Our guide to Christmas 2023 at Universal Orlando Resort offers tips for both theme parks–Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida–plus the hotels and CityWalk. It includes Wizarding World of Harry Potter entertainment, crowd levels, food, free things to do, upcharge offerings, decorations, tips & tricks.
For starters, Universal Orlando Resort celebrates Christmas beginning on Friday, November 17 and running daily through Sunday, December 31, 2023. Unofficially, you can expect an even longer run than that. Decorations are up even before Halloween Horror Nights ends, and will stay up until early January 2024. The above date range mostly applies to scheduled entertainment offerings.
If you’re visiting Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure as part of a longer trip to Central Florida that includes Walt Disney World, we’d start by referring you to our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. While Universal Orlando is awesome during the holiday season, there are more “moving parts” to planning for Walt Disney World. Most travel parties doing both should choose your dates, when to do each park, and more based on WDW.
To that point, the good news is that there’s tremendous overlap when it comes to crowd dynamics at both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. For both, November and December are roller coaster months for crowds, with the weeks around holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve) seeing elevated attendance and other weeks being more moderate.
Basically, these two months have very high highs and also low lows; your goal should be choosing the ‘sweet spots’ in between the peak weeks. Check out our list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World. That includes several weeks in November and December.
About the biggest difference between the two is that you might notice a lot of recent recommendations to visit Walt Disney World on Saturday and Sunday, which are now the slowest days of the week due to Annual Pass blockouts. (This dynamic won’t be as pronounced during the holiday season, for what it’s worth.) Well, the opposite is true at Universal Orlando–weekends are among the busiest days of the week. Walt Disney World and Universal do have one trend in common–Mondays are bad at both!
Anyway, let’s turn to the main draws of Universal Orlando during the holiday season…
Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Holiday magic fills The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as the streets of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade transform into a wizarding holiday wonderland overflowing with festively themed décor, lights, garland and more.
The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle is the highlight in Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure. This is a stunning projection show featuring Christmas moments and holiday spirit inspired by the characters and stories of the Harry Potter film franchise. The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle runs more or less continuously every 20 minutes or so from dusk to park closing.
There’s really no strategy necessary for seeing the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, but we’ve found crowds to be lowest (and photos easiest) right at dusk and again at park closing. You also don’t really need to worry about timing–if you’re in the land between dusk and park closing, you’re going to see it. If you miss the very beginning, just stick around for the next loop. Don’t overthink it.
The Frog Choir, comprised of Hogwarts students and their giant croaking frogs also returns to Hogsmeade with a special holiday-themed performance. This is the main Christmas entertainment during the day in Hogsmeade. As with all things Harry Potter, I have no clue why this exists. However, the language of frogs croaking is (to borrow a phrase) universal.
The Frog Choir performs traditional songs that you’ll recognize, such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In addition to that, they perform original music and Harry Potter-infused remixes: “Christmas at Hogwarts,” “The Most Magical Yule Ball of All,” “I Cast a Spell on Father Christmas,” and more. This is weirdly awesome, and not to be missed. You don’t have to “get” Harry Potter to love the Frog Choir.
The Diagon Alley side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida likewise has its own holiday entertainment, in the form of Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. The special holiday show by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees features four original songs, including “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas” and “Nothing Like a Holiday Spell.”
As someone who knows next to nothing about Harry Potter, I’m probably not the best person to comment on this show. I assume it’s a Hocus Pocus kinda deal–a delightful theme park show about singing witches that’s superior to the source material that inspired it. I enjoy this for the high-caliber of the performers, but it’s not quite as fun as the Frog Choir. To each their own, though–both are well worth seeing.
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios Florida – Beloved pop culture characters, including those from Illumination’s Despicable Me, DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, and Madagascar fill the streets of Universal Studios Florida during Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s.
These beloved stories come to life as larger-than-life balloons, colorful holiday floats and hundreds of jolly performers embark on a picturesque journey that culminates in a stunning finale including a special appearance by Santa Claus and the lighting of the magnificent 80-foot Christmas tree.
Unsurprisingly, spots around the Christmas tree in New York fill up the fastest. (If you’re primarily a Walt Disney World fan, that’s like their Christmas parade’s Main Street.) Even though it requires arriving earlier and camping out longer, we’d recommend grabbing a spot across from the Christmas tree. It’s an iconic backdrop for parade photos, and seeing Santa light the tree is a magical moment.
