Did you experience Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Orlando this year? I have to say that Universal is rising to the occasion with their festivals. They feel complete and well thought out. I found Mardi Gras and the other holiday festivals to be a breath of fresh air from the never ending food festivals at EPCOT. Disney could learn a few things from Universal. Here are the top three things I loved about Universal’s festivals and how EPCOT could learn from them.
Food for Thought
While EPCOT is moving away from being an “edutainment” park and towards a year round food festival park, cultural tie-in to the festival seems to matter less and less. What I loved about Mardi Gras was that each country that was represented at the festival had a little description about how the country celebrates Mardi Gras. The little flags were a great touch too. I liked that there weren’t too many booths to the point of feeling overwhelmed. Universal found a great balance for incorporating food and culture into their festival.
Mardi Gras had a great energy to it. It made me realize just how empty and incomplete EPCOT feels now that this element is gone. I hate the “cavalcades” or mini-parades that currently make their way through EPCOT. There is already minimal walking space due to how much room that all of the food booths take up, but then people are pushed aside to make room for the characters coming through.
I think Universal solves this problem marvelously by having stationary floats throughout the park. It gives guests the opportunity to admire the artistry of the floats while interacting with the costumed characters. It doesn’t disrupt the flow of foot traffic and yet it still feels like a more meaningful interaction than a brief wave to Mickey and Minnie as they drive away.
EPCOT could easily incorporate something like this if they cut the number of booths for the festival. They are unlikely to do so since these booths are big money makers and there seems to be no indication that streetmosphere will be returning to the parks anytime soon. I really miss the cultural entertainment that used to be in the park and I would gladly take fewer food booths to make room for them again.
Tribute and Immersion
Both EPCOT and Universal had a “tribute” to jazz this past spring. Over in EPCOT, the American Adventure pavilion received an exhibit dedicated to the history and inspiration of jazz. Let’s just say that it wasn’t much of a tribute. The single wall of informational posters looked more like a high school project for Black History Month than a thoughtful representation of this important musical movement.
The Tribute Store in Universal Studios is amazing! The attention to detail and creativity that goes into designing these themed rooms always blows me away. The day after I saw the exhibit at EPCOT, I went to Mardi Gras and was embarrassed for Disney when I saw how creative Universal got with their jazz tribute room. It really felt like you were walking into a speakeasy.
I honestly think EPCOT should look at what Universal is doing to create more well-rounded festivals. Just eating food does not create a lasting memory for me. As of late, I’ve been feeling a little cheated and bored when I leave the EPCOT (the exception being the Festival of the Arts). I think a less is more approach to food booths, cultural streetmosphere, and more creative immersion / interactive activities, would go a long way to creating more comprehensive and memorable festivals.