What better way to bring together minions, wizards, toys and more than during Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort? Even the Grinch can't resist the cheer. After all, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year (right?!)! During the holiday season, Grinchmas and Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spread holiday cheer throughout Seuss Landing, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Much of the main entertainment returns year after year, but we always notice new details in the decor to keep things fresh. The Universal Orlando Christmas events are included with regular Universal Orlando admission.
Overview of the Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort
With terrific temperatures, decadent decor, scrumptious snacks and endless entertainment, the holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year at Universal Orlando Resort. From the theme parks to the hotels, you'll find jolly festivities everywhere you go — even Universal CityWalk has started getting into the holiday spirit. That means you don't even need a park ticket to partake in the resort-wide celebrations!
Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
You know that feeling you get when you watch a "Harry Potter" movie with your family while drinking hot cocoa on a snowy winter night? That's the feeling you'll get when you see Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Orlando goes all out with the level of detail. Hogsmeade in Universal's Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida both feature festive Christmas decorations — including garland and lights — along the buildings and streets of the Wizarding World.
Be sure to take a closer look at the decorations outside of each storefront! For instance, Madam Malkin's in Diagon Alley sports pink ribbon bows that match the color of Hermione's Yule Ball dress in the display window. The London waterfront is also decked out in traditional Christmas lights and garland as if you've magically been transported to the city itself. We highly recommend visiting during the day so you can notice all of the small details and returning at night to see everything lit up!
Our fellow froggies, the Frog Choir, perform special concerts in Hogsmeade with Christmas songs straight from the spell books, as well as muggle holiday tunes such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Inside Diagon Alley, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees get in the holiday spirit with a special show. Listen for four original songs, including the super-catchy "My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas." These shows tend to not draw crowds until they've already started. Every view is good, but even if you only arrive five minutes early, you can still sit down on the ground right next to the stage.
The true showstopper of Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the projection-mapping show on Hogwarts Castle. "The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle" is eight minutes long and plays intermittently from dusk until park close each night. Muggles and wizards alike will be absolutely dazzled to see the castle come alive! There are breathtaking scenes with Hogwarts students dancing at the Yule Ball, Arthur Weasley's flying Ford Anglia plowing into snowmen and more! Even if you aren't a fan of the usual Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle show, we recommend catching the Christmas show. It's gorgeous and captures the unique holiday fun you see in the "Harry Potter" films. We're so hoppy it's returning once again this year!
Grinchmas at Universal's Islands of Adventure
It wouldn't be Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort without Grinchmas! Seuss Landing is the most spectacularly decorated of them all, with so many baubles and tinsel wrapped around just about everything.
The green sourpuss himself arrives at Universal's Islands of Adventure for some holiday fun, as well! The green guy brings his signature snark during a special meet and greet in his new lair at Honk Honkers. In order to meet the Grinch, you will need to utilize the virtual queue in the Universal app. Times do run out quickly, though additional times may pop up later in the day. When we tried last year, spots ran out within just nine minutes. We recommend being on Universal Orlando property and start trying at 8:40 a.m. Don't let a "No Times Available" message stop you. Keep refreshing the page. (At 8:42 a.m., we were able to score a Virtual Line pass for 12:10 p.m.) Meanwhile, Who-ville citizens are usually out and about, walking through the land or strolling through The Street of the Lifted Lorax. All of them will hoppily pose for photos with you!
One of our favorite holiday offerings, though, is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular! In this whoot of a show, talented performers bring the Seuss favorite to life through song and dance. If you'd like to attend, plan to be in line at least 30 minutes ahead of showtime, even if there aren't huge crowds. You do need to walk a fair distance to the theater where it takes place (a space that was previously occupied by Blue Man Group). While definitely a tadpole-centric show, it's still a blast for any fans of the Grinch, who spits out hilarious one-liners. (And OMG ... Max is played by an adorable, live dog. What a good boy!)
We were also so frogcited to once again enjoy The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast last year! This grand feast takes place at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous where the Grinch and his Who-ville friends will visit your table and spread some Who-liday cheer ... and sneers. Enjoy a tasty breakfast buffet with themed food, such as Green Eggs and Ham, and breakfast favorites, including a nonalcoholic beverage and specialty treats. Frogs also get one digital download photo from one character interaction. Reservations are required. We recommend getting an earlier reservation time, if possible! Expect to spend at least an hour and up to 90 minutes on this experience. The breakfast promptly ends at noon and reopens to guests as a regular quick-service spot for lunch.
Epic Holiday Offerings & Entertainment at Universal Orlando Resort
Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's
The highlight of Christmas at Universal Orlando (for us, at least!) is Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's. You can catch some of your favorite Universal characters making holiday mischief, including the minions, Shrek and more. And of course, jolly ol' Santa typically makes an appearance at the parade's finale to light up the Christmas tree.
If you want a prime spot for Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's in front of the tree, get in place at least an hour early on busy nights. This is especially true on weekends. Our favorite spot is usually across the street from the tree next to The Mummy ride. From this spot, you can watch as Santa lights the tree. Last year, we waited longer (almost two hours) in this prime spot, but we think it was busier than usual due to the holiday weekend and it was the first day of the holiday celebrations. Since the parade begins near the Universal Horror Make-Up show, you'll first see the parade about 15 minutes after the parade's official start time. Double-check with team members or the Universal app for the start time, as it can vary by night, but when we visited, it started at 5:30 p.m.
Annual passholders can enjoy a reserved viewing area in front of Mel's Diner, which opens up about an hour before the parade, and space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you have little ones under 10, there's a Lil Stars viewing area in front of the Brown Derby Hat Shop in Hollywood.
Mannheim Steamroller Concerts
Mannheim Steamroller continues to bring the festive sounds of modern Christmas to Universal Studios Florida. These concerts usually take place at 7 p.m. on select Saturdays and Sundays at the Music Plaza Stage.
Arrive early if you want a sit-down spot in front of the stage. However, you can easily hear the music beyond the concert area, so if you're content with catching a few tunes, stroll by when you have time. (Note that Seasonal Passholders are blocked out of Universal Studios Florida on concert dates.)
Holiday Tribute Store
The Holiday Tribute Store decked its halls once again last year! We journeyed through four festively themed rooms where we found popcorn buckets, backpacks, ornaments, spirit jerseys and more lining the shelves — not to mention some deliciously sweet treats. We "welcomed Christmas, Christmas Day" in a room inspired by the tinsel-filled town of Who-Ville, embrace dthe holiday magic in a room inspired by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, went nuts for the holidays in a room inspired by Universal icon Earl the Squirrel and soaked up the nostalgia in a room inspired by New York vintage holiday décor.
Earl the Squirrel Meet and Greet
Earl the Squirrel comes out of his hiding spot in the big Christmas tree to meet guests near the Hello Kitty store! You can confirm his meeting times in the Universal app, though typically he'll be out about once an hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Holiday Tree Hunt
For a fun festive activity, purchase a Holiday Tree Hunt brochure and pencil for $12 to participate in the scavenger hunt for decorated trees across Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and CityWalk. As a prize, you'll receive a special holiday ornament.
Festive Food and Drinks During the Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort
Drinking Butterbeer is a must-do whenever you visit the Universal parks (did you know there are six different versions?). While you can now get hot Butterbeer year-round, there's no better time to enjoy a delicious cup than when the temperature starts dropping. Think more along the lines of hot chocolate (but butterscotch) rather than a carbonated cream soda, which is what the classic, cold Butterbeer tastes like. You can find it inside The Leaky Cauldron, Three Broomsticks, Hog's Head Pub and the Hopping Pot.
All around Universal Orlando Resort, there are specially-themed holiday food and beverages! We couldn't wait to get our hands on yummy offerings such as Earl's Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Acorn Bomb (available at TODAY Cafe and Battery Park), the Roast Beast Sandwich (available at Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-pendus) and Santa's Cookies and Milk "Shake" (available at The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen). We were also so frogcited to dig into some verdant Grinch-themed treats in Seuss Landing and sip some specialty nog cocktails!
Holiday Celebrations at Universal CityWalk
Green & Red Coconut Club
Every event season, the Red Coconut Club in Universal CityWalk transforms into a delightfully festive dance club spot serving up speciality cocktails and featuring magnificent decorations. For the holidays last year, Earl concocted some marvelously merry cocktails, such as the Secret Family Holiday Punch and Noel Nui Nui, and holly jolly holiday mocktails, such as the Tropical Fizz. He also had refreshing canned beer and festive wines on tap, such as Rogue Santa's Private Reserve and Beringer's Chardonnay.
