The Complete Guide to the Holidays at Universal Orlando

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The Complete Guide to the Holidays at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is loved by many Orlando couples because of the thrills and excitement found around every corner. The holiday season at Universal Orlando takes the joy of the holidays and amps up the excitement. Both theme parks are decked out for the holidays, the Universal Orlando hotels are decorated, and CityWalk gets in on the excitement too!

Here's what you need to know to have the merriest time together during the 2021 holidays at Universal Orlando.

Basics of the Holidays At Universal Orlando

First things first, when does Universal Orlando celebrate the holidays? You can enjoy the holidays at Universal Orlando Saturday, November 13, 2021 to Sunday, January 2, 2022. This is in line with the dates for the holidays at Walt Disney World, in case you are interested.

Each Universal Orlando theme park celebrates the holidays differently. You can choose one park, or purchase a ticket with park-to-park access. Taking the Hogwarts Express train between the two parks is so much fun, and a little romantic too.

I suggest downloading the Universal Orlando app before your visit. The app allows you to browse wait times and plan more efficiently.

If you're looking for ways to enjoy the holidays without needing a park ticket, there are some decorations at CityWalk, and each Universal Orlando hotel is decorated. However, you do have to pay for parking at CityWalk as well as the Universal Orlando hotels. You can park for free at CityWalk after 6:00pm. Or, plan to see a matinee movie at the Universal Cinemark, show your parking receipt, and get a parking reimbursement at the box office.

Green garlands with red and bright colored ornaments are draped around the Seuss Landing entrance sign at Islands of Adventure.
Seuss Landing Entrance with Holiday Decorations – Universal Orlando

Upgrade your holidays at Universal Orlando with a VIP Tour

New for 2021 is Universal's Holiday Tour. This tour encompasses both parks and comes with serious perks, like hot chocolate with The Grinch, a special meeting with Santa, and reserved spots for Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s and The Grinchmas™ Who-liday Spectacular. And the merriment continues with an exclusive after-hours showing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts™ Castle. Separate Park-to-Park admission and reservations are required.

Christmas Tree Hunt at Universal Orlando

Before we jump into the different events at each park and CityWalk, here's your first date idea! The Christmas Tree Hunt at Universal Orlando encompasses both parks and CityWalk. Purchase a Tree Hunt map at any major merchandise shop at the parks or CityWalk and have fun hunting for adorably themed Christmas trees. You'll earn a special prize once you've found them all.

Christmas in The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade And Diagon Alley

A few years ago Universal Orlando began celebrating Christmas in The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter. This celebration spans both parks. At Universal Studios Florida is Diagon Alley, where beautiful Christmas decorations adorn the magical area in which Harry Potter was first introduced to the Wizarding World. Celestina Warbeck, the resident songstress, gives her show a holiday spin this time of year.

Hop aboard the Hogwarts Express and arrive at Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure. Here the Christmas time festivities continue with more decorations and a holiday spin on the quirky Frog Choir performance. The main event of Christmas in The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is the Magic of Christmas at Hogwart Castle. Throughout the night, Hogwarts Castle is transformed with enchanting holiday projections.

Garlands with ornaments that look like snitches from the game of Quidditch in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter adorn the window ledges and doorway of a Quidditch supply shop in Hogsmeade Village
Christmas at Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village

Holidays at Universal Studios Florida

For classic holiday fun, Universal Studios Florida is your park. Thanks to the park's New York area, you'll feel like you're celebrating the holidays in NYC. The main event for most guests is the Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s. 2021 marks the triumphant return of this special parade. Watching this spectacle gives me goosebumps. The massive, colorful balloons gliding through the air down the parade route make me feel like a child again.

Also in the New York area of the park is the Tribute Store. This store changes themes throughout the year, highlighting the park's current events. During the holidays, the Tribute Store offers immersive holiday-themed rooms, complete with music.

You'll also find live entertainment with a holiday spin this time of year. On Delancey Street in the New York Area, The Blues Brothers perform rockin' bluesy versions of Christmas songs. And over at the Hollywood area, Marilyn Monroe and her dancers make the holidays hot with their sassy moves.

A favorite tradition of holidays at Universal Orlando returns this year. Manheim Steamroller will perform live concerts at Universal Studio Florida on December 4, 5, 11 and 12, 2021.

Universal Studios Florida is also where you will find Diagon Alley, which is part of the Christmas in The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter celebration.

Holiday Date Ideas at Universal Studios Florida

  • Grab a drink at Finnegan's Bar & Grill to go and enjoy the Blues Brothers holiday show with refreshments in hand.
  • Stroll through the Tribute Store and take advantage of its many photo opportunities.
  • Take an ornament selfie with the massive Christmas tree in the New York area, using your reflection in one of the many large ornaments.
  • Claim your spot for the Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s near Finnegan's so you can easily access some drinks before or after the parade.
  • Head to the Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley for one of the many specialty drinks before enjoying Celestina Warbeck's holiday performance.

Insider Tip: To view the show schedule at either park you'll have to use the Universal Orlando app. The showtimes are not usually published on the website. Universal does a pretty good job of setting the show schedule in a way that makes it easy to hop from one show to the next.

Here's a sample itinerary that my husband and I followed recently, each of the three shows we saw had holiday songs and decorations:

  • 10:10 a.m. – Beat Builders show near the edge of the New York area, towards Fast and Furious Supercharged
  • 10:55 a.m. – Blues Brothers show on Delancy Street in the New York area
  • 11:30 a.m. – Lunch at the holiday food and beverage kiosk near Central Park
  • 12:30 p.m. – Celestina Warbeck in Diagon Alley
Enchanting Holiday Dates in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Image credit: Universal Orlando Resort

Holidays at Islands Of Adventure

What this park lacks in a holiday parade it makes up for with spectacular decorations. Seuss Landing is one of my favorite places to explore this time of year. No other theme park land has more decorations. Here at Seuss Landing even the snack carts and ride signage are decorated.

Some people overlook the little truffula tree forest with The Lorax, but don't miss it. This little walk-through area is precious at night. Surround yourself in the glow of the holiday lights as you take a quick stroll among the truffula trees.

Brightly colored curvy buildings are child sized in the Lorax Forest at Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure Decorated for Grinchmas
Lorax Forest at Seuss Landing Islands of Adventure Decorated for Grinchmas

The big highlight here is the live performance of “The Grinchmas™ Who-liday Spectacular.” If you and your love enjoy The Grinch or live theater, this is a fun, heartwarming production. Plus it is included in theme park admission. You will need to plan to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of the performance time to get a seat. Also note that this show has moved to a new location, inside the former Blue Man Group theater.

Just across the bridge and through the Lost Continent, you'll arrive at Hogsmeade Village. The steam of the Hogwarts Express train welcomes you. Each magical shop has decorations that match the theme of the shop. There is garland everywhere and every lampost dons a festive wreath. Don't miss the Owl Post's covered sitting area, which has a lovely collection of decorations and is a nice place to sit and relax for a spell. Islands of Adventure is also home to the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts™ Castle.

Seuss Landing and Hogsmeade Village are by far the most festive areas of Islands of Aventure. But don't miss out on the decorations in the rest of the park. The merchandise shops and dining locations each have their own decorations.

Garlands adorns the snow covered rooftops of Christmas at Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade Village
Christmas at Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village

Holiday Date Ideas at Islands of Adventure

  • Give your holiday cards some extra magic by sending them out through the Owl Post at Hogsmeade Village.
  • Head inside the Hog's Head for a hot butterbeer and stroll Hogsmeade Village together.
  • Although it is a kids' ride, board the Seuss Trolley Train to see the Christmas decorations at night.
  • See if you can spot any of the ornaments throughout Seuss Landing that have The Grinch's face on them.

CityWalk Holiday Events for 2021

The holiday season isn't complete without holiday shopping and good eats. Universal Orlando's CityWalk is packed with fantastic dining options and unique shops. Though the variety here is not as large as Disney Springs, the energy of CityWalk is exciting, especially during the holidays.

You'll often find live entertainment on weekend evenings. Every shop and restaurant has its own vibrant holiday decorations. You can also walk over to the Hard Rock Hotel or Royal Pacific Hotel.  Or, board one of the water taxis for a romantic ride to one of the premium hotels. Each hotel will be decorated for the season.

Big news for 2021 – Mistletoe Pines Village has debuted at CityWalk. The name is just perfect for a date night isn't it? Mistletoe Pines Village is a pop-up market near the heart of CityWalk with multiple food and beverage booths offering sweet, festive treats, multiple varieties of spiked egg nog, and more. I can't wait to try the Cookie Dough Christmas Tree and the Praline Holiday Bar.

Best CityWalk Restaurants – Book Your Reservation

If you want to make the most of your date night at Universal Orlando, be sure to book a dining reservation. It used to be easy to just walk into any table service restaurant at Universal Orlando, but that is not the case nowadays. Here are my top picks for the best CityWalk restaurants this time of year, each with festive decor, festive menu items, or just an overall great experience. Be sure to book your reservation soon.

  • Bigfire – best for hearty, rustic American cuisine and a cozy atmosphere
  • Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen – with its sweets-inspired menu it is perfect this time of year
  • VIVO Italian Kitchen™ – cooler weather and the holidays call for delicious Italian cuisine and handcrafted cocktails
  • Jimmy Buffett's® Margaritaville® – enjoy the holidays with a tropical twist with fun decor, and raise a glass to Jimmy Buffett's birthday, he was born on Christmas day
  • If you're on a budget then grab a seat at either the Riverfront or Shoreline outdoor bars located in the center of CityWalk near the main stage on the water
A large wooden deck is home to Riverfront Outdoor Bar at Universal Orlando CityWalk with relaxing lounge seating overlooking the water and CityWalk
Riverfront Outdoor Bar at Universal Orlando CityWalk

Universal Orlando Hotels with the Best Holiday Decorations

It can be hard to decide which Universal Orlando hotels have the best holiday decorations. The most important thing to know about the Universal Orlando hotels during the holidays is that you'll have to pay for parking.

Universal Orlando hotels range from budget-friendly hotels to premium resorts. You can access each Universal Orlando hotel by parking at the main parking structure for the theme parks and CityWalk, and then taking transportation to the hotel of your choice. Or, you can walk to a select few when you're at CityWalk or the parks.

Endless Summer Resort
Category: Value
Location: Just off Universal Orlando property, former location of Wet n' Wild water park, accessible by bus
Decorations: Simple tropical flair, only in the lobby

Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Category: Prime Value
Location: Edge of Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure side, accessible by bus or the Garden Walk
Decorations: Retro and classic with lots of metallics and jewel tones

Aventura Hotel
Category: Prime Value
Location: Edge of Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure side, accessible by bus or the Garden Walk
Decorations: Minimalist and modern

Sapphire Falls Resort
Category: Preferred
Location: Islands of Adventure side, accessible by boat or the Garden Walk
Decorations: Caribbean and tropical influences

Royal Pacific Resort
Category: Premier
Location: Islands of Adventure side, accessible by boat or the Garden Walk
Decorations: Vintage, Polynesian and golden age of travel influences

Hard Rock Hotel
Category: Premier
Location: Universal Studios side, accessible by boat or walkway along the water
Decorations: Music and rock n' roll, unique style

Portofino Bay Resort
Category: Premier
Location: Universal Studios side, accessible by boat or walkway along the water
Decorations: Romantic and regal, Italian and European influences


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