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.

 

‘Welcome Christmas’ with a Holiday Who-bilation at Universal Orlando

image1“Welcome Christmas!’ From haunted houses to a holiday Who-bilation, Universal Orlando Resort transforms from a macabre landscape of familiar and endearing horror IPs to a bright, cheerful Christmas spectacular! Grinchmas and the Macy’s Holiday Parade offer a fabulous opportunity to experience the joy of the Holiday Season with friends and family. With both Universal Studios Florida (US) and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IoA) theme parks providing ample opportunities to enjoy this festive season, you will find it hard to get it all in one day. With many of the events not beginning until after 3:00pm, the parks offer moderately extended hours until 9/10pm most nights with some later evenings between Christmas and New Years. IoA is home to the live show How the Grinch Stole Christmas and US houses the Macy’s Holiday Parade. Although those two events are the headliners, there are other smaller opportunities that are also very much enjoyable. From toy soldiers and elves handing out candy to many photo opportunities with large, familiar Macy’s balloons, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.

While many people are all about parades and character meet and greets, my favorite parts of any Christmas limited engagement event at a theme park are the shows, lights, decorations, and music. I love seeing how the theme parks that I visit regularly transform into memorable fantastic holiday celebrations. For those who attend both the Halloween and Christmas events in the parks, it’s incredibly fun to experience the sensation of being in the same building or standing in the queue area that once housed a film/tv-based haunted house, but now is overflowing with colorful Christmas cheer. Both US and IoA are a bountiful buffet of holiday experiences that ARE INCLUDED with general admission or your annual pass. If you are traveling to the area or simply do not have an annual pass, I strongly suggest a 1-day park hopper ticket or a 2-day one park ticket. With happy holiday offerings going on in both parks concurrently, you’ll definitely want to enjoy both for a dynamic experience. Planned well, you can definitely watch both the Grinchmas show and the Macy’s Parade. The holiday season is the busiest time of year in the parks, so you’ll want to note that if you have a brief visit to Universal Orlando, there is a high degree of probability that you may not get to experience all the holiday offerings and the regular operating attractions. Just like the Christmas season creates hustle and bustle in the stores, there is quite the holiday hustle and bustle in the parks as well. All in all, this is the most magical time of year to visit theme parks! Unless you prefer Halloween, then September/October is your most wonderful time of the year!

Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure is home to the official Grinchmas celebration! One of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved stories–if not THE most beloved–is the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas published by Random House in 1957. Written as social commentary on the commercialization of Christmas, Dr. Seuss’ words in this story have impacted generation after generation through the original narrative, the animated classic, and Universal’s live action film starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch. You don’t have to be a Whovillian to feel a special tug at your heartstrings during the live performance of this most beautiful story at Seuss Landing. Many literary professors feel strongly that The Grinch was Dr. Seuss’ favorite character (followed closely by, if not on par with the Cat in the Hat). Being fond of the Christmas of year’s past, Dr. Seuss was growing irritated at the focus shifting from giving to selling. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was his way of cathartically getting these feelings off his chest. He essentially slid the mortal in sideways. Much like with most of Dr. Seuss works, this story is a creative social commentary on the state of Christmas in a post-modern society.

The best part of the Grinchmas show is how it brilliantly combines the efficiency of the storytelling found in the animated classic with the humor of the live action film. It’s neither adapting the animated movie for stage nor is it adapting and abridging the live action film for a theme park setting. The writers of the show, along with the music Chip Davis & Mannheim Steamroller, combine their efforts to create a whole new experience for park guests. There are scenes, jokes, and narration that you won’t find in the book, animated classic, nor live action film. So, just because you have read the book or seen either screen adaption, does not mean that the live show will feel redundant. I see the show every year and absolutely enjoy myself. This year, my friends and I had VIP seating so the show was all the more exciting. With a fantastic narrator, outstanding chorus, and excellent lead characters, this show will keep you entertained and touch that special Christmas place in your heart. “Where are you Christmas?” Right here! As this IS the story of The Grinch, the show includes familiar songs from the animated movie and live action film. The show is greatly helped by the characters not attempting to recreate their respective screen counterparts but borrowing from the book and both movies to create all new characters who embody the best of what the former had to offer. Even the Grinch is a combination of both Boris Karloff’s and Jim Carrey’s Grinches. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the show while the season begins to come to a close.

Across the lagoon from IoA is Universal Studios’ Christmas celebration with Macy’s Holiday Parade as the headliner! From Hollywood Blvd to The Garden of Allah to New York City, US has truly decked the halls across the park. Guests can experience the parade during the day or in the evening. With multiple runtimes, there is definitely a chance for everyone to get to enjoy the festivities. Prior to the running of the parade, elves, sugarplums, and other colorful holiday characters interact with guests. You may even get some candies and mints from Santa’s little helpers along the way. The parade floats are larger than life and effectively provide a comparable experience to that of the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you want a good spot from which to view the parade, be sure to line up at least an hour in advance if not a little more so.

There is so much to see and do as Universal Orlando celebrates the holiday season culminating with a top-notch New Year’s Eve celebration this year. As the festivities are included with general park admission, this is an event that anyone visiting the park can enjoy with their friends, family, and loved ones.