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Universal Orlando’s holiday celebrations have begun, here’s what to know before you go

From a huge parade to a fun scavenger hunt, special food offerings and a light show at Hogwarts Castle, Universal is back on its holiday game.
A float and a balloon in the Holiday Parade during a nighttime preview event of Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's.
A float and a balloon in the Holiday Parade during a nighttime preview event of Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Nov. 29, 2021

Universal Orlando has unwrapped its holiday merriment with a big parade, live entertainment, decorated streets and sugar-laden food offerings.

Last year amidst the background of the pandemic, the parade was presented as a simple selfie opportunity with floats parked as a socially-distanced photo opportunity.

The return of the holidays at Universal parks started Nov. 13 and runs through Jan. 2. And things feel close to normal. Crowds mob the decorated streets of New York at Universal Studios to see its Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s, and live shows fill every seat in the theater.

It’s a good idea to download the Universal Orlando app before your visit. It allows you to browse wait times and plan more efficiently. The app also has the show schedule at both parks, which are not usually published on the website.

The singing sorceress Celestina Warbeck and her backup singers, the Banshees, sing a holiday set list in Universal’s Diagon Alley that includes the son  “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas.”
The singing sorceress Celestina Warbeck and her backup singers, the Banshees, sing a holiday set list in Universal’s Diagon Alley that includes the son “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas.”

A recent addition to its holiday celebration is Christmas in the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. At Universal Studios in Diagon Alley, there are beautiful Christmas decorations in shop windows and the character Celestina Warbeck performs her show with a holiday spin. At Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure, you can catch a Frog Choir performance. But the main event there is a holiday light and projection show at Hogwarts Castle, held several times each night.

At the nightly Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios, there are 26 units of dancers, highly decorated floats full of Minions and Shrek characters and princess stilt-walkers with lighted skirts. But because of the weather the night of a recent media preview, there were only two of the giant balloons that are a signature of the Macy’s parade in New York City.

If the weather cooperates, guests should expect to see more than 30 huge balloons in the parade.

The Christmas Tribute Store can also be found in the New York area of the park. It features selfie-worthy spots in its rooms set up like Santa’s workshop or scenes from the Grinch and Hogwarts Castle.

Hogswarts Castle looms beyond Hogsmeade at Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's.
Hogswarts Castle looms beyond Hogsmeade at Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's. [ Tampa Bay Times (2017) ]

New for 2021 is a Universal’s Holiday Tour that costs $69.99 in addition to park admission. It takes you through both parks with perks like hot chocolate with the Grinch, who hilariously improvises with the crowd in Circus McGurkus in Seuss Land. There’s also a meet and greet with Santa, reserved spots for the parade, the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular stage show and an after-hours showing of the projection light show at Hogwarts Castle. It’s nice to be in the park when it’s nearly empty and so much of it is decorated for the holidays.

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There’s also a Christmas Tree Hunt that encompasses both parks and CityWalk. Purchase a Tree Hunt map for $9.95 at any major shop and it’s like a scavenger hunt for themed Christmas trees. Once you’ve collected them, you can head to any of the participating shops to receive a commemorative tree ornament.

The Grinchmas show at Suess Landing at Universal's Islands of Adenture is one of its many holiday offerings.
The Grinchmas show at Suess Landing at Universal's Islands of Adenture is one of its many holiday offerings. [ KEVIN KOLCZYZNSKI | UNIVERSAL ORLANDO ]

For live entertainment, the Grinch stage show has been updated with music from composer Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller. And speaking of the holiday favorites, Mannheim Steamroller returns to Universal Studios this year with concerts on Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 11 and 12, included with admission.

When it comes to holiday food treats, Voodoo Doughnut in CityWalk is dishing out a gingerbread cake doughnut and a marble cake wreath doughnut. The Croissant Moon Bakery in Universal’s Islands of Adventure has a swoon-worthy Nutella Cheesecake Reindeer Pop.

This is also the time of year you can get hot butterbeer. And in Battery Park in Universal Studios, they were sometimes selling out of the Chocolate Pressed S’mores. That’s a $9.99 sandwich made with chocolate brioche filled with ganache, marshmallow cream, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs. Another popular sandwich found there is a $10.99 number called Holiday Leftovers. It comes on artisan cranberry bread filled with turkey and brie cheese, served with a side of turkey gravy.