COVID-19 has changed many of this year’s traditional holiday events, but guests at Universal Orlando can still celebrate the season with Macy’s and the Grinch, albeit with a bit of social distancing. We checked out the opening weekend of the 2020 Holidays at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and we have brought you this guide to enjoying the seasonal festivities.
Holiday Decor at Universal Orlando
Whether you visit Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida, you’ll spot the seasonal spirit in the decorations around the entry areas of each park. Islands of Adventure concentrates its Christmas decorations in Port of Entry,…
…the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Hogsmeade,…
…and Seuss Landing.
Over in Universal Studios Florida, Hollywood and Diagon Alley are the focal points for holiday decor.
The seasonal spirit has spread inside stores across both parks, where select retail locations are hosting a themed Christmas tree trail. Purchase a $10 map and collect a stamp from every participating shop to receive a souvenir ornament.
Grinchmas at Seuss Landing
Safety precautions may have stolen away this year’s staging of Universal’s traditional Grinchmas musical, but that hasn’t stopped the citizens of Seuss Landing from finding socially distanced ways of celebrating the Who-lidays.
Several Whos (whose distinctive noses are now hidden beneath face masks) can be spotted throughout the day around Seuss Landing. Some will be posing with props near the bridge to Lost Continent.
You’ll also find some unusually tall Whos towering above the land, taking vertically distanced selfies with guests along Mulberry Street.
Your Grinchmas isn’t complete without an audience with the Mean Green One himself, and Universal has implemented a new queue system for Grinch photo ops that we hope will stick around after 2020 ends.
In past years, the Grinch has garnered hour-plus queues for his seasonal meet-and-greets. This year, Universal is offering free timed reservations for the Grinch, a system that greatly reduces the time guests waste waiting in line. You can make a same-day reservation inside the park by scanning this QR code, found outside the All The Books You Can Read store.
Better yet, make an advance reservation for the Grinch photo-op online before leaving home. I picked my 20-minute time slot several days in advance and only waited 15 minutes for my photo once I checked in.
Once inside the store, you’ll discover that this “photo appointment with the Grinch” is literally that: rather than posing alongside guests, the Grinch acts as photographer, and uses the camera to capture green screen images into which he’s inserted digitally afterwards.
The finished product is free for purchasers of My Universal Photos packages.
This is a funny and creative way to handle social distancing, and the Grinch’s face mask doesn’t stop him from running his mouth.
Be sure to banter with him before your close-up, or even ask him to strike a pose for you to snap!
Universal Orlando Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons
The E-Ticket attraction of the 2020 Holidays at Universal Orlando is undoubtedly the Holiday Experience found in Universal Studios Florida. Macy’s balloons and themed floats from the park’s traditional Thanksgiving Day parade have been repurposed as walk-through display, complete with colorful lighting and music.
A couple of characters wave to guests along the pathway through the soundstage, which culminates in a queue to take a socially distanced picture with Santa Claus himself.
The Universal Orlando Holiday Experience is a lot like a a haunted house, only with seasonal smiles instead of scares, and it serves as a safe substitute for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers along a parade route. You can see the entire experience for yourself (in Dolby Vision HDR, if you have the proper display) with this POV video:
Wait times to enter the Holiday Experience are typically minimal, but if you happen to encounter a long line, look for free Virtual Line return times instead of queueing.
Holiday Tribute Store and Treats
Close behind Universal’s Holiday Experience in anticipation—and often exceeding it in wait times—is the brand-new Holiday Tribute Store, which took over the space next to Revenge of the Mummy and was recently occupied by the Halloween Tribute Store.
This new store, which the resort’s Visual Merchandise team assembled inside its current location in a matter of days, is richly detailed with scenic decor, background audio, and even digitally projected snow flurries. You can enjoy a first-person trip through the Holiday Tribute store with this video:
Various sections of the Holiday Tribute Store are themed to a German holiday village, the Grinch, and Harry Potter, each with its own matching merchandise.
The layout of the store is similar to the Halloween version, but crowd flow has been improved by moving the snack selections to the end.
The stalls of snacks are themed to Earl the Squirrel and offer temptations like glowing gummy Christmas lights (a twist on the beating hearts from HHN), and this delicious Gingerbread whoopie pie.
Who is Earl the Squirrel, you ask?
Why, he’s the long-running unofficial mascot of Universal’s hotel celebration, who can always be found hiding inside the giant Christmas tree located across from the Holiday Tribute Store’s entrance.
It’s 2020, so Earl is wearing a tiny face mask, of course!
Seasonal snacks can be found elsewhere around the Universal Orlando Resort, some of which are featured on collectible “treat trail” maps available in the parks and at CityWalk. You’ll want to inspect the menus at the two food trucks that recently appeared near Kidzone and Music Plaza, serving loaded funnel cakes and savory arepas.
Bonus: Park-To-Park Walking Path
If you want to check out everything the 2020 Holidays have to offer in both Universal Orlando theme parks—and you definitely do!—here’s a hot tip for coping with the crowds that come along with the season: on weekends and other peak attendance days, a direct walking path may be opened between Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem in Universal Studios Florida.
The backstage pathway past production soundstages isn’t particularly pretty. But when available, it’s a far faster way to park-hop compared to taking the Hogwarts Express or walking to the front gate.
Lump of Coal: Fast & Furious Supercharged Returns
One final note for those who have been naughty: Fast & Furious Supercharged, our readers’ least favorite attraction at Universal Orlando, temporarily reopened as of November 21 to help handle holiday crowds. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020. For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando.