OI Center
Home OI Universal Center Annual events at Universal Orlando – complete insider’s guide Celebrate the Holidays at Universal Orlando – 2016 insider’s guide

Celebrate the Holidays at Universal Orlando – 2016 insider’s guide

The 2016 holiday season is almost here, and Universal invites you to start “untraditional” holiday traditions at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

This year’s festivities kick off on December 3 and run until January 1, 2017.

Got it? Good!

Now let’s explore all of the joy to be found at Universal Orlando this holiday season. We’ll start with this overview page, covering everything at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s on-site hotels. Then we provide two additional pages with greater detail about the Macy’s Holiday Parade and the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular.

Universal Studios Florida

Macy’s Holiday Parade

The big event at Universal Studios Florida is the Macy’s Holiday Parade. Many of the actual props and balloons used in the New York Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are shipped down to Universal Orlando for this event. The Macy’s Holiday Parade is notable too because this parade runs every evening at 5:00pm or 8:00pm depending on park hours.

Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida
Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida
Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida
Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida

For many of us, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a TV tradition this time of year. But most of us will never see it in person…or will we? Once the legendary New York City parade ends, many of its breathtaking balloons and floats are sent straight to us, for Universal Studios Florida’s very own holiday spectacular featuring marching bands, clowns, and an appearance from Santa himself! Afterwards, enjoy the spectacular tree lighting ceremony with music and a dazzling display of lights!

To learn more about the parade, including where the best spot is to watch it and how to become a balloon handler, visit our dedicated page for the Macy’s Holiday Parade 2016.

Mannheim Steamroller holiday concerts

Mannheim Steamroller, the biggest selling Christmas artist of all time, returns to the Universal Music Plaza stage for the 2016 holiday season! Whether you’re a longtime fan or just discovering their enchanting orchestral sounds for the first time, this is a holiday experience the makes the season shine like nothing else – and best of all, the performances are included with regular admission to Universal Studios Florida.

Mannheim Steamroller live at Universal Studios Florida.
Mannheim Steamroller live at Universal Studios Florida.
Mannheim Steamroller live at Universal Studios Florida.
Mannheim Steamroller live at Universal Studios Florida.

This is one of our favorite traditions, and we hope you get a chance to experience it. Mannheim Steamroller will be live in concert on the following dates: December 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18. Performances begin at 7:00pm (note: one hour later than previous years), run about an hour in length, and are truly a delight for all ages. For those who may not get a chance to visit the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Islands of Adventure, a few selections of that production are also part of the Mannheim Steamroller show.

Concerts at the Universal Music Plaza are always first come, first served (there are no reserved seating areas except for an ADA  section). If it’s really important for you to get a spot up close, you may want to consider skipping the Macy’s Holiday Parade and getting in place by 5:00pm. Otherwise, if you don’t mind standing, you should be able to get a decent spot if you hurry over to the plaza right after the parade finishes.

Here is a highlight video to get you in the spirit of the event:

Additional holiday celebrations at Universal Studios Florida

A Barney Holiday

Join Barney and his friends for a magical sing-along, clap-along show at A Day In The Park With Barney. This show runs multiple times each day — check your in-park guide map for times.

The Blues Brothers Holiday Show

Jake and Elwood perform festive favorites like “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”, “Blue Christmas”, and more with snow on Delancey Street at the end of each show. The holiday edition of the Blues Brothers street party is a fan-favorite and should not be missed – even folks not familiar with the band will surely love this one! The performances are scheduled multiple times each day, check your in-park guidemap for times.

The Blues Brothers Holiday Show at Universal Studios Florida
The Blues Brothers Holiday Show at Universal Studios Florida
The Blues Brothers Holiday Show at Universal Studios Florida
The Blues Brothers Holiday Show at Universal Studios Florida

Superstar Parade & Cinematic Spectacular

Many guests are concerned that some of the regular entertainment at Universal Studios Florida may be closed due to the addition of the holiday festivities. Here’s the scoop:

If Universal follows last year’s pattern, the Superstar Parade will not run for most of December because of the Macy’s Holiday Parade running at 5:00pm. However, starting December 19, when the Macy’s Parade begins at 8:00pm, the Superstar Parade should run again at its usual time of 5:00pm.

