Christmastime is “Magical” at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando guests can now experience the magic of Christmastime in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. You’ve asked for a holiday overlay in the Wizarding World, and now you can experience it. From Christmas Pudding at the Leaky Cauldron to the Magic of Hogwarts Castle mapped projection show, your holiday spirits will be uplifted throughout the Wizarding World. This marked the first year that the WWoHP receives a Christmas overlay during the holiday season, and it is not to be missed. Between Grinchmas (see my review from last year as it is largely unchanged) at Islands of Adventure, the Mannheim Steamroller, Holiday Parade, and Harry Potter Christmas at Universal Studios (as well as HP IoA), you will find plenty to fill your day. In fact, my friend Dani and I found so much to do that we didn’t experience one ride because the time just wasn’t there. But when you’ve ridden everything hundreds of times, you feel that there is the time to spend on the limited time engagements.

For months, I have been looking forward to the brand new Harry Potter Holiday offerings at Universal Orlando. This will be the first time that JK’s WWoHP will receive a seasonal overlay of decorations and attraction offerings. Now that WWoHP has received the Christmas treatment, perhaps Halloween will be next! Between both parks at Universal Orlando Resort, there is a world of holiday happiness around every corner, or in this case, through walls. With so much going on, it can be a little daunting to try to fit everything into a day. For annual passholders who visit regularly, this won’t seem as tough because the rides can be skipped. For those who are visiting on vacation, definitely consult the Universal Orlando app or website for show schedules in order to map out your day to make sure you get everything in (for vacationers, you definitely need to plan 2 full days minimum). On our way to the park, Dani and I looked at the park schedule on our way across the I-4 and made a general itinerary of the order in which we wanted to experience the limited time engagements. If you plan out your itinerary, you’ll find that getting to see the shows and parades you want will be much easier and definitely less stressful once in the park.

Our first stop was Diagon Alley to see the There’s Nothing Like a Holiday Spell Celestina Warbeck show. I adore this show, and often watch it when I am in the park. Her voice, the costumes, and music genuinely create the atmosphere of a 1940s jazz nightclub. The Celestina Warbeck show still has the quintessential Wizarding flare to it, and the original songs were superb! Expecting no less, Celestina’s Christmas gown was drop dead gorgeous and her Banshees were killer as well. Although the vocal artists/character performers who portray Celestina always look like they are having a great time, the degree of enthusiasm from Celestina was greatly increased during the show. I imagine it’s due to the show being new, and it’s a break from the regular song lineup. If I could suggest one way to start your holidays at Universal Orlando, this is the show that I would recommend hands down. And get this, at the finale of the show, Diagon Alley is covered in snow flurries!

After leaving the Celestina show, Dani and I made our way to the Leaky Cauldron to see the decorations and to see if they had some seasonal offerings on their menu. To our delight, there were some additional items AND a Christmas Pudding for dessert! I’ve read of Christmas Pudding in Charles Dickens’ timeless masterpiece A Christmas Carol, but never had the opportunity to try one. Without even knowing what was in it, Dani and I both ordered the pudding with her banger sandwich (her regular) and my Guinness lamb & beef stew (my regular). Although the interior of The Leaky Cauldron is not nearly as decorated as the streets of Diagon Alley, the subtle additions of pine garland created a festive atmosphere. After eating out main courses, it was time to dive into our Christmas Pudding. The mini pudding came out in the shape of a bundt cake with icing on the side to drizzle over top of the pudding. I was aware that British puddings were more like buddy cakes, but still to see a pudding in that shape was pretty cool. Once the icing was drizzled, Dani and I sunk our forks into the moist pudding and took our respective bites simultaneously. It was unanimous–YUMM! We both absolutely loved the pudding. Its flavor reminded us both of a spice cake with currents. Hints of cinnamon and sugar were also found in the pudding. We would both definitely order the Christmas pudding again.

After our early dinner, we were ready to board the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade for the Magic of Hogwarts Castle show. Upon approach to Kings Cross Station, we saw the wait was 60mins; so needless to say, we decided to walk to IoA. On our way, we stopped in the Universal props store where they sell old props to attractions. With HHN having ended just a couple weeks prior, there were many HHN props and decorations for sale. Annual Passholders do not get a discount at this store, but it’s definitely worth a browse because you may find a piece to a show or ride that you enjoy. Once we arrived at IoA, we were greeted with a new holiday mix of music at the Port of Entry instead of the whimsical tunes that are present for most of the year. On our way to WWoHP Hogsmeade, we passed through Dr. Seuss Landing. In no area is there a greater feeling of Christmas than in Seuss Landing. Much like Dickens is credited for inventing Christmas in how we commonly celebrate it, Seuss has also been incredibly instrumental in fostering the Christmas spirit through his brilliant book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Since we saw the show last year, we did not make the time to see Grinchmas again this time. But, I plan to watch it before the holiday season is over. If you haven’t seem it, definitely check it out as it is the live theatrical presentation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As The Lorax is a favorite book of ours, we stopped to take a picture with he who “speaks for the trees” since he decorated the Onceler’s place for Christmas.

We arrived at the base of Hogwarts Castle about 1hr prior to showtime, and there were already about a dozen or so groups of people sitting down in the taped off viewing area for the show. With the queue for Forbidden Journey reading 45mins, we decided to go ahead and select our spot for the new show on its debut weekend. It’s a good thing that we did, because in no time at tall, the area was filling up quickly. Since the show begins at sundown (the times guide states dusk–believe me, it’s after sundown), the start time varies based upon sunset. As the sun goes down, you’ll notice that the cliffs beneath the castle begin to get covered in snow. I’m aware that is mapped prediction, but the snow dropped cliffs look quite real. You’ll begin to hear the familiar Harry Potter theme as snow falls over the castle, and that marks the beginning of the show. And, such an amazing show it is! Simply breathtaking. It has a great blend of familiar images from the movies as well as Christmas animations. The song selection was excellent and paired with eat animations nicely. Whether you have seen the Harry Potter movies or not will not negatively impact your experience of this seasonal show. It is enjoyable for everyone! There is a warmth that iminates from Hogwarts during the show that will have you completely wrapped in the magic of the season.

After making our way through the overly crowded and disorganized streets of Hogsmeade (I’ve heard Universal modified the guest flow of traffic on night two, which is good because leaving the courtyard was horrendous Saturday night), we quickly headed for the Christmas Music of Mannheim Steamroller concert at Universal Studios. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the music of Mannheim Steamroller at Christmastime, and I look forward to their limited time engagement at Universal Studios Florida every year. Even if you do not know them by name, it is highly likely that you are familiar with Chip Davis’ combination of synth and orchestra pieces. The company at Universal is the Mannheim Steamroller Orlando compliment and not the full company (because they are touring at this time), but the sound is just as big and the showmanship is excellent. Since my mom does not live around here, I made sure to FaceTime with her so she could vicariously enjoy the concert with me from 500mi away. Attending the concert was the perfect way to end our day of holiday enjoyment at Universal Orlando.

Suffice it to say, Universal Orlando has done an outstanding job with its special limited time holly jolly holiday offerings this year. The addition of the Christmas overlay in the WWoHP more than doubles the festive events going on now. Don’t miss out on the “magic” of Christmas at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure this holiday season.


Holiday Magic at SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration and Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town

img_8142Central Florida is definitely not short on places to spend the holidays! From the theme parks to the zoos, aquarium, and large resorts, there is something for everyone. Last weekend, I experienced Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Christmas Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando. Both events feature Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa and his elves; however, the parks differ in the shows and other offerings. So, even though you can meet Rudolph and Santa at both parks, you will find that both are well worth a visit and will both contribute uniquely to your Christmastime celebrations! Since SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are only one hour from each other, they both essentially pull on the majority of the same local population. Therefore, as similar as many of the experiences are, the offerings have to be different enough in order to convince locals to visit both. Having experienced them within the same weekend, I’ve been able to analyze the similarities and differences while both are fresh in my mind. If I had to sum up the experience at both Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town respectively, the one word that best encapsulates the overarching theme is nostalgia. From the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer characters to the music, shows, and lights throughout the parks, the individual elements are combined to showcase a more traditional Christmas blend of carols, [Florida] snow, light-covered buildings, nativities, and live shows…For the full article CLICK HERE!

Such a variety! I think that is what I like best about how Busch Gardens and SeaWorld created this year’s Christmas limited engagement events. Whereas Disney’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a pricey hard ticketed event, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and even Universal’s holiday celebrations are included with with either your annual pass or day-ticket. That in and of itself, makes the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens events that much more fun! Why? Because it is quite difficult to fit everything in one night. Although the Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town events ARE included with your annual pass or day admission, the majority of the magic does not begin until the latter part of the afternoon. Unlike during Howl-O-Scream when Busch is opened until 12-1am, it closes at 9-10 during Christmas Town. SeaWorld keeps similar operating hours at Christmas to that of the Spooktacular. With the relatively abbreviated Christmas hours (as compared to Halloween), you may find yourself planning a return trip to the parks respectively or contemplating an annual pass. Since I go to the parks regularly, I have efficient time management down to a science and even I cannot get it all in. Even as I write this, there are some offerings I was unable to experience at both parks this past weekend. So, I am definitely going back! If you are only planning one trip to one or both, get there early and do your best to plan out the order in which you and your friends/family are going to experience everything.

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is an annual event that has been going on since 2012. For the first two years it was a separately (hard) ticketed event but since 2014 has been included with day admission and annual passes. Since the event went from hard ticketed to complementary, there has been a mitigation in specialty offerings; however, the event is still full of holiday cheer and a great assortment of character meet and greets and limited engagement shows. There are so many wonderful photo opportunities throughout the park with beautiful and fun backdrops. The entire park is open with a few exceptions, meaning that you can ride all your favorite rides at night! For those who are familiar with the late Pinky [the dancing flamingo], there is a tribute to her near the front entrance with lots of pink Christmas lights. If you enjoy hearing traditional Christmas hymns, then be sure to stop by Christmas From the Heart in the old Madagascar stage. It’s a classy show with small band, and a moderately sized chorus. Perhaps you prefer traditional and contemporary pop hits! Then, stop by the Christmas Celebration show in the Pantopia Theatre. With a wide range of hits featuring some of your favorite singalong tunes and of course Santa himself, this show is incredibly fun and festive. The cast and crew at the Moroccan Theatre put a Christmas spin on the daily iceskating show that is certainly not to be missed. Don’t forget to stop by the Crown Colony restaurant across from Cheetah Hunt to watch thousands of dancing lights move to the beats of Trans-Siberian and Mannheim Steamroller. Think of it as Osborne Lights lite. An incredible assortment of shows that feature lots of different kinds of music and acts with the central theme of Christmas. I love the variety of shows because they do not feel like something that you can get everyday. Feels truly like a special seasonal event.

Headlining Christmas Town (and Christmas Celebration) this year is Rudolph and his friends from the Rankin-Bass holiday classic. Even before meeting the characters, the queue is filled with little vignettes from the movie–great for photo opportunities. You get to meet Yukon Cornelius, Bumble, Clarice, and Rudolph! There are also some wonderful plushies (I bought one) and ornaments to choose from in the gift shoppe. A staple at Christmas Town is Santa’a House sponsored by Coca-Cola. Appropriate because the whole idea of the red jolly Santa we all know and love comes from a Coca-Cola ad campaign. Even before meeting the big man himself, you get to spend time with elves and Mrs. Claus. One elf in particular–Curley–she was incredibly friendly and created a warm inviting atmosphere from the time she opened the door! It’s more than a meet and greet, there is an entire show element to the Santa experience. Lastly, no review of Christmas Town would be complete without mentioning the Singalong Train! Boarding at the North Pole station outside of Santa’s house, park guests can ride the train (normally used for the safari) and ride around signing Christmas carols and songs with one another. Takes the idea Christmas caroling to the next level! The singalong train is always my favorite activity at Christmas Town.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Busch Gardens is SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration. At Christmas Celebration you’ll find Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa Claus but there is so much more that is truly different from Christmas Town. SeaWorld transforms their seasonay operating Ports of Call into a Christmas Village! From a miniature train sets to live acts, the Christmas Village is incredibly festive and fun! Be sure to get some hot cocoa. So many wonderful places to take selfies and group photos. I love all the lights! Speaking of lights, you will definitely be able to watch the Sea of Trees light up and dance to some of your favorite Christmas songs. You can either catch the show shoreside or take a stroll along the boardwalk across the lagoon. Over one million lights! Much like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld also has some stunning seasonal show offerings to delight everyone young and old. Although not part of daily operations, SeaWorld also has an iceskating show at Christmastime. Winder Wonderland on Ice is a terrific show featuring talented figure skaters moving to many different carols and songs. Preceding the show is SeaWorld’s answer to Straight No Chaser. The male quarter entertains the audience for about 20mins with excellent harmony and jokes. If you’re lucky, you’ll time it just right to watch the Sea of Trees while you are waiting on the ice show to begin. Although I miss The Polar Express overlay on the Arctic Adventure, there are still many other rides available when you want a break from shows and character meet and greets.

Both the Clyde & Seamore and Shamu shows receive holiday overlays during Christmas Celebration. Since I did not experience the Christmas Miracle show at Shamu Stadium, I am unable to comment on that, but the Clyde and Seamore show’s Countdown to Christmas was fantastic! Even on a regular park ops day, it is one of my favorite shows at SeaWorld. Clyde and Seamore are back and funnier than ever in this holly jolly holiday show. Countdown to Christmas is about Clyde and Seamore’s goal to meet several requirements so Santa can visit! The most popular Christmas show a SeaWorld is not Clyde & Seamore nor Shamu, but O Wonderous Night located in the Nautilus Theatre. Not your typical nativity story, O Wonderous Night centers around the animals located in the stable where Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus more than two thousands years ago. We get to here the nativity story from the perspective of the animals who each played a special part in that wonderous night. If you plan to watch that show, you need to know that it is important to queue up at least an hour before showtime. It consistently fills up prior to curtain. Although Busch Gardens also has a Christmas Village in Gwazi Field, the village at SeaWorld seems to have more to offer.

Well, there ya have it! Two phenomenal ways to spend the holidays with your friends and family. Or, be like me and experience it Han style–solo. Although you might think that it isn’t as much fun on your own, you can still have a blast celebrating Christmas at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment this holiday season. Lots of opportunities to sing, dance, and even meet some favorite characters along the way. Especially for those who enjoy a more traditional Christmas, these parks are the place to be. I guarantee that it will feel Christmassy from the time that you enter the park. It is so important that the parks make seasonal events feel special and unlike what you can typically get as part of daily/regular operations, and Busch Gardens and SeaWorld know how to create that holiday magic to warm your heart.