Tag: Mardi

Mardi Gras 2020: Behind-the-Scenes of 25 Years of Party

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel

I recently attended my first Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando Resort and it. was. awesome. Between the stunning performers in all their glittery glory, the delicious food that had me wondering how much jambalaya is too much jambalaya, and the thrill of catching as many beads as humanly possible — the entire experience was one heck of a party!

While the 2020 Mardi Gras is my first, it is the twenty-fifth for Universal Orlando. To celebrate the occasion, I took the time to sit down with three members of the Entertainment Art & Design team who have worked the Mardi Gras event for several of those 25 years: Lora Sauls (Senior Manager of Creative Development Show Direction), Curtis Hopkins (Scenic Manager), and David Nadolski (Senior Costume Designer). They took the time to share with me (and now me with you!) the stories behind 25 Years of Party.

KATIE: First, just tell me a little about yourselves and how you came to be at Universal.

LORA: I started as a singer and dancer here as the Bride of Frankenstein, but I also had done choreography for a few shows at Universal Orlando. So I soon left that performing world and became a choreographer, which led me to parades, then onto become a show director. My first Mardi Gras was 2001 and I’ve been here ever since.

CURTIS: I started as an intern in 1999 and then in 2000 my boss, who is still my boss, he brought me in for six months of work. That parlayed into freelance for two years, full time as a scenic designer, and then scenic manager. So I’ve been here 19 years, and involved with Mardi Gras since 2005.

DAVID: I started in 1997 and they actually hired me to be a dresser for Mardi Gras, so the performers would come and I’d just give them their costume and they’d go perform in the parade. I had applied to be the costume designer, but I was told they didn’t have that position at the time. I figured I’d get my foot in the door, though, and then in 2000 I had my first opportunity to actually design for Mardi Gras.

KATIE: Could you all kind of explain what your titles mean and what your job actually entails?

Lora Sauls (Senior Manager of Creative Development Show Direction)

LORA: I’m the senior manager of creative development, show direction. So in Art & Design, there is a show direction team — we call ourselves the Creative Development Group — and we create the content for events like Halloween Horror Nights, Holidays, and Mardi Gras.

CURTIS: I’m the scenic manager and what that entails is, I am responsible for taking what the show direction team and concept development comes up with and putting the artwork to that and seeing the designs all the way through production and installation. So I oversee the design of the floats and make sure that they look and get built the way they’re supposed to.

DAVID: I’m the senior costume designer and my responsibilities are to design any new costumes or to help develop costumes for any characters that are brought into the park.

KATIE: What is some of the process that happens behind-the-scenes of pulling Mardi Gras together?

CURTIS: We take a trip out to New Orleans every year and work with Kern Studios, which is the company that builds our floats and pretty much 90% of the floats for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We’ll take a team and go out to their giant warehouses and explore their space looking for props. We basically have to duck down, climb up, crawl over — because these warehouses are just jammed with pieces that we end up designing the floats around.

MG25Years_Curtis
Curtis Hopkins (Scenic Manager)

DAVID: And I wait for him. My  inspiration comes from the floats so once the floats are designed, I usually get the concept drawing of the float and from there I take the colors and the concept of the floats and the theme that the show direction came up with and that’s where the costumes start coming to life.

LORA: Over the course of the years we really have gotten inspiration from a lot of different things. We’ve done seasons of the year, colors, jewels, animal party… we’ve been inspired by all kinds of things, but the biggest thing to be inspired by is the party.

KATIE: What would you say makes Mardi Gras a unique event at Universal?

CURTIS: It’s the one time of year we get to throw a lot of glitter.

LORA: It’s ours! We’re doing our own concept and it’s our own story and so we can tell a story that’s unique to Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration.

KATIE: You all have obviously worked on Mardi Gras for a majority of the years we’ve held the event. How would you say you’ve seen it evolve?

LORA: We’ve seen it get bigger, better, and longer.

DAVID: I see a refinement as well. Everything is much more put together and themed. Back then, like the year colors was a theme, I designed for orange. I designed these big orange bells and girls with pumpkin sleeves. It didn’t make any sense! It was just whatever was orange.

MG25Years_David
David Nadolski (Senior Costume Designer)

CURTIS: I’ve been on Mardi Gras for 15 out of its 25 years and I’ve seen it get more elaborate and more extravagant and more detailed. Kern Studios has even incorporated some of our pieces into their floats in New Orleans, and that’s one of the things I’m very proud of. And then from a fan standpoint, watching my kids over the years chucking beads out into the crowd. As a parent, you can’t help but smile that your kids are loving something you helped create.

KATIE: What are you guys most looking forward to for this year’s event?

LORA: The theme! Treasures of the Deep. We had a lot of fun with it.

CURTIS: The new floats look good and we’ve done some enhancements to some of our stock floats that are really neat.

DAVID: There are some deep sea creature stilt walkers, an octopus, and a squid that are all kind of fun—

LORA: He’s so underplaying right now, they’re fantastic.

KATIE: So you all have been working on this event between 15-23 years. Do you guys have a favorite year?

LORA: Seasons. It was the first time we incorporated smells onto the floats. So when fall went by, it had this apple-cinnamon-pumpkin-pie smell.

CURTIS: There are two years that I feel like we really amped up the level of detail — the storybooks year and then the kind of modes of transportation year. It had a kind of steampunk element to it.

DAVID: Those were my favorites, too. There are so many different float designs those years that I could pull costume ideas from, yet it still felt cohesive because of the theme going throughout all the floats.

LORA: Every year you feel like you can’t think of anything new or different, but as soon as we go to New Orleans, it’s like, ‘there it is.’ It’s just fun working with such creative people. We can see a prop at Kern Studios and I never in a million years would be able to think of how Curtis will be able to use it in a float, but he brings it to life in this unique way. And then David will come up with these creative costumes and bring it all together. It’s pretty amazing. We get to work on so many cool events, but it’s the fact that we get to work on them together. And that may be really sappy, but we’re a family. We’ve been to each other’s weddings and we’ve been around for so much of each other’s lives. Mardi Gras is just one of the things that we get to take on as a team.

MG25Years

Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras 2020 takes place every night from Feb. 1 – Apr. 2. Get more details and join us for a night of party soon!

Book your next vacation today through M & M Travel and Tours! (810) 877 1814

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Celebrating 25 Years of Universal’s Mardi Gras with New Worldwide Carnival Food and Drinks

By MM Travel and Tours in Travel

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. Mari 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 FOOD   |   NEW DRINKS   |   RETURNING FAVORITES   |   EVENT ADD-ONS   |   NEW IN CITYWALK

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, Pao de Quiejo. 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:

  • Beignets
  • King Cake
  • Jambalaya
  • 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.

Click here for details on pricing and dates/times for the Bayou Boil.

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)
  • Cinnabon
    • 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.

Book your next vacation today through M & M Travel and Tours! (810) 877 1814

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All content is property of the owner, unless otherwise specified. This content is not owned, or maintained by M & M Travel and Tours, and is used only for informational purposes. Please visit the content owners link via the source link for more information.