I have often said that if I could live in a Christmas movie, I totally would. Thankfully, starting every holiday season I can live out that dream just by visiting Universal Orlando Resort. After the parks are cleared of anything resembling Halloween Horror Nights, the parks are transformed into a whimsical winter wonderland for a glorious couple of months.
Garland adorns the archways, twinkling lights dance from the palm trees and holiday music can be heard at every turn. The Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort are unlike anything you’ve probably experienced. Yes, there are the holiday elements everyone knows and loves like Christmas trees, festive décor and eggnog — but there are also unique twists that can only be experienced here.
Whether you’re running as the next Holiday Cheermeister or wanting to try a new holiday tradition, this guide will help even the grinchiest of Grinches plan a wonderful holiday.
Where to Stay
Staying at one of Universal’s hotels really is the best way to experience the holidays. Each hotel is fully decorated to complement the immersive hotel theming. From an Italian-inspired holiday at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel to a surf-style holiday at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort, there is a holiday vibe for everyone.
- Exclusive to the hotels are the holiday feasts they host in their restaurants. There are specialty breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals that you can indulge in whichever holiday you’re celebrating with us.
- Nothing screams winter snuggles like cuddling up in front of a fire. The hotels have fire pits they light nightly, which is the perfect way to wind down after a day in the parks.
- Lounging by the hotel pool in the middle of winter with an umbrella drink is the best gift you could give in my opinion.
Holiday activities and dining options vary by hotel. Explore all the hotel holiday happenings to choose the best hotel experience for you.
Our family loves staying at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The family suites are spacious with a separate living area and kitchenette. A must-have with two growing boys who eat nonstop. Plus, there is so much to do from the bowling alley and arcade to the lazy river and slide pools. And this mama can refuel with a Peppermint Mocha from the Starbucks.
Things to Do
Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Some dreams are of sugarplums, mine are of chocolate frogs! Experiencing Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a holiday experience like no other. Festive décor and seasonal shows bring even more magic into both lands — Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.
- The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle is a festive spectacle of light projections and music held every evening from dusk to park close.
- Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform their holiday hits like “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” in Diagon Alley.
- The Frog Choir take the stage in Hogsmeade with their classic carols like “Christmas at Hogwarts”.
Make sure to take home a piece of the wizarding world with marvelous merchandise like Hogwarts house ornaments, stockings, and sweaters. And no holiday visit is complete without trying hot Butterbeer, a delicious, non-alcoholic warm beverage reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch.
PRO TIP: You will need a Park-to-Park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express and visit both lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The train travels between Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida and is a different experience each way.
For most, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual tradition. Seeing it in person has been on my bucket list for some time. Fortunately, I have previewed the experience as a spectator of Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. For years, the creative geniuses at Universal Orlando and Macy’s have partnered to bring larger-than-life parade balloons to the streets of Universal Studios Florida.
Along with the classic Macy’s star balloons, viewers can expect to see Minions from Illumination’s Despicable Me, the characters from DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek and Madagascar films, plus over 100 festive entertainers including Santa Claus. There’s even a special Florida snowfall for the finale.
Plan Ahead – As expected, the parade is a popular activity, and the sidewalks fill up the closer you get to the parade start time. The parade route is roped off for everyone’s safety, so grab any snacks and plan restroom breaks ahead of time. I recommend getting to your preferred viewing area 25-30 minutes before.
Download the offiicial Universal Orlando Resort app – The parade start times will be available here, in addition to a ton of other helpful information for your time at the parks.
During the holiday season, the whimsical Seuss Landing gets decked out in Who-liday charm and cheer to celebrate Grinchmas.
- Delight in the hilarious hijinks of the mean, green one himself in The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular a live retelling of the classic tale starring the Grinch, featuring music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller.
- Mingle with the strolling Whos as they spread Who-liday joy.
- Meet the maven of mischief himself for a photo opportunity at All The Books You Can Read bookstore
Check out the Complete Guide to Seuss Landing for more info on rides, shopping and dining options.
If I’m being honest, sleigh rides are fun… but theme park rides are even better. And with more than 50 rides and attractions, there will be plenty of holiday memories to share.
- Santa’s reindeer won’t be able to keep up as you race through the jungle alongside Raptors on the thrilling Jurassic World VelociCoaster.
- Instead of visiting Santa’s Workshop, experience what it’s like to be a Minion as you take an unforgettable trip through Gru’s super-villain laboratory on Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
- The idea of rockin’ around the Christmas tree takes on new meaning on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster. Choose your song and then get ready to soar high above Universal Studios with views of an 80 ft. Christmas tree.
- Skip the tree farm and fly deep into the wilds of the Forbidden Forest on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Where to Shop
Another great perk about coming to celebrate at Universal? You can do your holiday shopping at the same time. We’ve got a ton of unique themed gift shops throughout our entire resort destination. You can find popular finds, including some of my favorites like a classic Jurassic Park T-shirt, an interactive wand to cast spells in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and basically any piece of merch with the Grinch’s face on it.
Two of my favorite places to buy gifts are at the year-round Christmas stores. Each one is filled to the brim with holiday cheer and holiday-themed gifts and souvenirs. For an added personal touch, both venues offer personalization services for select ornaments.
- Park Plaza Holiday Shop in Universal Studios Florida
- Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe in Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- The Holiday Tribute Store in Universal Studios Florida
Where to Feast, Feast, Feast
Let’s face it, the holiday season food offerings are an event in and of itself. I personally cannot get enough of gingerbread, peppermint chocolate, and cinnamon-flavored goodness that is permeating the resort this time of year.
Many of the restaurants across the theme parks, Universal CityWalk and the hotels add seasonal menu food and drink creations that vary from year to year. But you can pretty much count on special doughnuts, holiday snacks and treats (hello hot chocolate bombs!), cocktails, and comfort food to satisfy your holiday food fix.
Things to Know
No Extra Cost to Celebrate!
The greatest and most important thing to know about The Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort? It’s included with your park admission or Annual Pass (Blockout dates apply for Seasonal and Power Passes) to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. There is no extra cost to experience the festivities and seasonal cheer, and it makes for a memorable holiday vacation.
Click here to check out ticket options.
The App Will Be Your Best Friend
Think of the official Universal Orlando Resort App as your personal little robot butler in the palm of your hand. You can set up a virtual wallet, mobile-order food, check ride wait times and get info on seasonal shows, parade times and more.
What to Bring & Wear
Deciding what to bring or wear to a theme park can be tricky. The general consensus is to pack light and wear layers.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Small Bag: There’s no real reason to bring a big bag with you unless you’re traveling with little ones. Try to carry your tickets and cards in a lanyard or sport one of those nifty phone cases with the card slots. If you do need to bring a bag, opt for a fanny pack or small crossbody that can fit into one of the free small lockers.
- Portable Phone Charger: This will come in handy if you’re sitting around waiting for the parade to start. Plus, you may need it after all the photos you’ve taken and posted on the gram.
- Check the Weather: With lower humidity this time of year, Florida can have surprisingly cooler mornings and evenings, so a light jacket is nice to have. Check the weather about a week before arriving just in case.
- Comfy Shoes: Comfortable shoes are kind of an obvious choice when going to a theme park, but you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. That’s one of the best things about the parks being so close to one another and a great way to get those steps in. Trust me, leave the flip-flops for poolside. Your feet will thank you.
For more packing tips including a downloadable packing list, check out the What to Pack For Your Universal Orlando Vacation blog.
Now let’s put on that ugly sweater and get ready to shout your jingle bells off at the one and only Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort. Share your holiday tips and recommendations below.