Some of the best times to visit Universal Orlando are when special events are on the calendar! These events transform the resort into parties, winter wonderlands, and holidays that you have to see to believe. A special event can add some extra enjoyment for those who’ve visited Universal before and are looking to try something new; and of course they’re an incredibly special experience for your first visit! This guide will go over all of the special events at Universal Orlando so you can choose the best time to visit when you are planning your dream vacation!

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Halloween Horror Nights

The Pumpkin Lord character at Halloween horror Nights

Image © Universal

2024 Dates: Most nights from August 30 – November 3

2025 Dates: TBA

Halloween Horror Nights is the most popular special event at Universal Orlando. The event happens on select nights throughout the fall and is absolutely worth attending. This is a once in a lifetime experience that will let you and your family enjoy Halloween in its most spectacular form! It’s no wonder that HHN has taken on a life of its own!

Make no mistake: this event is scary. I don’t recommend bringing children under 13 to Halloween Horror Nights because it can be too intense for some kids! If you go expecting something along the lines of the “not-so-scary” Halloween offerings at Disney World, you’re in for a very rude awakening (perhaps achieved via chainsaw).

The event combines a mixture of horror and historical Halloween stories from around the world that creates a magical event with shows, characters, and scares that seem real. So prepare for a night of screams and excitement!

One of many haunted settings around Universal Orlando during Halloween Horror Nights | Image © Universal

Image © Universal

When you attend the horror night there will be plenty of activities and shows to choose from. My favorite part about the event is the Haunted Houses. These alone make Halloween Horror Nights worth attending. The haunted houses combine special effects, decorations, and characters to scare you in every way possible. Don’t be surprised if you are walking around a corner and you are met with a ghost, zombie, or another creature from your nightmares. Universal has new Haunted House themes each year and they announce them as we get closer to fall, so keep an eye out for your favorite ones!

Another one of my favorite features of the horror nights is the scare zones. In certain locations throughout the parks, terrifying characters (known as “scareactors“) will jump-scare, interact, and creep up behind unsuspecting guests. Your head will always be on a swivel here because there seems to be a new fright around every corner!

A scary clown using a chainsaw to menace two guests

Image © Universal

If haunted houses and scare zones are a bit too much for you, don’t worry! There are plenty of other fantastic ways to experience the Horror Nights. The parks have amazing live shows that feature some of your favorite Halloween characters, aerial performers, and more. But like the scare zones, make sure to always be ready, because you never know if someone will sneak up behind you!

An added bonus of the event is that several of the most popular rides in the park remain open. So you can swap the scares of the haunted houses with the pulse-pounding thrills of rides like Revenge of the Mummy.

Read More: Is Halloween Horror Nights Worth It?

Another reason to come to Universal during Halloween Horror nights is the atmosphere inside the park. Every time I go, I feel like the air is practically electric — everyone is so excited to be a part of this massive Halloween event. There really are thrills around every corner!

One potential downside to consider: Halloween is often among the busiest times of the entire year at Universal Orlando. Consider using a Universal Travel Agent to help you navigate all the planning so you don’t miss anything. I highly recommend The Vacationeer. They’re one of the most highly rated Universal travel agents and will help make your dream vacation a reality!

Start Planning Your Universal Orlando Vacation

Save the fear for the haunted houses! The Universal Orlando experts at The Vacationeer can make planning your Universal Orlando Resort visit a breeze.

As a Universal Preferred Travel Agency, their agents know all about every special event offered at Universal. Whether you’re looking to have your socks scared off or to have your stockings hung by the chimney with care, The Vacationeer is the only one you need to call.

When you book with The Vacationeer, you’ll be connected with one dedicated agent to handle your trip from start to finish. There’s no waiting on hold, and you’ll never have to explain your situation to one person after another in a giant call center.

From dining reservations to theme park tickets to hotel rooms to ground transportation, your personal Vacationeer will handle it all without charging any planning fees.

Best of all, the Vacationeer will respect your budget as if it were their own. Because they know all the ways to save, you’ll never have to worry about overpaying. They’ll even add new discounts to your trip automatically as they’re announced after you’ve booked!

Add in their free no-obligation quotes (so there’s no pressure to book), and there’s really no reason not to contact them right now!

Holidays at Universal (Christmas)

A giant lighted wreath in the entrance arch to Universal Studios Florida, with a large parade balloon in the foreground

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! And here’s a great Wizarding World tip… if you come at the right time, the castle has a fantastic lights show capturing some of Harry Potter’s best Christmas scenes.

A Christmas display on Hogwarts castle, with fireworks behind

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.

