Universal Studios Florida Christmas Report: Small Crowds & Giant Balloons
Christmas has started at Universal Studios Florida, so we head back there for another update, with emphasis on entertainment, holiday decorations, and food. In this park report, we’ll share festive photos of USF, crowd commentary, and thoughts on the seasonal offerings.
In case you’ve missed it, we’re expanding our coverage of Universal Orlando, with our previous post: Universal Studios Florida Report: Evening Entertainment Encore. That covered the good and bad of Universal’s reopening, with a big emphasis on regular entertainment, including the Cinematic Celebration nighttime spectacular, which is now shown on select nights.
The core “thesis” of our recent and ongoing Universal Orlando coverage is that these parks are probably worth the time of Walt Disney World fans. Consider dropping your preconceived notions about Universal, because there’s something for pretty much everyone, and the value for money cannot be beat thanks to special offers. We’re not going to belabor those points again here, so read our past park reports for more…
Instead, let’s turn our attention to the Holidays at Universal Orlando, which runs through January 3, 2021.
Christmas offerings include several shows, a walk-though experience, treat & tree trails, and decorations in multiple lands, including both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley areas of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Stilt walkers greet guests near the main entrance to Universal Studios Florida.
These are a frequent fixture at Universal, but right now they’re especially practical given the built-in physical distancing buffer.
We’ve gushed about how Universal Studios Florida has maintained almost all of its atmospheric entertainment and stage shows, and that remains true for the holiday season.
The Blues Brothers Christmas Rhythm and Blues Revue adds a seasonal twist to the popular performance by Jake, Elwood, Mabel, and Jazz. We stop to watch every time we see them out.
New for 2020 is Universal’s Holiday Character Celebration. Throughout the day, fan-favorite characters from DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek and Madagascar franchise and the Minions from Illumination’s Despicable Me come out to make appearances and spread holiday cheer.
There’s also Santa’s Elves and this random Toy Unit, which I guess features Raggedy Ann & Andy and a duck.
There’s also this half-clown, half-ball sorta character. He’s my new favorite (original?) park character. Sorry Figment, but we had a good run!
This dude crouches down, winds up, and then jumps. I’m not sure why, nor do I care. All I know is that it’s awesome. If this clown got to come out at Halloween and do the jumping bit while also terrifying children, it’d be my dream theme park job.
We saw lots of other characters out and about throughout the day, from Barney to Marilyn Monroe.
That’s the latter in front of the Christmas Tribute Store, which was quickly converted from the Halloween version of the same.
Despite an incredibly quick turnaround time between the two versions of the store, this is about as elaborate as its Halloween predecessor.
There are multiple rooms, each have its own distinct style and photogenic backdrops.
It’s all pretty and well-done, and there are rooms dedicated to characters like the Grinch and Harry Potter.
There are also a bunch of signs about “Earl the Squirrel’s Tree Farm.”
Although you probably think we’re uber hip (given that our hobbies include cool things like “sidewalks“), we’re actually old fogeys when it comes to entertainment the youth are consuming these days.
I had to Google “Earl the Squirrel,” thinking he might be a character from SpongeBob or something trendy on TikTok. Turns out he’s an original character Universal created for the Christmas season.
Earl’s Tree Farm (?) serves up desserts, and several of these look and smell fantastic.
I had already exceeded my weekly intake of sugar that day, so we passed on all of this. Despite this, we recommend making a stop at the Tribute Store for these treats alone.
Prior to this, I had eaten the Holiday Wreath Cake from Today Show Cafe.
This is part of the Holiday Treat Trail, and also fantastic. Highly recommended.
Sticking with the front of the park, we have Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons.
This is a brand new walk-through experience at Universal Studios Florida, allowing you to get up close to larger-than-life Macy’s balloons and colorful Christmas floats.
Normally, the highlight of Christmas at Universal Studios Florida is the Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s Balloons.
The full parade is not be taking place in 2020. However, many of its core components are present in walk-through form inside a soundstage.
It’s pretty awesome to wander under these, snapping photos, and taking selfies with the Minions and Shrek characters.
Santa Claus himself is also there to pose for photos.
Photos really don’t do this justice. The balloons and floats look bigger and more impressive in person.
This is far and away the coolest component of Christmas at Universal Studios Florida.
Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons is not better than the normal parade, but it’s a worthy (temporary) replacement. Truly a clever way to make lemonade out of lemons when it comes to holiday entertainment.
I don’t want to overhype it, but we really love this. (We’re also huge “inflatable advocates” and think Walt Disney World should bring back their daytime parades and stage shows featuring balloons.)
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.
I don’t have much interesting insight about the decorations, so here are some illustrative photos:
The Diagon Alley side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a variety of tasteful Christmas decorations.
There’s also 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’m not sure if these are good or bad witches–or even witches at all, for that matter.
Regardless, it’s a good show with catchy music and captivating performances. Beyond that, Diagon Alley looks festive for the holidays–but not on par with its counterpart, Hogsmeade.
The London waterfront is also appropriately decorated for Christmas.
You can’t tell from the photo above, which instead focuses on a double rainbow, but London looks really nice.
However, I forgot to take proper photos of the decorations along the London waterfront because I was fixated on running around capturing the rainbow.
Here’s another photo of that, over by Jaws.
Bouncing to crowds, they were quite low for our weekday visit. The longest line was for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and I’m fairly certain that one is often inflated.
