If it's February, it's time for Mardi Gras in Florida! While Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras has been growing in popularity over the last few years, so have community-based Mardi Gras celebrations. It seems everyone loves a parade with colorful floats and they all seem to have one thing in common... BEADS! Lots and lots of beads!
Mardi Gras History
The term "Mardi Gras" means "Fat Tuesday" and refers to the day before Ash Wednesday (the first of the forty days of Lent preceding Easter). While Christians customarily gave up meat and other indulgences during Lent, thus "carneval" or "farewell to meat" became "carnival," a festive period when over-indulgence was in order.
Perhaps the most famous Mardi Gras celebration is held in New Orleans (or should I say N’awlins?), but if you can't make it to New Orleans, catch one of these celebrations (and some beads) in your neighborhood.
Florida Mardi Gras Celebrations
Most venues provide times, dates, and specific admission information for these celebrations online. Also, advance tickets are often offered at a discount when purchased online. Parental oversight is suggested as some celebrations may not be suitable family entertainment.
- Cocoa Village Mardi Gras - Pleasing crowds for over 20 years, the Cocoa Village Mardi Gras features live entertainment, a colorful parade with over 30 floats and authentic Cajun-style food.
- Dunedin Mardi Gras - Thousands turn out for this small community celebration that is big on fun for the entire family. Catch some beads from more than 50 festive floats in the parade that kicks off the party. Afterwards, enjoy live entertainment and great food until 11:00 p.m.
- Lake Wales Mardi Gras - Gathering traditions, colors and costumes from world-wide Mardi Gras celebrations, Lake Wales' celebration includes outrageous costumes, exotic floats, masked crowds, carnival royalty and the rhythms of Dixieland for an uninhibited afternoon and evening of pageantry.
- Leesburg Mardi Gras - Mardi Gras in Leesburg is no one day affair. The month-long celebration features four mixers where king and queen candidates entertain and vie for votes to be crowned and reign as King Rex and Queen Divine. The party in the street is 12 hours of non-stop revelry, featuring jugglers, fire eaters, stilt walkers, live music, festive foods, and three parades with beads galore!
- Mardi Gras on the Harbor (Destin) - Mardi Gras at Destin’s Harborwalk Village is a weekend-long family-friendly party beginning on a Friday. You'll want to get a babysitter on Friday for the pub-crawl, but be sure to bring them for Saturday's parade that features over 100 colorful floats, bands and local groups.
- Pensacola Mardi Gras - Not one parade but two highlight Pensacola's Mardi Gras celebration. An illuminated night parade on Friday evening is a sight to behold, and Saturday afternoon's parade is a colorful and grand affair.
- St. Andrews Mardi Gras Festival (Panama City Beach) - In true festival fashion, this celebration includes a Jester's Kid Village, a Crafter's Row with over 70 vendors and multiple stages of live music.
- Universal Mardi Gras (Orlando) - Perhaps Florida's best known Mardi Gras celebration each year, stretching each Saturday and select nights from early in February through the middle of April. The Orlando theme park is transformed in the "Big Easy" for a one-of-a-kind Mardi Gras celebration that includes a parade, street party, and special concerts by some of the world's hottest performers.