Liliane Opsomer, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, celebrated the season at Universal Orlando. Here is her report about the Yuletide at Universal Orlando.
Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s is no doubt the star of Yuletide festivities at Universal Studios. Held nightly now through January 5th, the parade brings elements of Macy’s famous New York parade down to Orlando. The parade includes 15 floats, 16 giant balloons, marching bands, over 100 dancers, stilt walkers, and, of course, Santa Claus in his sleigh.
Starting at the Horror Make-Up Show, the parade continues down Hollywood Boulevard toward the park entrance, travels past Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Shrek 4-D toward the New York section, where the parade briefly stops as Santa’s float reaches the Christmas tree opposite the Macy’s storefront. Once Santa lights the tree, the parade continues towards the waterfront, where it takes a right turn, passes Transformers, Mel’s Drive-In, and exits through the gate it originally entered.
The best viewing spots are in the New York section of the park and near Mel’s Drive-In. If you want to witness the tree lightning ceremony, you’ll have to camp out near the Macy’s storefront, where you’ll also find the reserved viewing areas for guests with disabilities.
There is a special viewing area reserved for Annual Passholders near Mel’s Drive-In. For families with little children, look for the area marked Little Stars near the future The Bourne Stuntacular attraction, a.k.a the former Terminator 2: 3-D.
Don’t miss live performances by Mannheim Steamroller. The concerts take place on select nights at the Universal Music Plaza stage. Note that Seasonal Passholders do not have access to Universal Studios Florida (all day) on Mannheim concert dates.
On select nights you can add the Universal Orlando Sweet & Sounds Dessert Party ($49.99 plus tax for adults, $29.99 plus tax for children ages 3–9). Enjoy an all-you-can-eat assortment of specialty desserts, savory bites, nonalcoholic beverages, and sparkling wine.
Your ticket gives you access to a private viewing area for the holiday parade and access to a reserved viewing area close to the front of the stage where you can enjoy the Mannheim Steamroller concert up close. And, there is more complimentary sparkling wine for you to enjoy while waiting for the concert to start.
While viewing the parade and Christmas tree lighting in the New York area is super cool, I really enjoyed the Sweet & Sounds Dessert Party and the viewing area right at the beginning of the parade. I also think that this is a good deal, especially if you consider that any decent snack plus a dessert and two sparkling wines will easily cost you $40. And yes, I was happy not to scout for a good viewing area for the parade, and I certainly would not have stood in line for over an hour to get a good spot to enjoy the concert.
If you want to go all out, consider the Festive Flavors Holiday Buffet available December 22nd through December 30th. The party features an all-you-can-eat buffet with seasonal cuisine and holiday desserts, unlimited sparkling wine and nonalcoholic drinks, and exclusive viewing areas for both Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s and Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration. Tickets for adults are $64.99 plus tax, kids ages 3-9 pay $44.99 plus tax. You can book either event here.
During the day the floats of Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s come out individual for guests to take picture with the characters.
A much smaller but absolutely fabulous show takes place on Delancey Street where the Blues Brothers perform seasonal favorites, such as “Blue Christmas,” “Run Rudolph Run,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
They even have a Christmas tree, albeit decorated with beer cans and cigarette packs. I love the show and hope you take the time to see it. Also noteworthy is the way they decorated their car!
And yes, A Day in the Park with Barney also gets a holiday overlay.
At Islands of Adventure, Seuss Landing is Christmas Central Where the Grinch Rules
We all know that the Grinch lives 3,000 feet above Who-ville on the isolated Mount Crumpit, but every year, to the delight of guests at Islands of Adventure, the Grinch makes his way to Seuss Landing, where he stars in his very own Grinchmas Who-Liday Spectacular. Make sure to catch one of the 30-minute musical performances held inside the soundstage behind Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous. No serious Grinch fan would skip this show, which comes complete with a first-rate cast, music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller, and the appearance of Max, the Grinch’s faithful pet. Max is a real dog taking part in the show!
Throughout the day, the Whos from Who-ville walk around Seuss Landing inviting guests to decorate the land and giving decorating advice. As for the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, you can meet him at the All The Books You Can Read store. The meet-and-greet is really hilarious and the Grinch takes his jolly good time with each guest, resulting in a very slow-moving line.
If you cannot get enough of the mischievous Grinch, you can join him for a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous on select days from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. during December. The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast is a lot of fun. The Grinch stops at every table to pose for photos. Just watch your food, as the Grinch is known for stealing not only presents, but also, believe it or not, bacon.
The breakfast costs $34.99 plus tax for adults and $20.99 plus tax for kids ages 9 and under. As with all special ticketed events inside Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, separate theme park admission is required.
The Grinch breakfast is very popular and you must reserve long in advance. You can however try Green Eggs and Ham and Who Hash at the Green Eggs and Ham food stand in Seuss Landing. This food stand is open seasonally from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley
Muggles and witches alike celebrate Christmas at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where decorations are elegant and inspired by the stores. Be on the lookout for fireworks in the garlands at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, a wreath decorated with balls of yarn at Spindlewarps, and feathers woven into the wreath at the Owl Post.
At Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure), enjoy the Frog Choir, which has been practicing seasonal tunes, including one that tells the story of what happens when you cast a spell on Father Christmas.
Nothing short of magical is the Christmas overlay of the Hogwarts Castle show. Feast your eyes on the projections of a huge Christmas tree, the Hogwarts ghosts singing Christmas carols, and the Yule ball at the castle. The The Nighttime Lights At Hogwarts Castle start at dusk and runs continuously until park closing.
Over at Diagon Alley and London (Universal Studios), the Yuletide program of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees is a must. Celestina performs songs from her Christmas Album Nothing Like a Holiday Spell, and nothing beats the super hit “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas.”
Did you know that, according to Potter lore, Celestina Warbeck was a Welsh witch known as The Singing Sorceress? She attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a member of the house of Griffindor. In an interview with NPR, J.K. Rowling said that Celestina Warbeck is one of her favorite off-stage characters, and that she imagined her to resemble Shirley Bassey in both looks and style.
Both parks have lots of seasonal treats, such as cookies, cupcakes, roasted turkey, and seasonal cocktails; hot butterbeer returns to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My favorite is the Grinchmas apple. Christmas at Universal Orlando has something for everybody.
The Christmas stores at Universal Studios has a huge selection of holiday decorations, including Harry Potter-themed Christmas tree ornaments.
Outside the gates of the parks, check out the Not Your Normal Leftover Holiday Sandwich at BreadBox in Universal CityWalk. The Voodoo Doughnut’s Stuffed Santa Suit doughnut set is sure to leave you, well, stuffed. And if you can summon any more hunger, head over to the The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. There seasonal treats are a feast for the eye! I guarantee you will end the day in a sugar coma.
NEW this year is the Holiday Tree Hunt taking place in both parks and on CityWalk. To get started pick up a Holiday Tree Hunt map at one of the main stores in either parks. The map lists the locations of the stores that you have to visit in view to collect the stamps on your map. Each store has a beautiful Christmas tree that is worth discovering. To collect the stamps however, all you have to do is get a stamp from a Cast Member.
After collecting all stamps you can redeem your map at the Park Plaza Holiday Shop (Universal Studios) or the Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe (Islands of Adventure). You can only collect stamps (two) on CityWalk, but NOT redeem your map for your free ornament. Guests have a choice between two adorable Minion ornaments. Unlike Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree at Epcot, the Holiday Tree Hunt is free.
Unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Christmas at Universal Orlando celebrations and shows are all included with regular park admission.
For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando by Seth Kubersky.