The Best Things to Do at Universal Orlando During the Holiday Season

From hot butterbeer to giant Macy's parade floats, here's how to immerse yourself in the spirit of the holidays at Universal Orlando Resort. 
Girl enjoying hot butterbeer during the holidays at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal)
Photo: Universal Orlando

Every November and December, the holiday spirit takes over Universal Orlando’s theme parks, resort hotels, and CityWalk dining and entertainment complex. Perennial highlights include Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s balloons, the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, Christmas at Hogwarts, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in all of its holiday finest.

The Holidays at Universal Orlando

Best of all, everything in Universal’s fantabulous holiday celebration is included with regular park admission. Here are the can’t-miss highlights for any holiday visit to Universal Orlando Resort during the most wonderful time of the year.

Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios Florida Theme Park

Universal Orlando's Macy Holiday Parade (Photo: Universal)
Universal Orlando’s Macy Holiday Parade (Photo: Universal)

During Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, more than 30 fanciful balloons fly high above the streets right past their own Macy’s department store façade on Universal’s New York City-themed backlot, including a few of the iconic balloons that grace Manhattan along Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route.

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Children delight with the music, dancers, and floats laden with characters such as the Minions from Despicable Me, Penguins from Madagascar, and Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey from Shrek. Of course, the star of any holiday parade is Santa Claus, and he flies over rooftops in his sleigh to wrap-up this Universal Orlando holiday parade.

Grinchmas at Universal’s Islands of Adventure Theme Park

Grinchmas at Universal Orlando Resort (Photo: Universal)
Grinchmas at Universal Orlando Resort (Photo: Universal)

Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular is a musical retelling of Dr. Seuss’ classic story featuring music by Mannheim Steamroller. All the Who’s down in Who-ville gather each day to celebrate Christmas in their own special way. The king of green mean with his Grinchy-Claus scowl tries to use his dog Max to keep Christmas down, but the Who’s grab their pantookas to prove to the Grinch that Christmas, perhaps, means just a little bit more. 

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My family loved this show and the Grinch himself truly makes the performance, even if he is upstaged a bit by the live dog playing Max. After watching Grinchmas, take your time taking wandering through Islands of Adventure’s Seuss Landing. This land is always a bright display of primary colors, but adding the additional holiday ornamentation transforms it into a yuletide marvel.

Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter 

Hogwarts is all lit up for the holidays at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal)
Hogwarts is all lit up for the holidays at Universal Orlando (Photo: Universal)

Both Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure are decked to the nines with trees, wreaths, garland, baubles, bows, and thousands upon thousands of lights. The warmth of the season results not only from the fire-breathing dragon perched atop Gringott’s Bank, but also from sipping hot Butterbeer while listening to magical holiday-themed music. 

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In Diagon Alley, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform holiday hits with a Wizarding World spin such as “Accio Christmas.” Meanwhile, over in Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts student frog choir croaks out carols like “The Most Magical Yule Ball of All.”

As night descends upon the Wizarding World, gather the family at the base of Hogwarts Castle for “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.” This is a breathtaking show of holiday moments from the Harry Potter stories and films projected onto Hogwarts Castle. The display takes place throughout the evening from dusk until park close, so if the park is crowded at the time you want to watch just wait for the next occurrence.

Holidays Throughout Universal Orlando Resort

Minions on parade at Universal Orland (Photo: Universal)
Minions on parade at Universal Orland (Photo: Universal)

The spirit of the holidays can be found throughout Universal Orlando. There’s an 80-foot tree smack in the middle of “Central Park” in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, and you’ll also find themed trees throughout the parks and hotels. The Jurassic Park tree features a “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner as its garland, and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites Christmas tree is typically decorated with coral, starfish, and surfboards. 

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Hot Butterbeer isn’t the only seasonal food offered at Universal Orlando, either. CityWalk’s Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen has a “red hot” holiday milkshake filled with red hot candies, crushed peppermint, and a Christmas tree snack cake. Over at Voodoo Doughnuts, try a gingerbread cake, green-glazed holiday gift, and/or marble cake wreath doughnuts.

During the first two weekends of December, Mannheim Steamroller performs live on Universal Studios Florida’s Music Plaza Stage, too.

And if all that’s not enough, opt for Universal’s Holiday Tour, a VIP guided tour of both theme parks that includes meet-and-greets with the Grinch and Santa, reserved seating for Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s and Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular (including a talk-back with the cast after the show), an after-hours viewing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, and complimentary snacks along the way.

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Dave Parfitt
Dave Parfitt is a freelance travel writer interested in illuminating transformative family travel, multi-generational travel, inclusive and accessible travel, under-the-radar destinations, and immersive, authentic experiences. Dave's work has appeared in Lonely Planet, AAA, Fox News Travel, US News & World Report, TravelAge West, USA Today, and Family Circle, to name a few. An academic with a PhD in neuroscience, Dave also works as an educational developer at a four-year college in Western New York when not in a theme park, national park, or on a cruise or road trip with his family.

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