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Central Florida this February-Things to do

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Universal Studios: February 4 – March 25, 2017

Universal Studios in Orlando, FL hosts Florida’s largest Mardi Gras celebration. Every night from February 4th through March 25th, there’s a parade through Universal Studios with zydeco music and Cajun food in the French Quarter Courtyard. That’s 50 nights of parades, New Orleans music, and Cajun cuisine. The time of the parade varies depending on the day, but generally starts sometime between 5pm and 7:45pm. See the event page for the specific start time and location:

In addition to the nightly zydeco music, Universal scheduled 12 more concerts on select Saturday and Sunday nights throughout February and March at 8:30pm. These extra shows will feature some of the bigger names in rock, pop, and country, including Ne-Yo, Toby Keith, Jason Derulo, and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Go to the event page for the full lineup: Single park admission to Universal is now $105. Add to that parking and food costs, and it won’t be a cheap day, but I’m guessing it will be well worth it. You can purchase discount tickets ahead of time at Publix Supermarkets.

Alternatively, you can head over to downtown Dunedin, FL for their Mardi Gras celebration on February 28, 2017. The music starts at 1pm in Pioneer Park, with a performance from Louisiana’s Waylon Thibodeaux, followed by Shevonne and The Big Easy Revue. The parade starts at 7pm and runs down Douglas Avenue. Afterwards, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraiser’s will be performing in Pioneer Park. This event is incredibly popular—thousands of people attend each year. Both the parade and the concerts are free to attend, but expect to pay for parking, drinks, and food. For event details, go to:

Go to the Florida State Fair: Feburary 9-20, 2017

I went a little fair crazy last year. I was determined to hit as many Florida State Fair highlights as I could in a single afternoon. I ended up having a pizza funnel cake for lunch, taking the sky ride over the midway, seeing the new White House exhibit and one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and walking around Cracker Country. The results were two different blog posts devoted to the Florida State Fair: one post for photos of the midway and one post for Cracker Country.

Pizza funnel cake at the Florida State Fair

I doubt that the major attractions will change much this year. People will still come for the fair food, the rides, the concerts, the animals, and Cracker Country. The entertainment options are all listed on the fair’s event page, and include an exhibit on the history of candy, racing pigs, a bear show, and a sea lion show. There are also some interesting special events this year, including a rodeo on the 15th and 16th and championship lawn mower races on the 18th and 19th. Admission prices run from $9 to $13.

Attend a Central Florida Food festival

The Old Florida Outdoor Festival, Apopka, FL: February 10-11, 2017

I know this doesn’t sound like a food festival, but this is where the Florida State Championship BBQ Competition is being held this year. There will also be a car show, fireworks, and concerts (mostly from country artists). Admission is free, but parking is $10. For more details, go to:

Clearwater Sea Blues Festival: February 18-19, 2017

The Clearwater Sea Blues Festival is exactly what it sounds like: a festival that combines seafood and blues music in the beautiful waterfront Coachman Park. This years lineup includes the Betty Fox Band, Selwyn Birchwood and more. Go to the event site for the full lineup: There will be a blues walk down Cleveland Street on February 17th, the Friday before the festival, featuring live music, food & drink specials, and a scavenger hunt. To get a better feel for this event, check out my post from last year’s Sea Blues Festival: Blues with a Side of Shrimp at Clearwater’s Sea Blues Festival.

Seafood display from Crabby Bills at the 2016 Clearwater Sea Blues Festival

Orlando Chili Cook-off: February 18, 2017

For just $15 you can sample chili from over 100 different booths at this year’s Chili Cook-off in Festival Park. There will also be live music from the Greg Warren Band (country) and The Wilted Chilis (rock). For details, go to:

Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ festival, Tampa, FL: February 18th

The Beer, Bourbon, & BBQ festival is a traveling festival. It hit Manhattan on January 28th and will be in Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on February 18th. Admission is $39 in advance and comes with a refillable tasting glass. Unlimited beer and bourbon samples are included in the cost of your admission, but the BBQ is extra. The entertainment includes live music and seminars. For more details, go to:

Ribs on the Ridge, Haines City, FL: February 24-25, 2017

I already brought this festival up when I wrote about Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown in January. This is just one of many central Florida annual BBQ competitions happening each winter. Ribs on the Ridge is now in its 9th year in Haines City, FL. There will be free admission, live music, and BBQ for purchase. For details, go to:

Cocoa Beach Seafood & Music Fest: February 24-26, 2017

Seven different seafood vendors will be present at this year’s Cocoa Beach Seafood & Music Fest: Golden Gate, Union Jacks, What’s the Catch, Cousins Maine Lobster, Willy T’s Crab Shack, Laughing Crab Catering, and Molos Miami Grill. The festival will feature some of the best seafood dishes from around the world, including Maine lobster, Maryland crab cakes, British fish and chips, Florida grouper, Ahi Tuna, crawfish, and shrimp. Tickets start at $10 and include day-time entertainment, consisting of crab races, live shark encounter shows, and concerts from local bands. Night-time concerts are an additional charge. Go to the event website for full details:

Take Part in Gasparilla Season

Gasparilla season continues this month with the Sant’ Yago Knight Parade in Ybor City on February 11th and the Gasparilla Distance Classic on February 25 & 26th.

Sant’ Yago Knight Parade: February 11, 2017 7pm

The Sant’ Yago Knight Parade is one of the main events of Gasparilla. Pirates parade through Ybor City at night, throwing beads into the crowds. Ybor City is one of the liveliest nightlife districts in the state of Florida, and there’s sure to be plenty more to entertain you at the local bars and restaurants here after the parade is over. You can purchase bleacher seats for $25 online, or watch for free from the sidelines. For additional details:

Gasparilla Distance Classic: February 25-26, 2017

From a 5K to a half marathon, there lots of options available at the Gasparilla Distance Classic. Register on their website if you are interested in running:

Celebrate Black History Month in St. Petersburg, FL

Where better to celebrate black history month than at the museum of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the historian who started it all. Dr. Woodson was one of the first historians to study African-American History. In February of 1926, Woodson founded “Negro History Week,” which evolved into Black History Month 50 years later. The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum opened in 2006 in its current location in St. Petersburg’s historic midtown neighborhood, the center of St. Pete’s African American community during the era of segregation.

In 2014, the city of St. Petersburg added an African American Heritage Trail through midtown, beginning at the Woodson Museum. On Saturday, February 25th, the museum will be hosting a guided Heritage Trail walking tour at 10am. The walking tour is being held during the Black Arts Festival, so you may experience both of these attractions.

Jennifer Ring
Jennifer Ring is a photoblogger living in the Tampa Bay area, on Florida's west coast, home to some of the best beaches in the state.