washington Street in Orlando.
Nothing says Mardi Gras like a good old-fashioned pub crawl! Join dozens of other Orlando area partiers for a Mardi Gras–themed pub crawl that takes place throughout some of downtown Orlando’s most popular nightlife venues. The Masquerade Crawl, which takes place every year near the start of the holiday festivities, is an excellent way to meet area locals and make the most of your Florida experience without relying too much on the theme parks. Of course, this is a pub crawl, so it isn’t a family-friendly activity, but if you’re looking for a great adults-only way to enjoy the holiday, this is the event for you! In 2016, the Masquerade Pub Crawl takes place beginning February 6 at 8pm and goes strong until 1am the next morning. Purchase tickets before January 26 to receive a discounted price of $10 per person, or pay $20 per person the day of the crawl.
One of the most exciting parts of the Masquerade Pub Crawl is the masquerade itself. Dress in your finest, most glittery, outlandish Mardi Gras best, and add an elaborate mask decorated in sequins and feathers to finish off the look. If you don’t care to reveal your true identity throughout the night, you don’t have to (except of course to the bartenders who might ask for your ID). All participating venues will allow guests to enter in a mask, provided you have the name tag associated with the pub crawl, so you don’t even have to unmask yourself to enjoy your drinks. The cost of your ticket includes a cover charge for each venue as well as one drink per stop (Coors Light, vodka cocktails, or Jager shots, depending on your preferences). If you’d like to drink more at a given venue, you will need to cover the cost yourself, but several drinks will be discounted for pub crawl participants.
The first stop on the pub crawl tour is Ember, one of downtown Orlando’s most popular bars. This upscale tavern has a classic European feel that creates a sense of relaxation and refinement all at once. Next, head to Native, a dark bar with a sexy vibe that prides itself on welcoming anyone from any walk of life to its walls. The third stop includes a choice between Eve or The Underground. Eve is another upscale drinking experience with a Las Vegas flair, while The Underground is more like a British pub, with plenty of craft beers on tap and a homier atmosphere that makes it feel like the kind of place you might go drinking in your own town. Finally, head to The Monkey Bar, a hidden gem upstairs in Wall Street Plaza, or relax outdoors at Wai Tiki, a tropical bar located nearby.
Book your tickets for the Masquerade Pub Crawl at the Orlando Pub Crawl web site.
Join Orlando-area partiers for a massive nighttime extravaganza at the Church Street Station downtown. The festivities kick off at 5pm, and for the first several hours, the event is family-friendly and includes plenty of activities kids will love. Kids can even participate in a children-only eating competition for exciting prizes! After the sun goes down, the party transforms into a more adult-oriented event, with street performers, karaoke, and even a few psychics on hand to tell the fortunes of anyone willing to see what’s in the cards. Don’t worry about finding a place to drink while you’re enjoying yourself at the Street Festival, as there are seven fully stocked bars located throughout the area.
The Mardi Gras Street Festival is sponsored by Mojo Cajun Bar & Grill, but this isn’t the only great place to eat in the area, so don’t be afraid to do a little exploring while you’re enjoying the party. Parking near the Church Street Station will be limited during the event. If you’re hoping to snag some free parking, plan to arrive several hours ahead of time. Otherwise, bring along some extra cash to pay for one of the many parking garages that can be found in downtown Orlando. In 2016, the Mardi Gras Street Festival takes place on March 5 from 5pm to 2am the following morning.
Church Street Station is located at 127 West Church Street in Orlando.
Head to Universal Studios to take part in what is by far the most impressive Mardi Gras celebration in Florida. You can find other things to do during the Mardi Gras season throughout Orlando, and you might have a great time sticking to the activities outside the parks. Universal Studios, however, is home to the largest Mardi Gras celebration outside of New Orleans, so you won’t be partying the Orlando way until you join in the fun at this popular theme park! In 2016, Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration begins on February 6 and runs until April 16, so you have plenty of opportunity to enjoy all the fun and excitement this big party has to offer. If you’re looking for something family-friendly to do with kids in tow, you’re in luck, because the party at Universal Studios remains family friendly as long as you’re inside the park itself. For those who prefer to celebrate the adult way, Universal’s CityWalk, located just outside the park entrance, offers tons of nightlife and entertainment to keep you occupied until the sun comes up.
Food is a massively important part of Mardi Gras, and New Orleans culture, as well! Get into the spirit of things by indulging in some of the best Cajun and Creole dishes available anywhere in Orlando at some of the on-site restaurants located on Universal Studios property, and at a handful of area eateries that are a short drive from the park. In Universal, check out Emeril’s Orlando, owned by the popular celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. During the Mardi Gras festivities, Emeril’s serves up a wide variety of Creole flavors, including Andouille redfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and even pizza with spicy crawfish on top. If you’re looking for a sparkling King Cake to round out your dining experience, make your way to the bakery located in Universal CityWalk and grab a piece for yourself!