The Cinematic Spectacular lagoon show will run most nights in December and January, generally at park closing time (always double-check your in-park guidemap for that day’s exact time). If you’d like, you can see the operating hours for Universal Studios Florida on our FREE 12-month Universal crowd calendar.

All the other attractions at Universal Studios Florida should remain open and in regular operation until park closing time, despite any parades or concerts that may be happening. Hint: if you’re not to be interested in the holiday parades or concerts, that’s usually a great time to find shorter lines at the rides!

Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida
Diagon Alley, looking rather dapper.

For those curious about Diagon Alley, like the rest of the attractions at Universal Studios Florida, the new land should be open and running during the park’s scheduled hours of operation. However, we do want to bring to your attention that during the second half of December, USF is going to be very busy, and here are the three most important things you need to know:

  • First, if at all possible, use Early Park Admission and arrive at the USF turnstiles by 6:15am (with EPA starting at 7:00am) for the best chance at experiencing Escape from Gringotts with minimal waiting. Visit our guide to learn more
  • Second, it’s possible that the Wizarding World return ticket system will be used in the late morning and early afternoon at Hogsmeade and possibly Diagon Alley. Visit our guide to learn more
  • Finally, just to answer a common question, there are no special holiday activities anywhere in the Wizarding World – only a few subtle decorations can be found. (We know, the books and movies celebrate the season, so why doesn’t the Wizarding World at Universal? It just isn’t part of the current celebrations, but perhaps in the future.)
  • For more free planning advice about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, visit our Insider’s guide. Have questions? We have answers in our Facebook community.

Islands of Adventure

Grinchmas at Seuss Landing

As you likely know, Universal’s Islands of Adventure has a whole island dedicated to the classic children’s author Dr. Seuss: Seuss Landing! So we ask…

What is Grinchmas? Think warm fuzzies with a side of snark

When the holiday season hits full swing, Universal’s Islands of Adventure transforms its Seuss Landing area into the whimsical world of Grinchmas. Be sure to explore every nook and cranny of this wintry wonderland, as it’s filled with special touches Dr. Seuss fans are sure to adore.

Grinchmas decorations at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Grinchmas decorations at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Along with the traditional holiday decorations you’re expecting, Seuss Landing is filled with a cast of Who-ville Who residents. A dozen of these joyful characters can usually be found at anytime as they interact with themselves and guests, spreading their unique version of holiday cheer.

Wherever you discover the Whos as you walk around Seuss Landing, feel free to introduce yourself and join in their antics.

The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Whos of Who-Ville at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Last but certainly not least, the Grinch himself can also be found at Seuss Landing. He is positively one of the very best characters Universal has, and trust us, he can’t wait to meet you! Because the Grinch is so devilishly popular, he has his own photo op in the Seuss Landing bookstore with scheduled time — check your in-park guide map for details.

All of the characters you meet in Seuss Landing, including the Grinch, are the same ones who perform the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular stage show (details about the show coming up). Because of this, you can expect excellent theatrics on and off the stage!

Here’s a video of some of the sights around Grinchmas at Seuss Landing:

Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular

In addition to the frantic fun to be found in the streets of Seuss Landing, Grinchmas also includes a seasonal stage production called the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular: a half-hour live performance telling the story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Universal's Islands of Adventure
Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Visit our dedicated page to the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular to view our tips and photo gallery (a link can also be found at the bottom of this page).

The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast

Want to get more up close and personal with your favorite Dr. Seuss characters? Start the day with The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast in Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, a circus-themed eatery where strange creatures perform and acrobats twirl high overhead.