A large Christmas tree in front of a replica of Macy's department store

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.

Red and green confetti on the bumper of a classic car, with Christmas lights reflected in the car's shiny black finish.

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.

People in black jumpsuits with a Santa design, wearing Santa hats, hold ropes attached to a giant helium balloon

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

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.

The Grinch character in a Santa outfit

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.

Dreaming of Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort?

Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando

Guests cheer as a Mardi Gras parade float passes by

Image © Universal

2024 Dates: February 3 to April 7 (parades/concerts offered on select nights)

2025 Dates: TBA

Laissez les bons temps roulerlet the good times roll at Universal’s Mardi Gras celebration every spring. And unlike the real Mardi Gras in New Orleans, this one lasts more than two months!

This festive overlay brings the spirit of New Orleans — as well as Carnaval celebrations all around the world — right into the heart of Orlando.

A big draw of the event is the Mardi Gras parade at Universal Studios Florida. It’s a huge parade, with floats on par with those built by the best krewes in real-life New Orleans. Kids and adults alike will enjoy snagging beads thrown by performers, and the catchy Feet Don’t Fail Me Now tune might just be stuck in your head for the rest of the year!

The parade is offered most nights, but be sure to check the schedule to make sure you don’t miss it. To avoid the worst of the parade crowds, I try to get a spot right at the place where the parade begins. Most folks crowd in further down the route.

With a little luck, you might even be able to snag a spot riding on one of the floats, tossing beads to eager guests below. In the past, there’s even been a dine-and-ride package related to this opportunity.

The Mardi Gras celebration is enhanced on certain nights with live concerts by big name performers. Prior performances have included 3 Doors Down, Patti LaBelle, Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, Styx, LL Cool J, Sugar Ray, and more.

2024 performers and show dates:

  • Feb. 3: Walker Hayes
  • Feb. 10: The All-American Rejects
  • Feb. 17: Nessa Barrett
  • Feb. 18: KC and the Sunshine Band
  • Feb. 24: Barenaked Ladies
  • March 2: DJ Khaled
  • March 9: Ava Max
  • March 10: Queen Latifah
  • March 16: Luis Fonsi
  • March 17: Zedd

Lineup subject to change.

The shows are included for free with your paid park admission, and the value of the free concert alone can easily offset the cost of your theme park admission ticket.

You can also enjoy appropriately-themed dishes around Universal Studios Florida during the celebration. Previous offerings have included tasty bites such as Mofongo and a vegan Dirty Rice made with riced cauliflower and meatless sausage. Some of the restaurants at the nearby CityWalk and Universal hotels even get into the culinary act with their own special dishes during this time of year.

Rock the Universe

Crowds attend a concert at an open-air stage in front of a roller coaster

Image © Universal

Rock the Universe

2024 Dates: January 26 – 27

2025 Dates: TBA

Florida’s largest Christian Music Festival takes place every January at Universal Orlando. You will have a chance to see some of the biggest names in Christian music perform in one of the best atmospheres out there.

Rock the Universe, unlike other large music festivals, has some great ticket deals that not only give you options for how long you want to attend the festival but also include deals for spending time in Universal Orlando’s three parks. For example, you could choose to just buy a one-night ticket to Rock the Universe, or you could get a complete Rock the Universe Weekend ticket and a 3 park-to-park pass to maximize your time at Universal.

Across the event you will have a chance to hear artists and bands — past performers have included Zach Williams, Dante Bowe, We Are Messengers, Bethel Music, Rend Collective, and more. The event normally has two stages, so you will have a chance to bounce around and enjoy different songs throughout the whole festival. Universal also organizes some fantastic autograph sessions and a DJ for later on in the night

On Saturday night you will get to participate in a candle-lighting ceremony and if you are interested, a service the next morning to wrap up the final day of the event.

Pro Tip: There are special deals for Rock the Universe for youth groups visiting Universal. If you are traveling with at least ten people then you will have access to reduced pricing options, so keep an eye out!

Plan an Individual or Group Trip with The Vacationeer

Gradventure (Middle School Graduation)

2024 Dates: May 3, 10, 11, 17

2025 Dates: TBA

Gradventure is the biggest party in Florida for graduating middle school students. Universal is open exclusively to these grads during the event so they can enjoy the parks while celebrating their achievements and looking forward to starting high school.

I would recommend this event to any student graduating middle school – the atmosphere is fantastic because everyone is excited to be celebrating their graduation with their friends, and they get to do it at Universal.

The attending grad will get two-park access, meaning they can switch in between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, enjoying everything Universal has to offer and going on the best rides across the whole park.

