Picture it. It’s a late afternoon and the streets of the New York area in Universal Studios Florida are buzzing with activity. Jazzy tunes fill your ears as you enter The French Quarter Courtyard and the spicy smell of Cajun food is in the air. It’s Mardi Gras time ya’ll.
Or, at least it will be in a few more days. Mardi Gras kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 1.
If you’re like me, you’re more than ready to indulge in all the festivities of Universal’s Mardi Gras — from the nightly parade, live concerts and, my favorite part, the FOOD. With 25 years of partying it up and bringing the flavors of The Big Easy to Universal Orlando Resort, the culinary team has outdone themselves this year with new dishes, drinks, and more.
(Follow your stomach’s desire and jump ahead if you’d like.)
New Carnival Around the Universe Tent
When I heard there was going to be new food at Mardi Gras this year, I assumed it was going to be the traditional route of a new po’ boy here and a new po’ boy there. WRONG. We’re getting a brand new food tent that will take us on a journey to the different carnivals globally. I recently attended a tasting with the new offerings and all I can say is, I can’t wait for you to try it all.
Note: This particular food tent will rotate out the countries every two weeks, providing new options for you try on each visit. You’ll notice I included which weeks each country will be offered, kicking off with my new favorite, Trinidad & Tobago.
Trinidad & Tobago (Week 1 & 2)
I’m a sucker for anything with chickpeas and each dish from this food tent was packed with a great citrus and spice flavor. It was my first stop at the tasting and will be my first stop when the event begins. And bonus! These are all plant-based dishes.
- Grilled Pineapple Trini-Chow (topped with kimchi seasoning and cilantro)
- Pholourie (fried spicy split pea dough with turmeric, curry powder and tamarind chutney)
- Chickpea Double (served on spicy bara flatbread with cilantro and mango chutney)
Louisiana Creole (Week 3 & 4)
If we’re touring the carnivals, then we have to make a pit stop in Louisiana, right? But these aren’t your average Cajun dishes. The Cauliflower Dirty Rice was my second favorite dish (and it’s vegan!).
- Softshell Crab Slider (softshell crab with organic veggie slaw and a bayou aioli)
- Cauliflower Dirty Rice (riced cauliflower with plant-based protein crumbles, black eyed peas and Cajun spices)
Brazil (Week 5 & 6)
Two words: CHEESE BREAD. Or more appropriately, Pão de Queijo These little pockets of savory goodness are the perfect snack to grab before the parade or concert.
- Pao de Quiejo (warm cheese bread served with guava dipping sauce)
- Sweet Plantains (covered in cinnamon and sugar served with banana poppy seed dipping sauce)
Germany (Week 7 & 8)
The last stop is Germany! My top pick would be the Sauerbraten. You can’t beat a slow braised beef smothered in sauce — just my opinion.
- Sauerbraten (slow braised beef with buttered spaetzel, pickled red cabbage and topped with a red wine sauce)
- Grilled Bratwurst (served on a potato pancake with whole grain mustard, sour cream and chives)
- Warm Pretzel
TIP: All the Mardi Gras food and drinks are offered in sampling sizes. Pick up the Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard, so you can enjoy multiple offerings on any of the event nights. Click here for more details.
New Mardi Gras Drinks
You’ll need a drink to wash down all that good Cajun chow. This year, there are a bunch of new drinks to pair with your food, along with new souvenir cup designs. A certain number of these specialty drinks will only be available with the purchase of a food item at the location they are served. I’ve done the heavy lifting and outlined them for you below.
Available in the full 20oz specialty drinks:
- High Seas Twister (kinda like a rum punch)
- Blue Voodoo (tasty blue margarita)
- Carnival Lane (refreshing gin drink with fruit juices)
- Baby Cakes (vodka drink that tastes like king cake!)
- Bourbon Street Punch (exclusive to the Bayou Boil)
- Coconut Water in a Coconut (non-alcoholic and available only during week 1 & 2 of Carnival Around the Universe)
Available for food & beverage 9oz pairings ONLY:
- Hoodoo Cold Brew (pecan vodka cold brew – great with beignets)
- Cajun Bloody Mary (pair with Jambalaya)
- Pecan Street (vodka caramel drink available only during week 3 & 4 of Carnival Around the Universe and pairs with the Softshell Crab Slider)
- Girl from Ipanema (gin coconut drink, my personal favorite, available only during week 5 & 6 of Carnival Around the Universe and pairs with the Pao de Quiejo)
One of the new items I got excited for were the Float Floats. And no, I’m not talking parade floats, although these beverages are inspired by some of the literal floats! Fueling my float obsession, these outrageous treats are inspired by the new parade floats this year, which are themed to the Treasures of the Deep.
Not only are they a tasty way to cool off during a warm evening of bead catching, but they are also perfect for your insta. You can find these over at Schwab’s Pharmacy in the Hollywood section of Universal Studios Florida.
Shipwreck (pineapple soft serve ice cream, chocolate soft serve, pineapple soda, cotton candy and waffle cone flag)
Sunken City of Atlantis (vanilla soft serve, wild berry soda, mango boba and gummy shark)
Mardi Gras (pineapple and lime soft serve ice cream, grape soda, blueberry boba and waffle cone flag)
To round out the above drinks, the Mimosa Bar is returning over at Cafe La Bamba with eight different mimosas, and the King Cake Slushie and Bayou Bog Water are back for the kiddos.
TIP: Schwab’s Pharmacy is located right on the parade route on the Avenue of the Stars in Hollywood. Grab a float as you wait for the parade to start or snap a pic with the themed float it matches! Don’t forget to share your foodie pics with us using #UniversalMardiGras.
Mardi Gras Classics
You can’t have Mardi Gras without the Cajun classics. Returning to The French Quarter Courtyard are your flavorful favorites like:
- King Cake
- Shrimp Gumbo
- Red Beans & Rice with Shrimp
- Cajun Twisted Tater
- Gator Bites
- Crab Etouffee
- Shrimp & Andouille Po’ Boy
- Sausage Po’ Boy
- Catfish Po’ Boy
- Chicken & Andouille Po’ Boy
My only question is how can I get that jambalaya year round? It was the first dish I ever tried at Mardi Gras back in 2011 and has remained my all-time favorite. My mouth is quite literally watering as I type.
TIP: New to this year are recommended food and drink pairings for the different tents. You can find them on the tent menu boards when you visit and can be used as part of the Tasting Lanyard. I love the combo of beignets and Hoodoo Cold Brew.
Upgrade Your Mardi Gras
Speaking of walking down my Mardi Gras memory lane, one of the best times I’ve had at the event took place this past year at the Bayou Boil — one of the add-ons you can splurge on to upgrade your experience.
“Oh, wow. That’s a lot of crawfish,” was my first thought as a huge pan piled high with crawfish, shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya, potatoes, and corn on the cob was set in front of me. The crazy good part? If you manage to clear that pan (good luck), they’ll bring out more! And let’s not forget about the endless beignets and king cake waiting nearby for dessert. My then-pregnant self was in heaven and now I’m looking forward to taking my daughter.
My favorite thing about the experience was the exclusivity of it. It’s hosted over in Battery Park down by the lagoon with a private dining area and bar. It has a limited capacity to allow for a more intimate setting, and you sit family style with other guests allowing you to meet fellow Universal fans! After you’re done eating, you can go do some rides or enjoy the other Mardi Gras festivities before heading over to a private area in front of Cafe La Bamba. In my opinion, this is one of the BEST places to view the parade, as you not only get to see and catch beads when it starts but also when the parade ends.
Two additional ways to upgrade your Mardi Gras festivities are the Feast & Floats Dessert Party and the Mardi Gras Tasting Lanyard. The dessert party gets you VIP viewing of the Mardi Gras parade and Universal’s Cinematic Celebration, and the tasting lanyard allows you the option to enjoy multiple food and drink options throughout Mardi Gras. Click here for more details on these experiences.
TIP: This tip is for our UOAPs! You get exclusive perks to these add-ons, including discounts, and a Passholder Tasting Lanyard that includes 15 items. Click here for details.
The Party Continues in Universal CityWalk
The party doesn’t stop after the park closes. CityWalk is getting in on the festivities with fun, new Mardi Gras themed food and drinks. The Toothsome milkshake is quite literally the KING of all milkshakes. I mean, wow.
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
- The French Quarter Milkshake (everything king cake in a glass)
- Voodoo Doughnut
- Mardi Gras Doughnut (filled with cinnamon sugar bavarian cream)
- The Cowfish
- Masquerade Martini (grape vodka with blue curacao and citrus flavors)
- Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom
- Party Gras Drink (vodka and coconut rum with pineapple flavors)
- Voodoo Doctor Drink (classic margarita with a hint of black raspberry)
- Pat O’Brien’s
- Taste of Nola (red beans and rice, crawfish and andouille etouffee and blackened chicken with creole sauce)
- Hot Dog Hall of Fame
- Mardi Gras Muffuletta Platter (footlong hot dog with traditional muffuletta dressing)
- Bread Box
- Roast Beef Po’boy (shaved roast beef and gravy with toppings)
- King Cake Bon (classic Cinnabon dressed up in its Mardi Gras best)
- CityWalk Food & Beverage Carts
- The Jester Drink (apple whiskey with melon flavors)
TIP: These offerings are available daily Feb. 1 – April 2 in CityWalk. You have plenty of time to grab these outside of the event.
So, be honest, is that your stomach I hear rumbling? Oh, no. It’s mine. Mardi Gras can’t get here soon enough, but thankfully it’s right around the corner starting nightly Feb. 1 – April 2 in Universal Studios Florida. What are you getting first? I’m still debating between my fav jambalaya or the Trinidad & Tobago.
Must be 21 years and older with valid identification to purchase or drink alcoholic beverages.