If, like us, you’re planning a Christmas trip to Orlando, excitement levels must be pretty close to fever pitch by now (I know they are in this house!). As with planning a Christmas trip to Walt Disney World, a little preparation will go a long way to make your festive visit an extra special one. I’ve got some insider tips and some great recommendations for things to see and do at Universal Orlando Resort this Christmas. And if you’re not lucky enough to be visiting Universal this Christmas, then here’s some festive inspiration for your next visit. Ready? Then let’s begin!
1 Book into an on-site Universal Hotel
This is always the first thing I say if people ask me advice about booking a Universal holiday. From the ‘prime value’ hotels: the gorgeous, retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort, where we’re staying this Christmas (squee!), and the brand new, futuristic Aventura Hotel; to the mid-range ‘preferred’ Sapphire Falls up to the ‘premier’ resorts which include Loews Royal Pacific, the Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay, there’s a ton of choice, and all the resorts give you great perks at the parks, including easy, free access via either the water taxis or free buses, and early park admission to one park an hour before the other guests, plus early access to Fast & Furious – Supercharged and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
2 Experience Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you’ve visited Universal Orlando Resort before, you’ll know that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split into two ‘lands’: Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where you’ll find Hogwart’s Castle and the village of Hogsmeade, and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios where you’ll find Gringott’s Bank. The two are connected by the Hogwarts Express, which magically transports guests from King’s Cross Station to Hogsmeade and back. Both lands have the most beautiful decorations and are festooned with twinkly lights, pretty trees, gorgeous garlands, baubles and snowmen.
The spectacular new Magic of Christmas show at Hogwarts starts at dusk (around 6pm) and performances take place throughout the evening at around 20 minute intervals (I’ve hear rumour that there’s even a really, really late one after the park’s official closing time). The clever projection mapping wraps the castle in light and colour, using it as an ever-changing background. Expect to see the Hogwart’s ghosts and even a reproduction of the Yule Ball amongst other things. The show ends with a fabulous display of fireworks. There’s obviously limited space around Hogwart’s itself, so aim to visit for one of the later shows when there should be a bit more room (or head into the Three Broomsticks, grab a pint from the Hog’s Head and watch from the seating area out the back).
3 Take in a show
At both sites of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll find special Christmas-themed performances, for example the Frog Choir, usually on the stage on the right just before you get to Hogwarts, will be performing some festive songs with their giant croaking frogs, and at Diagon Alley, the wizarding world’s most famous singing sensation – Celestina Warbeck will be performing with her Banshees.
4 Sample some hot Butterbeer
While you’re near the Three Broomsticks, why not try the hot Butterbeer? Unlike the cold Butterbeer, which I always think is a bit like cream soda (if you had that as a kid) with a sweet froth on top that’s a little like Marshmallow Fluff, the hot one is more of a milky drink – like a butterscotchy hot chocolate.
4 Check out the decorations
Take some time to just wander and appreciate all the incredible decorations. The shops in Diagon Alley are all draped with garlands full of baubles and twinkly lights (each slightly different, according to what’s in the shop), and there are some amazing Christmas trees. Head to Seuss Landing to see the trees covered in what look like multi-coloured bubbles, as well as the pretty snow-covered firs. The Christmas decorations in Hogsmeade itself are really natural-looking with lots of simple straw wreaths and pine cones – fab if you like a bit of minimal decor! Inside the castle itself there’s a beautiful Christmas tree too.
5 Head to CityWalk
For the most amazing festive dining and nightlife, you absolutely mustn’t miss Universal CityWalk. We have so many favourite restaurants here, including the outrageously good Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (just over the bridge by Islands of Adventure), fab fusion burgers and sushi at The CowFish, and of course the weirdly wonderful Voodoo Doughnut.
6 Get stuck in to some holiday activities at your on-site hotel
If you’re actually staying in one of the Universal hotels over Christmas, there’ll be special Christmas dining in every hotel, including a dazzling Christmas Eve dinner at Hard Rock Hotel’s restaurant, The Kitchen; a Christmas Day buffet at Amatista Kitchen at Loews Sapphire Falls; and a Christmas Day feast laid on at Aventura Hotel’s Urban Pantry, where diners can choose from a delicious-sounding menu including smoked chestnut soup, honey glazed ham with citrus and cloves and a prime rib with pistachio crust.
You’ll also be able to experience all sorts of festive activities, including ornament decorating at Loews Sapphire Falls Hotel, a meet and greet with Santa’s elves every Sunday and Christmas Day in the lobby of the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and special holiday cookies and drinks served every afternoon at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
7 Visit the ‘mean green one’ for The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular
The wonderfully wonky Seuss Landing is one of my favourite places at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and it’s even better, if that’s possible, when it’s all decorated for Christmas. The absolutely brilliant Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular brings the magic of Dr Seuss’ classic tale, The Grinch, to life in the most incredible way with a live stage production, plus you’ll get to meet the Mean Green One in person for a yucky selfie! There are 6 Grinchmas shows a day, between 11.30 am and 5.45pm from now until December 14th, rising to 8 shows a day, starting 10.45 am until 6.40pm in the busier Christmas period between December 15th and January 1st, it then drops back to 6 shows a day until close on 6th January. There’s no Express Pass and it’s first come first served, so get in the queue about 20-30 minutes early.
8 Don’t miss Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s
This absolutely wonderful parade features more than 30 incredibly detailed balloons and floats, along with hundreds of performers, some of whom will chat and dance with you if you’re near the front. Look out for characters like the Minions, and characters from Shrek and Madagascar, as well as Santa, of course! Show times vary so make sure you check timings here for the date you’re visiting.
9 Don’t walk past the Christmas shop!
As you’re walking in to Islands of Adventure, it’s easy to get carried away wanting to rush to your first ride, but don’t miss the frankly amazing Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe. There are Minions decorations, Grinch decorations (I love the stripey Grinch stockings), Hogwarts decorations and Christmas hats and absolutely everything Christmassy that you could possibly dream of. And don’t forget that you don’t have to carry your purchases around with you – if you’re staying on-site they can be delivered free back to your hotel, or they can be held at the park near the exit and you can just pick them up on your way out.
10 Visit the Bellhop Bar
There’s nothing guaranteed to make your holiday feel more special than being able to experience limited-time treats, like the hot butterbeer (oh and apparently there’s a pretty incredible turkey platter being served in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter too). For a very short time, guests at certain hotels can experience the Bellhop Bar, a pop-up bar with a steampunk feel, with old apothecary bottles and vintage glassware all unpacked from an old steamer trunk. Found at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, the Bellhop Bar specialises in local wines and hand crafted cocktails and there’s a different cocktail especially created for each venue too. You need to be quick, though, because you’ll only find it from 5-7pm and it will disappear again in mid-January.