While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and other seasonal entertainment at Walt Disney World seem to get the lion’s share of publicity this time of year, visitors to Orlando shouldn’t overlook Universal Orlando‘s holiday offerings. Universal Orlando holidays might not have quite the nostalgic lure of Mickey’s merrymaking, but Universal’s options are every bit as expertly produced, and have the benefit of all being included with regular park admission (unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at the Magic Kingdom).
Universal Orlando’s holiday lineup, which kicks off the first weekend each December (unlike Disney, which starts Christmas almost before Halloween is over) and continues through the Saturday after New Year’s Eve, consists of two main components, described in detail below.
You’ll find Christmas decor throughout Islands of Adventure‘s Port of Entry, and more modest ornamentation elsewhere in the park (the decor in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is disappointingly restrained), but the epicenter of the holiday at IoA is obviously Seuss Landing. The star, naturally, is the Grinch, the iconic icky green grump who famously stole Christmas from the Whos, only to return it when his undersized heart finally grew.
The Grinch is normally represented in the park by a walk-around representation of the cartoon character, but during Grinchmas a speaking actor wearing professional prosthetics impersonates Jim Carrey’s live-action film incarnation. The Grinch meets & greets guests during the days inside the All The Books You Can Read store; he takes time to interact before each photograph, usually to hilarious effect, which results in a very slow-moving line. If meeting the Grinch is a priority, make this your first stop in the morning.
In addition to greeting guests, the Grinch stars in his own Grinchmas Who-Liday Spectacular, a half-hour musical performed 6 to 8 times each day inside a soundstage located behind the Circus McGurkus Cafe. The show, which blends the original book and cartoon with elements from the Carrey flick and musical accompaniment arranged by Chip Davis of Mannheim Steamroller, is a must-see for Grinch fans. It features a first-rate cast (some of whom have appeared on Broadway), expansive set, and even an appearance by a live canine as the Grinch’s faithful pet Max.
Here is a complete video of the show from 2013:
Showtimes are listed in the park map, and typically begin between 10:45 a.m. and noon, and continue until around 6 p.m. Line up near the One Fish Two Fish ride a minimum of 20 minutes before showtime, as performances will sell out early on busy days. You will be directed to a seat once inside, but the venue is shallow enough that even the back row has an acceptable view.
Macy’s Holiday Parade
Universal Studios Florida has been bringing Macy’s Holiday Parade down to Orlando for a post-Thanksgiving encore every December for over a decade. While the largest balloons you’ve seen sailing through Manhattan on television can’t make it down the narrower streets of Universal Studios, several of the smaller ones are paraded through both productions, and more of the classic king-sized inflatables (like Garfield and Grover) can be seen on stationary display around the park.
The newest star of the Macy’s Holiday Parade for 2013 is the Happy Purple Hippo (complete with pink toenails), a throwback to the 1940s that was recreated by Macy’s Parade Design team at the express request of Universal show director Lora Wallace. The hippo is the centerpiece of a pre-show dance routine that can be seen outside the Esoteric Gate (near the Horror Makeup Show) approximately 45 minutes before each parade.
The Macy’s Holiday Parade proper steps off each evening at 5 p.m. (subject to change, check the show schedule in your park map) near the Horror Makeup Show; continues down Hollywood Boulevard towards the park entrance; travels past Despicable Me and Shrek towards New York; and then turns near the Revenge of the Mummy and again past Transformers, exiting through the gate it originally entered.
Here is a complete video of the 2013 parade, shot from in front of the Macy’s facade in the New York area:
You can get a good view of the parade from anywhere along the route. Ideal viewing spots are near Mel’s Drive-In at the beginning of the route, and near the large tree in New York toward the end.
If you really way to get in on the act, you can volunteer to participate in the parade as a float rider for free. Sign up is held daily in front of the inflatable teddy bear outside the E.T. Adventure. Up to 88 spots are available for guests each day, and you’ll have to sign a waiver to participate.
In addition to the parade, Universal Studios Florida’s Music Plaza Stage hosts live concerts by Mannheim Steamroller on select nights. Their remaining performances of 2013 are at 6 p.m. on December 14, 15, 21, and 22 (Saturdays and Sundays). These shows can be popular, so arrive early if you want a close-up view. Otherwise, swing by to hear the award-winning Vox Audio (performing as The MistleTones) sing swinging a cappella versions of classic carols.