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A close-up look at what makes Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras celebration the biggest bash this side of the Bayou

Angela Ragno

Angela is the Walt Disney World shopping queen.

A close-up look at what makes Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras celebration the biggest bash this side of the Bayou

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This past Saturday night, I got to do something very fun. As part of the press event for the kick-off of this year's Mardi Gras celebration at the Universal Orlando Resort ...


Copyright 2013 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

I got to go backstage at Universal Studios Florida to see the floats to be featured in this year's Mardi Gras parade before they rolled through that theme park.


Photo by Angela Ragno

I have to admit that -- having seen a number of these units in years previous as they moved down Hollywood Boulevard, loaded down with costumed cast members who -- as the music blared -- then threw beads to USF visitors who stood along the parade route ...


Copyright 2013 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved

... it was almost kind of eerie to see these very same floats at rest. Looking very much like fish out of water ...


Photo by Angela Ragno

... as they just sat backstage, being readying for that night's performance. But even so, it was still very, very cool to be able to walk around and get this close to the various units that Blaine Kern Artists (i.e. the very same company that designs & builds floats for Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans) had created for the Universal Orlando Resort.


Photo by Angela Ragno

This experience gave me a renewed appreciation for all the hard work and genuinely artistry that goes into the creation of each of these units.


Photo by Angela Ragno

Of course, one of the main reasons that Universal Orlando was granting the press this sort of backstage access was that they wanted to show off the three new “Colorful Cultures Around the World” units which had been built for this year's Mardi Gras parade. There's a "Chinese New Year" float (which celebrates the beginning of the Chinese calendar year) that features an enormous, ornate dragon.


Photo by Angela Ragno

Not to mention an  "Elegance of India" unit. Which uses music, light & color to recreate the magic of Bollywood.


Photo by Angela Ragno

As well as a "Mexican Day of the Dead" parade float. Which came complete with brightly costumed performers on stilts who helped pay homage to this holiday celebrated South of the Border.


Photo by Angela Ragno

I really enjoyed getting to see this year's edition of Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras parade up-close. But as it got closer to when these units really did have to begin rolling through that theme park, we were escorted out of this backstage area and then led up the second floor of Lombard's Landing. Where the members of the press were then treated to authentic New Orleans fare like crawfish boil ...


Photo by Angela Ragno

... and that Mardi Gras favorite, King Cake.


Photo by Angela Ragno

Once our bellies were full, it was time to head back out into Universal Studios Florida. Where we then got to see the parade floats that we'd just seen at rest now in their full glory. Cruising up Production Central ...


Photo by Angela Ragno

... before they then made the turn onto New York Street.


Photo by Angela Ragno

And I have to tell you. Between those three new "Colorful Cultures Around the World" units to old favorites like the "Music of New Orleans" float (which obviously received some TLC in the off-season), Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras parade has never looked better.


Photo by Angela Ragno

And speaking of music ... Once the parade was over, it was now time to move over to the Universal Music Plaza Stage. Where a thousand or more USF visitors had gathered for a live concert by  alternative rock band Lifehouse at this theme park's outdoor amphitheater.


Photo by Angela Ragno

Saturday night's concert was just the first in a series of high-energy performances which will be presented as part of USF's Mardi Gras celebration. Among the other sought-after names who will be appearing in this theme park now through April 20th are internationally-renowned rapper Pitbull, 2012 People’s Choice Award-winner Demi Lovato, “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips, teen heartthrob Austin Mahone and chart-topping country duo Montgomery Gentry. Which is a pretty eclectic mix of music, don't you think? Almost a jambalaya of entertainment (which -- given the event that's being celebrated at USF over the next 10 weeks -- is an entirely appropriate metaphor).


Photo by Angela Ragno

Thanks again to the nice folks at the Universal Orlando for letting JHM peek behind-the-scenes to see what it actually takes to "Let the Good Times Roll" at USF's annual Mardi Gras celebration, the biggest bash this side of the Bayou.

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