Mardi Gras Floats: From New Orleans to Orlando
I love the music, the color, the excitement and the beautifully crafted floats making their way through the streets of Universal Studios Florida, surrounded by slews of performers and topped with reveling guests throwing beads to the crowd below.
As we continue on into Fat Tuesday this week—and the party keeps going at Universal Studios through April 18 with some incredible concerts—I wanted to learn more about the floats and the creative process behind them. So, to get the low-down on the parade and its beautiful floats, I sat down with TJ Mannarino, Senior Director of Art & Design with the Universal Orlando Resort entertainment team.
First, can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind the this year’s line-up of Mardi Gras floats? Every year we first head to New Orleans and meet with Kern Studios, the company who fabricates our floats. We go there to look at a history of Mardi Gras floats and what they just finished doing for the previous year in the Mardi Gras parade. So, essentially, we are inspired by the actual themes, floats and stories that they tell in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
It sounds like a very inspirational trip … Yeah, it’s great to really immerse yourself into the world that is Mardi Gras. During that trip we collaborate, pick and choose, and walk away with a skeletal frame of what we makes sense for our Mardi Gras. Then we come back and design our float line-up.
Tell me a little about the process of building the floats. It’s a process that happens pretty much through the summer prior to the next Universal Orlando Mardi Gras.
We develop the designs through the end of the summer and start construction around September with Kern Studios – they send their crews here and they ship all the props in from New Orleans. The floats are built and then, after the main components are painted and constructed, our in-house design teams get a chance to enhance them with glitter, and with what we call soft fabrics and foliage. That process of decorating goes on until Mardi Gras opens in early February.
What is new and different about this year’s Mardi Gras parade? It’s the 20th year of the parade and we actually focused a lot on two main themes that are staples for us – the King Gator float, which is the main float that ends our parade, and the Riverboat float, our southern style Mississippi riverboat. This year we really enhanced them to a level that they haven’t been before. We actually rebuilt a lot of elements within both of those floats and repainted big elements.
How is the parade presented this year? We chose to do it a little bit differently this year and give our audience a new way to experience the parade.
In the past we sprinkled different thematics throughout the parade lineup and you would see floats that celebrated the world of Mexico or India next to floats that focused on different types of fanciful travel. Well, this year, we chose to actually come up with a different type of parade lineup that captures those different themes and puts them together … so you will see mini themes within this year’s parade.
You see a different type of parade — instead of seeing float after float after float, you see groupings of floats and characters, with lighting and music changes that enhance the different themes. So it actually kind of gives you maybe the ability to look at mini-parades as oppose to one themed parade. We’re excited about this as a new way to deliver Mardi Gras and to give our guests as much as we possibly can during your night here at Universal.
From a creative standpoint what are the things what do you love about the parade? We take what is known as Mardi Gras and put a Universal spin on it. For example, we add large amount of decoration to the floats that you don’t see in New Orleans — we make them these sparkling jewels parading down the street. Add in the costumes and stilt walkers, and it’s a high celebration with great thematics and a lot of color … and tons and tons of energy and excitement.
Mardi Gras is so much about tradition also – how do you think you capture that here at Universal Orlando? There is a tradition that has been held within the company that builds our floats that is different from building scenery and large scale theme park environments. Everyone who works on the floats is tied to the history of float building – their dads were artists and their dad’s dad were artists who trained the next generation on down. When you talk to the float artists and the teams it’s like stepping back in time a little bit — its more about art than construction.
Today we’re always looking for how you do it faster and using technology to our advantage, and our floats are all done by hand with each one being unique. I think these things combined with our passion for Mardi Gras is what makes it special, unique and something you can’t see any place outside of the French corner.
You can see the fabulous Mardi Gras parade on select nights now through April 18, but there are two special parade opportunities you should know about:
Ride In the Mardi Gras Parade: If you are a Universal Orlando Annual Passholder you can apply to ride on one of the floats, throwing beads (and having a blast!) along the route. Annual Passholders can apply here. One note – know you must sign up by 12 noon on Friday the week prior to the event date and additional restrictions apply. See sign-up page for details. If you would like to become Annual Passholder (and enjoy every Mardi Gras concert as part of your admission), click on over here to see the annual pass options.
Enjoy A Special Parade Viewing Area: Purchase any Universal Orlando Multi-Day Ticket or Annual Pass with any American Express Credit or Charge Card and receive entry to the American Express Reserved Parade Viewing area. Get all of the details here.
Well, I hope to see you out there this weekend enjoying the Mardi Gras parade – Laissez les bon temps roulez!