Universal/Wizarding World



Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Orlando are premiere entertainment destinations that allow you to be transported into your favorite films (and sometimes get to watch them being filmed). But during the holidays, they become even more magical, festooned with decorations and special lighting packages, and enough Christmas cheer that you'd have to be a Grinch to not have a good time (and, yes, he's around too). We took a trip to both domestic Universal resorts to take in all of the festive offerings, and are happy to report back on all the yuletide-specific adventures they have to offer.

First, let's start at the east coast resort, Universal Studios Florida. The resort now consists of three theme parks – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and the recently-opened "theme water park" Volcano Bay (sadly, there wasn't anything Christmas-y going on there). At the main park, we were treated to a wide array of holiday-specific food offerings (including a Grinch-shaped donut that I am happy to report was utterly delicious) and, riding a definite sugar high, got to sample some of the other things that you can do during the holidays. One of the most jaw-dropping is Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's, a full-on, Thanksgiving Day-worthy parade that features 30 balloons and floats of your favorite characters and movies, along with hundreds of performers and even an appearance by the big guy himself, Santa Claus. This is one of the greatest theme park parades currently in existence, and the sheer scope and scale of it will leave you dazzled.

Also, in terms of live entertainment, there's the Mannheim Steamroller, who perform on select dates at Universal Studios at the Music Plaza Stage (the one over by the looping rollercoaster). Because, honestly, what is Christmas without Mannheim Steamroller?

Over at the adjacent Islands of Adventure, there's even more to enjoy. The big draw at this park is, of course, Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While this incorporates elements at both parks (since, as we all know, the Wizarding World has "lands" in each), nothing packs them in like the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle, an incredibly nifty projection-and-fireworks show that happens nightly at the iconic castle. Using state-of-the-art effects and animation (and backed by John Williams' unforgettable music), the castle totally transforms, whisking you away to a land of enchantment and majesty. (Make sure you have your hot butterbeer handy.) Elsewhere in the Wizarding World, decorations have been lovingly placed (as if by magic) and the live performances also take on a festive edge, with the Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees each engaging in holiday favorites. It helps that Hogsmeade, with its snow-topped roofs, already feels very wintery but with these new decorations and experiences, it takes things to a whole different level of immersion. There are also, it should be noted, a lot of really cute, holiday-specific merchandise that you can find, including custom-made Christmas ornaments created specifically for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal



Also at Islands of Adventure, a familiar green fiend will be making himself known as part of the annual Grinchmas at Universal's Islands of Adventure celebration. This wonderful event takes place every year in the Seuss Landing section of the park and its centerpiece is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, a live retelling of Dr. Seuss' classic story, which this year features new sets and new special effects. (But the same moldy old Grinch!) If you just happen to be walking around Seuss Landing, you could also just run into the Grinch or some of the amiable Whos from Who-ville. If you want to up your odds of interacting with these fantastical characters, you might want to book a special, ticketed breakfast that happens on select dates at the Circus McGurkus Café Stoo-pendous. Yes, that's what it's called. Deal with it.

Now, we shuttle back to the west coast (as quick as Santa in his sleigh) to check out Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal Studios Hollywood has been in the midst of a transformation, with bigger experiences and bolder improvements to both its attractions (look for a Jurassic World re-theme of the classic Jurassic Park ride next year) and its general infrastructure (like the new shops along the main thoroughfare as you enter the park). And so if you haven't visited recently, the holidays are a great time. Not only are the decorations out-of-control (like the 60-tall whimsical "Grinchmas" tree (where performers sing on select days and the Minions-supervised mayhem over in Super Silly Fun Land), but Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also showcased on this coast, complete with the projection show. Here's a tip, too: get there early for the nighttime spectacular, since there isn't quite as much room as down in Florida, a queue forms outside the land on most nights.