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Universal Orlando celebrates the holiday season every year from the first Friday of December, through the Saturday after New Years. While Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 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 is spread across both theme parks, consists of two main components:
Holidays at Universal Studios Florida and the Macy's Holiday Parade
USF's Christmas festivities feature seasonal decoration on the front archway and throughout the park, holiday songs broadcasting from speakers in the streets, and a giant tree that is ceremoniously lit every evening at dusk. Several park attractions, such as the Blues Brothers and Barney shows, get into the spirit with special versions tied to the season. But the star of the Holidays at Universal Studios is undoubtedly the 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.
Since 2013, the biggest star of the Macy’s Holiday Parade (behind Santa, of course) 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.
You can get a good view of the parade from anywhere along the route, but 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. Reserved viewing areas are marked on the park map for guests with disabilities (in front of Macy's in New York), for Annual Passholders (near Mel's Drive-In), and for young "Little Stars" and their families (near Terminator 2: 3-D).
If you've always fantasized about guiding a giant inflatable animal down 5th Avenue, you can volunteer to participate in the parade as a balloon handler for free. Volunteers must be 18 years or older, at least 48” tall and 125 lbs., English-speaking, and able to walk the mile-long route for up to an hour. Sign up is held daily two hours before parade start in KidZone near the E.T. Adventure. A limited number 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. The usually perform their amped-up Christmas classics on the first two Saturdays and Sundays of the season. These shows can be popular, so arrive at least 45 early if you want a close-up view.
Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure
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 masked representation of the cartoon character, but during Grinchmas a speaking actor wearing professional prosthetic makeup impersonates Jim Carrey's live-action film incarnation. The Grinch meets and 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.
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 30-45 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.
The Grinch character breakfast is held in Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous on select mornings during December. It costs $35 for adults, $21 for kids 9 and under. Theme park admission is required; see Character Dining on our Universal Dining page for more information.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on October 24, 2016