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Theme Park Thrills: Best of Both Coasts at Universal Studios Parks

If you are going on a movie nerd-cation this holiday season, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort have all the must-do’s for your festive celebration at the park! We recently visited both Universal Studios parks to check out Grinchmas, Christmas in the Wizarding World, Islands of Adventure’s Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, and Orlando’s Universal Holiday Parade

Read on to find out our tips for navigating a busy time at the Universal Studios parks and take a look at our galleries of the 2019 Holiday Season below!

Theme Park Thrills: Best of Both Coasts at Universal Studios Parks

Universal Studios Hollywood

Holidays run until Dec 29th, 2019 on the West Coast!

Holly Jolly Hollywood

What makes the original Universal Studios theme park so iconic is the Backlot tour. If you’ve never been, it is our first stop recommendation for a taste of what makes Universal Studios Hollywood so legendary. The tour, which is celebrating 50 YEARS, takes you along a real working movie lot where films and TV shows are being shot while also putting you in movies.

Seeing Jaws jump out of the water while you pass through Amity will always make me feel like a kid. The tour is where you’ll find all the OG classics like Jaws, vehicles from Jurassic Park and the courthouse from Back to the Future as well as modern franchises and TV shows like the real set from NBC’s The Good Place and a thrilling high-speed ride sequence in Fast & Furious – Supercharged. Currently, my favorite part of the tour is the Universal Monsters mural by Tristan Eaton x The Hundreds. Each piece is composed of cinematic art that celebrates the studio these celebrated icons helped build. You can even score shirts and merch with this art in the park stores. We can’t wait for the monsters to have an even bigger presence in the park in their long-delayed renaissance. In small corners of the park’s entrance you can find nods like a bust of Alfred Hitchcock and props from recent film releases like Black Christmas and Last Christmas.

Christmas in the Wizarding World

Over in Wizarding World West, you’re instantly transported into a bustling magical nook where wizards and witches welcome you to join in the spirit of the season. It’s been chilly in so-cal with rain and fog, which makes it the perfect time to wear your house robes and scarves out and about while visiting Hogsmead as prospective students or alumni of Hogwarts.

Have a Harry Potter fan in your life? Are you the Harry Potter fan in your life, like I am? The shops carry so many items like a super legit Hogwarts tracksuit. There’s also incredible Wizarding World Christmas decor like house ornaments and Chocolate Frog trading cards that feature characters from the film.

I can’t stress enough how much the hot butterbeer is quickly becoming my favorite way to partake in this delicious beverage. On this coast, it’s far superior to the frozen version, in my humble opinion. Try it with a sprinkle of salt to make it a salted hot butterbeer. Trust me, if the drink is too sweet and your teeth start to hurt, it cuts the intensity of the sweetness. I could almost order a second one. Considered it but there were so many treats to try! The holiday menu at the Three Broomsticks also includes special plates and the best food in the whole park. There are lots of options for dietary restrictions and giant family size platters with meat and veggies if you seek vegetarian or gluten-free options. It’s the best spot for a whole Christmas feast for everyone.

Decked with holiday decor, almost every spot in the land is IG worthy. Even the line queues, if you find yourself waiting in line for a long period of time.

With the major nightly attraction being the luminous Christmas lights on Hogwarts Castle, be sure to get in the land before dusk as a line begins to queue up outside to filter into the space in front of the castle. Hearing John Williams score over wonderous projections inspired by the Harry Potter films is a must-see. So I would say, it’s always a good idea to get into Wizarding World mid-afternoon after doing most other attractions like Jurassic World, ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and hunt for the perfect spot to watch the lights on the castle and THEN head to Grinchmas!


This year’s Grinchmas brings back a slate of musical Who-ville performers and tree lighting with the man in green himself. At Universal, the Grinch continues to re-brand Christmas to be about him! Along with his dog Max, you have the opportunity to interact and take pictures with them and Whovians strolling around. But let’s be real, Max is definitely our fave photo opp, he’s the goodest reindeer.

Throughout the evening, live musical performances with twists on holiday classics and multiple tree-lighting ceremonies take place for your dose of Grinchmas cheer. And the new tree re-design is particularly more Seuss! Lets not forget the desserts available for your sweet tooth like their peppermint marshmallows and Grinch donut. Our friends over at Ordinary Adventures tried all of the festive Grinchmas treats, watch them here.

West Coast Upcoming Offerings

If your holiday theme park adventure in Southern California will be taking place after Christmas or if you’re a local theme park enthusiast looking for NYE events, Universal Studios has EVE coming up! Experience a day at the parks with extended hours until 2 a.m., dance parties at night, and NYE fireworks to ring in 2020! There are also VIP packages with a lounge, private DJ champagne toast and buffet available.

For more info visit Universal Studios Hollywood’s site!

Universal Orlando Resort

Holidays run until January 5th, 2020 on the East Coast!

