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Indulge in Busch Gardens Tampa's Mardi Gras Spectacle

Written by Jaimz Dillman

Photos by Ellie Logan & Jaimz Dillman

Get ready to let the good times roll with Busch Gardens Tampa’s springtime Mardi Gras now running Friday- Sunday through March 3rd. For those of us not able to get to the bayou, you can get a taste of the Big Easy with this small sampling of food, drink, music, and of course, beads.

Grab a taste sampler pass with 5, 10, and 12 sample offerings- which will allow you to try various entrees, desserts, and cocktails through the small path adorned in traditional green, purple, and yellow.

Although the area is quaint, the entertainment is bright and festive with costumed girls tossing beads from a small platform facade of a New Orleans balcony. Careful as you walk by, kids are vicious for those things but there are plenty to go around. Stilt walkers were very interactive and posed happily for photos, and a tricycle-style bike wove in and out of guests with the driver replenishing beads to be tossed while wishing everyone a happy Mardi Gras.

A quick parade of these revelers dances along the Bird Garden trail three times a day with the brass band all ending up at the amphitheater for a good 20-minute set of high-tempo jazz music.

Of course, food is a major part of any Bourbon Street celebration and several stations have different dishes and drinks to choose from. We started with the Louisiana hot shrimp but the only heat was in the name. It was cold and lacked flavor so not the best beginning. The blacked chicken sandwich was gone by the time we got to that stop as well as the Nola sandwich with Voodoo chips. The event starts at 2 pm so it was surprising items were already running out 2 hours in.

The standouts for us were the sausage gumbo served with corn cake - good spice and nice pairing with the sweetness of the corn-and the short rib, which was fork tender. We would’ve gone back for more.

Desserts were a bit lacking as the chocolate and chicory crepe was little more than a cold pancake with ice cream and sauce drizzled on top. A sign advertising cupcakes looked promising until we investigated and found only a cooler case in a store with prepackaged treats. While the chocolate bourbon cake we tried was tasty, the presentation was odd. We all saved our beignet order till last but missed out on those, too when we saw the sold-out notice across the sign. How do you run out of the main staple of an event??

Our sample card went mostly to drinks and we were a-ok with that! We tried the Red Snapper, Blackberry Mule, and of course, a Hurricane. The winner by far though was the Keel Farms King Cake Cider. Delicious and easy to sip while strolling through the park and from a local brewer, too!

The event is a fun bonus to regular park admission and makes for a good couple of hours with friends or a date. Not sure if I’m sold on making the trip just for it though. Maybe next year they’ll keep the beignets coming along with the beads.


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