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. We're hoppy to report that the parade and all of the normal Universal Orlando holiday offerings came back this year! It is truly a season to celebrate.
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 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 really captures the unique holiday fun that you see in the "Harry Potter" films. We're so hoppy it returned this year!
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 fireworks in Islands of Adventure before the park closes. We arrived at the holding area in Hogsmeade at 6:30 p.m. and caught the show 10 minutes later.
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. 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. The parade begins at 5:30 p.m. nightly, except for Dec. 2 when it will begin at 5 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 is usually across the street from the tree next to The Mummy ride. From this spot, you can watch as Santa lights the tree. However this year, we grabbed a table outside of Mel's Drive-In facing TRANSFORMERS and Battery Park 45 minutes before the parade started. It's at the very end of the parade route so while the first float will take about half an hour to reach you, it's a great place to sit down and relax if you want to rest your feet after a long day!
Holiday Tree Hunt
Hop along on a holiday-themed scavenger hunt to find 15 decorated holiday trees around Universal CityWalk, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida! Purchase a Holiday Tree Hunt brochure for $10 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! Uniquely themed trees can be found in the following locations:
- Universal Studios Store - Universal Studios Florida
- Silver Screen Collectibles
- Five & Dime
- SpongeBob StorePants
- MIB Gear
- San Francisco Candy Factory
- Islands of Adventure Trading Company
- Comic Book Store
- Toon Extra
- Jurassic Outfitters
- All Hallows Eve Boutique
- Cats, Hats and Things
- Universal Studios Store - Universal CityWalk
- Universal Legacy Store
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Holiday Tribute Store
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, and this year, the Holiday Tribute Store has returned with four festively themed rooms! Enter Santa’s Workshop during the busy season and see who made the Naughty and Nice Lists. Check out what Universal's very own Earl the Squirrel is up to in a delightfully nut-scented Christmas Curios Museum & Emporium. (This room is also where you'll find some festive holiday treats like whoopie pies and gingerbread cookies ... but we can't imagine not being drawn to the fresh-roasted nuts in here.) Pay a visit to the Grinch’s Lair hidden away inside the peaks of Mt. Crumpit. Lastly, dance the night away at the formal wizard winter celebration, the Yule Ball, where you can purchase all of your merry merchandise.
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 band is returning in 2021! The concert dates this year are Dec. 4, 5, 11 and 12.
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 and animations, including the Grinch and Max the dog, so definitely do not miss those dancing lights before you leave!
The green sourpuss himself is returning to Universal's Islands of Adventure for holiday fun! The green guy brings his signature snark during a special meet and greet at the All The Books You Can Read store. Meanwhile, Whoville citizens are usually out and about, walking through the land on stilts or strolling through The Street of the Lifted Lorax. All of them will hoppily pose for photos with you!
The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular was not on the schedule for 2020 but it's back for 2021! 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 new theater where it will take 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!)
Brand new to Universal Orlando this year is Mistletoe Pines Village, a holiday hub right in the center of CityWalk where you'll find sweets, treats and merch galore! You can even get a caricature drawing done here or purchase a custom photo holiday ornament. We absolutely loved ending our night sitting by the water with a cut of minty fresh Candy Cane Fudge and a cup of delicious Nutty Nog!
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 you can now get hot Butterbeer year-round, there's no better time to enjoy a delicious cup of it 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 — and in addition to what you'll find at the Tribute Store and Mistletoe Pines — there are specially-themed holiday food and beverages! Try some gloriously green goodies at the food stand outside the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular and Hop on Pop in Seuss Landing or grab something a little heartier at the food truck in either Production Central or San Francisco. Our favorite food and drinks were tucked away in Battery Park. We loved the Holiday Leftovers Pressed Sandwich on artisan cranberry bread filled with turkey and brie cheese and the Cookies and Milk pictured below (with a cookies-and-cream straw)!
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 holiday crafts, parties with face painters and 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.
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 a 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.
As of Nov. 2021, there's no word that either of the events will be returning, but we do know that this year, Universal Orlando resorts will offer several special celebrations on Dec. 31. All of the hotels will be offering a special New Year's Eve or New Year's Day meal. Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort will be hosting a New Year's Eve Spectacular that will include face painting, a balloon artist and a live DJ. This event is complimentary for Cabana Bay Beach guests only. Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock Hotel will also be hosting their own parties, starting at 8 p.m. on the Piazza and 6 p.m. in the lobby, respectively.
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!