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Mardi Gras celebrations seriously adds to the fun at the Universal Orlando Resort

Mardi Gras celebrations seriously adds to the fun at the Universal Orlando Resort

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In these trying financial times, there’s one challenge that each of us faces. Which is stretching our entertainment dollar as far as it can possibly go.

That was my goal this past Saturday … to see how show I could really get for my dough. So armed with a one day two park ticket from Orlando Fun Tickets, I drove on over to the Universal Orlando Resort and tried to experience as many rides, shows and attractions as I possibly could in a single 12-hour period.

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Mind you, I did my homework first. Before I headed to bed on Friday night, I checked around on the Web to gather some essential information.

  • Both Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventure were opening at 9 a.m.
  • The Mardi Gras parade was scheduled to get underway at 8 p.m.
  • The Ne-Yo concert would kick off at around 8:45 p.m.

That’s the really great part about visiting the Universal Orlando Resort this time of year. Now through April 18th, every Saturday night (and even some Friday & Sunday nights too!) is Mardi Gras over at Universal Studios Florida.

Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

And we’re not talking about some rinky-tink miniature theme park version of Mardi Gras. This is the biggest celebration outside of New Orleans itself;  which means that there is a full blown parade with elaborately themed floats, stilt walkers, and street performers that cruise down Hollywood Boulevard.

And , did I mention the authentic Cajun & Creole cuisine that Universal’s restaurants serve up during this 10 week-long celebration? Or the great live music acts that the Park brings in to perform as part of Mardi Gras?

And the best part is that all of this seasonal entertainment is included as part of your regular admission price to Universal Studios Florida. There is absolutely no up-charge for this theme park’s Mardi Gras celebration with your regular admission theme park ticket.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

So, now that I knew that my day at Universal Orlando was going to end over at the Studios movin’ and groovin’ to Ne-Yo, I thought that the smartest thing to do would be to start my Saturday over at Islands of Adventure. Which – for my money – is the most ambitious theme park in all of Central Florida.

I mean, who needs a cup of coffee when you’ve got the Incredible Hulk Coaster (which goes from zero to 40 mph in two seconds flat) to jolt you awake. And forget about watching the CW4Kids’ new “The Spectacular Spider-Man” cartoon on Saturday morning. Here at IOA’s “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man,” a 3D version of Spidey lands on the hood of your Scoop and then compliments you on your eyewear.

Mind you, it really helps to plan ahead with Islands of Adventure. To do things like take in all three of this theme park’s big water rides – Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls and the Jurassic Park River Adventure – in one fell swoop very early in the day. That way, as the temperatures climb later in the day, your clothes will actually have a chance to dry off.

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Of course, while you’re enjoying all that Islands of Adventure has to offer now, don’t forget to take a peek at that theme park’s future. I’m referring to all of the construction that’s going on in and around the Lost Continent. Where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is rising up behind a seemingly endless series of construction walls.

But as morning gave way to afternoon, I thought that it was time to change theme parks. So after ducking out of IOA, I made a quick stroll through CityWalk (Which was surprisingly busy for a Saturday afternoon) and then made my way into Universal Studios Florida and … Holy Cow! Have you folks seen Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit?

That thing is huge! Some 17 stories tall, this new state-of-the-art coaster literally towers over the Park. Rip Ride Rocket’s 3800 feet of track wraps itself in and around Universal’s Production Central. At one point blowing straight through the façade of that theme park’s Twister … Ride It Out attraction. I can’t wait to ride this thing when it finally opens later this Spring.

Copyright 2008 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved

But – for now – I thought that I’d start off my day at Universal Studios Florida by visiting with Marge, Homer and the kids. “The Simpsons Ride.” There’s a reason that the Themed Entertainment Association named this “Back to the Future: The Ride” redo as its Best Attraction for 2008. From the clever retheming of this USF show building to the hundreds of sight gags & in-jokes that have been crammed into its ride film, “The Simpsons Ride” is supremely entertaining. The sort of attraction that you’re going to want to ride twice in order to pick up on everything you missed the first time around.

Of course, the same thing can be said about “The Simpsons Ride” next door neighbor, “Men in Black –Alien Attack.” This interactive shooter attraction – with all of its hyper-detailed sets, not to mention its snarky sense of humor – just raises everything to the next level.

The Universal Orlando Resort likes to describe itself as the place “Where Blockbusters Come to Life.” Well, after being snapped at by “Jaws,” having my eyebrows singed by all the fire effects in “Revenge of the Mummy” as well as having donkey snot blown all over me in “Shrek 4-D,” I felt like I needed a break from blockbusters. So I wandered out onto Hollywood Boulevard and … Well, whaddaya know? The Mardi Gras parade was just getting underway.

Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

Now when I say that this is no rinky-dink theme park version of a Mardi Gras parade, I really mean it. We’re talking 13 full-sized floats here. Six of which celebrated this year’s theme for the parade, which was “The Wonderful World of Literature.”

And this past Saturday, the energy of the crowd that lined Hollywood Boulevard as that Mardi Gras parade rolled on through was high. As people yelled at the top of their lungs “Throw me some beads!” And then dived to catch whatever the folks who were riding on those floats flung into the crowd.

After that was over, I made my way through USF’s French Quarter Courtyard to the Park’s newly completed concert venue. Where Ne-Yo then entertained the crowd with a selection of his greatest hits.

Copyright Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved 

The concert wrapped up just after 9:30 p.m. And while I toyed with the idea of heading over one of the clubs or restaurants at Universal Citywalk for a quick nightcap … In the end, I knew that it was time to go home. Two theme parks PLUS a Mardi Gras parade & celebration AND a live music concert were a lot for any one human to handle in a single day.

Of course, what wasn’t a lot was the price. That one day two park admission to the Universal Orlando Resort that I got through Orlando Fun Tickets only cost me $81.69. And given the huge amount of show that I got for my dough this past Saturday … Well, I feel like I really did stretch my entertainment dollar just as far as it could go.

Mind you, I’m still recovering from my Universal marathon. So this coming Saturday, the only stretching that I’m planning on doing is seeing how far I can stretch out when I lie down on my couch.

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