The students will have access to celebrations, entertainment, and amazing rides all over the park, and they will get to meet plenty of other students all around the resort and enjoy the day together!

Grad Bash (High School Graduation)

2024 Dates: April 12, 13, 19, 20, 26

2025 Dates: TBA

Grad Bash is the celebration of the year for graduating high school seniors. Like Gradventure, the students will have exclusive access to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. They will be able to enjoy crazy thrill rides, amazing entertainment, and some great food all while celebrating their graduation with their friends and peers from around the country.

After all the rides and shows, Universal has live DJs performing across both parks all night long so the celebration can continue! You can even add Volcano Bay, Universal’s water park, to your grad celebration ticket if you want a break from the two theme parks!

Surprise Your Graduate With a Senior Trip to Universal Orlando

Independence Day (July 4) at Universal Orlando

I love going to Universal’s Independence Day celebration because the resort goes all-out for the holiday! They take everything we know and love about the fourth of July and add in all of their usual rides, shows, and food. It makes for a fantastic way to celebrate America’s independence with your family.

The entire resort will be decorated in red, white, and blue to celebrate the spirit of the Fourth of July. There’s fantastic live music, great food, and plenty of character interactions.

It is important to note that this event is not like Halloween Horror Nights where the entire park is transformed and dedicated to the theme. The Independence Day celebration is more relaxed and people can enjoy Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure almost as normal, just with some great Fourth of July bonuses. Luckily, this means that there’s no extra charge for the bonus entertainment; it’s included in your regular part ticket.

One of my favorite parts about this event is the fireworks show at Universal Studios Florida. Universal also throws in their own extra twist in the show with confetti cannons in parts of the park, making it that much better.

New Year’s Eve at Universal Studios

Like the Fourth of July Event, New Year’s Eve at Universal is a great way to celebrate the holiday without having the event take over your Universal experience. That said, New Year’s Eve at Universal has been undergoing a bit of a transformation recently.

Several years ago, the big event was a huge separately-ticketed “Eve” party at CityWalk. That event has been missing from the calendar since the COVID years.

Lately, the holiday tends to trend more toward the Independence Day model — a mostly normal day that’s enhanced with with additional entertainment and a brief fireworks display at midnight, all included in your normal entry ticket. There are also usually special events at the Universal hotels, which typically include a meal, DJ dance parties, and of course, celebrations at midnight.

Now that more and more things have been returning to normal following the worst of the pandemic, we’re eagerly watching to see if New Year’s Eve celebrations will be scaled up this year.

So, Which Special Events at Universal are the Best?

In my opinion, the best special event at Universal is Halloween Horror Nights. The complete transformation of the park and the haunted houses, scare zones, and decorations make this one of the best Halloween experiences you can have in the world.

Christmas at Universal takes a close second place with the transformation of the Harry Potter worlds, the Universal Christmas parade featuring Macy’s balloons, Grinchmas, and more. There is so much to do and each aspect of the holiday event is put on so well, I can’t recommend going to this enough!

The Mardi Gras events are great if you want to experience Universal like a local; many central Florida residents with annual passes love this time of year at the park.

Despite the major special events taking the crown, the smaller special events are fantastic because you can enjoy Universal Orlando almost as normal, and then you get the bonus of enjoying either the Fourth of July or New Years celebrations after.

Planning your trip to Universal during one of these events will make your visit that much more special, but you have to make sure to keep an eye on the crowds so you can be prepared!

Lastly, organizing a trip during these events can be extra complicated, so I highly suggest using a travel agent to save you the most money and make your dream vacation a reality.

Planning a Universal Orlando Vacation During a Special Event

The best way to plan to visit Universal Orlando Resort during one of its special events is to work with a Universal Preferred Travel Agency such as The Vacationeer.

Universal Preferred agencies are specially trained by Universal and tend to focus solely on theme park-based vacations. So you’re more likely to be connected with an agent who’s actually been to the parks recently, probably during one of the major events you’re looking to book. Compare that with major wholesalers and nationwide travel companies whose call center agents may not have visited the parks in years — if ever!

Vacationeers are located all around the country (so you can work with someone close to home if you’d like), but still visit Disney and Universal often. So you’re sure to get accurate, up-to-date information.

And because you’ll have a single, dedicated agent to plan your trip for you, there’s no worry of having to wait hours on hold trying to speak with someone.

So let someone else handle the heavy lifting so you can focus on enjoying your trip! The Vacationeer will book your hotel, dining, theme park tickets, and ground transportation — and they’ll do it all at no additional charge to you!