We absolutely adored all the retro holiday décor that adorned every inch of the space, from the endless array of blow molds and armies of toy soldiers to the quaint Christmas village and vintage TV set. We also loved taking part in the Pickle Hunt and finding all the ten pickles hidden away in the attic upstairs.
Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
Any time of year, we absolutely love staying on-site at Universal's fabulous resort hotels, but especially during the holidays. Expect all of the Universal Orlando hotels to be decked out for the holidays, and look out for tree and menorah lightings. Plus enjoy all the trimmings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The hotels even offer specially ticketed buffets. Some of the hotel holiday celebrations include live music, hula dancers, balloon artists and even bowling.
If you want to experience the Universal Christmas events during the busiest times, we highly recommend purchasing Universal Express Passes no matter where you stay. You can save money when you purchase this add-on to theme park admission for regular Universal Express (which gives you access one time per participating ride) or Universal Express Unlimited. If you stay on-site at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal's Hard Rock Hotel or Loews Royal Pacific Resort, you'll receive the Unlimited Express benefit for all of your party for your entire length of stay. Watch out for the expected busiest days using our Universal Orlando Crowd Calendar. We recommend purchasing Universal Express the week of Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and on weekends. We cannot underestimate this benefit!
If you can't shell out for the Universal Express hotels, jump over to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal's Endless Summer - Surfside Inn and Suites or Universal's Endless Summer - Dockside Inn and Suites. While they don't offer Unlimited Express, these hotels (and all of Universal's hotels) offer one-hour early admission to a select park. If you stay on-site, you can get a hop on experiencing Christmas in the Wizarding World's holiday magic! What's even more magical is to book your Universal Orlando hotel room at a discount, so hop to it!
New Year's Eve at Universal Orlando Resort
If you're looking for something to do when the clock strikes midnight, Universal Orlando usually offers several different ways to ring in the new year. Last year, Universal Orlando resorts offered several special celebrations on Dec. 31. All of the hotels hosted a special New Year's Eve or New Year's Day meal. In addition, Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort hosted a New Year's Eve Spectacular that included face painting, a balloon artist and a live DJ. This event was complimentary for Cabana Bay Beach guests only. Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock Hotel also hosted their own parties.
Our Top Tips for the Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort
With so much hoppening at Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure during the holidays, you may be wondering, "Which ticket should I get?" We're very big fans of the Park-to-Park option. With the two parks so close together, it's easy to hop back and forth. The Park-to-Park option offers maximum flexibility to enjoy it all. And it's the only way to experience the Hogwarts Express. So if you want to experience Christmas in the Wizarding World at Hogsmeade and then hop right over to extend the merry in Diagon Alley, you'll need the Park-to-Park ticket.
If you're planning to see all of the holiday festivities in both parks on one day, get a viewing spot for the Holiday Parade in Universal Studios right on the streets of Hollywood! That's where the parade starts, so by the time the last float passes you, you'll have just enough time to speed-hop over and catch the castle show in Islands of Adventure before the park closes.
Feeling like there's too much to see and too little time? Have no fear! We've put together our lists of Holiday Must-Dos at both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios so you can be sure to get your fill of merriment while in the theme parks.
Rather not stress about building your own schedule? Well, we're thrilled to report that Universal's Holiday Tour came back last year! Unwrap the holiday magic with this special 2-Park 1-Day tour that includes an exclusive meet and greet with the Grinch and Max, reserved seating for the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, small plates including cookies, Who Hash, Chicken and Waffles, Popcorn Shrimp, plus nonalcoholic beverages and a hot cocoa bar at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, a Santa meet which includes one My Universal Photos digital download per party, priority access to one attraction and an after-hours showing of The Magic of Christmas as Hogwarts Castle. Tours will include multiple parties in the same tour group and pricing and availability vary depending on the date and product selection. Theme park admission isn't included but reservations are required.
If you need some palm trees and sun with your Christmas vacation, you'll need to find it poolside this season. Universal's Volcano Bay water theme park is usually open in the winter. Don't let the time of year trick you. It's still plenty warm in sunny Florida (especially for you snowbirds) and the hotel pools are heated. (Check out all of our discount Universal Orlando ticket options, and don't froget, we offer discounts on the Universal Orlando hotels too!)
Ready for Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort this holiday season? Pick the best dates to visit using our Orlando Crowd Calendar. Check out our Orlando planning timeline for a stress-free family vacation during the holidays at Universal Orlando Resort and other destinations. And be sure to add Universal Express Passes to your tickets to skip the lines!