The 2017 Holiday Season is in full swing at Universal Orlando Resort, and this year’s offerings are the biggest ever for the company. Theme Park Adventure was in town for the debut of Universal’s Christmas celebration, so we were able to stop in and check some of it out!
For years, Universal Studios Florida has hosted its Holiday Parade, featuring Macy’s balloons and a wide variety of performers on the ground, dazzling the thousands of fans who line the parade route each day to catch a glimpse of this Central Florida tradition. This year, Universal’s Holiday Parade has been taken to spectacular new heights (literally), with awesome floats, characters, and massive balloons featuring favorite films such as Shrek, Despicable Me, and Madagascar. We staked out a spot along the parade route in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida (where else would we watch from!?) and watched as the crowds became several people deep in each direction in the hour or so leading up to step-off time. It was surreal for us to actually be there to see a parade that TPA has posted about for years on behalf of the resort – and it didn’t disappoint!
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s is really fun and impressive in scale. I’m normally not much of a parade fan, but this one is definitely worth checking out; it’s easy to see why families come out and make this part of their traditions each year. With classic Christmas music playing, wave after wave of confetti showering the street and onlookers, vibrant floats carrying enthusiastic characters, and huge balloons towering overhead, Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s is one spectacle that lives up to the hype – if you’re visiting the Universal Orlando Resort this season, definitely make time to watch this parade – it’s a Christmas must.
Grinchmas is part of Universal’s Holiday Season arsenal on both coasts, and we were surprised by how different it is in Orlando versus at our home park here in Los Angeles. Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is ground zero for Grinchmas in Florida, featuring really cool Christmas decorations throughout the land, and a major production – The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular – which is actually housed backstage in one of Universal Studios Florida’s soundstages (the two theme parks butt up against each other, especially the back of house and production areas). Whereas Universal Studios Hollywood’s Grinchmas event is much more interactive and “hands-on”, Orlando’s is more of a show – and it really is a fantastic one at that. A large ensemble performs Universal’s version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which includes an elaborate Whoville set, a large cast of characters (including Max, the Grinch’s dog), and a soundtrack featuring music by Mannheim Steamroller. The show runs several times each day, and is extremely popular; guests line up and wait by the hundreds, so if you’re going to check it out, make sure you plan ahead and arrive early – I’d say if you want a front-row seat (every seat in the house is good, really), you probably want to show up at least an hour before showtime and see where people are queuing for the performance you want to see.
Reflecting on the two versions of Grinchmas, it’s hard to choose which we like more, because they are so very different. At Universal Studios Hollywood, the area is more condensed, and the Whos are out and about, mingling with guests and being completely interactive. The Grinchmas show here is done on a small stage with a huge, stunning Whoville-style Christmas tree as the backdrop to the festivities. And there are photo ops to meet The Grinch as well as Max here in Hollywood. In Orlando, while the entire Seuss Landing area is decked-out for the season, it seems the heart of the event is in the soundstage, where the Grinchmas show takes place. Now, if Seuss Landing was packed full of Whos wandering about, interacting with guests, and the area was filled full of seasonal entertainment and hands-on offerings like cookie decorating or other arts and crafts, it would be a slam-dunk of epic proportions. That said, we prefer California’s version of Grinchmas, although the stage show at Universal Orlando is not to be missed – it truly is wonderful fun for the whole family, and the massive crowds lining up to see it are impressive.
Speaking of Mannheim Steamroller, the popular American Neoclassical new-age musical group performs several times this Holiday Season at Universal Studios Florida (check the resort’s website for dates and times) – something that we would have loved to see, but we simply didn’t have the chance during our visit. Everyone knows Mannheim’s awesome Christmas tunes – it would have been awesome to see those songs performed live, and I’m sure the experience is very cool. It’s a good problem that there is so much to see and do this Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort – so plan on spending multiple days checking out their seasonal offerings and work out your schedule in advance.
For the first time, Universal is celebrating the Holidays on both coasts at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In Florida, that means both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley got the Christmas makeover, and that alone is enough to bring guests out of the woodwork. The biggest component to Christmas at Potter is the all-new Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle nighttime show, which features stunning projection mapping and live pyro effects set to a musical arrangement. This new nighttime show – which takes place every 20 minutes or so after dusk – is drawing a lot of people to Islands of Adventure; plan ahead, and take some extra patience with you as you inch closer to Hogwarts through the masses. If a particular show is packed, the crowd is literally stopped in Hogsmeade, and held until that show finishes and dumps its crowd. Remember that the show is on-going throughout the evening, so you’ll get your chance – just take your time and navigate slowly if guest flow is gnarly and heavy. The castle show is short but sweet, and I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit here in Southern California as well – a new holiday tradition that will have theme park fans everywhere buzzing with excitement.
During the day in Hogsmeade, guests can see the Holiday Frog Choir, which is delightful in every way! The Frog Choir is a very cool bit of area live entertainment that is a favorite already with Potter visitors; adding seasonal songs such as, “The Most Magical Yule Ball of All” and “Christmas at Hogwarts” simply takes this charming component to a whole new level of happy as the performers sing – and croak – on stage throughout the day. Over in Diagon Alley, Celestina Warbeck and her Banshees are enchanting the crowd with their own holiday show, featuring catchy little numbers from her blockbuster album, Nothing Like a Holiday Spell. The song-and-dance routine features several numbers, including, “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas”, which is ridiculously cute! By all means, grab yourself a drink and check it out – it’s adorable.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter also offers specialty food and beverage items throughout the Holiday Season. The absolute best is Hot Butterbeer – our favorite of all the Butterbeer incarnations – and the restaurants also feature special holiday fare; be sure to check out the menus at The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, and Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade to see what makes your tummy growl.
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without decorations, which are abundant and elegant throughout The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at both parks. Staying in sync with the overall aesthetic of the lands, the holiday decorum at both Hogsmeade and Diagon is “real-world”, not over-the-top or overtly in-your-face. Pine wreaths and bows adorn the buildings throughout each land, including the attraction queues and the Hogwarts Express stations. At night, soft white Christmas lights illuminate many of the accents, creating a festive ambience that doesn’t scream “theme park”; it’s exactly as one might imagine. And, as is the case with all of Potter… it’s just about perfect!
The rest of Universal Orlando is also decked-out with holiday cheer, including its resort hotels that feature their own unique decoration and offerings this time of year. Take some time and explore all that the hotels have to offer – some of our favorite eating and drinking spots are there, including Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific, and Amatista Cookhouse and Strong Water Tavern at Sapphire Falls; make a night of it and enjoy.
A special thank-you to the great Universal Orlando team – from our friends in PR to everyone working this season throughout the resort. We know it’s tough to spend most of the Holiday Season at work away from friends and loved ones. However, you all make the season bright, and we completely loved what we saw this year while enjoying Christmastime at Universal Orlando Resort!
- Rick West
Periscope Broadcast of Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s:
— Theme Park Adventure (@TPAMagazine) November 18, 2017
Universal Orlando Resort Holiday 2017 Images: