Why Universal Studios Hollywood is a Must See During the Holidays
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is just what I needed to get in the mood for Christmas. As a native Midwesterner now living in southern California, the build-up to Christmas can fall short when temperatures reach the 80’s and Santa is sporting surf shorts. There’s something about having a chill in the air, sipping on a warm drink to keep your hands warm, snow-covering the rooftops, and seeing snowflakes fall (even if fake), to bring on the tingly excitement of the holiday season.
We visited Universal Studios Hollywood on Thanksgiving weekend, right after the entire park had been converted into a winter wonderland full of holiday cheer. The day was cold by southern California standards, so cozy sweaters and boots were in order thankfully. The chilly air was perfect for sipping on hot drinks and taking in the decorations, lighted Christmas trees, snow-covered rooftops, the Grinchmas show, and the spectacular Hogwarts light-show finale.
What to see for Christmas at Universal Studios Hollywood
Christmas is everywhere in the park from Thanksgiving day through to the end of December. All the light poles are decorated, eaves are draped in boughs, ornaments hang from arches, rooftops are blanketed in snow, and characters are dressed for Christmas. Though all of Universal Studios is decorated, there are three areas of the park that are the most dedicated to Christmas and a must see if you are ready to bring on the holiday cheer.
The Streets of New York
This is the first area you come to after entering the park that is fully decked for the holidays. There’s an old-time taxi covered in snow parked on a 1960’s era New York City block with garland and boughs dusted in snowflakes adorning every awning. The entire block is sparkling and perfect for wintry photo ops. My favorite spot her for a great photo is with Frosty the Snowman in front of Saul & Sons New York Deli Market.
Grinchmas at Universal Plaza
The whimsical lopsided Christmas tree from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas towers over the plaza with blinking lights and a shining star. There are photo booths for pictures with the Grinch, with Max the dog, and in front of the Whoville Christmas tree. Starting in early evening, there’s a brief show with the Grinch trying to ruin the Christmas tree lighting hosted by the Mayor of Whoville but Cindy Lou Who saves the day and charms the heart of the Grinch. The kids will love the characters and the show, but my favorite moment is when snow falls in big flakes down onto the crowd watching the lighting of the Whoville tree. Even fake snow has a magical quality when it’s falling from the night sky, sparkling in the streetlights.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley
The Hogsmeade village of cobblestone streets, stone buildings and wood shingled rooftops covered in snow with every eave and window draped in greenery and holiday baubles is the perfect setting to bring on warm Christmas cheer. Take the time to window shop throughout Hogsmeade and listen to the frog choir sing Christmas carols. Grab a steaming cup of butterbeer and stroll the streets with the wizards and muggles while you wait for the Hogwarts lightshow. The Christmas lightshow is displayed every half hour starting at 5:30 pm and is truly as enchantingly spectacular as every Harry Potter fan would expect. Fortunately, the show takes place multiple times before the park closes so there are plenty of opportunities to watch it again, which you will want to do as there is so much to see in the show and it’s hard to take it all in one viewing.
You will have to wait until early evening to see the Hogwarts lightshow and the Grinchmas Christmas show, but there is still plenty to do at Universal Studios Hollywood to fill the daylight hours. Between the rides and shows, walking around and looking at the decorations, and sampling the food, your day will fly by.
Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood
The cooler weather kept the crowds down on the day we visited the park, so the longest we had to wait for any ride was an hour in the general admission line. On a busy day, I would suggest getting the Express Pass to bypass the general admission lines for each ride or you could spend the majority of the day just standing and waiting. Below are some of the rides you don’t want to miss while at the park.
The Walking Dead Attraction
We started the day with the Walking Dead Attraction. This is walk-through attraction, but it’s well done and definitely gets the heart racing. The Walking Dead are everywhere, trying to grab you and keep you from leaving the hospital. If you stick together and keep moving, you can make it to safety!
Fortunately, it was the warmest part of the day when we went to the Jurassic World ride. Somehow, I didn’t notice the Jurassic World ranger selling plastic rain ponchos at the entrance to the ride, and it wasn’t until we were deep into the line that I noticed the warning that riders will get wet on the attraction. Since the day was chilly and the clouds were rolling in, I crossed my fingers that only the people sitting on the edge of each boat would get splashed and those in the middle would remain mostly dry, but those hopes were dashed within a minute of getting on the ride. The splashes weren’t the problem so much as the spouts of water coming from above at various locations throughout the journey through Jurassic World!
Despite getting wet on a chilly day, the Jurassic World ride is six minutes of adventure and excitement that makes it all worthwhile. The dinosaurs are amazingly life-like and awesome to watch as they graze on the riverbanks as the raft floats gently along. But the adrenaline certainly starts pumping when everything goes wrong, systems fail, and the T-Rex breaks free of his containment cage. The raft careens through the darkness with raptors and huge dinosaurs making every attempt to pluck the riders out before breaking through to safety.
Revenge of the Mummy
This ride is fast and exhilarating! Your car will race through the crypts, dodging the mummies and demons, and just when you think you are safe, ants start swarming the walls and there is only one way out — back the way you came, so brace yourself!
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This ride has one of the longest lines, but it is well worth the wait as my entire family considered it the best adventure in the park. The line winds it way up to and eventually through Hogwarts. Once in Hogwarts, there is a lot to see around every corner, so the time passes quickly. Professor Dumbledore offers advice from his chamber, the pictures on the wall bicker and entertain, and Harry, Hermione, and Ron even make an appearance.
The ride itself is a row of seats, putting you side by side with your companions, but because the seats have high sides that you sit back into, you don’t really see anyone else while on the ride and this is part of the fun. The ride is meant to simulate being on a broomstick, following Harry over and around Hogwarts to a quidditch match, and the effect is well done.
Once the ride starts, your feet loose contact with the ground and you are swooped up into the air to join Harry on his adventure. As you fly around Hogwarts, the ride rises, dips, turns and zooms over buildings and through archways until you are on the quidditch field. Harry brings you racing straight toward the ground as the game commences then swoops you back up into the sky where things start to go awry. A chase begins as you fly with dragons and try to escape the Dementors. The entire journey is so exhilarating and the effects are so well done that you will believe you are Harry’s companion on a fantastic adventure.
I cannot emphasize enough how much this ride is worth the wait. It was an experience unlike any other ride I’ve been on and an absolute must for anyone who loves to be whisked away into fantasy. I was amazed I didn’t get a bit queasy on this ride, but I think it was because the scenery was so amazing, and the way the ride tilted to simulate actually flying on the broom didn’t throw my equilibrium off as much as some rides can.
Weather at Universal Studios Hollywood
The weather will definitely impact your visit to Universal Studios Hollywood. Warmer days are going to be busier than the cooler days, and since the park is located in southern California, nearly all of days are going to be warm and sunny. Most of the park is outdoors and most of the buildings are open to the outdoors, so even when inside the restaurants and attractions the temperatures will reflect whatever is happening outside.
The warmer days are better for visiting the park if you plan to ride the Jurassic World ride or the rides in the waterpark area as you will get wet and appreciate the sun. Just keep in mind that the better the weather, the more than everyone else will want to be at the park too, and Universal Studios Hollywood will be packed.
On the cooler days, there aren’t nearly the crowds to contend with at the park, but the wet rides won’t be as appealing. It’s not as fun to be wet when there is a chill in the air and no sun to warm you up. On the upside, there are a lot of rides that don’t get you wet and the lines will be shorter for all rides with the smaller crowds.
To see the weather forecast for Universal Studios Hollywood, click here.
Tips for visiting the park in cooler weather
- Dress warm and don’t worry about overdressing. Very few places in the park are actually heated and most are open to the outside, so even when sitting indoors in the restaurants, you will appreciate your warm clothes.
- Buy a rain poncho before getting in line for Jurassic World.
- Try the butterbeer warmed.
- By a sweatshirt from your favorite part of the theme park. I bought a Gryffindor hoodie in Hogsmeade village for $65, but it was money well spent. The sweatshirt is well made, kept me warm once the sun went down, and I’m still wearing it constantly because it’s so cozy.
Tips for visiting the park in warmer weather
- Dress light and keep in mind that though there are shades provided, most of the building are open to the outside and will be similar in temperature to the outdoors.
- Drink plenty of water and other cool liquids. There is an option to purchase a refillable drink cup, and you may want this in the hot weather.
- Wear sunscreen. Even if the day is not overly hot, the sun in southern California is intense and you don’t want to ruin your day by getting a sunburn.
What it costs to spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studio Hollywood Tickets and Discount Tickets
One day passes to Universal Studios will typically cost $95 — $129. If you plan to visit more than once, there are some great deals on bundles for visiting the park multiple times in a year, or for combining ticket purchases for Universal Studios and Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. I found the best prices and packages at aResTravel and , but you can also buy directly through the Universal Studios Hollywood website.
Upgrading to the Universal Express ticket will cost about $60 in addition to your regular entry ticket price. This will allow you access to the express lane for each ride (once per ride) and put you ahead of the long lines of people in the general admission lines. If you are visiting the park on a busy day, this is definitely worth the price as general admission lines can easily extend to 90 minutes or more for each of the major rides.
Cost of Food at Universal Studios Hollywood
If planning to spend the entire day at the park, expect to spend about $60 per person for two meals, drinks, and a snack. Most meals at the park will run between $10 — $18 per person, not including drinks. Snacks, desserts, and treats from the various stands will run between $5 — $10, and non-alcoholic drinks are priced from $3 — $8. All the restaurants we’ve visited in the park are cafeteria style, meaning you order your food at the counter and typically pick it up at the same place. Some restaurants will deliver the food to your table after you order at the counter.
There is a good variety of food at Universal Studios Hollywood, and the restaurants tend to stay in theme with the region of the park you are in. The Springfield restaurants are geared around the famous Simpsons’ hometown and include Krusty Burgers, Moe’s Tavern, and Cletus’s Chicken Shack. The fare the Three Broomsticks restaurant in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter includes fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and, of course, butterbeer! The park also has a variety of cafes and bistros serving everything from sandwiches to burgers to salads.
If you are comfortable leaving the park to eat, there are over 30 restaurants in the City Walk connected to Universal Studios. This a large area of shops and restaurants on the walkway between the parking lots and the park itself and offers many more options for food, including sit down restaurants such as the Hard Rock Cafe.
Cost of Souvenirs, Toys, and Mementos
As expected, everything in the park is a bit pricy, but the quality is good. A lot of the boxes of candy and chocolate treats ran in the double digits ($10 and greater), and a small box of Bertie Bott’s Jelly Beans in Hogsmeade can cost $20. Most t-shirts were over $20, sweatshirts were $45 and greater, and toys ranged from $10 to hundreds depending on the size.
Looking around the park, the Harry Potter themed clothing and toys were the most popular. The wizarding robes were $100 or more in most stores, but they were heavy and of good quality. The sweaters in the colors of the representative House of Hogwarts started at $95, and sweatshirts were mostly $50 and up. Like the robes, the clothing seems to be of good quality and probably worth the price.
Any true Harry Potter fan will want a wand from Ollivander’s Wands, which will run $25 for a regular and $48 for an interactive wand. The interactive wands will produce magical effects as you cast spells on window displays and other areas throughout Hogsmeade and up and down Diagon Alley.
Hotels Near Universal Studios Hollywood
The closest hotels to the park are the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City and the Sharaton Universal Hotel. Both are within ten minutes of the park and will run about $200 per night (prices may vary with the season and time of week).
If you are looking for something a little less expensive, about fifteen minutes from Universal Studios Hollywood is the Nite Inn and the BLVD Hotel and Spa. Both of these hotels are about $115 per night (prices may vary with the season and time of week).
Originally published at https://www.travelingwritingblogging.com on December 1, 2019.