January 21, 2022

Everything to see and eat during Mardi Gras at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Beignets NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café, is where to get sweet fried doughnuts that are a must at any Mardi Gras festival, and the options at Busch Gardens include traditional with powdered sugar, ones topped with Woodford Reserve bourbon chocolate drizzle and banana’s foster beignets. The Busch Gardens beignets also stand out for their flaky, croissant-like texture. - VIA BGT PUBLIC RELATIONS
via BGT Public Relations
Beignets
NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café, is where to get sweet fried doughnuts that are a must at any Mardi Gras festival, and the options at Busch Gardens include traditional with powdered sugar, ones topped with Woodford Reserve bourbon chocolate drizzle and banana’s foster beignets. The Busch Gardens beignets also stand out for their flaky, croissant-like texture.
Busch Gardens brought Big Easy cuisine and entertainment to Tampa a little early with Mardi Gras. But the beads and bites filled festival is a festive way to kick off what’s sure to be an exciting 2022 for the Tampa theme park.

Mardi Gras and the park’s Real Music Series are the firsts of nearly a dozen events happening at Busch Gardens this year. There’s at least one special event happening every month at Busch Gardens – from Mardi Gras and Food & Wine to Summer Nights and Howl-O-Scream.

Mardi Gras—on now through March 6—is also a great primer for the park’s popular Food & Wine Festival, which kicks off on March 11. With two food stations for New Orleans-style main dishes, two more for desserts and several spots to drink around the park, it’s easy to get a taste of everything Mardi Gras has to offer.

If you’re planning to spend the day eating and drinking around the Mardi Gras festival, it’s worth it to buy one of the sampling lanyards. The five-item sampler is $35 and the 10-item lanyard is $55.

Beyond food and drinks, Mardi Gras sports several festive photo-ops around the festival area, a daily parade with music, performers and chances to snag beads and live local music and a brass band playing in the Bird Gardens and on the Coca-Cola Stage. Be sure to check out the Bird Gardens, which has been outfitted with a giant Fleur-de-Lis statue and about a dozen garden flamingos dressed in beads and Mardi Gras crowns.

Busch Gardens Mardi Gras runs weekends and select days through March 6. Find more information and tickets at buschgardens.com.

Here are all the desserts, drinks, bites and sights to eat and see at the event.

Creole-style jambalaya
In Jackson Square across from the Coca-Cola Stage, a savory dish with a heavy serving, this time of homemade-tasting jambalaya with chicken, Andouille sausage and plenty of spices and tomatoes. Also in Jackson Square.

Smoked peppered brisket
At Esplanade Street Bites (across from the bead garden), these are essentially Mardi Gras nachos with a generous helping of thick, crispy kettle chips covered with smoky brisket and cheesy chipotle cream. Don’t sleep on these.

Reimagined sundaes
The festival Mardi Gras waffle cone sundae gets an upgrade with salted caramel ice cream and topped with popcorn, chocolate drizzle, whipped topping and morello cherries. There’s also the Bourbon Street cream and cookie, which is a cookie sundae with your choice of ice cream and chocolate drizzle. Also at NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café. Drinks (at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar)

Xcursions
The popular artisan gift shop near the festival area has rum tastings outside and a limited selection of Mardi Gras cupcakes inside – take home a two- or four-pack. This shop is also where to buy beads, hats and other Mardi Gras attire for the parade. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar.

Smoked bourbon peach sour
This cocktail includes Woodford Reserve bourbon, peach sour and club soda. Get it at Sweet Beignets food station. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar.

Spiced vanilla old-fashioned
Jackson Square boasts this drink that includes Woodford Reserve bourbon, vanilla and bitters. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar.

Smoked bloody mary
Esplanade Street Bites has this smoky brunch cocktail featuring Tito’s Vodka, hickory and fresh lemon. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar.

