Planning a visit to Universal Orlando this November, December or January? The holiday season is always a festive celebration for theme parks – especially the theme park capital of the world.
Last year was our first time celebrating the holidays at Universal Orlando (our previous Universal Orlando visit was during Halloween in 2014 but we wanted to experience Christmas this time around) and had such an amazing time we are hoping to do it again next December!
Here’s a run down of all the upcoming 2019 and 2020 kid-friendly holiday and Christmas events/activities at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We’ve included some of our favorite moments from last year’s trip (we visited in early December) and share a few things we learned during our first Christmas vacation at Universal Orlando Resort.
When Do Holiday Events Run at Universal Orlando?
The holiday season kicks off right before Thanksgiving (November 20) and each of the three parks have announced festivities and events for November 16, 2019 to January 5, 2020.
The majority of Universal Orlando holiday events and activities are included with regular admission so you won’t break your budget for your upcoming visit.
Universal Studios Florida Holiday Events & Shows
A Barney Holiday – If you have little ones who are fans of Barney, make sure you head on over to A Day in the Park with Barney for a holiday themed singalong. Let your toddler or preschooler burn off some energy at the indoor play area near the theater.
Blues Brothers Holiday Show – This holiday edition of the Blues Brothers street party show features Jake and Elwood playing top holiday tunes on Delancey Street. Make sure you stay until the very end of the show – you’ll get to see snow in Florida!
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s – See your favorite characters in balloon form and see musicians, dancers and the big man himself – Santa Claus – make their way around Universal Studios Florida once a day on select days in November and December. We share more info about this popular parade below.
Marilyn Monroe and the Diamond Bellas Holiday Show – The regular Marilyn Monroe and Diamond Bellas USO style street show turns into a festive one with silver and white costumes, holiday tunes and holiday-themed props and decor. Shows run several times a day from mid-November to the end of December.
Steamroller Holiday Concert – Catch a free, live performance of holiday hits from best-selling holiday artist of all time, Mannheim Steamroller at the Universal Music Plaza stage.
Performances start at 7:00PM and run approximately an hour long on the following days:
- November 16, 17, 23, 24, 30
- December 1, 7, 8, 14, 15
*NOTE: Seasonal Passholders are blocked out of Universal Studios Florida the entire day on these concert days.
Universal Islands of Adventure Holiday Events & Shows
Grinchmas – The entire Seuss Landing area and Whoville is decked out in colorful holiday decor and lights. Celebrate the holidays Grinch style by catching a Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular performance, enjoying breakfast with Grinch and pals, or wearing your holiday best to take a photo with the Grinch in his finest holiday attire.
Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular – Kids of all ages will enjoy watching the hilarious Who-ville cast and listening to the festive sounds of Mannheim Steamroller bring Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic The Grinch Who Stole Christmas story to life.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Holiday Events & Shows
Guests will notice that there are holiday decorations everywhere you look – on every store front, street, restaurant, and building. The level of detail that goes into all this muggle and wizard holiday theming is truly astounding. We are huge Harry Potter fans and Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley is where we spent the majority of our time last December (we had 5 day park tickets).
Aside from the all the decor there are several holiday events and activities for families to enjoy in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:
Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees Performances – Head to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida to hear chart-topping Christmas hits from the Singing Sorceress and her backup singers. “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” and “Accio Christmas” are two of the handful of songs they perform multiple times a day.
Frog Choir Holiday Concerts – Park guests can enjoy performances in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure by the Hogwarts student choir. You’ll hear popular muggle songs like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” along with wizarding holiday hits like “I Cast a Spell on Father Christmas”.
The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts – This is the most popular holiday event in the WWOHP. This projection-mapping show on Hogwarts Castle features stunning light scenes and dazzling fireworks all set to enchanting wizarding holiday music. Keep reading for our top travel tips if this light show is on your to-do list.
Special Holiday Dishes, Drinks & Food Events
Holiday Turkey Plate – Oven-roasted turkey, mushroom and sage stuffing, brown butter brussel sprouts, roasted root vegetables with gravy and cranberry sauce on the side was last year’s holiday themed meal available in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It hasn’t been announced if this is returning for the 2019 holiday season but if it does you’ll find it at The Three Broomsticks at Universal Studios and The Leaky Cauldron at Islands of Adventure. We’ll keep you updated!
Hot Butterbeer – Butterbeer is normally served cold or frozen but the hot version is available during the holiday season. You can find it at The Leaky Cauldron, Three Broomsticks, Hopping Pot, Fountain of Fair Fortune or Hog’s Head Pub. We tried Hot Butterbeer (it tasted like warm butterscotch syrup to us) for the first time last year but still prefer the original cold carbonated version.
Festive Flavors Holiday Buffet – Enjoy this all-you-can eat dinner at Cafe La Bamba featuring seasonal dishes and dessert, non-alcoholic beverages, wine and sparkling cider. After dinner you’ll head to an exclusive viewing area for the 8:00 PM Macy’s Holiday Parade and right after another special viewing area for Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration at 8:45 PM.
The Festive Flavors Holiday Buffet runs from December 22 to 30 and costs $64.99/adult and $44.99/child (ages 3 to 9). *NOTE: Universal Studios Florida park admission is required in addition to tickets to this buffet.
Sweet Sounds Dessert Party – Seasonal desserts, savory snacks, sparkling wine and non-alcoholic beverages will be served in an exclusive viewing area around 4:30 PM for the Macy’s Parade followed by another exclusive viewing area at 6:45 PM for Mannheim Steamroller’s holiday concert. This dessert party is only available on the following dates:
- November 16, 17, 23, 24, 30
- December 1, 7, 8, 14, 15
The cost for the Sweet Sounds Dessert party is $49.99/adult and $29.99/child (ages 3 to 9). *NOTE: Universal Studios Florida park admission is required in addition to tickets to this party.