You’ll want to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance (closer to 45 minutes on busier days). If you don’t want to commit that much time, areas towards the beginning of the parade route–especially ones that aren’t front row–can be obtained relatively last minute.
Santa Claus at Universal Orlando – As noted above, Santa Claus appears in the climactic moments of the Macy’s Holiday Parade.
To the best of our knowledge, he no longer meets in the parks for Christmas. You may see photos of him (like the one above), but that’s from a few years ago. We’ll update this accordingly if Santa appears for meet & greets at Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure.
Christmas in New York – In this area you’ll also see the the Blues Brothers Christmas Rhythm and Blues Revue, which adds a seasonal twist to the popular performance by Jake, Elwood, Mabel, and Jazz from SNL and their films. They sing festive favorites like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Blue Christmas,” and more with snow on Delancey Street at the end of each show.
A similar show is Marilyn Monroe and the Diamond Bellas, which also has its own Christmas edition. The setup is that Ms. Monroe and the gals are filming a holiday musical number for the USO, and have costumes and songs to match. Both of these shows are well worth making a point to see. You might happen upon them, but we’d recommend consulting the Universal Orlando app for performance times.
Grinchmas at Universal Islands of Adventure – Revel in the spirit of Grinchmas at Universal Islands of Adventure where the Grinch stars in the live retelling of the Dr. Seuss holiday classic, the “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular.”
This musical stage show is like a mash-up of the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas television special and the not-so-classic live-action Jim Carrey movie, which makes sense given that it melds the animated world with live performers. “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular” is roughly 30 minutes long and is performed multiple times per day–check the times guide on the date of your visit for when performances start.
“Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular” is incredibly popular with Universal guests. If your schedule allows and you’re visiting on a busier day, we’d recommend either seeing the first or last showing. On a slower day, you might have a bit more flexibility on showtimes. In between performances, characters roam Seuss Landing interacting with guests and posing for photos. There will even be appearances from the Whos from Who-ville and a special photo opportunity that brings guests face-to-face with the mean, green one himself, the Grinch.
As you’ll see in the photos below of decorations, Seuss Landing is one of the most underrated lands in all of Orlando during Christmas. There are lots of decorations that transport guests into a whimsical atmosphere decked out with oversized candy canes, twisty Christmas trees, stunning tinsel ornaments and more.
Mannheim Steamroller at Universal Studios Florida – The top-selling holiday artist of all time, Mannheim Steamroller, returns to Universal Studios Florida for Christmas 2023 to get guests into the holiday spirit with live performances on the following dates:
December 2, 2023
December 3, 2023
December 9, 2023
December 10, 2023
I’ll level with you. Despite being huge Mannheim Steamroller fans who love Christmas and have had Universal Orlando Annual Passes for years…we never seen the group perform at Universal Studios Florida. Based on what we’ve heard from friends and the reports we’ve seen on social media, it just doesn’t appear “worth it” to us. To each their own, though. At some point, we probably need to do this for the sake of research, though.
If we were going to see Mannheim Steamroller and had flexibility, we’d definitely go to one of the Sunday night shows, and would arrive very early as viewing spaces fill to capacity. That’s really about all we know. If you’re going to brave the crowds to see Mannheim Steamroller at Universal Studios Florida, pack your patience and good luck camping out!
Universal’s Holiday Tour – If you’re feeling like you just haven’t spent enough money on your Christmas trip, you’re in luck–there are a couple of upcharge offerings! Universal’s Holiday Tour offers guided, VIP access to all the holiday entertainment experiences taking place, including:
A chance to meet the maven of mischief himself, the Grinch, and his dog, Max, while enjoying small bites, desserts and non-alcoholic beverages
Reserved seating at the “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular” in Universal Islands of Adventure
A meet-and-greet photo opportunity with Santa Claus in Universal Studios Florida
An exclusive, after-hours showing of “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle” in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure to complete the night’s festivities
Universal’s Holiday Tour is available on select dates beginning November 19 through December 30, 2023 and can be booked by visiting www.UniversalOrlando.com/Holidays. Pricing begins at $79.99 per person (plus tax) and separate theme park admission with a 1-Day, 2-Park Park-to-Park ticket is required.
Annual and Seasonal Passholders can get a $10 off discount per ticket per passholder with a valid Annual or Seasonal Pass. Tickets for passholders can be purchased by calling 1-866-346-9350 or by visiting the UOAP Lounge in Universal Islands of Adventure. Regular Seasonal and Power Pass blockout dates apply.
The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast at Universal Islands of Adventure – The other upcharge is “The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast.” This popular character dining experience allows guests to start their day with a delicious breakfast and fun appearances by the Grinch and other fan-favorite Dr. Seuss characters.
The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast takes place in Confisco Grille in Universal Islands of Adventure on select dates November 17 through December 27 for $58.99 + tax per adult and $32.99 + tax per child (ages 3-9) and can be booked online at Universal Orlando’s Holidays website.
Availability is limited for the Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast, and we’ve heard some reports of people having difficulty with reservations except for the very first seatings. Premier and Preferred Annual Passholders can receive a 20% discount on purchases of The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast for select dates by calling 407-224-7554.
We’ve never done either of these upcharges, so we cannot speak credibly to their value for money or anything else. If we were to do one, it’d probably be Universal’s Holiday Tour. Not having to fight the crowd for parade or castle projection show viewing seems worthwhile, as do the photo ops with Grinch and Santa. But again, we haven’t done either of these, so you could say that we’ve already voted with our wallets on their value for money to us.
Christmas at Universal CityWalk and Hotels – Guests can keep the celebration going at Universal CityWalk with seasonal food and beverage and special entertainment. Plus, all eight Universal Orlando Resort hotels will be decked out with festive décor that enhances each hotel’s theme – and the whole family can indulge in holiday feasts and activities.
While you’re in CityWalk (or the parks, for that matter), you can participate in the Christmas Tree Hunt, which is a scavenger hunt in search of (you guessed it) themed Christmas trees. Purchase a map, find the trees in each shop, and collect a stamp in each location. Once your map is filled guests receive an exclusive tree ornament.
Whether this is worth the money is your call–we prefer simply looking at the trees and buying souvenirs of our choosing, but kids might enjoy the structure and reward system of the actual scavenger hunt. (Walt Disney World does similar scavenger hunts at Christmas.)
Additionally, special menus will be available at Universal hotels for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Typically, these meals are only available on those dates themselves–so if you’re visiting on November 19 or December 22 or whatever random date during the holiday season, this is not relevant to you.
Select hotels also offer special holiday entertainment like Christmas tree lightings, Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremonies, and strolling carolers. For the most part, all of this occurs the week of Christmas or Hanukkah.
For stays during the Christmas 2023 season, guests can now save 20% on a four-night stay in the 2-bedroom suites at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites & Surfside Inn and Suites and the family suites at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
Get 2 Days of Park Admission Free with a Can’t-Miss Ticket Offer – Speaking of deals, U.S. and Canada residents can now take advantage of a deal giving them five days of access to Universal Orlando Resort’s thrilling theme parks for the price of a three-day ticket to enjoy the ultimate holiday getaway.
Even though we’re Universal Orlando Annual Passholders, and thus visit more often than most, it’s hard to recommend this ticket deal. About the only demo we could see it offering value would be United Kingdom guests who come for weeks at a time, and they aren’t eligible!
Otherwise, very few people with weeklong trips to Florida will want to allocate 5 days of that time to Universal. Chances are, you’ll want to do 2-3 days at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida…which is precisely the point. This “deal” is a way of Universal offering illusory savings on an admission product that most guests won’t otherwise purchase. Getting guests to commit to 5 days instead of 3 is actually a win for them.
Annual Passholder Specials – In addition to discounts on select holiday experiences, Universal Orlando Annual Passholders will get special access to enjoy Universal’s Holidays Parade featuring Macy’s from a viewing area just for Passholders, as well as exclusive merchandise and early access to the Holidays Tribute Store.
Holidays Tribute Store – Speaking of which, the Holidays Tribute Store will return for Christmas 2023 at Universal Orlando. The Tribute Store was initially created for Halloween Horror Nights as a way to both pay tribute to those creations and get people to buy stuff (hence the name). It’s since been transformed for both Mardi Gras and Christmas, following more or less that same formula.
Over time, the Tribute Store has gotten bigger and better, with a multi-room layout that has different themes in each area. Expect to see Christmas in New York, Earl the Squirrel, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Winter in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter represented. (The specifics change from year-to-year, but the approach of Earl plus chic metropolis plus movie IP is more or less what you’ll see for Christmas in the Tribute Store.)