Islands of Adventure – Hogsmeade

Going to Orlando early in December was the best decision. Waking up early to make park opening at Islands of Adventure, was sunny and breezy while standing in line for Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure.

Based off local advice, be prepared to deal with a ride that’s still in its early days of operation and dealing with technical difficulties. On the day of our visit, it had gone down as soon as we stood in line and came back after a couple hours wait to go down shortly after. If you’re staying a few days at the resort, it’s worth to just check the app to see when the ride is in operation, but if you’re only there for the day – it’s totally worth taking the risk waiting in the queue. We got lucky, at just under a three-hour wait, to be able to experience the best ride at Islands of Adventure. This Dark Ride meets Coaster is filled with high speeds and cameos from creatures that you’d only read about in books as you go by. There are even terrifying encounters that if you’re not a drops person but are a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I recommend taking a non-drowsy dramamine. Even then, some of the thrills took me out and I missed animatronics like Fluffy (TWICE) and yes by that I mean I passed out and was gone for a few seconds like on those viral coaster videos. The Scorpion with the fiery butt however – SEARED into my memory.

Very much like a class run by Hagrid, the ride has magical creature delays and it’s very much on brand for our favorite gentle giant who would often be dealing with chaos but fully intends on showing up. And the ride does SHOW UP! It’s worth all the hoops you have to fly through to get on it.

Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley

Immediately after Hagrid’s ride, we headed over to Diagon Alley via the Hogwarts Express that bridges Islands with Universal Studios. The train ride always feels like you’re leaving Hogwarts and going back home. It’s also one of the few instances where the use of screens enhances the experience in how it cleverly presents the landscapes of the Wizarding World: it’s dangers within the Forbidden Forest and character interactions outside your door. That and you can’t quite see the edges.

The mission at hand in Diagon Alley was to acquire soft-serve Butterbeer ice cream to determine if it reigned supreme over all of its other forms: soda, frozen, fudge, pot de creme, hot, and churned. And honestly, it does top all theme park ice cream. HOW IS IT SO GOOD!? WHY IS IT ONLY IN ORLANDO?! The soft serve has ribbons of the butterscotch flavor and it’s just – genius. It’s an ice cream that tastes like the foamy part of the butterbeer when you order the drink version. And you know they never give you enough of it! Soft serve ice cream fixed that. You can find it at The Hopping Pot stand near the stage. Just look for the great grey barrel poking out of the wall.

During the holidays you can also catch Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform bewitched holiday hits written for the land and it’s my fave in-universe deep cut. These are not muggle holiday classics, they’re wizarding world classics that don’t exist anywhere but in Orlando’s Wizarding World. It’s best combined with soft serve ice cream.

For more harcore fandom must have, look no further than Borgin and Burkes and Globus Mundi. These are east coast exclusive stores that carry an assortment of things you can only get at this park. Borgin’s has exclusive apparel for men and women with the dark arts store logo, as well as an expanded Deathly Hallows line, and Death Eater collectibles. Globus Mundi has travel gear and passport holders – for a store that’s not found in the books but the Rowling OK’d to be incorporated in the land. The mythology grows on the east coast. Lets not forget the also had Death Eaters wandering during Halloween.

Cinematic Showtime

Leaving Diagon and heading back to the Muggle world is like reverse traversing through influential pop culture. The first ride to hit up is the Men in Black ride, then The Mummy, and ending up at the E.T. ride. Come to think of it, E.T.’s Adventure is the bridge between the Spielberg classic and that Thanksgiving Xfinity commercial which gave us so many feelings. It’s also strangely wild that the ride smells exactly like the first decade you rode it in and if you’ve never been on it, it smells of the past. I can’t think of any other ride that’s a classic Universal dark ride that must be protected at all costs.

We closed out the ride portion of the day with dinner at the Monster Cafe, which also has a great selection of hearty BBQ and desserts in kitschy diner aesthetic themed after the Universal Monsters. It was the closest I’d get to Horror Nights Orlando this year.

The Holidays at Universal Studios

Having to pick between the holidays at Universal versus Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure was hard but the parade and Christmas tree lighting on the east coast won out. With Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, you get balloon characters of Dreamworks and Illumination favorites like the Minions and Penguins of Madagascar. It’s a mini-version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade complete with Santa who leads the way to the Christmas tree square for a lighting ceremony. During the weekends the holidays have more live performances on the Music Plaza stage.

Upcoming Offerings East:

The holidays are extended on the east coast until early January but their NYE offerings are plenty. There are in park parties with characters, Citywalk EVE club celebrations with fireworks, dancing and your favorite Universal Studios experiences. Hotels, like the Loews Sapphire Falls, even host NYE dinner buffets, midnight toasts and live entertainment throughout the resort and it’s bars.

Universal Studios parks are closing the year with big plans looking ahead in the future with the announcement of a 3rd park on the east coast, marathons and a food fest on the west coast, the return of Horror Nights and the Nintendo land expansion on both coasts. We can’t wait for next year!

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