The Garden Gate Café
also has other Mardi Gras cocktails including the Tampa Vice (Pina Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri mixed together), the Gold Coin Mojito (Fleur de Cana rum, turmeric, mint) and the Green Fairy Margarita (tequila, green apple, lime). Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar.
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Shrimp & Grits Heavy on buttery, cheesy grits, the shrimp and grits are likewise not too spicy and perfect comfort food on the days when Florida actually gets a little chilly. Also in Jackson Square.
Impossible dirty rice In Jackson square, don’t miss out on the meatless twist on classic dirty rice, which is perfectly spiced with chunks of savory crispy-chewy Impossible meat.
Photo by Chelsea Zukowski
Shrimp & Grits
Heavy on buttery, cheesy grits, the shrimp and grits are likewise not too spicy and perfect comfort food on the days when Florida actually gets a little chilly. Also in Jackson Square.

Impossible dirty rice
In Jackson square, don’t miss out on the meatless twist on classic dirty rice, which is perfectly spiced with chunks of savory crispy-chewy Impossible meat.
Hurricanes Get a frozen or iced Hurricane at the bar near the Coca-Cola stage and at the new Giraffe Bar at Serengeti Overlook near Cheetah Hunt. You can also “Spike DAT” for $3.50. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar. Traditional Hurricanes are a fruity and sweet concoction of rums, juices (orange, passion fruit and lemon or lime) and grenadine.
via BGT Public Relations
Hurricanes
Get a frozen or iced Hurricane at the bar near the Coca-Cola stage and at the new Giraffe Bar at Serengeti Overlook near Cheetah Hunt. You can also “Spike DAT” for $3.50. Available at every Mardi Gras station and at the Garden Gate Café and Giraffe Bar. Traditional Hurricanes are a fruity and sweet concoction of rums, juices (orange, passion fruit and lemon or lime) and grenadine.
Smoked peppered brisket These are essentially Mardi Gras nachos with a generous helping of thick, crispy kettle chips covered with smoky brisket and cheesy chipotle cream. Don’t sleep on these also Esplanade Street Bites (across from the bead garden).
Po’boys At Esplanade Street Bites (across from the bead garden), this is where to get your (two) hands on some Big Easy staples, including the shrimp po’boy slathered in Creole remoulade, and the new smoked chicken po’boy topped with bourbon BBQ.
Photo by Chelsea Zukowski
Smoked peppered brisket
These are essentially Mardi Gras nachos with a generous helping of thick, crispy kettle chips covered with smoky brisket and cheesy chipotle cream. Don’t sleep on these also Esplanade Street Bites (across from the bead garden).

Po’boys
At Esplanade Street Bites (across from the bead garden), this is where to get your (two) hands on some Big Easy staples, including the shrimp po’boy slathered in Creole remoulade, and the new smoked chicken po’boy topped with bourbon BBQ.
Beignets NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café, is where to get sweet fried doughnuts that are a must at any Mardi Gras festival, and the options at Busch Gardens include traditional with powdered sugar, ones topped with Woodford Reserve bourbon chocolate drizzle and banana’s foster beignets. The Busch Gardens beignets also stand out for their flaky, croissant-like texture.
via BGT Public Relations
Beignets
NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café, is where to get sweet fried doughnuts that are a must at any Mardi Gras festival, and the options at Busch Gardens include traditional with powdered sugar, ones topped with Woodford Reserve bourbon chocolate drizzle and banana’s foster beignets. The Busch Gardens beignets also stand out for their flaky, croissant-like texture.
Ice cream Make beignets your dessert appetizer and then finish off (after a walk around the park) with a French Quarter waffle cone with amaretto ice cream, chocolate drizzle, Mardi Gras sprinkles and topped with a chunk of cheesecake. You can also get it with salted caramel ice cream if you don’t want the booze. Head to ​NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café to get it.
Photo by Chelsea Zukowski
Ice cream
Make beignets your dessert appetizer and then finish off (after a walk around the park) with a French Quarter waffle cone with amaretto ice cream, chocolate drizzle, Mardi Gras sprinkles and topped with a chunk of cheesecake. You can also get it with salted caramel ice cream if you don’t want the booze. Head to ​NOLA Creamery and Sweet Beignets both right next to the Garden Gate Café to get it.

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.