For the first time this year, Harry Potter will be part of Universal Orlando’s Christmas festivities, bringing a new and hugely popular setting to a holiday theme park celebration that is all about tradition.
At night, projection mapping and lighting will wrap Hogwarts castle with Christmas scenes inspired by the Harry Potter books. The Frog Choir and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees will perform holiday music. The streets of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley will get holiday decor.
For theme park fans, the holiday season may not be complete without Epcot’s Candlelight Processional or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Those and other theme park traditions are a big deal: December is when all the parks pull out the colored lights, bake sweet treats and put on holiday-themed shows, parties and parades, and families with kids on school break crowd in through the gates.
For most parks, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the busiest of the year, and holiday traditions figure heavily in ticket sales.
But theme park planners also know it’s important to update their attractions, so Universal isn’t the only company to add new holiday activities this year. Also for the first time, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney characters and seasonal scenes will be projected on the Tower of Terror and along Sunset Boulevard. SeaWorld and its sister park Busch Gardens are both adding a six-day Three Kings celebration.
All nine of Central Florida’s major parks — four Disney parks, two Universal parks, plus SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Legoland — are dressing up for the holiday season. Most holiday activities are during regular hours and are included in admission. The major exception is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which opens after regular park hours at Magic Kingdom and requires a separate admission ticket. One other exception is holiday-themed character meals, which cost extra and are offered by many parks.
Here’s a run-down of holiday activities at the parks.
Universal’s two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, are both getting new Harry Potter-themed Christmas activities, but Hogwarts Castle, in the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter, is the highlight. A spell has been cast on Hogwarts so that several times a night, scenes of its ghosts singing carols or students riding Quidditch broomsticks will appear on its facade.
Also at Islands of Adventures, The Frog Choir will sing songs like “I Cast a Spell On Father Christmas.” At Universal Studios, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees will perform holiday music, including “My Baby Gave Me a Hippogriff for Christmas.” Holiday decor will grace both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and holiday themed food will be available daily through Jan. 6.
- Universal Studios: The annual parade has been rebranded as Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s and will showcase new character balloons and floats, including characters from “Despicable Me,” “Madagascar” and “Shrek.” The park will also have live concerts by Manheim Steamroller every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 17.
- Islands of Adventure: The Grinch returns in the “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular,” a live retelling of Dr. Seuss’s holiday classic, along with the Whos from Who-ville. Also available for an extra fee: brunch with the Grinch.
- In addition, Universal CityWalk will have a New Year’s Eve party with drink, dining and dancing.