In addition to elaborate displays that are worth seeing and Christmas merchandise to purchase, we’d call your attention to the Tribute Store as arguably the best spot in either park for Christmas-themed treats and desserts. There’s a wide array of options, many of which look and taste great.
With all of the core Christmas info about entertainment and other offerings out of the way, let’s take a holiday-time stroll through Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and showcase the decorations that go up around the parks…
Across from the Christmas Tribute Store is Universal Studios Florida’s iconic Christmas Tree.
Additionally, most of the park is decked out for Christmas, including Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Due to more lands being decked out for the holidays, the atmosphere is definitely more festive in Universal Studios Florida. That’s no knock against Islands of Adventure–as with several lands in Magic Kingdom, it’s more difficult to decorate Islands of Adventure in on-theme ways.
With that said, the Diagon Alley looks festive for the holidays–but not on par with its counterpart, Hogsmeade. So at least the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is better at Christmas in IoA than USF.
I don’t have much interesting insight about the decorations, so here are some illustrative photos:
Christmas decorations are great throughout Universal Studios Florida. My only real complaint is that Jaws doesn’t get decked out for Christmas. Put a wreath around him!
Now let’s take a look at the Christmas decorations in Islands of Adventure…
As noted above, Islands of Adventure is more limited in its decorating than Universal Studios Florida. This makes complete thematic sense. I can’t imagine serious holiday overlays meshing with Marvel, King Kong, Jurassic Park, etc.
With that said, the areas that do decorate for the holidays in IoA really go all out!
As someone who absolutely loves Christmas and dinosaurs, I really wish a holiday tie-in could be done with Jurassic Park. Since the IP is a theme park with at least a modicum of real world awareness, arguably anything could go here. It’d probably just need to be established as canon via the films first.
If someone at NBCUniversal is reading this, just think of the possibilities: Peacock needs content, and what better way to gain streaming subscribers and marketshare than with a Jurassic Park holiday special?
To really compound the benefits, make the holiday celebrated on Isla Nublar either Festivus or Ludachristmas. Endless synergy!
Again, it’s worth pointing out that no park at Walt Disney World has all of its lands decorated for Christmas. Even Magic Kingdom, which is most commonly associated with the holiday season, really only has a comprehensive decorations package on Main Street. The other lands are much more muted–or have nothing at all.
Not that we’re complaining or making excuses. It’s just easier to forget since we’re more familiar with Walt Disney World, and take for granted that some lands don’t have or need decorations. The same is true at Universal Orlando.
In terms of what actually exists in terms of the holiday season at Islands of Adventure, we have some light decorations in Port of Entry, enhancing what’s already a top-notch and underrated area.
Port of Entry is where you’ll also find Starbucks, Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe, and other dining & retail.
Those locations sell brochures for the Holiday Tree Hunt and have pamphlets for the Holiday Treat Trail.
Let’s head into Seuss Landing, which is home to Grinchmas.
At night, the two white trees flank the entrance of Seuss Landing and feature an array of synchronized designs (like the Grinch) and dancing lights.
All things considered, Seuss Landing is the best-decorated area in Islands of Adventure.
Lots of garland, tinsel, and lights adorning the building exteriors, strung across the street, and even on attractions. It reminds me a bit of Toontown at Disneyland. Very well done!
Then there’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.
With its storybook architecture and snow-covered rooftops, the core design of this land just feels like Christmas.
All things considered, Christmas is a great time to visit Universal Orlando Resort. Both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida are thoroughly decorated for the holiday season, there are plenty of seasonal treats, and enough entertainment to enhance the atmosphere and make the parks feel festive.
Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but as much as we enjoy HHN, we prefer Christmas to Halloween at UOR. It probably helps that the weather is generally better from mid-November through the end of December, and that it’s an all-day, included with admission event instead of an after-hours upcharge (that frequently entails long lines).
Streetmosphere, entertainment & parades, characters & performers, projections, and fitting decorations make much of the parks come alive for Christmas. This is especially true in Hollywood, New York, Seuss Landing, Port of Entry, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, all of which offer great holiday ambiance. All in all, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are great experiences at Christmas!
Have you been to Universal Orlando Resort for Christmas? Any other highlights for you? Thoughts on holiday crowds at Universal Orlando for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or the Mannheim Steamroller concerts? If you’ve visited both Disney and Universal during the holidays, which do you think is doing better? Thoughts on anything else covered here? Will you be visiting Central Florida this holiday season? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!