Most other attractions in the park had posted wait times of 5-10 minutes throughout the day. Lines and crowds were significantly lower than our last couple of visits in October and early November. However, this was the week between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, which was also a relative lull at Walt Disney World.
Last week at Universal was almost certainly the calm before the storm. Thanksgiving week will likely be the busiest yet post-reopening, even accounting for those who have cancelled travel plans. Universal Orlando draws a lot of Floridians, so locals having time off school and work should spike attendance and lead to more capacity closures.
After that, we’d expect another lull in crowds that might continue through the end of the year. Thanksgiving week could end up being busier than Christmas due to its combination of no Annual Passholder blockouts and fewer people traveling for Christmas (which does have AP blockouts). We’re not super confident in that prediction–we know less about Universal than Walt Disney World, and even if we were highly knowledgeable about Universal Orlando, it has been and likely will continue to be an unpredictable year.
As with Halloween, Christmas is a great time to visit Universal Studios Florida. I feel like this didn’t do an adequate job of conveying the atmosphere and decor, but the park looks and feels great for the holidays. Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons walk-through is the unequivocal highlight, but there’s so much more than that.
Streetmosphere, entertainment acts, character cavalcades/performances, and fitting decorations make much of the park come alive for Christmas. This is especially true in Hollywood, New York, and Diagon Alley, all of which offer great holiday ambiance. All in all, Universal Studios Florida is great experience at Christmas!
Need trip planning tips and comprehensive advice for your visit to Central Florida? Make sure to read our Universal Orlando Planning Guide for everything about Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Also check out our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide for everything about those parks, resorts, restaurants, and so much more. For regular updates, news & rumors, a heads up when discounts are released, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!
Have you been to Universal Studios Florida for Christmas 2020? Agree that Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons is an awesome walk-through? Any other highlights for you? Thoughts on holiday crowds at Universal Orlando for Thanksgiving week and beyond? If you’ve visited both Disney and Universal this Christmas, which do you think is doing better? Thoughts on anything else covered here? Do you have any questions about the current modified Universal experience? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this holiday season, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? 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!
I feel like they need to put a Santa hat on Jaws 😉
Universal Studios Japan puts a wreath around his head–it looks great!
Tom – thank you for this post! I am taking my wife & son to Universal Orlando the week after Christmas (it’s a surprise, they have no idea – I’m telling them on Christmas morning), and can’t wait. We have only been there once, a few years ago and it was a quick one-morning trip over from WDW. I am rooting for less-than-capacity crowds on this upcoming trip, but in any case we’ll have a blast.
Your photos continue to be incredible.
I would suggest that you get express passes. If you don’t you may only get three maybe four rose experiences for entire day at the park.
I think that something must be wrong with you. Who are you? What did you do with Tom? Choosing a creepy clown that has been apparently eaten by a demon-possessed beach ball instead of Figment? I’m worried. Does Sarah know?
We saw stilt walking toy soldiers at Disney Springs on Thursday last week when we were there for dinner. Otherwise, the decorations were rather sedate.
We’ve seen the toy soldiers out a couple of times at Disney Springs, too. They’re good, but Disney Springs could definitely use a bit more.
Much of Universal’s IP is stale and mostly uninteresting to me and they make some strange choices with entertainment that borders on creepy and/or kitschy. However, I do respect the efforts of their employees and leadership to continue to find creative ways to make the guest experience interesting instead of simply relying on rides and discounts.
What’s ironic is that the original films and characters represented at USF have aged better than most of what replaced them in the aughts.
Harry Potter is not stale. Fast N Furious is not stale. The Simpsons are not. Marvel Superheroes is not. Jurassic Park is not stale. The parks at USO are absolutely on par with WDW. The hotels, are a different story, but Universal doesn’t operate those.
As a UOTM and a fan of your blog, I am very happy to see the increased coverage of UOR! Thanks for taking the time to come visit us and share your experiences!
Thanks for the feedback and glad you’re enjoying the coverage thus far!
Waiting for that Disney Tourist Blog Tik Tok page, or channel, or whatever the kids do on Tik Tok. That will be super rad.
You might be waiting a while! I generally think social media is a scourge and only use it out of “necessity” for the blog.
100%. Don’t know if I could soak those words in enough sarcasm.
I’m firmly camped out on the team that thinks social media is pretty much the worst technology mankind ever dreamed up.
Posts have been making laugh lately- much needed.
Tom, it is a scourge!! I couldn’t agree with you more!!!
Thank you, Tom. If I had to read your stuff on Fakebook, Tiktok or Instagram, I wouldn’t be reading it. Not a fan of those places.
I had to look up scourge in the dictionary and I agree fully with social media = scourge. I have no social media and it is great. I quit Facebook over 5 years ago and never turned back.
Earl the Squirrel is also a hidden squirrel in Christmas Tree. He’s taken on a personality of his own at the resort, sorta like the Orange Bird.
Earl didn’t immediately resonate with me, but I’m all for original theme park IP, so that’s still cool!
Thanks Tom, thinking of visiting UO the week of Christmas, and then check-in to Disney on Christmas. Still mulling over if want to go to Disney obviously to wait in long lines… Still spoiled from our August trip!
It’s really hard to say what Christmas crowds are going to look like. Between cancelled travel plans and AP/FL resident ticket blockouts, attendance might be a lot lighter that week than expected.
I hope you’re right Tom, I booked last night!! Thanks for the encouragement