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Celebrate the Holidays at Universal Orlando – 2018 insider’s guide

The 2018 holiday season is almost here, and Universal is 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 17, 2018 to Sunday, January 6, 2019.

Got it? Good!

Now, let’s explore all of the joy to be found at Universal Orlando Resort 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.

Skip to: Universal Studios Florida | Islands of Adventure | Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Meeting Santa Claus | Holiday merchandise | On-site hotels | BONUS: The Bellhop Bar

 

Holidays at Universal – Universal Studios Florida

A goodly – and merry – number of Universal’s Holidays celebrations can be found right at Universal Studios Florida.

Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s

The Minions at Universal's Holiday Parade
The Minions at 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, this new production features characters from such popular Universal properties as Minions, Shrek, and Madagascar on 15 “incredibly detailed” floats, including one dedicated to the man of the hour himself, Santa Claus. And, yes, there are still Macy’s balloons, including a dozen made exclusively for the parade.

Universal’s Holiday Parade is notable, too, because it runs every evening between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, depending on park hours.

To learn more about the parade, including where the best spot is to watch it, visit our dedicated page for Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s 2018.

Mannheim Steamroller holiday concerts

Mannheim Steamroller, the biggest-selling Christmas artist of all time, returns to the Universal Music Plaza stage for the 2018 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.

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.

We don’t have 2018 showtimes just yet, so here are last year’s dates to help you give you an idea of what to expect:

2018 dates and times
7:00 pm – Nov. 17, 18, 24, 25, Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16

Additional holiday celebrations at Universal Studios Florida

Marilyn Monroe holiday show at Universal Studios Florida
Marilyn Monroe holiday show 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.

2018 dates and times
Nov. 17-30, Dec. 1 – 11:30 am, 12:45 pm, 2:00, 3:00, 4:15

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!

2018 dates and times
Nov. 17-30, Dec. 1 – 10:55 am, 12:00 pm, 12:55, 3:05, 4:20

Marilyn Monroe and the (Holiday) Diamond Bellas

In 2016, Universal debuted the Marilyn Monroe and the Diamond Bellas street show; the following year, the company decided to cast the fun little production in a Christmas light.

Although the same basic premise – Ms. Monroe and her girls arrive to “film” a musical routine for an upcoming picture – the yuletide-flavored version exchanges the USO bent of the original with (you guessed it) a holiday overlay. The Diamond Bella Dancers now have beautiful Santa-esque costumes that look stunning all in silver, and the second song has been replaced with the time-period-appropriate “Santa Baby.”

We highly recommend sticking around for the show if you manage to catch it while strolling through the park, as it’ll help put a holiday-tinged smile on your face for the rest of the day.

2018 dates and times
Nov. 17-30, Dec. 1 – 9:10 am, 10:10, 11:15, 1:15 pm, 2:45, 4:00

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:

The Superstar Parade doesn’t 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.

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!)

 

Holidays at Universal – Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure isn’t outdone by its theme-park sibling next door – here you can find some of the most fun Christmas activities and events.

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! When the holiday season hits full swing, the park transforms this area into the whimsical world of Grinchmas (think warm fuzzies with a side of snark).

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: along with the traditional holiday decorations you’re expecting, Seuss Landing is brimming with a cast of Who-ville Who residents. A dozen of these joyful characters can usually be found at any time as they interact among themselves and with 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.

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!

Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular

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

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.

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

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

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.

We don’t have 2018’s schedule just yet, so here are last year’s to help you give you an idea of what to expect:

2018 dates and times
8:00-10:00 am – Nov. 17, 18, 21-25, 30, Dec. 1, 2, 6-9, 13-16, 20, 23, 25

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

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

On select dates, annual passholders receive a discount (Premier – 15%, Preferred – 10%). The dates are as follows:

2017 annual passholder dates (2018 dates to be announced)
Nov. 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, Dec. 1, 2, 3

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.

 

Holidays at Universal – Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Due to popular demand, Universal now offers, for just the second time, 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 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 Castle, which uses the iconic building as its canvas (think of it as the yuletide version of The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle).

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

Given all this, we easily expect 2018 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.

 

Holidays at Universal – meeting Santa Claus

Santa Claus at Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's
Santa Claus at Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s

Many guests ask the question, “Where can we meet Santa at Universal Orlando?” 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 CityWalk. You can see Santa in Universal’s Holiday Parade, as he appears in the photo above, but you will not be able to get a photo with your child on his lap.

Instead, the only Santa meet-and-greets at the resort happen at Universal’s on-site hotels. You can learn more about the festivities here and when Santa will make an appearance in just a moment.

 

Holidays at Universal – merchandise at the theme parks

While Universal has long released exclusive merchandise as part of its holiday celebrations, the recently-expanded offerings (especially Christmas in the Wizarding World) have presented the company’s biggest chance yet to shine in this regard.

