Mardi Gras starts Saturday, and Universal Orlando is getting ready to celebrate 25 years of letting the good times roll! On Wednesday, Universal invited Inside Universal for a sneak peek of this year’s event – previewing some of the new floats for this year’s parade, along with food, drink, and merchandise.

The Mardi Gras event has evolved over the past several years for the better and has emerged as one of the must-do events in Orlando. Universal has expanded well beyond relying on the draw of its musical headliners and offers a much more well-rounded affair. The parade now features yearly new floats and Universal has gone to great lengths broadening its food & drink options.

This year’s parade is themed to Treasures of the Deep – with the debut of six new floats inspired by mystical creatures of the deep, the sunken city of Atlantis and more. Blake Braswell, Creative Development Group – Show Director for Mardi Gras, stated they wanted to do something different than just having themed floats – so this year, the parade also tells a story. During the preview, we were able to see 3 of the new floats – including the Treasure Map, Shipwreck, and Battle for the Booty floats.

The Shipwreck Float

The Treasure Map float kicks off the parade’s story, featuring all the sights, troubles, and adventures we’re about to experience. Naturally, the parade concludes with the X Marks the Spot float. Working again with Kern Studios, the new floats look stunning and seem a bit more larger-than-life than years before. Fan-favorite floats, including the Riverboat and King Gator, will return with all-new décor celebrating 25 years of party. The King Gator was heavily teased to be full of glitter and “beautiful”.

The French Quarter Courtyard returns, with favorite classic Cajun dishes including jambalaya, shrimp gumbo, crab etouffee, gator bites, a variety of po’boys, king cake, beignets and more. New this year is the Carnival Around The Universe Tasting Tent. Inspired by Mardi Gras/Carnival celebrations around the world, the tent will introduce new menu items every couple of weeks. During the preview, we were able to sample many of the new items expected at the tent (with a few extra beignets, because beignets).

Soft Shell Crab Slider, with Fleur-de-lis-branded bun

While they all were delicious, the soft-shell crab slider was definitely the standout. We also thought the Cauliflower Dirty Rice was pretty damn tasty. Universal has made an effort to diversify its menu, especially for vegans/vegetarians. Many of the new items are plant-based. The Trinidad & Tobago menu alone features plant-based options only.

To the surprise, and delight, of many, Mardi Gras now features its own Tribute Store; and fans of Horror Nights will surely enjoy spending time here. Rob Cametti, Director of Visual Merchandising and Store Design, tried to bring the darker side of New Orleans culture as a way to differentiate it from the fun, party-like atmosphere the rest of the park offers. They are also big fans of Halloween, Cametti said,  “if we have an opportunity to work with anything remotely like Horror Nights, we are gonna go for it.”

Baron Samedi (Saturday) says hello.

The store features 2 rooms full of merchandise. As you enter, guests will walk through a jazz parlor before stepping into a cemetery inspired by the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District. The 2nd room is a tribute to the bayou and voodoo culture of New Orleans and includes the appearance by Baron Samedi (Saturday), one of the four main god spirits of Voodoo – also known as Loa. Of course, the main goal of the store is to sell merchandise, and this year celebrates 25 years of Mardi Gras and prominently features the beloved King Gator. Other pieces of apparel include King & Queen couple t-shirts, a wide array of masks, and a commemorative pin.

There’s still loads more to check out, specifically on the food & drink front, and we’ll be making sure to try as much as we can this year. We repeatedly say that Mardi Gras is a must-do event, and it bears repeating this year. If you ever thought about attending, what better way to start then by choosing to go on this 25th-year celebration.

Mardi Gras kicks off its 25th year on Saturday, February 1st and features a performance by The Roots. The event runs daily until April 2 and is included with admission to Universal Studios Florida or with an annual pass.

Stay tuned to Inside Universal for more on Mardi Gras Opening Weekend and the Universal Parks & Resorts.