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Floating along above the crowds at USF's Mardi Gras Celebration

Floating along above the crowds at USF's Mardi Gras Celebration

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This is not how I expected to spend my Saturday night.

Dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit. Staring down into a sea of screaming faces. Rolling along Hollywood Boulevard as zydeco music blared.

Where am I? On board on a float in Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration. Where I’m flinging beads out into the heaving crowd that lines USF’s parade route.

How did I wind up here? Late last month, the nice folks at Universal invited JHM to take part in a different sort of press event. Where -- instead of just covering this seasonal event at  Universal Studios Florida -- we could experience Mardi Gras firsthand by riding a parade float right through this theme park.

Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

And let me tell you, folks: Performing a parade at Universal is exhausting. The UOR employees who work all 13 dates that Mardi Gras will be celebrated at this studio theme park must have Red Bull running through their veins. For they set such an impossibly high standard, performance-wise. I mean, they dance full out for the entire length of the parade (Which – given that some of them are 10 feet or more up in the air because they’re performing on stilts – just seems downright dangerous). And while they’re onstage, these Universal employees smile, they wave. They even high-five people along the parade route.

Whereas I … I’ve really only got one job to do here. Which is to throw beads out into the crowd along the parade route. And I can’t even do that right. Why For? Because my bead captain (i.e. the Universal employee who’s in charge of each float) told me to throw underhand because it’s safer. And because I’m no good at throwing underhand, my beads keep missing their intended targets.

But when you’re rolling through Universal Studios Florida aboard on this enormous Mardi Gras parade throwing beads out into the crowd, it’s not really about accuracy. It’s more about volume.

Universal Mardis Gras
Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved


Your mission is to make sure than everyone there goes home with their own little piece of the Big Easy. So you throw away all of the beads that you have draped over your arm. Then you rip open one of the multiple cardboard boxes that you carry aboard your float, load your arm up again with even more beads and continue flinging.

And that’s what you do for the entire length of the parade. Throw your beads out into the crowd. Open another cardboard box. Reload your arm … And then start throwing more beads. Lather. Rise. Repeat.

I wish I could tell you what Universal Studios Florida looked like from high atop a parade float. Whether the buildings along Hollywood Boulevard look any different from that angle and/or from that height. But there just wasn’t time to do any sightseeing. There were all these people screaming “Beads ! Mister, please !” Not to mention my bead captain saying “I don’t want us rolling backstage with any unopened boxes on board. Make sure that everyone goes home from this party with a souvenir. Fling them beads!”

Universal Mardis Gras Float
Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

So that’s just what I did. I got in the zone. I threw beads. And then threw more beads. And then threw even more beads. Until suddenly I was backstage again. And the parade performers were taking off their hats & headdresses and stepping out of their stilts. And I was being helped down off of my parade float, stepping out of my jumpsuit. Not to mention wondering when my ears would stop ringing from the screams of the crowd and that loud zydeco music.

Do I sound like I’m complaining? I don’t mean to. Truth be told, riding on that parade float and flinging all of those beads was both an exhilarating AND totally exhausting experience. I can’t imagine having to do that for all 13 dates that Universal Orlando will celebrating Mardi Gras this year. And yet – if Universal were to call tomorrow and say “Do you want to do that again, Max?” – I’d say “Yes” in a heartbeat.

“Why?,” you ask. Because next time … Well, I hope that I’d actually be smart enough to stop throwing beads for a few seconds there and just savour this surreal experience. Where you’re literally floating along Hollywood Boulevard, as thousands of USF Guests scream at you & plead for beads.

Universal Mardis Gras Float
Copyright 2009 Universal Orlando Resort. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, even if you don’t ever get the chance to ride on a Mardi Gras float at Universal Studios, just visiting the Resort during this seasonal celebration – where you can sample authentic Cajun cuisine, listen to the acoustical musicians that the Park brings up from New Orleans just to play at this event, not to mention attending all of those free concerts that Universal will be presenting at the Studios’ brand-new outdoor stage (Collective Soul will be performing in the Park tonight) – can be pretty entertaining all by itself.

And then when you factor in that all of this seasonal entertainment is included as part of Universal Studios Florida’s standard admission price, that there is absolutely no upcharge for the Park’s Mardi Gras celebration … That’s a whole lot of show for very little dough.

There’s lots more that I could tell you about my behind-the-scenes experience at the Universal Orlando Resort last month. But – to be honest – I have to get back to practicing my underhanded toss. Should Universal call and offer JHM another assignment that involves bead tossing … Well, this time, I want to be ready.

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