Thanks to Universal Studios Orlando Resort for providing complimentary park tickets. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Last week my family was in the Orlando area, soaking up many fun adventures and making great memories. We spent 2 days exploring 2 of Universal’s 3 theme parks, and we were especially focused on what holiday entertainment offerings were in store. Based on our experiences, I have 3 main suggestions for anyone heading to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure between now and New Year’s Day (or next holiday season, with entertainment beginning sometime in mid-November so be sure to check calendars!).
The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle
Friends, I cannot emphasize this enough: this is a MUST SEE!!! Every evening at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, beginning at 6 pm and reoccurring every 20 minutes, thereafter, Hogwarts Castle becomes the screen for a light mapping display the likes of which I have never seen before. It was nothing short of magical, and it caused viewers (including myself) to gasp and awe and burst into cheers multiple times during the roughly 7 minute display set to music.
There is some strategy that you need to employ in order to have a positive viewing experience. First, I recommend that you get yourself to Hogsmeade no later than 5 pm, as I noticed some people beginning to find their places to view this event by that time. If you are there on a weeknight, I don’t think you will find it necessary to line up that early, but that might be the case for a weekend. Since I had Express Passes, I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey twice in a row, and then rode Flight of the Hippogriff right after (one ride is inside the castle, and the other is right next to it). It was about 5:40 by then and the crowds were getting significant. I asked a cast member for the best viewing location for the light show, and he said it was in the Hogsmeade village, right next to the key chain kiosk. I judged by the growing crowd size that I’d have a hard time reaching that area, so I just stayed put at my location, halfway between the Hippogriff ride and the archway back into Hogsmeade. It’s also a pretty good location, if you ask me!
I tried to watch this display for a second time on our second night, taking the Hogwarts Express from the other park back over to Hogsmeade. It drops you off at the front entrance to the village, which is still a fair walk from the castle, and at this location you are not yet able to see the castle. When we arrived at 5:50 pm the crowd size was so huge that it wasn’t even possible to walk to a closer location to view the event. So let that be your warning: get yourself close to the castle early on! And as you can see by the photos, it is worth whatever hassle you may have to endure. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, and I know that’s a strong statement to make, but I mean it!!!
For all the Harry Potter fans reading this, do note that Diagon Alley over at Universal Studios Florida is also decked out for the holidays and snow falls there from time to time throughout the day, and you can also listen to some fun holiday song and dance routines that entertainers perform. But the crown jewel is the lighting of Hogwarts, for sure.
2. Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s
At Universal Studios Florida, there is a evening parade at 5:00 or 5:30 (depends on the day, so check your info map!) and it runs down the streets of New York City and features Macy’s balloons!
I am a faithful Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade viewer, so getting to see some of these fantastic balloons up close and personal made me absolutely giddy! I can cross getting to see this type of parade off my bucket list now because Universal Studios made it happen for me on the streets of New York!
The floats were also top notch. This parade lasts about 30 minutes and is so very much worth your time! Santa is on the last float (just like the Macy’s parade!) and he lights the huge Christmas tree in the area with his magic and makes it snow, so be sure to stay for the very end! Hopefully you have at least 2 days in the park because it is tough to see this parade and to get a good viewing spot for the Hogwarts castle lighting all in the same night (based on my experience).
3. All Things Dr. Seuss
Seuss Landing is an entire section of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and my whole family just loved it! The style of everything in this area is totally Seuss-like which makes it so whimsical and fun even on its own. But the holiday decorations are also over-the-top here, and very worthy of your time to just bask in and enjoy! You can feel like an honorary Who of Whoville, and you know those Whos LOVE Christmas!
Be sure to note the scheduled show times for the live performance of Grinchmas, which is a condensed retelling of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The show takes place on one of Universal’s stages behind the park, which makes it a 6 minute walk (you are directed by cast members to make it easy). I mention this because you really need to be there by 10 minutes before the scheduled show time in order to get a seat (and if you are there during a higher crowd time, I’d suggest getting there sooner). I was extremely impressed with the performers in the production, with the makeup (those Who noses were PERFECT!), the costumes, the fantastic singing, and the set design. It was magical and gave me all the great Christmas feels! Don’t miss this one!
There are many more things in these 2 parks that are special and magical just for the holidays, but these were our family’s very favorites. I hope you enjoy your holiday visit to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure! Let me know what you enjoy the most or if you have any questions I might be able to help answer!