Islands of Adventure trip report – December 2013 (Grinchmas, Wholiday Spectacular, Seuss Trolley + CityWalk updates)

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I visited Islands of Adventure (IOA) this past weekend for the opening of the 2013 holiday season, and as always, I truly enjoyed this thrilling and entertaining park. But before we talk about IOA, let’s check out a few things happening outside of the parks.

 

Parking rotunda & CityWalk

As I entered the rotunda from the parking garage, I was fascinated by the huge, new American Express interactive screen, capturing everyone’s attention by projecting images of guests into different scenes. I have a photo below, then you can also see this brief video a guest posted on Google+.

Universal CityWalk - December 2013.
Universal CityWalk – December 2013.

[wptouch target=”non-mobile”]Remember, you can click any image to view it full-screen. And don’t miss the complete photo gallery with 50 new full-screen images at the bottom of the post.
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Entering CityWalk, I noticed the former Endangered Species area, rumored to be the new location for Starbucks, was still very much under construction. In addition, the former Latin Quarter has transformed into an impressively large frontage for a new restaurant, rumored to serve Spanish tapas.

Universal CityWalk - December 2013.
Universal CityWalk – December 2013.
Universal CityWalk - December 2013.
Universal CityWalk – December 2013.

Universal Orlando has a press conference scheduled for Thursday regarding CityWalk, in which they plan to announce up to five new venues set to open in 2014. Hopefully we will be provided more details about the rumored and known changes to the popular nightlife, shops, and restaurant areas of CityWalk. (Expect a full report in Friday’s Rumor Round-Up on Orlando Informer.)

Since my last trip report, Red Oven Pizza Bakery opened to the public, and with the positive reviews, I decided to try the new restaurant for dinner.

Universal CityWalk - December 2013.
Universal CityWalk – December 2013.

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It was very good pizza — easily the best Universal has to offer at CityWalk and the parks. It’s also a good deal as far as theme park prices go: two hungry adults can get their fill of artisan, made-to-order pizza and two drinks for less than $20 (including tax, no tip necessary).

But take heed, the pizza only comes in the 12 inch size — no sales by the slice. While Red Oven happily offers takeaway boxes, do you really want to carry that around all day? Best to plan on eating all the pizza, or getting it on your way out of the parks.

 

Islands of Adventure

The holidays are in full swing at Orlando’s theme parks, and IOA is well known for its celebrations. Decorations adorn the buildings and shops, although they are subtle in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even though it is fun to browse throughout the year, the Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe was enjoyable to explore this trip. Grinch related items can be purchased along with decorations and personalized ornaments for friends and family.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

Entering Seuss Landing, I was struck by the overall change in appearance with the holiday decorations, including gaily decorated trees, festive garland, and whimsical bows found throughout this section of the park.

The Zax by-pass and the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train ride are both open, after being closed for refurbishment last month.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

I took a ride on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride this visit. After walking through the quirky queue, telling the story of the Sneetches, I boarded the train.

The rhyming narrator told the ABC’s of Seuss Landing while we rode along the tracks elevated above the park. The views of Seuss Landing and the rest of IOA are fantastic from this ride.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

The other train track, which I did not experience this visit, goes through Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-pendous and tells the story of the Sneetches.

After completing the ride, guests exit through the mouth-watering Snookers and Snookers Sweet Candy Cookers shop — the best smelling ride exit in the park! Although this attraction lasted less than four minutes, it was very enjoyable, enabling guests to see aspects of Seuss Landing that were only visible from above. Even though the minimum height requirement for riders was increased this past summer from 36 inches to 40 inches, the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride is an attraction most families will enjoy.

Getting back into the spirit of Grinchmas at Seuss Landing, this year’s Wholiday Spectacular show was wonderful. I was lucky enough to sit near the stage, on the right side of the theater. This is where guests can get the best view of Max the dog, which I learned in Orlando Informer’s 2013 guide to the holidays at Universal.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

The very talented Narrator, the Whos, the Grinch, and Max the dog performed an outstanding, funny, and entertaining show. The Grinch and Who’s makeup was superb, and the stage set was done well. As always, the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular is a “must do” this holiday season.

In between performances of the Wholiday Spectacular show, guests can meet and have their photograph taken with the Grinch in the All The Books You Can Read store. This Grinch is modeled after the movie version starring Jim Carrey, and he fully interacts with guests. (This is in contrast to the “classic” Grinch meet-and-greet character who fills the role the other 11 months of the year. Who characters in full makeup and costume were also walking around interacting with guests and posing for photos throughout Seuss Landing.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
"Classic" Grinch meet-and-greet character.
“Classic” Grinch meet-and-greet character.
Grinch character during Grinchmas.
“Jim Carrey” Grinch character during Grinchmas.

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Construction continues around IOA, including the Old Arctic Express area at Port of Entry and Hogsmeade Station.

The construction in Port of Entry, rumored to be a new Starbucks, seems to have been put on hold or moving very slowly; there has been no visible change since late summer.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

On the other hand, the progress of Hogsmeade Station — near the main entrance to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — is clearly visible above, with brick being laid on the outside of the station. It is with immense anticipation and some impatience that I await the opening of this one-of-a-kind Hogwarts Express train ride between Kings Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station.

In Jurassic Park, construction walls surround the Bone Chillin’ Beverages kiosk near the splash area of Jurassic Park River Adventure.

Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure - 2013 holidays.
Islands of Adventure – 2013 holidays.

The refurbishment area in front of the entrance to Photo Funnies in Toon Lagoon, which we report last month, is completed and the walls are gone.

The crowd levels were moderate to low this visit to IOA with wait times for most attractions under 30 minutes. The weather was ideal with temperatures in the 80’s, a little warm even for Florida in the month of December.

IOA has so much to offer guests year round, but the holiday season is truly a special time to visit, especially with the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular in Seuss Landing. I hope you can plan a trip to Islands of Adventure that includes a visit during the holiday season, designed to create some extraordinary memories for you and your family.

 

To plan your December visit to Universal Orlando, see the Complete 2013 guide to the holidays in the OI Universal Center. Or you can catch up on all our trip reports.


2013 holidays at Islands of Adventure – photo gallery

Click any image to view it full-screen. When the full-screen image is open, click to the right or use the right arrow on your keyboard to advance through the gallery.

 

[sws_author_bio user=”MaureenDeal” size=”105″ authorposts=”More OI posts by Maureen” name_format=”About the author”] [/sws_author_bio]

Maureen Maureen is married with a teenage son who has autism. Since she and her family moved to Orlando in 2007, they have visited Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, or SeaWorld almost every weekend. Maureen recently created AutismAtTheParks.com to help vacationers who have a family member with a developmental disability to better navigate and enjoy the theme parks.

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3 Comments on "Islands of Adventure trip report – December 2013 (Grinchmas, Wholiday Spectacular, Seuss Trolley + CityWalk updates)"

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Lisa Cosgrove
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Love Maureen’s trip reports 🙂

julie y
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Another great trip report-thank you Maureen. x

iamdollie
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So enjoy your excellent photos and descriptions, Maureen!

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