There’s nothing like the holidays at Universal Orlando. I’ve been going to Orlando on family vacations, girl getaways, trips with SVVs and long weekends with friends. I’ve been for Mardi Gras, for Halloween Horror Nights, for the opening of a brand-new water park, for summer vacation and in the dead of the winter. And I’d even been for Christmas before, but nothing tops Universal’s new holiday experience.
This year’s Holidays at Universal Resort launched on Nov. 18 and runs through Jan. 6, meaning you have plenty of time to factor it into your end-of-year plans!
As part of my Blog Squad duties (tough job, I tell you!), I spent this past weekend at the holidays opening with SVV and a number of my favorite traveling bloggers. In the spirit of research, I rode all the rides, tasted all the hot butterbeer and racked up tips for how you can get your holiday cheer on at Orlando’s best theme parks.
Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Just like you wouldn’t go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower, you can’t visit Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure without apparating to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s not just my favorite part of the parks, it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. (I’m pretty sure my patronus is not actually an animal, but a butterbeer.)
But aside from all its normal offerings—rides, pumpkin juice, mandrakes and more—Wizarding World in both parks absolutely comes alive for the holidays, with garland, decor and magic aplenty, and also a couple of specialty shows.
In Diagon Alley, Celestina Warbeck and her Banshees take their usual performance and add a festive twist with original numbers from her award-winning Nothin’ Like A Holiday Spell album (you may have heard of it) such as “Accio Christmas” (which I guarantee you’ll go home singing) and “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” (I could only be so lucky to find one under the tree!).
Meanwhile, over in Hogsmeade Village, the famed Frog Choir has their own Christmas routine that they perform several times a day with a handful of their own holiday hits.
Check out Rachelle’s reasons to celebrate at Universal here.
We didn’t actually make it up to the castle due to the crowds so we made our base near the entrance to the Hogwarts Express instead and climbed a couple steps to see as much as we could see.
And, my favorite part, of course, is the food: There’s a twist on the regular butterbeer options! On top of regular, frozen and ice cream versions, you can now order hot butterbeer for the holidays, and it’s positively delightful!
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s
By far, the coolest part of the new holiday experience is the addition of a Macy’s-esque parade, complete with floats depicting many of your favorite Universal characters. There’s Gingerbread Man! There’s Donkey! There are MINIONS!
And many of their cast members ride the floats below the towering balloons. The parade starts daily at 5:30pm, but I recommend getting there at 4pm to get your spot. Rachelle and I claimed real estate right in front of the Mummy, and several other Blog Squadders got some awesome shots from the end of Hollywood Boulevard.
Seuss Landing & Grinchmas
I love taking a stroll through Seuss Landing any time of year, but especially when it puts on its Christmas best. Seven years ago, my mom, sister and I drove down to Orlando from Tennessee to do the holidays at UOR with Angie and Rachel, so I’d already checked seeing The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Universal’s Islands of Adventure off my list.
But for every Whos down in Whoville, the tall and the small, who has never seen the live retelling of the famed book before, it’s a spectacle worth witnessing! There are also Whos roaming about Seuss Landing and even an opportunity to mingle with the Grinch and his two sizes-too-small heart while you’re there.
If you’re a huge fan of the green meanie, you can join him for The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast in Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous (price: $35 for adults, $21 for children).
Special Holiday Concerts
On many years, Universal has special holiday concerts on the Music Plaza Stage—we got to see Mannheim Steamroller, which really put us in the holiday spirit—so check the site to see what’s on while you’re visiting.
Visiting Universal during the Holidays
No matter what time of the year you go, you want to avoid peak times, like weekends (duh), but also Thanksgiving and Christmas. Try to time it perfectly so you visit 1) on a weekday and 2) right before most schools get out for the holidays, and you’ll sail through the lines. The downside is that if you want to see special acts like past musical group Mannheim Streamroller, the concerts are typically only on Saturday and Sunday nights.
You want to stay at the parks to minimize your time spent in transit and maximize your time in the parks. If you stay at any of the on-site properties, you’ll get early admission (i.e. an hour of park time all to yourself before the park plebeians flood the gates!), and several of them also include an Express Pass in your stay. Personally, I’d choose the Hard Rock Hotel as it has the easiest access to the parks; you can walk to the entrance instead of relying on the water taxi.
What It Costs
Park admission for Universal Orlando Resort is $110 for one day in one park or $165 for park-to-park. If you buy multiple days, the cost per day goes down (e.g. a two-park ticket for four days runs $72 a day). Outside of the Grinch character breakfast, all other holiday attractions are included in the price of the ticket. Florida residents always get special deals with a valid ID.
If you’re not the park-going type in the heat of the summer, the Holidays at Universal Orlando are perfect for you!
For more Universal Orlando Resort travel tips, see related posts:
- Universal Studios vs. Islands of Adventure
- Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights
- Everything You Need to Know About Volcano Bay
- All Aboard the Hogwarts Express!
- Diagon Alley: Universal’s Most Magical Experience
- A Review of Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
- A Review of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel