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Weekends at Universal Orlando Holidays filled with harmonies, hilarity, and a whole lot of helium

Weekends at Universal Orlando Holidays filled with harmonies, hilarity, and a whole lot of helium

Spanning two theme parks, Universal Orlando Resort enters its second weekend of its 2011 Holidays event, celebrating Christmas with a twist. From the world’s most popular Christmas musical act to the high-flying and colorful entertainment of world-renowned Macy’s parade balloons, Universal Studios offers its visitors unique entertainment that’s found nowhere else. And nearby at Islands of Adventure, holidays become “Wholidays” filled with hijinks as the Grinch puts his stamp on the season.

Universal keeps Christmas at bay until after Thanksgiving ends, but after their holiday festivities debuted last weekend, all the fun resumes today, continuing Saturdays and Sundays for the rest of the month – including today. So below I bring you all of the shows, parades, food, and concerts from opening day, Dec. 3. But don’t rely on this article to satisfy your Christmas cravings, as all of the entertainment showcased below is far more enjoyable and entertaining when witnessed in person at Universal Orlando Resort. Second only to Halloween Horror Nights, it’s my personal favorite time of year to visit these parks.

Grinchmas musical

We begin in Seuss Landing, the year-round land that gets a special makeover for the Wholidays.

Grinchmas

Grinchmas takes over the area, with the highlight being a musical telling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


Video: Full Grinchmas musical at Islands of Adventure during 2011 Universal Orlando Holidays

(Click here to just watch the Grinch perform “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch”)


Grinchmas musical

The show debuted a few years ago on an outdoor stage, but recently moved to an indoor soundstage, offering seating, climate control, better lighting and sound, and a far more enjoyable experience.

Grinchmas musical

It combines the classic Grinch tale from Dr. Seuss with the Jim Carrey variation a few years ago, mixing plenty of laughs, sincerity, and live musical performances.


Grinchmas musical

Cindy Lou Who takes the forefront of the cast of Whos.

Grinchmas musical

But it is the Grinch who steals the show, with plenty of hilarious hijinks. His namesake song is a highlight of the musical, which is backed by music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller. More on them later.

Grinchmas musical

I wouldn't touch him with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

Grinchmas musical

Despite his dastardly demeanor, Cindy Lou finds kindness in the Grinch.

Grinchmas musical

After stealing Christmas, the Grinch's heart grows three sizes (as the story goes) as he rides back in style.

Grinchmas musical

Grinch aside, Max the dog commands attention on stage.

Grinchmas musical

The Whos may be shocked to find that the Grinch stole their Christmas presents, but are quick to forgive. After all, Christmas doesn't come in boxes or bags.

Grinchmas musical

And in the end, all are friends... at least until the Grinch steals Christmas again in one of many performances of the must-see musical show each day.

Entrance

Hopping over to Universal Studios, guests are greeted by a classic Macy's parade balloon at the entrance.

Macy's Holiday Parade

The Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios takes over where the famous Thanksgiving parade leaves off, with many of the same giant helium-filled balloons and floats seen in New York. Some of the balloons line the park's streets and buildings beforehand.

Macy's Holiday Parade

This New York area spot is one of the best to watch the parade from.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Garfield isn't in the parade, but returns annually outside The Mummy.


Here are two videos to take in all the parade fun, either in 2 minutes of quick highlights or the entire 20+ minute parade. Take your pick:

Video: Macy’s Holiday Parade highlights

Video: Full Macy’s Holiday Parade at 2011 Universal Studios Orlando Holidays event


Macy's Holiday Parade

And so begins the Macy's Holiday Parade.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Big Man Santa leads and ends the parade, first in giant balloon form.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Various school bands and dancers are featured throughout each performance.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Macy's Holiday Parade has a mixture of floats and balloons. Here's Mother Goose.

Macy's Holiday Parade

There are also plenty of street characters, like these baked goods.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Themes are varied throughout the parade, from decades-old characters to contemporary ones.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Uncle Sam towers overhead, passing by the scaled replica of the original Macy's building in New York.

Macy's Holiday Parade

The balloons are each handled by a number of parade performers - some of which are park guests! That opportunity is offered each day for those showing up early.

Macy's Holiday Parade

A string of familiar cartoon characters begins with The Simpsons.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Scooby Doo rolls by in the Mystery Machine, dressed as Rudolph.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Cheerleaders get ready for the kickoff.

Macy's Holiday Parade

And it's away!

Macy's Holiday Parade

This Central Park float is featured in the New York parade on Thanksgiving.

Macy's Holiday Parade

One rumor suggests we may see more of these Madagascar characters in this park in the future. Maybe. Maybe not.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Street characters do their best to interact with the crowd, particularly kids.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Woody Woodpecker doesn't get nearly enough attention these days.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Nearing the end of the parade, candy cane stilt walkers pump up the crowd as Santa approaches.

Macy's Holiday Parade

The final character balloon is a recreation of one of Macy's originals from the '20s.

Macy's Holiday Parade

The big man in red is welcomed in style, with his always-popular helpers.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Santa's helpers perform a quick Chorus Line-style dance routine in the streets.

Macy's Holiday Parade

From this vantage point directly next to Universal's giant Christmas Tree, viewers mostly see the girls' backsides while they dance around. But that's not necessarily a complaint.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Finally, this perfect position pays off as Santa officially lights the tree for the first time in 2011.

Macy's Holiday Parade

Amidst flying confetti, Santa rides off.

Macy's Holiday Parade

But his helpers stick around for photos.

Macy's Holiday Parade display

Across the street from the big Christmas Tree, a new interactive display allows guests to capture themselves and upload photos to the Macy's Facebook page.

Holiday Market

Directly behind the Christmas Tree is Universal's Holiday Village, featuring a variety of food and entertainment.

Holiday Market

The midway rolls out with some Reindeer Games.

Holiday Market

Christmas-themed prizes are available for the winning.

Holiday Market

Roasted nuts are usually delicious, but I found the cashews to be rather dull.

Holiday Market

Santa's Snacks draws a big crowd, offering cones filled with a variety of meats and snacks.

Holiday Market

Kids of all ages can enjoy decorating (and then consuming) cookies.

Music Plaza stage

A night of Universal Orlando Holidays is capped off with musical performances at their Music Plaza stage.

A capella singers

An a capella singing group warms up the crowd with Christmas classics.


Video: A capella singers perform Christmas tunes at Universal Orlando Holidays 2011


Mannheim Steamroller

Then conductor Chip Davis takes the stage to lead his main act, Mannheim Steamroller. They're the world's best selling Christmas group with more than 40 million albums sold worldwide.


Video: Full hour-long Mannheim Steamroller concert from 2011 Universal Studios Orlando Holidays

If you don’t have time to watch the whole concert now, or you’d rather see it all in person at Universal Studios, you can just enjoy a few songs and highlights in the individual videos linked below. (They’ll open in a new window when clicked.)

  • Celebration” performed by Mannheim Steamroller
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” performed by Mannheim Steamroller
  • Let It Snow” performed by Mannheim Steamroller
  • Carol of the Bells” performed by Mannheim Steamroller

  • Mannheim Steamroller

    Mannheim Steamroller is relatively small, but produces a big sound.

    Mannheim Steamroller

    Synthesizers play in harmony with stringed instruments.

    Mannheim Steamroller

    And more synth adds to the horn section.

    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    After a few of their unique renditions of Christmas songs, Mannheim Steamroller is joined by the cast of Grinchmas to perform the same show we experienced earlier, but without costumes or makeup. It's a unique opportunity to showcase the performers rather than their characters.

    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    The talented cast performing with Mannheim Steamroller this year is exclusively doing just that. It's a cast that has performed the costumed version in past years, but this year will only be seen during this particular show.


    Video: Mannheim Steamroller and Grinchmas cast perform “Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You?”


    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    Cindy Lou Who looks lovely in white.

    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    But even without make-up or costumes, it's the Grinch who still steals the show.


    Video: The Grinch performs without make-up with Mannheim Steamroller at Universal Studios Orlando


    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    The character shines through facial expressions and mannerisms that even put a smile on the other singers' faces.

    Mannheim Steamroller with Grinchmas cast

    And ultimately everyone is left smiling with the excellent performance. Mannheim Steamroller concludes the hour-long concert with a few more songs after the Grinchmas musical ends, wrapping up a day at Universal Orlando's Holidays event.

    Entrance balloon

    And on the way out, guests can't resist posing with the giant balloon, still inflated out front.

    Everything above and more is incredibly included with park admission on Saturdays and Sundays throughout December. But Mannheim Steamroller only has four concert dates remaining, including today: Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18. And then it all wraps up with one final day of holiday festivities on Jan. 1, 2012, after Universal Orlando rings in the new year with concerts by Smash Mouth and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Universal CityWalk.

    For more information on Universal Orlando’s Holidays celebration and ticket offers, visit UniversalOrlando.com/holidays.

    More photos from Universal Orlando’s Holidays 2011:


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