Grinch Character Breakfast – Meet Grinch and pals at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous for breakfast from 8AM to 10AM on the following days:
- November 16, 17, 23, 24, 27-30
- December 1, 5-8, 12-15, 19-25
The Grinch Character Breakfast is $34.99 for adults and $20.99 for kids (ages 3 to 9). *NOTE: Islands of Adventure park admission is required for this character breakfast. Annual Passholders can enjoy discounts on select dates.
Our Top 3 *MUST DO* Holiday Events for Families with Kids
There’s so much to do during the holiday and Christmas season that it’s very easy to pack in your schedule and end up going home NOT feeling very relaxed.
Last year, while I was planning our early December visit, I knew that after the vacation we’d come home to the busyness of Christmas – so my goal was to plan a memorable but still relaxing vacation in Orlando.
We didn’t do everything that Universal Orlando offers during the holiday season (that would be sensory overload and exhausting!) but did choose three things to put on our MUST DO list.
If you’re like us and have school-age children, here’s our top 3 things to do with kids at the two main Universal theme parks.
1. Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s
If you’re a fan of the Macy’s Thanksgiving and Christmas Parades in New York City like we are, this should be at the very top of your list! Our first full day at the parks was planned specifically around this parade.
Giant floats, balloons, and performers make their way through Universal Studios Florida. Expect to see many of your favorite characters like the Minions, the cast of Madagascar, Shrek, and of course Santa Claus.
Parade times haven’t been announced yet but last year’s parade was around 5:15 PM or 5:30 PM depending on the day. The week of Christmas, the start time is later on in the evening. Make sure you check this page for parade times. We’ll update this post too once the dates and times are announced.
TIP #1: This is a very popular parade as it is shown on select days and only once a day. To get front row seats along the parade route, we recommend finding a spot 30 minutes before parade start time. You’ll notice Universal staff setting up ropes and pylons so you’ll have a general idea of where to sit. We sat outside the Hello Kitty store (near the Shrek ride in the Production Central area of the park). We grabbed a snack from the bakery across the street from the store and got front row seats for the parade!
TIP #2: Guests who purchase tickets for the Sweet Sounds Dessert Party (see above) will be able to avoid the crowds and watch the parade from a special viewing area near the Macy’s building in the New York area of the park.
TIP #3: The parade begins and ends in the same spot – near the Pantages theater (Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show) – so if you want to see the floats and performers as they come out, find a spot near this building.
TIP #4: If you’re interested in seeing Santa lead the tree lighting ceremony then head the New York section of the park. This is the most popular parade viewing spot (you’ll feel like you’re in New York City!) so make sure you get there extra early to get a good seat.
2. Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Projection Show
Harry Potter fans should include the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts in Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) on their Must Do list. This is, hands down, the most popular holiday attraction/event at Islands of Adventure. This holiday event has the longest wait times and the largest crowds.
The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Project Show is a state-of-the-art show featuring stunning light projections set to music from the Harry Potter movies.
While this event is great for the entire family, kids and parents familiar with the Harry Potter books and movies will enjoy this the most. Our daughter has read the entire book series several times and our son had just finished the first book when we visited last year.
TIP #1: Shows run approximately every 30 minutes beginning around 6:00 PM until closing time. The Hogsmeade area is incredibly busy around this time as people find the best spot to watch the show. Once the sun sets, the only entrance to Hogsmeade is from The Lost Continent. Jurassic Park is the one-way-only exit out of the area.
TIP #2: There is a holding area (main pathway leading up to Hogwarts Castle) where Universal staff will ask you to wait if you’re interested in seeing the castle up close. Expect to be waiting in this area for at least 20 to 30 minutes before they lead you to the back of the castle.
TIP #3: The later shows are less busy than the earlier shows. The last show of the night runs 20 minutes AFTER park closing.
TIP #4: Other good viewing spots (they’re somewhat obstructed by trees but have smaller crowds) are the back porch of The Three Broomsticks and the bridge that connects Hogsmeade to Jurassic Park.
TIP #5: If Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff rides are on your Must Do list, you’ll find reduced (sometimes drastically shorter!) wait times during the show.
TIP #6: The Jurassic Park River Adventure ride also has minimal wait time once the projection shows start for the night. We were able to ride three times straight with only one or two other families sharing the same raft.
TIP #7: The projectors are left on the entire night – even between Magic of Christmas projection shows so even if you’re unable to make it to see the full show, you’ll still be able to see Hogwarts lit up and covered in snow. It’s definitely a sight to behold!
3. Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular
Another event that families (especially those with younger kids) will enjoy at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular – a live adaptation of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Watch the Whoville cast and listen to Mannheim Steamroller bring this popular story to life. This show will make you laugh and excited for holidays.
TIP #1: You will not be able to use Express Pass here. However there are multiple shows each day so make sure to check show times on the Universal Orlando app or ask a staff member for times.
TIP #2: Seats are first come, first serve. We recommend getting in line at least 30 minutes of show time and you will need to walk a fair bit to your seat.
TIP #3: The first show of the day is generally the least crowded.
TIP #4: There are no bathrooms once you get into the theater. Make sure to go before the show!
TIP #5: There are no Meet & Greets after the show however, Max, other Whoville characters and Grinch are known to walk around Seuss Landing several times a day. Grinch has his own set of meeting times so make sure you check out the Seuss Landing book shop if you want to take a photo with him.
I know it can be very overwhelming when planning a visit to a theme park during the holidays – especially when there’s so much to do and maybe not enough time to do it all. Hopefully you’ve found this info helpful and you’re one step closer to a memorable Universal Orlando vacation.