Universal Orlando Holidays
We’ve visited Universal Orlando a lot over the past few years – eight times to be exact. We go the first week of September every year, when local schools are in session but our kids haven’t started yet. We’ve also visited in January and in March, and I went to Halloween Horror Nights last year. But we hadn’t yet traveled there for the holidays.
Having just attended the opening of Universal Orlando’s holiday celebrations, I can definitely say that it’s worth going back for – wherever you live! Here’s what I liked best:
1) Decorations Everywhere
OK, so this isn’t unique to Universal, but they do it really well. From Seuss Landing to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, every area of the parks is decorated. Keep your eyes open for unique elements within the garlands, particularly in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
2) The All-New Holiday Parade (at Universal Studios Florida)
Universal, in conjunction with Macy’s, has completely re-done its holiday parade and it’s excellent. The parade features 15 floats and 16 balloons – based around the Minions/Despicable Me, Madagascar and Shrek – and of course Santa arrives at the end. I watched the parade twice – once from the New York area and once from Hollywood. Although the parade feels right when you’re positioned in New York (it’s Macy’s after all), I preferred watching it from Hollywood with all of the floats coming at us between towering palms.
3) New Harry Potter Shows
We’re huge Harry Potter fans and have always enjoyed the live performances in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. For the first time, there are now Christmas versions – of both Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees in Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Frog Choir in front of Hogwarts Castle. Both shows are excellent. Of the eight new songs, my favorite is Accio Christmas by Celestina Warbeck. But they’re all fun.
4) The Grinch Character Breakfast
I’m normally not a fan of character breakfasts, associating them with people in costumes who come by the table once for a quick photo op. I had fun at the Grinch breakfast though. First, it’s at a Seuss-themed restaurant (Circus McGurkus in Islands of Adventure), now decorated for Christmas, so it just feels right. Second, there are numerous Whos all throughout the restaurant who further immerse you in the scene. Third, the Grinch, Cat in the Hat and Things 1 & 2 passed by our table constantly, stopping frequently and even sitting down. It was a fun morning. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.
5) Hot Butterbeer
So I thought Frozen Butterbeer was the best thing ever. But Hot Butterbeer is even better! It’s only available seasonally, starting at the end of October, and you have to seek it out since it’s not sold everywhere. I found it at Leaky Cauldron, The Hopping Pot and Three Broomsticks. And then I made it even better by adding a shot of espresso (from Starbucks near Diagon Alley). Note to Universal: please start selling an espresso version!
6) The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle
I’ve seen a lot of light shows around the world. This one puts them all to shame! Brand new in 2017, Hogwarts is transformed every 15-20 minutes (from dusk to park closing) into a magical winter wonderland straight out of JK Rowling’s books. I’m not going to spoil it here with too many details. But it’s seriously impressive and worth seeing at least twice.
Have you been to Universal Orlando for the Holidays? What’s your favorite part? And more importantly, do you agree with me on the Hot Butterbeer?
To Book Universal’s Hotels (from cheapest to most expensive):
Endless Summer Surfside | Endless Summer Dockside | Aventura | Cabana Bay | Sapphire Falls | Royal Pacific | Hard Rock | Portofino Bay
The last three all come with Express Passes, allowing you to skip lines at the two main parks (not Volcano Bay). Of those, we prefer Hard Rock because of its location. Of the less-expensive hotels, we like Sapphire Falls.