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The inside scoop on Mardi Gras at Universal Studios

Orlando Sentinel

Original Article »

February 01, 2008

It's time again to don your green, purple and gold for Universal Studios' 12-day Mardi Gras event. Here's a guide from Theme Park Ranger Dewayne Bevil for getting the most out of the festive, bead-happy happening.

*That's the ticket. The Mardi Gras celebration is included in admission to Universal Studios theme park. There's also a special Mardi Gras ticket for $46.95 that allows admission on Saturdays (Feb. 2- April 19) after 5 p.m. Florida residents can receive a $10 promotional discount on that ticket (see Web site). Note: the Mardi Gras ticket does not include entry to Islands of Adventure.

*Wheeling feeling. The parade, starring 13 elaborate New Orleans-style floats and 150 performers, makes a bead-flinging circuit through the park. Six new entries fall under this year's "Lost Civilizations" theme, with names such as "Babylon," "Eden" and "Atlantis."

To achieve an authentic New Orleans feel, Universal works with Blaine Kern, whose company, Blaine Kern Artists Inc., has built Mardi Gras floats since 1932.

"Of course, each float has all its own performers and costumes to match the float. So you get this great color palette of experience, and that changes every year," says Jim Timon, Universal Orlando's senior vice president for entertainment. "This year you'll watch Shangri-La roll by. It's a big, beautiful float, performers on stilts, everybody costumed to exactly fit that."

Parades begin at 8 p.m. Saturdays through March 15; it's a 9 p.m. start beginning March 22.

*Music, man. Big-name concerts immediately follow the parades (8:30 p.m. through March 15, 9:30 thereafter). The viewing area -- standing only -- becomes packed, so if you're determined to be stationed close to your favorite act, you must park it there early, not after the parade ends. Saturday's headliner is Bret Michaels of Poison fame.

"It's a whole spectrum of music that I think not only appeals to a lot of different people, but I think it also gives people a great reason to come back because you can catch four or five acts in the course of a 12-week Mardi Gras," Timon says.

*Bands and beignets. Other entertainment will be available in Universal's makeshift French Quarter area. Louisiana-based performers (with Cajun and Creole cuisine on the side) will be the offerings there, beginning Saturday with J.J. Caillier and the Zydeco Knockouts. The showtimes are 5, 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. Saturday-March 8 and April 5-19, and shift to 5, 6:15 and 8 p.m. March 15-29.

*Crowded house. Mardi Gras is a popular event, and liquor is part of the package, so bring extra patience. During the bead-necklace throws, the crowd becomes aggressive while angling for the plastic treasures. My advice: Take two steps back and wait for the herd to thin. You can accessorize too much.

Timon says Universal has never made an exact count of the thrown necklaces, but each year it's "at least a million."

*More info, please. Visit universalor or call 407-363-8000.

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