The Holidays are back at Universal Orlando, and with so many ways to celebrate the season, the resort is offering a special way to see all of these offerings during the second year of Universal’s Holiday Tour, which has some exclusives for guests that are available only on the tour.
First and foremost, Universal’s Holiday Tour is a separately ticketed guided tour that starts at $69.99 per person that comes complete with a very knowledgeable tour guide. This is on top of park admission, which is not included in the price of the tour. On the pre-scheduled tour, guests will experience:
- Meet and Greet with the Grinch and hot cocoa bar at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoopendous
- Reserved viewing area for Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s
- Reserved seating area for The Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular
- Exclusive On-Stage Holidays Q&A with the Whos.
- Meet and greet with Santa and a souvenir photo
- Universal’s Holiday Tree Hunt
- After-hours showing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle
Universal’s Holiday Tour started last year as a way to still present some of the traditional offerings for the Holidays at the park while still maintaining COVID-19 protocols and managing crowds and social distancing. While those protocols have become more relaxed in the last year, Universal decided to bring the tour back for guests who wish to see all the holiday fun in a single visit. The tour takes place in the evening, and upon check in, you are guided in quick succession to the Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, and then immediately to the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, which this year takes place at the former location of the Blue Man Group. (AKA the former Nickelodeon Studios for the right generation) For both of these, you are taken into specially marked seating areas designated just for those on the tour. Keep in mind, while your group may be limited to 10-15 people, there are about 40 other groups that are doing this same tour at the same time.
For Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s, guests are taken over to the concert space and lawn area near Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt. Again, your group is not the only one on the tour so even in this space, great views are afforded all around but groups that arrive early get those coveted curbside seats. But the real draw (weather permitting) are those giant balloons which have everybody looking up to the sky anyway and the lawn area gives a nice open expanse in which to see them.
From there, it’s off to your seating area for the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular which despite the name, is a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but channeling the 2000 live-action release starring Jim Carrey more than the 1966 animated classic or book.
The talent in the show is unparalleled, with some signature musical moments in the show making me completely forget that I’m in a theme park theater. The show runs about 30 minutes and hits some of the highlights from the film like “Where Are You, Christmas?” and “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and some crucial plot points. The crowd favorite of the show, despite the Grinch’s best efforts, is Max the dog, who park regulars might also recognize from Universal’s Animal Actors show.
After the show you are taken to the Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoopendous, which at this point is closed off to park guests and only available to those on the tour for cookies and hot cocoa while the Grinch roams around table to table.
The cocoa is also customizable with different syrups and toppings, including chocolate shavings, marshmallow, and crushed peppermint. It should also be noted that this is the only food and drink given on this special tour. I highly recommend bringing your own water bottle and maybe a snack bag if you’re one that likes to snack and sip throughout the evening. The tour itself is not short, and again, this is the only refreshment break offered during this experience.
From there, it’s back to New York at Universal Studios Florida where you’ll head up to the upper floors of their faux 30 Rock for an exclusive meet and greet with the big man himself, Santa Claus!
Universal’s Holiday Tour is the ONLY WAY guests can meet Santa Claus at Universal Orlando this year. This is a delightful experience and Santa is charming as ever, interacting with everyone waiting to see him. You also get to immediately get a printed picture of your party and the big guy thanks to Universal’s photographers. That said, this stop on the tour also backs up quickly, so if you’re not among the first groups to see Santa, you can be waiting for a while. However, the waiting area is an experience in itself, as it takes you to a little known balcony area that overlooks the plaza below and, if timed right, a unique view of Universal’s Cinematic Celebration.
After meeting Santa, at this point the park may be closed, and your guide may show you some of the decor around the park before you head back to the theater for a special Q&A with The Whos. This quiet time in the park was among the top highlights for me, who loves a chance to take in the environments when not filled with crowds.
After this stroll to get back to the theater, you are seated for a special Q&A session with some of The Whos from the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, dubbed the “Who&A.” Earlier in the night, tour guides give out question forms (especially to children on the tour) that are then read in this panel setting.
It’s a great way to see the improv skills of these performers and a unique offering only available to guests of the tour, but still feels like filler while tour guests wait for the park to completely empty before they head into what I feel will be the biggest draw for this offering.
Tour guests are then taken into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade for special exclusive access to the land. Stores are still open to do some shopping and the Hogs Head is open serving up drinks and Butterbeer. It should be noted that this is not included in the tour, and the usual prices for the popular beverage apply.
If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, this opportunity might very well be worth the added cost of the tour alone. Even though the rides are not open, the lack of guests makes photos amazing, and you can wander and enjoy the detail of the land without squeezing shoulder to shoulder down the narrow street towards Hogwarts Castle.
Then at a certain point, your guide will likely usher you toward the icon to take in a viewing of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle. This projection show (with some small pyrotechnics) is incredibly popular and on normal nights draws thousands of people into this corner of the park on its own. To have the almost-private experience and see it on your own with room to breathe is easily the top selling point of this special tour.
The Hogsmeade experience is the standout portion of the tour because it’s the only part of the tour that truly felt exclusive. While the tour had exclusive offerings like Santa and the Who&A, you never felt like you were alone as all the other groups are with you for these. The parade seating and show seating, while isolated, are still surrounded by day guests, as well as the 40ish other tour groups doing the same thing. Those groups are still present in Hogsmeade as well, but it's more spread out and truly feels isolated and exclusive. However, if you’re looking to guarantee seeing all the special and hugely popular Christmas offerings at Universal Orlando in a single visit (or even just meet Santa!), then Universal’s Holiday Tour is the way to go.
Universal’s Holiday Tour is now available at the Universal Orlando Resort, with prices starting at $69.99 per person. Reservations and Park-to-Park admission are required. To purchase and reserve, head to the official website here. Universal’s Holiday Tour runs through January 2nd, 2022.
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.