What better way to bring together minions, ogres, 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.
Last year, with COVID-19 health and safety measures in place, things were modified slightly to account for limited capacity and social distancing. (If you're interested to learn the precautions in place at Universal Orlando right now, hop over to our full reopening guide for more details.) Among the modified holiday offerings was Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's, which turned into a walk-through experience in 2020 rather than a full parade. While we still don't quite know what to expect for the 2021 holiday season, our guide will breakdown details from both 2020 and previous "normal" years.
The Universal Orlando Christmas events are included with regular Universal Orlando admission. A lot hoppens around the resort, so click one of the links below to skip to that section, or read the entire article if you're as thorough as Santa checking his list twice.
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 typically 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 store front! For instance, last year, Spintwitches Sporting Needs in Hogsmeade had golden snitch ornaments in its garlands, and Madam Malkin's in Diagon Alley sported pink ribbon bows that matched 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." Both the Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck performed for the Holidays at Universal Orlando in 2020.
The true showstopper of Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the projection-mapping show on Hogwarts Castle. In past years, "The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle" played intermittently from dusk until park close each night. Unfortunately, the show did not hoppen in 2020, but we still saw the grand finale projection against the castle once the sun went down!
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 if it returns in future years. It's gorgeous and really captures the unique holiday fun that you see in the "Harry Potter" films.
Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s & More Universal Orlando Resort Holiday Festivities
The highlight of Christmas at Universal Orlando (for us, at least!) is Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's. In the past, you could catch some of your favorite Universal characters making holiday mischief, including the minions, Shrek and more. And of course, jolly ol' Santa typically made an appearance at the parade's finale to light up the Christmas tree.
The full parade did not take place in 2020. However, a modified experience, Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons, allowed guests to get a close-up look at the Macy's balloons and Christmas floats on a walking trail. It was super cool to stand nearly right next to the balloons — we saw just how big they really are!
We even spotted a few characters along the pathway, who were happy to pose for a socially distanced selfie. We saw Lucy Wilde from the "Despicable Me" franchise and Puss in Boots from "Shrek" franchise. Santa's helpers were out to say hi as well. We went through the trail once in the morning and again in the evening. From our experience, Lucy and Puss in Boots were not available when we returned at night.
At the end of the trail, we had the chance to meet Santa for a photo too! There was a separate line for his socially distanced meet-and-greet, so guests were able to walk by and just sneak a peek if they didn't want a picture with him.
The Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons was open for the entirety of the park's operating hours. It had a Virtual Line option if the experience became too busy.
If you're looking to plan for the future, the full Holiday Parade took place during the following times on these dates in 2019:
- Nov. 19 and Dec. 4: 5:15 p.m.
- Nov. 16-18, Nov. 20-Dec. 3, Dec. 5-24, Dec. 31-Jan. 5: 5:30 p.m.
- Dec. 25-30: 8 p.m.
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 (in normal years) is across the street from the tree next to The Mummy ride. From this spot, you can watch as Santa lights the tree.
Universal's Holiday Character Celebration
Also new for 2020 was Universal’s Holiday Character Celebration. Throughout the day, mischievous Minions and characters from "Shrek" and "Madagascar," as well as Santa's elves and the Toy Unit, made special appearances to help spread holiday cheer. Most of the appearances took place near the Universal Horror Make-Up Show theater, but stilt walkers roamed around the main entrance and Santa's elves danced by the big Christmas tree in New York. We also saw Barney wearing a winter scarf in Woody Woodpecker's KidZone.
Both Universal's Holiday Experience featuring Macy's Balloons and Universal's Holiday Cheer Celebration were located in Universal Studios Florida.
Holiday Tree Hunt
Hop along on holiday-themed scavenger hunt to find 16 decorated holiday trees around Universal CityWalk, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida! Purchase a Holiday Tree Hunt brochure for $9.95 from select retailers in order to redeem a special holiday ornament (even if you don't get every single location stamped) from either the Park Plaza Holiday Shop, Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe or Universal Studios Store CityWalk. However, you don't need the brochure if you simply want to see them! In 2020, the trees were found in the following locations:
- Universal Studios Store
- Shrek's Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe
- Silver Screen Collectibles
- SpongeBob StorePants
- MIB Gear
- Sahara Traders
- Holiday Tribute Store
- Islands of Adventure Trading Company
- Island Market and Export Candy Shoppe
- Marvel Alterniverse Store
- Toon Extra
- Jurassic Outfitters
- Treasures of Poseidon
- Mulberry Street Store
- Universal Studios Store CityWalk
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Holiday Tribute Store - New
If you're a Halloween fan, you've likely heard of the Tribute Store at Universal Studios Florida, notorious for its spooky-good decor and props. Well, in 2020, the Tribute Store decked its halls for the holidays for the first time! It had four colorfully themed rooms, including a Grinch room and a Harry Potter room. At the end, there was a bakery with sweet desserts, sticky buns and spiked eggnog. Our absolute favorite though was the hot chocolate drink, which came with an ornament-shaped "bomb." Once we dropped the bomb into the cup, Tad swirled it around and we watched it melt to reveal mini marshmallows!
Mannheim Steamroller Concerts
Mannheim Steamroller has brought the festive sounds of modern Christmas to Universal Studios Florida for 13 years. These concerts usually take place at 7 p.m. on select Saturdays and Sundays at the Music Plaza Stage. While the concerts did not take place in 2020, the exact dates of the 2019 performances were:
- Nov. 16, 17, 23, 24 and 30
- Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15
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.)
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. At night, the two white trees near the entrance of Seuss Landing shine bright in many different colors, so definitely do not miss those dancing lights before you leave!
The green sourpuss himself returned to Universal's Islands of Adventure for holiday fun in 2020, so he'll likely be back in 2021. The green guy brings his signature snark during a special meet and greet at the All The Books You Can Read store. In 2020, he was unable to pose with guests, but he did the next best thing — he took our photo! We recommend signing up for a reservation in advance, as spots filled up. Reservations were full for the day we went. However, you can ask the team member at the check-in line if there is any standby availability, and you may be able to be squeezed in.
Meanwhile, Whoville citizens are usually out and about, walking through the land on stilts or performing on the stage near the All The Books You Can Read store.
The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular was not on the schedule for 2020. In the past, the talented performers have brought this Seuss favorite to life through song and dance. If you'd like to attend in future years, plan to be in line at least 30 minutes ahead of showtime, as you do need to walk a fair distance to the sound stage where it takes place, even if there aren't huge crowds. While definitely a tadpole-centric show, it is 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!)
Festive Food and Drinks at 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 year-round Butterbeer is served cold or frozen, you can only get hot Butterbeer during the holiday season. 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, you can find specially themed holiday food and beverages, including an arepa food truck and a funnel cake food truck. And we already mentioned the bakery inside the Holiday Tribute Store where you can get the same gingerbread whoopie pie that's pictured below!
A Holiday Treat Trail debuted in 2020, and it was spread throughout Universal CityWalk, Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Enjoy each of the five designated treats and get a complimentary sixth treat! To participate, pick up a brochure from participating retailers (and make sure you've got room in your belly — or perhaps recruit a treat squad for help!).
In the past, a toadally fun Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast has been offered (and booked up quickly!) We hope it will return in 2021!
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. In normal years, the hotels offer specially ticketed buffets. In 2020, the holiday meals were served prix fixe or family style. Some of the hotel holiday celebrations typically include holiday crafts, stocking decorating and meet-and-greets with Santa's elves (or Santa himself!).
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!
Note that a few hotels are still closed and will reopen at a later time, such as Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Universal's Aventura Hotel.
New Year's Eve at Universal Orlando Resort
If you're looking for something to do when the clock strikes midnight, Universal Orlando usually offered several ways to ring in the new year.
Over at Universal Studios Florida, we danced the last night of 2019 away at the Music Plaza Stage at the Holiday Parade Character dance party. There was a live band and DJ, along with confetti and pyrotechnics at midnight. We also watched Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration in Central Park, where there was a second character dance party location. At midnight, fireworks, along with fountain and light special effects, lit up the sky.
In the past, Universal CityWalk hosted its annual EVE event for adult frogs 21 and older. From 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., Leap and I dined, drank and danced as we celebrated the new year. This separately ticketed event included unlimited cuisine, access to five clubs and an outdoor dance floor, one drink ticket and one glass of champagne at midnight.
Universal Orlando resorts joined the fun, as well. All of the hotels offered a special New Year's Eve or New Year's Day meal. Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort hosted a New Year's Eve Spectacular that included face painting, a balloon artist and a midnight balloon drop. It was complimentary for Cabana Bay Beach guests only.
Which Ticket Should You Get During 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 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 onto your tickets to skip the lines!