Dig into a delicious buffet breakfast with waffles, Green Eggs, Ham Sliders, French Toast, and more, hosted by the maven of mischief from Mt. Crumpit himself, The Grinch. Tickets and reservations are required to attend, so make sure you book ahead of time.

2016 dates & times
December 3-4, 8-11, 15-18, 21-25
8:00am, 8:30am, 9:00am, 9:30am, 10:00am

Prices
Adult: $34.99
Child: $20.99 (ages 9 and under)

Ticket can be purchased online – just be sure to call 407-224-7554 after you make the purchase to confirm your reservation date and time.

No word on 2016 yet, but last year Annual Passholders could receive a discount (premier – 15%, preferred 10%) on the first two weeks.

The Grinch at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The Grinch at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The character meals at Universal Orlando are well regarded because of the relatively small number of guests who attend each meal, which gives the characters plenty of time to interact with each and every person. If your family includes Grinch fans, this event is highly recommend.

Important reminder: because the Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast is set inside Islands of Adventure, theme park admission is required.

Meeting Santa at Universal Orlando

Many guests ask the question, “Where can we meet Santa at Universal Studios?” It’s a great question, because the answer is not obvious.

Unfortunately, there are no Santa meet-and-greets inside Universal’s theme parks or at Universal CityWalk. You can see Santa in the Macy’s Holiday Parade, as he appears in the photo below, but you will not be able to get a photo with your child on his lap.

Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida.
Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios Florida.

Instead, the only Santa meet-and-greets at Universal Orlando happen at Universal’s on-site hotels. You can learn more about the festivities at the on-site hotels and when Santa will make appearances below.

Christmas Day dining and Holiday events at the Universal on-site hotels

Portofino Bay Hotel

Hanukkah Candle Lighting Ceremony
Nightly on December 24 – January 1, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony. The ceremony begins at sundown, check with the front desk for nightly times.

Hanukkah Candle Lighting Ceremony at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Hanukkah Candle Lighting Ceremony at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Holiday Arts and Crafts and Movies
Every day from noon to 6pm December 19 – January 1, visit the lobby for holiday arts and crafts. In addition, holiday movies will be playing!

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Clause
Nightly from 6pm to 9pm December 19 – 24, you can meet Mr. and Mrs. Clause in the Portofino Harbor. Look for them in front of the giant Christmas tree. As an added bonus, on December 19 – December 23, professional photographers will be on hand. (Can you think of a more beautiful setting?)

Strolling Holiday Carolers
Nightly from 7pm to 9:30pm December 19 – 25, enjoy strolling carolers throughout Portofino Bay.

Strolling A Capella Singers
Nightly from 7pm to 9:30pm December 26 – 30, enjoy a capella singers throughout Portofino Bay.

Seasonal Beverage and Cookies
Nightly from 3pm to 6pm, enjoy special holiday beverages and cookies in the hotel lobby.

Of course, expect the usual offerings at Portofino to have an extra holiday spirit! Musica Della Notte will take place nightly at the harbor from 6:30 – 6:50. Dive-in movies will take place at sunset at the pool.

Christmas Day Buffet in Trattoria del Porto 

A Christmas Day Portofino-style buffet will be served from 11:00am to 7:00pm featuring cold appetizers, domestic & imported cheeses, smoked salmon, fruit, pasta, seafood, soup, salads, omelets, risotto, carving stations, and more. (Click here for the full menu.) Entertainment will include Universal characters, children’s holiday craft and activity table, face painter and balloon twister.

For reservations, call 407-503-DINE (3463) or book online.

Adults: $64
Children (ages 3 – 9): $18

Holiday Harbor Nights at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Holiday Harbor Nights at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Holiday Harbor Nights

At this annual Portofino Bay tradition, enjoy holiday music and a wine tasting all centered around a beautiful Christmas tree in the Portofino Bay harbor. The 2016 Holiday Harbor Nights will take place on Friday, November 25 from 6:30pm to 9pm. Regular admission is $53.25 ($55 at door), VIP admission is $90.53.

