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Celebrate the Holidays at Universal Orlando – 2017 insider’s guide

The 2017 holiday season is nearly here, and Universal is already inviting you to start “untraditional” holiday traditions at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

This year’s festivities kick off earlier – and last longer – than ever before: from Saturday, November 18, 2017 to Saturday, January 6, 2018.

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 the Holidays celebration at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure and everything going on at Universal’s on-site hotels. Then we provide three additional pages with greater detail about Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s, the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, and the brand-new Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s

The big event at Universal Studios Florida (well, outside of the Wizarding World, at least) is Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s. Formerly called the Macy’s Parade, many of the actual props and balloons used in the New York Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are still shipped down to Universal Orlando; now, however, they’re joined by characters from such popular Universal properties as Minions, Shrek, and Madagascar. In total, expect to see over a dozen new balloons and 15 “incredibly detailed” floats for this year, including one dedicated to the man of the hour himself, Santa Claus.

Universal’s Holiday Parade is notable, too, because it runs every evening at 5:00 pm or 8:00 pm, 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

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 Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s 2017.

Mannheim Steamroller holiday concerts

Mannheim Steamroller, the biggest-selling Christmas artist of all time, returns to the Universal Music Plaza stage for the 2017 holiday season. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just discovering their enchanting orchestral sounds for the first time, this is a holiday experience that makes the season shine like nothing else – and, best of all, the performances are included with regular admission to the park.

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. Performances begin at 7:00 pm, 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-serve (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 Universal’s Holiday Parade and getting in place by 5:00 pm. 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.

2017 dates
Nov. 18, 19, 25, 26, Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17

Here is a highlight video to get you into 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 guide map 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

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 Universal’s Holiday Parade starting at 5:00 pm. However, later on in the season, when the parade begins at 8:00 pm, the Superstar Parade should run again at its usual time of 5:00 pm.

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 interested in the holiday parades or concerts, that’s usually a great time to find shorter lines at the rides!

Islands of Adventure

Grinchmas at Seuss Landing

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

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

When the holiday season hits full swing, 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 any time 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 times — 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 in the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular stage show (more about which in just a moment). 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.

2017 dates and times
Nov. 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, Dec. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25; 8:00-10:00 am

Prices
Adult: $34.99
Child: $20.99 (ages nine 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 2017 yet, but last year, annual passholders could receive a discount (Premier – 15%, Preferred – 10%) during 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 Universal’s Holiday Parade, as he appears in the photo below from the Macy’s iteration, 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 an appearance in just a moment.

Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Due to popular demand, Universal will, for the first time ever, offer a full-blown Christmas party at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – in both Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida.

In addition to both lands being decked to the hilt with decorations, garlands, and Christmas lights, you can also expect to experience exclusive food and entertainment (including holiday songs by the Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck) – and, best of all, a state-of-the-art projection-mapping show, called The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts, which uses Hogwarts Castle as its canvas.

Just like Universal’s Holiday Parade or Grinchmas, the wizarding Christmas celebration will be included in general theme-park admission.

We easily expect this to be the busiest holiday season ever in Universal Orlando’s history. Be prepared for the crowds by visiting our dedicated page to Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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

Portofino Bay Hotel

Hanukkah Candle-Lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything 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
From December 20 through January 1 (noon to 6:00 pm), visit the lobby for holiday arts and crafts. In addition, holiday movies will be playing!

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Clause
From December 20 through 24 (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), you can meet Mr. and Mrs. Clause in the Harbor Piazza. Look for them in front of the giant Christmas tree. As an added bonus, during certain nights, professional photographers will be on hand. (Can you think of a more beautiful setting?)

Strolling Holiday Carolers
Enjoy strolling carolers throughout Portofino Bay from December 20 to 25, 6:55 pm to 9:30 pm.

Seasonal Beverages and Cookies
From December 9 to January 1 (3:00 pm to 6:00 pm), enjoy special holiday beverages and cookies in the hotel lobby.

Normal activities
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 pm. 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 11:00 am to 6:00 pm featuring cold appetizers, domestic and 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 Orlando characters, a children’s holiday craft and activity table, a face painter and balloonist, and live music.

Adult: $65 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $20.
See the menu.

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

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 picturesque Harbor Piazza. It takes place on November 24, from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Regular admission is $55; a VIP ticket is $90.

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

Hanukkah Candle-Lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Christmas Tree-Lighting Ceremony
From 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm on November 24, join a special guest who will illuminate Hard Rock’s massive tree in the lobby. Before the ceremony, there’ll be cookie decorating; afterwards, How the Grinch Stole Christmas will be screened.

Visits from Santa
If you dine at The Kitchen on December 1, 8, and 15 between the times of 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm, Mr. Claus will make a stop by your table and say Merry Christmas.

