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Mardi Gras: Celebration draws wild crowds at Universal

Beads, beads, jambalaya and more beads – just a few of the items that take over Universal Studios in Orlando each spring for its Mardi Gras celebration.

The theme of the 14th annual party is storytelling, and every type of literature genre is represented. The parade floats are tailored to different stories, and everything from horror to  fantasy to children’s fables are included.

The New Orleans style celebration began Feb. 7 and will run each Saturday night through April 18.

Aside from the park’s regular attractions, the event features free concerts each night including a national headliner and bands local to New Orleans. There’s also a Mardi Gras parade, authentic Louisiana cuisine, voodoo bars and – you guessed it – beads.

“We go through a hell of a lot of beads,” said Michael Roddy, manager of show development. “People go crazy for them. It’s why they come here. It’s like a rite of passage or badge of honor. The more people get, the better they feel.”

Each year Universal orders thousands of pounds of beads, and each year they have to order more the final few weeks, Roddy said.

And that’s just the beginning.

The park hires more than 100 seasonal employees who dress up, walk around on stilts and get paid to arouse the party. The only qualification is a sense of fun.

“There’s an element of sex to Mardi Gras and these people help create that,” Roddy said. “They’re beautiful to look at and help create the theme.”

And although it’s frowned upon for women to flash their breasts, there’s still plenty of adult entertainment.

During Mardi Gras, the park closes at 10 p.m., when the after-party begins at City Walk.  All club cover charges are voided with a ticket stub, and the drinks and beads continue to flow.  Mardi Gras planners said they pride themselves on having the biggest party outside the Big Easy.

This year’s concert line-up has a total of more than 300 million records sold, a dozen Grammy Awards, and features 13 of the most popular names in pop, rock, R&B, country and hip-hop.

“This year’s Mardi Gras will be our best party ever,” said Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment for Universal Orlando Resort. “We’ve got the best music line-up in the history of the event, along with a non-stop celebration filled with an amazing parade, floats, food and all of the beads you can catch.”

But a party this big doesn’t just evolve over night.

Universal Studios begins planning next year’s Mardi Gras just days after the current season ends.

And while the attraction draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to Central Florida each year, the celebration is designed with the locals in mind.

“It’s sort of all over the place because that’s what Florida is,” said Jim Stout, director of talent, booking and casting. “These people could be partying and doing the same thing anywhere, but they choose Universal.”

E-mail Josh Salman at [email protected].

See the related <a href=”https://www.unfspinnaker.com/expressions/2009/02/24/photo-gallery-universal-mardi-gras/”>photo gallery</a>.

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