Holiday Harbor Nights at Portofino Bay is for adults 21 and over. To book, call 407-503-DINE (3463) or book online.

Hard Rock Hotel

You’ll be able to have a rocking holiday celebration at Hard Rock Hotel with:

  • Hanukkah Celebration
    • December 24 – January 1 at 6:30pm
  • Cookie Decorating
    • November 25 from 4pm to 5:30pm
  • Hard Rock’s Tree Lighting Ceremony
    • November 25 at 6:30pm
    • The Grinch movie will be shown immediately afterwards.
  • Holiday Movie Screenings
  • Visits from Santa
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando decorated for the holidays
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando decorated for the holidays

Wine Riffs

On Friday, December 2 at 7pm come experience one winery tell their stories as you indulge in the culinary pairings from Hard Rock chefs, and feel the emotions of the music soundtracks that tie them all together. Join Hard Rock for an evening exploring the relationship between wine, food, and music.

Five Course Dinner and Pairings: $150 (tax & gratuity not included)

To make reservations and for more information, please call 407 503 2405 or email mford@loewshotels.com.

Velvet Unplugged

On Friday, December 9 at 7:30pm enjoy a laid back acoustic show featuring Tall Heights in the heart of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando. You can reserve a table for two or four or come and hang— they have plenty of standing room.

$60 for a table of 4 | $40 for a table of 2
Reserve now

Hard Rock Hotel lobby at Universal Orlando decorated for the holidays
Hard Rock Hotel lobby at Universal Orlando decorated for the holidays

The Kitchen Christmas Eve and Day offerings

On Christmas Eve (5pm – 10pm) and Day (5pm – 11pm), a special dinner will be offered. Guests can choose one soup or salad, one entree, and one dessert. Click here to view the full menu.

For reservations, call 407-503-DINE (3463) or book online

Christmas Eve: $48 | Christmas Day: $45

Also on Christmas Day, a rockin’ brunch will be offered from 10:30am to 4pm at The Kitchen restaurant. Options include appetizers like cured salmon and imported cheeses, salads, a cold table with yogurts and fresh fruits, chef carved items like New York Roast Sirloin, and sides like mash potatoes. You can see the full menu here.

For reservations, call 407-503-DINE (3463) or book online

Adults: $49 | Children (3-9): $16 | Under 3: Complimentary

Royal Pacific Resort

You’ll be able to enjoy the spirit of the holidays islands-style at Royal Pacific Resort with:

  • Hanukkah Celebration
    • December 24 – January at Sundown (Check with front desk for nightly times)
  • Torch Lighting Ceremony
    • Fridays and Saturdays at 6:15pm
  • Ornament & Stocking Decorating
    • December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24 from 5pm to 9pm
  • Cookie Decorating
    • December 24 from 3pm to 5pm
  • Storytelling and Milk & Cookie Decorating
    • December 24 from 4pm to 5pm
Christmas Tree at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Christmas Tree at Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Tree Lighting Ceremony

On November 25 at 6pm, come celebrate and witness Royal Pacific illuminate the grand tree in the hotel lobby for the first time! There will be live entertainment, holiday tunes and an island dancer as well as ornament decorating. They will also have hot chocolate, apple cider and cookies for everyone to enjoy.

Jake’s Beer Dinner

On December 9 at 6:30pm, indulge in a four-course meal prepared by Royal Pacific award-winning chefs. Each course is expertly paired with craft and specialty beers.

Adults: $55
Reserve now

Islands Dining Room
Dine in a tropical paradise on Christmas Day from 11:00am to 9:00pm for a holiday buffet featuring salads and cheese, jumbo shrimp, japanese sushi rolls, stir fry, omelets, waffles, Citrus and Rosemary Brined Turkey with Cranberry Walnut Stuffing, an array of pastries, and more. (Full menu here.) Entertainment will include Universal characters, a musician, hula dancer, face painter, and balloonist.

