Two theme parks rev up their big festivals this weekend, and both feature concerts and themed cuisine. For the first time in years, the beginning of Universal’s Mardi Gras aligns with the “real” Mardi Gras, as seen in New Orleans. The Orlando version still runs longer, ending April 20. Meanwhile, SeaWorld Orlando presents its largest Bands, Brew & BBQ festival ever – six consecutive weekends.
Here’s what you need to know before you go.
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<strong>SEAWORLD ORLANDO’S BANDS, BREW & BBQ</strong>
<strong>WHAT HAPPENS:</strong> Barbecue may bring up the rear last in the festival’s name, but it will create your first sensation. Its glorious smell greets guests in the parking lot -- long before folks make it through the turnstiles. Musical acts are scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays for six weeks. For opening weekend, performers include country singers Chris Young (pictured, known for “Gettin’ You Home,” “Tomorrow”) with Jerrod Niemann (“Lover, Lover”) on Saturday, followed by Merle Haggard (“Okie From Muskogee” and 23 other country chart toppers) on Sunday.
<strong>WHERE:</strong> Concerts are at Bayside Stadium, and the featured BBQ and brew is available along the pathway to the stadium.
<strong>WHEN:</strong> Barbecue stations open at 11:30 a.m. on event days. Concerts are at 4 p.m.
<strong>WHAT TO EAT:</strong> Your nose knows: Eat the ‘cue. There’s also a Craft Brew Sampler package available for $21.
<strong>HOW MUCH:</strong> BBBBQ is included with regular SeaWorld Orlando admission. A one-day ticket is $89 ($83 for ages 3-9). Parking is $15.
<strong>HOW TO BEAT THAT PRICE:</strong> SeaWorld’s Fun Card costs $89 – same as a one-day ticket – and it allows entry for the rest of 2013. It’s an excellent option for folks who want to attend multiple concerts.
<strong>WHAT ELSE IS NEW:</strong> The latest attraction is Turtle Trek, a domed 3-D movie that follows the journey of a shelled heroine. Noticeably under construction: Antarctica, Empire of the Penguin, an attraction set to open this spring.
<strong>WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:</strong> The remainder of the band lineup includes Beach Boys (Feb. 16), Styx (Feb. 17), Big & Rich (Feb. 23), Third Eye Blind (Feb. 24), Daryl Hall & John Oates (March 2), Darius Rucker (March 3), Michael McDonald (March 9), Josh Turner (March 10), Rodney Atkins with Uncle Kracker (March 16) and Sheryl Crow (March 17).
<strong>WHERE TO GO FOR MORE INFO:</strong> <a href="http://www.SeaWorldOrlando.com">www.SeaWorldOrlando.com</a>
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<strong>UNIVERSAL’S MARDI GRAS</strong>
<strong>WHAT HAPPENS:</strong> It’s a New Orleans-inspired celebration with a glittery parade (with G-rated bead-tossing), concerts and cuisine on select nights at Universal Studios through April 20. Saturday’s opening-night musical guest is Lifehouse (pictured, “Hanging by a Moment”). <a href="http://www.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment/os-lifehouse-orlando-show-20130205,0,2548018.story">Click here to read Sentinel music critic Jim Abbott's interview with Lifehouse lead singer Jason Wade</a>.
<strong>WHERE:</strong> The streets of Universal Studios, including a French Quarter Courtyard with a stage dedicated to New Orleans musicians, and the theme park’s Music Plaza in the shadow of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. <a href="http://www.orlandosentinel.com/travel/attractions/universal/orl-mardigrasuniversal-pg,0,6819767.photogallery">Click here to preview the four new floats for Universal's Mardi Gras parade in our photo gallery</a>.
<strong>WHEN:</strong> The parade winds through the streets of Universal Studios at 7:45 p.m. It’s an abbreviated course due to (cough-cough) construction in the back of the park. The concert is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. (Times may change during the course of the event, particularly after we switch to Daylight Savings Time.)
<strong>WHAT TO EAT:</strong> Jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, hurricanes and the like from the bayou.
<strong>HOW MUCH:</strong> Mardi Gras festivities are included in regular Universal admission. A one-day, one-park pass is $89 ($83 for ages 3-9). Parking is $15, but Florida residents can park there for free after 6 p.m.
<strong>HOW TO BEAT THAT PRICE:</strong> On concert nights, Florida residents can purchase a ticket for entry after 5 p.m. for $59.99 (online, in advance) or $74.99 (at the front gate).
<strong>WHAT ELSE IS NEW:</strong> Universal Studios now features Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (where Jimmy Neutron once stood) and a daily Superstar Parade. Under construction across from the Music Plaza is Transformers: The Ride – 3D, scheduled to open this summer. The big construction site back where the Jaws ride was? Universal has not announced what it’s building there.
<strong>WHAT HAPPENS NEXT:</strong> Upcoming acts include Steve Miller Band (Feb. 16), Boys Like Girls (Feb. 17), Trey Songz (Feb. 23), Demi Lovato (March 2), Montgomery Gentry (March 9), Sean Kingston (March 15), Matchbox Twenty (March 16), Austin Mahone (March 22), Phillip Phillips (March 23), Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (March 30), Kool & the Gang (April 6), Pitbull (April 13), All-American Rejects (April 20).
<strong>WHERE TO GO FOR MORE INFO:</strong> <a href="http://www.universalorlando.com/MardiGras">www.UniversalOrlando.com/MardiGras</a>Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun