The Mardi Gras festival at Universal is one of the most comprehensive theme park festivals currently available. That's because for the price of standard ticket admission, you get to see:
Stage and street performers, including live music
The Tribute Store
Stationary parade floats with team members/performers throwing beads
Food and drink booths (you can access the menu here)
It is impossible to turn almost any direction without seeing or hearing some part of the festival, as it completely transforms Universal's atmosphere.
For a Louisiana transplant in Orlando, I was perhaps most curious on how the New Orleans dishes stacked up to the real deal. While we thoroughly enjoyed (and will be back for more of) the food we had from the non-New Orleans booths, I was most curious as to how the festival invoked all aspects of the Louisiana holiday, especially in a year where locals cannot celebrate it.
The floats do a great job at creating the feel of a small town parade, though crowds can gather occasionally in front of the floats. Ambient music in every location is authentic to what you would find walking around the streets and shops of New Orleans, and small jazz ensembles and musicians make it feel as close to the city as possible without traveling there.
The food doesn't come quite as close, but it's a solid representation of what Louisiana food is generally like for those who live out of the state. The Old-Bay-like seasoning on the boiled shrimp and crawfish doesn't pack the same spice as it does at home, but the potatoes and andouille sausage help elevate the dish to something that tastes good and is representative of what Louisiana natives eat.
The jambalaya nailed all of its flavors. It was seasoned well and its pork, chicken and sausage were tender and tasted great. The inclusion of black eyed peas within the dish was an unusual twist that I've never seen at home, but everything else about the jambalaya made it worth picking up.
The differences in the New Orleans dishes separate it from what you would truly find in the city, but it is also closer than what could reasonably be expected for any theme park. It also makes for a great sampling of how people elsewhere interpret Louisiana's most popular dishes. Everything tastes great enough to not only make it worthwhile, but also worth the money.
Safety should be the biggest consideration when traveling in 2021, and Universal does as complete of a job at the festival as it does the rest of the year.
Floats are spaced out far enough from most other major attractions to prevent a bottleneck, though these were the locations where crowds most commonly built up. The backsides of floats, where crew members would still throw beads, were almost always crowd-free.
Socially distanced lines, as has become the norm in most dining locations and attractions, make a return for the food booths. Sometimes lines would appear long only to lend themselves to short waits, making the social distancing a massive success.
Outdoor seating is abundant too, and we never struggled to find a place to sit that was spaced out from other guests.
Everything about Universal Orlando Resort's 2021 Mardi Gras is a success. With an atmosphere that feels authentic, an immense variety of great food options and thorough social distancing measures, it is a festival more than worth exploring.
The festival runs until March 28, 2021. Those already planning a visit have a lot to be excited about, those on the fence should attend and those who cannot make it have a lot of good signs to look at for the rest of Universal's festivals and events in 2021.