If you prefer to get out of the park for a little while and have your dinner at one of the restaurants nearby, check out Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen, located in the swanky Winter Park part of town. Tibby’s serves muffulettas, shrimp and grits, red beans and rice, po’ boys, and tons of other classic New Orleans favorites that will make you feel like you’re dining in the heart of Louisiana instead of central Florida. The upscale atmosphere with a down-home twist makes for an excellent chance to relax after a long day of partying in the parks, without having to drive too far away to enjoy it. If you don’t have a car of your own, Orlando’s Lynx bus system provides public transportation from Universal Studios to many locations throughout the city, including Winter Park.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure may host the majority of the family-friendly Mardi Gras party, but for adults who want to enjoy a little nightlife, Universal’s CityWalk is the place to be. As soon as the parks close for the evening, guests flock to the bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues that line this popular thoroughfare right outside the main entrance to the parks. Entrance to CityWalk is free, but if you plan to stop by without spending a day at the parks first, bear in mind that there is a fee to park in the on-site garage. Most of the bars do not have a cover charge, but a few might, so CityWalk may not be right for you if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to party all night long.
Head to Pat O’Brien’s, an Orlando version of the popular Bourbon Street favorite, to celebrate in true Mardi Gras fashion without ever having to leave Universal. Pat O’Brien’s is packed with several different bars on a few different levels of the same building, each of which offers a slightly different unique experience. Listen to the dueling pianos, which perform nightly at this popular venue, as you relax with a classic Hurricane cocktail. If you really want to enjoy the night the New Orleans way, however, grab your drink and head outside to sit around the fiery fountain in the middle of the Louisiana-style courtyard. There is no better place to get into the spirit of Mardi Gras in all of Orlando than at Pat O’Brien’s!
Music is an integral part of any Mardi Gras celebration, and when you have as much money as Universal Studios does, you can afford to book some of the biggest names in the music industry to perform. Every year, Universal’s Mardi Gras party plays host to tons of popular musicians and bands from every genre who take the stage on select nights throughout the season. Admission to the concerts is included in the price of your theme park ticket, so you don’t have to worry about paying extra just to hear the band you’re looking forward to. In 2016, concerts will include performers such as Fall Out Boy, REO Speedwagon, T-Pain, Diana Ross, the Barenaked Ladies, and many more. On certain nights, guests do have the option of paying an additional fee for preferred seating, but you can easily see and hear the concert well if you arrive about an hour ahead of time and grab your seat early.
If you’re looking for more authentic New Orleans sounds to enjoy during your Mardi Gras experience, head to the French Quarter Courtyard, located within Universal Studios proper, to enjoy live musicians straight from Louisiana. These authentic performers play the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and more, and brighten up the night with live jazz, zydeco, and blues. Grab a drink or just take a seat and enjoy all the sounds of the true Mardi Gras culture. These performances are also included in the cost of your park admission, and since they occur at various times throughout the day, you can check their schedules on the daily times guide available at any customer service kiosk through the park.
Last but definitely not least, the most popular attraction at the Universal Studios Mardi Gras celebration is the massive parade. Looking for all the world like it marched over directly from New Orleans, this parade is packed full of floats, dancers, performers, stilt-walkers, and more, and it’s just the right blend of excitement and fun to help you get in the mood for a night-long party afterward. The parade itself takes place at night, so you can enjoy the bright lights and fireworks that go along with it. Of course, this is a family-friendly event, so you don’t have to do anything you might regret in order to get some beads tossed at you by one of the many performers. Simply join in the fun, dance and scream a little, and you’re sure to have plenty of beads to show off to your friends and family by the time the parade has passed by!
Just like with the concerts, it is possible to pay an additional fee for preferred parade viewing locations throughout the park. However, once again, you can easily get a great view without spending any extra money simply by claiming your space along the parade route early on in the evening. The parade is a very popular event, so you might need to pick your spot and stay put for up to two hours before it begins, depending on how crowded the park is on the day when you visit. If you’re traveling with a group, consider saving seats in shifts, so that some of you can take turns riding rides or grabbing a bite to eat before the parade begins. If you have very young children in your party, it might be in your best interest to pay for the preferred seating, so you don’t have to keep them occupied in one place for a long period of time.
Check out Universal’s web site to find out more info about Universal Mardi Gras.
If you can’t make it to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season, or if you’re just looking for something a little different when it comes time to party, head to Orlando and join in the fun! Spending Mardi Gras in Orlando is a fun way to make the most of the celebration in the excellent weather and entertaining surroundings of this vibrant vacation destination. So what are you waiting for? Laissez les bon temps rouler!
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