For reservations, call 407-503-DINE (3463) or book online

Adults: $58 (Upgrade to all you care to drink Mimosas & Bloody Mary’s for $12 more.)
Children (ages 3 – 9): $26
Children under 3: Complimentary

Sapphire Falls Resort

Hotel Lobby in Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando Resort
Hotel Lobby in Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando Resort

This year, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort will be joining in on the holiday festivities! Activities will include:

  • Hanukkah Celebration
    • December 24 – January 1 at sundown (check with front desk for nightly times)
  • Sunset Ceremonies featuring a street performer, mime, and juggler
    • Fridays & Saturdays at 6:15pm
  • Ornament & Stocking Decorating
    • December 17, 18, and 24 from 5pm to 9pm
  • Storytelling and Milk & Cookie Decorating
    • December 24 from 4pm to 5pm
  • Holiday themed Dive-in Movies

Tree Lighting Ceremony

On November 25 at 6pm celebrate and witness Sapphire Falls illuminate the grand tree in the hotel lobby for the first time ever! There will be a steel drummer playing holiday tunes with island flair and ornament decorating. Additionally, hot chocolate, apple cider, and cookies will be on hand for everyone to enjoy!

Amatista Cookhouse at Loews Sapphire Falls at Universal Orlando
Amatista Cookhouse at Loews Sapphire Falls at Universal Orlando

Amatista Cookhouse

On Christmas day from 7am to 12pm, enjoy a special breakfast buffet at Amatista Cookhouse!

Adults: $21.99
Children (3-9): $11.99
Under 3: Complimentary
Reserve now or call 407-503-DINE (3463).

On Christmas day from 11am to 9pm, enjoy a special Christmas Day feast at Amatista Cookhouse! There’ll also be face painters, balloonists, and Universal Orlando characters.

Adults: $58
Children (3-9): $24
Under 3: Complimentary
Reserve now or call 407-503-DINE (3463).

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

At Cabana Bay Beach Resort you’ll be able to travel back to the 1950s and 60s and enjoy:

  • Hanukkah Celebration
    • December 24 – January 1 at sundown (check with front desk for nightly times)
  • Meet & Greet with Santa
    • Saturdays: December 3, 10, 17, 24 from 6pm to 7pm
  • Meet & Greet with Elves
    • Sundays in December and Christmas Day
  • Kid Choirs
    • December 1, 8, 15, 24 beginning at 6pm
  • Free Hot Chocolate & Cookies
  • Special Character Appearances
  • Holiday themed Dive-in Movies
  • Holiday Arts and Crafts

Tree Lighting Ceremony

On November 25 from 6:30pm to 8pm, witness the Cabana Bay Christmas tree be lit in the lobby. There’ll be live entertainment in the Swizzle Lounge, a special guest to light the tree, face painters, meet and greets with Santa and other Universal Orlando characters. There’ll even be hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies for the kids.

Elves at Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando
Elves at Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando

Bayliner Diner

On Christmas day, there’ll be holiday movies playing in the Fun in the Sun recreation center all day. In addition, there’ll be arts and crafts, milk and holiday cookies, and more. A special holiday menu will be available at Bayliner Diner. The menu includes turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry compote, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams and biscuits.

Adults: $16.99
Children (3-9): $8.99
Under 3: Complimentary
Reservations are not required.

What about the parks and Universal CityWalk?

The restaurants at the parks and Universal CityWalk offer an incredible variety of wonderful food, but other than the Grinch & Friends Breakfast mentioned earlier on this page, they don’t typically have buffets or special events for the holidays. Instead, they tend to offer a few holiday-themed items in addition to their regular menus. To learn what they may be offering this year (and to possibly book a table), visit our Dining Reservations page for contact information.

This wraps up our overview of the 2016 holiday festivities at Universal Orlando. Be sure to check out the navigation links below to continue planning your visit.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from your friends at Orlando Informer!