The items available for this year include Christmas tree ornaments and toppers ($9.95 to $29.95), cups ($16.95), shirts ($27.95), a Hogwarts house crest banner ($34.95), drawstring bags ($26.95), and bells ($16.95), among many others. We have a number of these offerings highlighted in our photo gallery:

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

In many ways, the various celebrations at the six on-site hotels, though small individually, are the collective heart of Universal Orlando’s Holidays celebrations.

Portofino Bay Hotel

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

Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony
Nightly during the holidays (specifically, Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10 for this year), visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Holiday arts and crafts and movies
Visit the lobby from Friday, December 7 through Wednesday, January 2 for holiday arts and crafts. In addition, Christmas movies will be playing!

Meet Mr. and Mrs. Clause
From Friday, December 21 until Monday, December 24 (6:00 pm to 9:00 pm), you can meet Mr. and Mrs. Clause in the Harbor Piazza, 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 Friday, December 21 to Tuesday, December 25, 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm.

Seasonal beverages and cookies
Partake in some 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, for example, will take place nightly at the harbor from 6:30 – 6:50 pm.

Christmas Day Buffet in Trattoria del Porto
A Christmas Day Portofino-style buffet will be served from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm at Trattoria del Porto, featuring cold appetizers, domestic and imported cheeses, smoked salmon, fruit, pasta, seafood, soup, salads, omelets, risotto, carving stations, and more. 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 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 Friday, November 23, 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 407-503-1200 or book online.

Hard Rock Hotel

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

Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony
Nightly during the holidays (specifically, Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10 for this year), 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 Friday, November 23, 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 7, 14, and 21 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).

Wine Riffs
Come experience tales of wine making from Iron Horse 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 “multi-sensory” five-course dinner and wine pairings will be on Friday, November 30, and will cost $150. You can find the menu here.

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

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.

Christmas Eve: $48 | Christmas Day: $46.

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.

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

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

Royal Pacific Resort

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

Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony
Nightly during the holidays (specifically, Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10 for this year), 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 Friday, November 23, 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.

Ornament and stocking decorating
On Sunday, December 23 and Monday, December 24, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 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 Monday, December 24 in Orchid Court. Children will also have the opportunity to decorate their cookies.

Character Breakfast Buffet in Jake’s American Bar
Kick off your Christmas Day with a hearty holiday breakfast buffet from 7:00 to 11:00 am.

Adults: $22.99 | Children (ages 3-9): $12.99.
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. Entertainment will include Universal Orlando characters, a musician, hula dancer, face painter, and balloonist.

Adults: $56 | Children (ages 3-9): $26.
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

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

Hanukkah candle-lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays (specifically, Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10 for this year), 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 Friday, November 23, 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.

Ornament and stocking decorating
At two different times throughout the holidays (the first is on Friday, November 23, and the second goes from Sunday, December 23 to Monday, December 24), from 5:00 to 9:00 pm, guests can decorate their own stockings and ornaments. The cost is $9 per person.

Live entertainment
From Thursday, November 22 to Saturday, November 24 (5:00 to 8:00 pm), the hotel will have “live entertainment” in the lobby, although there is no word yet on what, exactly, this will entail.

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: $22.99 | Children (ages 3-9): $12.99.
Add-on all-you-can-drink Mimosas and Bloody Marys: $12.

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

Then, from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, a Christmas Day feast will be held. 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

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

Hanukkah candle-lighting Ceremony
Nightly during the holidays (specifically, Sunday, December 2 through Monday, December 10 for this year), visit the hotel lobby for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Everything begins at sundown; check with the front desk for nightly times.

Winter Wonderland and Christmas tree-lighting ceremony
On Friday, November 23, Cabana Bay’s tree-lighting ceremony 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.

Visits from Santa’s Elves
At select times on December 2, 9, 16, 23, 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 arts and crafts and movies
On December 25, from 10:00 am ’til 6:00 pm, 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
From 12:00 pm to 11:00 pm, 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.

Aventura Hotel

Aventura Hotel will hold its first-ever Christmas Day feast, from 12:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Check back for more details on the culinary lineup soon.

Adults: $22.00 | Children (ages 3-9): $22.00
See the menu.

 

BONUS: The Bellhop Bar

The Bellhop Bar at Universal Orlando
The Bellhop Bar at Universal Orlando

Just for Christmas 2018, Universal and Loews Hotels (the company that manages all six of the on-site hotels) have unleashed a brand-new, limited-time, pop-up bar called The Bellhop Bar. You can read all about Bellhop’s design, drink menu, and hours of operation in our special write-up.

We will say this right here, though: if you think you’re even partially interested in checking out this exclusive bar, you had better do so soon – it’s currently scheduled to depart Universal Orlando (yes, forever!) in early January 2019.

 

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 2018 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!