2023 Dates: November 17 to December 31 (exact dates for each offering may vary)
2024 Dates: Not yet announced
Christmas at Universal kicks off in November, shortly after Halloween Horror Nights end. So, if you are planning to visit Universal in the first few weeks of November you are going to be in for quite a fun transition from jump scares around every corner to a magical winter wonderland.
As you’ll see below, Universal has a lot to offer for Christmas, putting its celebration right on par with Disney’s Christmas offerings.
Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I might be a little biased because I love Harry Potter and the holidays, but for me spending part of the Christmas season at Harry Potter world is one of the best ways to enjoy this festive time of year. Nothing beats the combination of snow, holiday music, and the magic of Hogwarts.
Remember — there are two Harry Potter Worlds in Universal: one in Islands of Adventure and one in Universal Studios. Both are special in their own way and offer a unique holiday season experience in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In Islands of Adventure, you can visit Hogsmeade where you can purchase some famous Weasley Christmas sweaters, enjoy holiday lights and decorations, drink a Butterbeer, listen to the Frog Choir, and visit Hogwarts Castle! If you come at the right time, the castle has a fantastic lights show capturing some of Harry Potter’s best Christmas scenes.
Image © Universal
Meanwhile over at Universal Studios, you can explore Diagon Alley, which is all decked out for the holiday and features live Christmas music with Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.
Of course, I see no need to pick and choose — take the Hogwarts Express and visit both of them. But don’t forget that you’ll need a park-to-park pass to do that.
By the way — I mentioned Butterbeer earlier. Did you know that during the holidays, there’s a special Hot Butterbeer offering? It’s served warm like a coffee or hot tea, but has that unmistakable creamy Butterbeer taste. For many of us here at MagicGuides, it’s our favorite kind of Butterbeer, easily beating out the cold, frozen, and ice cream varieties.
Christmas in New York
As someone who has lived in New York, there is something special about being in Manhattan during Christmas time. Christmas in New York at Universal Studios brings this magical time alive with a mini version of New York City in Orlando.
You can enjoy the Christmas magic of department stores decked out in the holiday spirit, or relax in Central Park!
The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s so much fun to just walk around and soak up the holiday spirit.
Another good thing about this event is the parks are fully running during this time, so if you need a break from the big apple you can always go check out some world-famous rides that have been decked out in Christmas decorations!
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s
Universal’s Holiday Parade really adds to the Christmas in New York experience, so I suggest making sure you catch that too!
Everyone knows the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and its world-famous balloons, floats, performances, and music as one of the highlights of the fall. Macy’s brings this same magic to Universal Orlando in a special performance that is guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit.
One thing I love about Universal’s Holiday Parade is that it is only around half an hour, so you don’t have to worry about committing an entire afternoon or day to this event. The parade features some amazing floats that have your favorite characters from Madagascar, Shrek, Despicable Me, and more. You will hear some great music, see magical dance performances, and you might even get a chance to say hello to Santa!
Best of all, this parade features the famed Macy’s parade balloons! Though there’s not enough room for biggest of the character balloons that barely squeeze between the Manhattan skyscrapers, there are still plenty of smaller and medium-sized balloons featured in the parade (which are still quite impressive).
My MagicGuides co-worker Jackie actually got a unique opportunity to serve as a balloon handler for the Universal parade back in 2015.
Jackie helps guide the Santa balloon through Universal Studios
I asked him about what makes this parade so special.
“I think for me, it’s the fact that I grew up watching the balloons on TV every year,” he said. “I remember year after year of waking up early on Thanksgiving, rushing downstairs like it was Christmas, and turning on the television to see them before it was time to go next door to my grandmother’s house for lunch.
“I always wanted to see it in person, but back in 2015 I hadn’t yet had the chance to go to New York for the parade. Getting to see the balloons in person at Universal was a huge treat. They’d been part of the holidays for my entire life — and suddenly, there they were, right in front of me, in Orlando!”
The parade is a great way to spend some time away from the thrill rides and performances and get into the holiday spirit. For a truly immersive experience, I recommend getting a spot near the Macy’s storefront (just to the left of the entrance to Revenge of the Mummy) in the New York area of the park.
Grinchmas brings the Christmas spirit in How the Grinch Stole Christmas alive in a great event that happens on select days throughout the winter at Islands of Adventure.
During Grinchmas you can meet all of your favorite characters from the movie including the Grinch, his dog Max, Cindy Lou, and more. Seuss Landing turns into a winter wonderland filled with quirky decorations and holiday music, and if you go at the right time you can even see the lighting of the Grinchmas Christmas tree!
The highlight, though, is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular show, which combines snarky humor with heartwarming moments.
Grinchmas | Image © Universal | Character © Dr. Seuss Enterprises
This event is especially great for young kids!
To add on even more fun, opt to start your day with The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast. The 2023 breakfast offering runs on select dates from November 17 to December 27 at Confisco Grille (Islands of Adventure). 2023 pricing for the breakfast is $58.99 plus tax per adult (ages 10+) and $32.99 plus tax per Child (Ages 3-9). Advance reservations are required.
Mannheim Steamroller Concerts
On select dates in December, park-goers can see the world-famous Mannheim Steamroller perform. The events take place on the Music Plaza Stage where you will get a chance to watch one of the most famous Christmas music performers of all time in a special concert that lasts almost an hour! Given the usual price of concert tickets out in the real world, this free concert practically makes up for the cost of a Universal theme park ticket.
I love this performance because I get to hear all of their unique takes on Christmas classics like God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, Carol of the Bells, Deck the Halls, Greensleeves, and more.
2023 performance dates are December 2, 3, 9, & 10.
2024 concert dates have not yet been announced, but they historically perform four nights over two weekends in early and mid December.
Universal’s Holiday Tour
To squeeze in as much holiday magic as possible into a short visit, you may want to spring for Universal’s Holiday Tour. This paid add-on gets you extra access and perks for the two parks’ holiday offerings, including:
- An exclusive meet-and-greet with the Grinch and Max
- Reserved seating for the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular
- A Private meet-and-greet with Santa
- Light bites, desserts and other goodies
- Priority access to one pre-selected attraction (Universal’s choice)
- An after-hours viewing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle
You’ll be in a group of up to 15 people for this two-park event. 2023 pricing starts at $79.99 plus tax per person and may vary by date. You must also purchase a park-to-park theme park ticket for the same date as your tour. 2023 holiday tours are offered on select dates from November 19 to December 30.