Theme Park Ranger
9:27 AM EST, February 27, 2014
You could be forgiven for feeling a bit of déjà vu while watching the Mardi Gras parade at Universal Studios, even if you haven't thrown back a hurricane or two. It's all shiny and glittery, with strands of colorful beads zipping past your head, that "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" song looping and the King Gator float at the tail end, right?
Well, not exactly.
Universal introduced three floats into the mix this year — the land, sea and air models tied to the "Around the World in Eighty Days" theme. It also enhanced its traditional "jester" float.
It was decided that the jester needed to be more vivid, says show director Patrick Braillard. Universal designers consulted the artwork used to construct the float originally and proceeded with alterations. They added new bead work to the sides of the float and rearranged some of its architecture.
The archway is new, and there are fewer masks displayed.
"We kept one of the same masks, but we updated the paint treatment on it and then split the focus. Previously, there were two masks on each side," Braillard says.
The refinished product resulted in a promotion for the jester float. It now leads Universal's Mardi Gras parade.
Universal has recycled elements of past floats into this year's units too. The glowing strings from a giant guitar on a music-themed float are now used on the Set Sail float.
"We took that material and we put it on the blimp," Braillard says. "As you watch the parade, you'll actually see that blimp be lit on all of those ribs, and they will actually spin and change color."
The entire float changes colors. "It looks like one giant birthday cake," he says.
The lineup morphs each year, usually tweaking last year's new floats to fit in with the fresh additions. The 2013 newbies — representing global celebrations in India, China and Mexico — were incorporated into the 2014 round-the-world theme.
"It does tell one cohesive story. You literally start in Orlando, and then you go all the way around the world to New Orleans to finish the parade," Braillard says.
"It's a lot of fun to tell a story. Some of the guests won't get it. They'll be standing on the side and they'll just look at pretty parade float after pretty parade float," he says.
"But I like being able to tell a story. … You want that feeling that as people walk away, they'll have seen an entire beginning, middle and end."
Mardi Gras notes
•"The Lissa" is the name on the ship on the Set Sail float. Might Lissa be a Jules Verne character? Call off your French-lit major because "Lissa" represents Braillard's wife, Melissa.
•The floats are pulled by tractors or big trucks, which seem out of place at first. Consider them authentic to New Orleans, where big tractors haul the units through the streets.
•Kudos for Universal's reaction to the 11th-hour cancellation by Robin Thicke, who pulled out of his Saturday concert on Friday evening. Universal went on without the show but posted lots of notices. A flashing traffic sign gave details before folks pulled into the parking garage, and printed signs were at the toll booths, bag check and front gate of Universal Studios.
Thicke has said he will reschedule his Universal appearance, though it might not happen during Universal's Mardi Gras, which ends May 31.
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Universal's Mardi Gras
Where: Universal Studios, intersection of Kirkman Road and Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
When: Select nights through May 31. Saturday's concert is Collective Soul. Parade starts at 7:15 p.m.; concert starts at 8.
Cost: Included in regular Universal admission. A one-day, one park ticket is $92 ($86 for ages 3-9).
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