Holiday movie screenings
Nightly during select dates, catch a Christmas favorite in The Kitchen’s Kids’ Crib (6:00 pm to 10:00 pm – if parents are dining) or in the pool as part of Universal’s dive-in movies (7:00 pm).

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 8, 2017, come experience tales of wine making from Schramsberg Vineyards 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.

The five-course dinner and wine pairings cost $150.

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

Velvet Unplugged
On select dates, enjoy a laid-back acoustic show featuring Secondhand Serenade in the heart of 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.

Table of two: $40.00 | Table of four: $60.00.

For reservations, book online.

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 (6:00 pm to 10:00 pm) and Day (5:00 pm to 11:00 pm), 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.

Christmas Eve: $48 | Christmas Day: $46.
See the menu.

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

Also on Christmas Day, a rockin’ brunch will be offered from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm. Options include appetizers like cured salmon and imported cheeses, salads, a cold table with yogurts and fresh fruits, chef-carved items such as New York roast sirloin, and sides like mash potatoes. You can see the full menu here.

Adults: $58 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $20.

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

Royal Pacific Resort

Hanukkah Candle-Lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Christmas Tree-Lighting Ceremony
At 6:00 pm on November 25, guests can participate in the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony that’s held poolside. Live music, a hula dancer, and complimentary treats – including hot chocolate, hot cider, and cookies – will also be on-hand. Afterwards, there will be a special dive-in movie: The Polar Express.

Visit from Santa
On December 24 from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, Santa Claus will be making an appearance in the lobby area between Islands Dining Room and Jake’s American Bar.

Ornament and Stocking Decorating
On December 23 and 24, from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm, guests can decorate their own stockings and ornaments. The cost is $9 per person.

Holiday Storytelling
Enjoy some Christmas classics – and complimentary milk and cookies for kids – from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm on December 24 in Orchid Court. Children will also have the opportunity to decorate their cookies.

Christmas Tree at Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Christmas tree at Loews Royal Pacific Resort

Character Breakfast Buffet in Jake’s American Bar
Kick off your Christmas Day with a hearty holiday breakfast buffet from 7:00 am to noon.

Adults: $21.99 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $11.99.
Add-on all-you-can-drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys: $12.

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

Christmas Day Brunch in Islands Dining Room
Dine in a tropical paradise on Christmas Day from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm for a holiday buffet featuring salads and cheese, jumbo shrimp, 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 Orlando characters, a musician, hula dancer, face painter, and balloonist.

Adults: $56 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $24.
Add-on all-you-can-drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys: $12.
See the menu.

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

Sapphire Falls Resort

Hanukkah Candle-Lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Christmas Tree-Lighting Ceremony
At 6:00 pm on November 24, guests can participate in a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in the lobby. Additional festive activities include ornament and stocking decorating and complimentary hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and cookies.

Entertainment at Sapphire Falls Resort's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony
Entertainment at Sapphire Falls Resort’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony

Amatista Cookhouse Christmas Day offerings
Kick off your Christmas Day with a hearty holiday breakfast buffet from 7:00 am to 11:00 am.

Adults: $26.99 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $14.99.
Add-on all-you-can-drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys: $12.

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

From 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, a Christmas Day feast will be held. (Full menu here.) Entertainment includes Universal Orlando characters and a face painter and balloonist.

Adults: $56 | Children (ages 3 – 9): $24.
Add-on all-you-can-drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys: $12.
See the menu.

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

Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Hanukkah Candle-Lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays, visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Christmas Tree-Lighting Ceremony
At 5:30 pm on November 24, emcees and a musician will get the ceremony started in Cabana Bay’s lobby; the tree-lighting itself will be held at 6:30. Both before and after, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm, a Winter Wonderland will be held, which includes face painters and complimentary hot chocolate and cookies.

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

Visits from Santa’s Elves
At select times on December 3, 10, 17, 24, and 25, Santa’s merry elves will meet-and-greet with guests in the lobby. The big man himself may also pop in from time to time.

Holiday kids’ choir
At 6:00 pm on select dates, a special kids’ choir will be caroling in the lobby. There will be free hot cocoa and cookies to enjoy along with the performance, and they will even hand out vouchers for kids’ prices at Galaxy Bowl.

Holiday Arts and Crafts and Movies
On December 25, visit the TV lounge for holiday arts and crafts and complimentary milk and Christmas cookies. In addition, holiday movies will be playing!

Christmas Day feast
A special holiday menu will be available at Bayliner Diner, which includes a turkey- and ham-carving station, stuffing, cranberry compote, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, and biscuits.

Adults: $16.99| Children (ages 3 – 9): $7.99.
Add-on dessert: $3.

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 Christmas. 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 2017 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!