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.
We begin in Seuss Landing, the year-round land that gets a special makeover for the Wholidays.
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”)
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.
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.
Cindy Lou Who takes the forefront of the cast of Whos.
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.
I wouldn't touch him with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.
Despite his dastardly demeanor, Cindy Lou finds kindness in the Grinch.
After stealing Christmas, the Grinch's heart grows three sizes (as the story goes) as he rides back in style.
Grinch aside, Max the dog commands attention on stage.
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.
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.
Hopping over to Universal Studios, guests are greeted by a classic Macy's parade balloon at the entrance.
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.
This New York area spot is one of the best to watch the parade from.
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
And so begins the Macy's Holiday Parade.
Big Man Santa leads and ends the parade, first in giant balloon form.
Various school bands and dancers are featured throughout each performance.
Macy's Holiday Parade has a mixture of floats and balloons. Here's Mother Goose.
There are also plenty of street characters, like these baked goods.
Themes are varied throughout the parade, from decades-old characters to contemporary ones.
Uncle Sam towers overhead, passing by the scaled replica of the original Macy's building in New York.
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.
A string of familiar cartoon characters begins with The Simpsons.
Scooby Doo rolls by in the Mystery Machine, dressed as Rudolph.
Cheerleaders get ready for the kickoff.
And it's away!
This Central Park float is featured in the New York parade on Thanksgiving.
One rumor suggests we may see more of these Madagascar characters in this park in the future. Maybe. Maybe not.
Street characters do their best to interact with the crowd, particularly kids.
Woody Woodpecker doesn't get nearly enough attention these days.
Nearing the end of the parade, candy cane stilt walkers pump up the crowd as Santa approaches.
The final character balloon is a recreation of one of Macy's originals from the '20s.
The big man in red is welcomed in style, with his always-popular helpers.
Santa's helpers perform a quick Chorus Line-style dance routine in the streets.
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.
Finally, this perfect position pays off as Santa officially lights the tree for the first time in 2011.
Amidst flying confetti, Santa rides off.
But his helpers stick around for photos.
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.
Directly behind the Christmas Tree is Universal's Holiday Village, featuring a variety of food and entertainment.
The midway rolls out with some Reindeer Games.
Christmas-themed prizes are available for the winning.
Roasted nuts are usually delicious, but I found the cashews to be rather dull.
Santa's Snacks draws a big crowd, offering cones filled with a variety of meats and snacks.
Kids of all ages can enjoy decorating (and then consuming) cookies.
A night of Universal Orlando Holidays is capped off with musical performances at their Music Plaza stage.
An a capella singing group warms up the crowd with Christmas classics.
Video: A capella singers perform Christmas tunes at Universal Orlando Holidays 2011
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.)
Mannheim Steamroller is relatively small, but produces a big sound.
Synthesizers play in harmony with stringed instruments.
And more synth adds to the horn section.
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.
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?”
Cindy Lou Who looks lovely in white.
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
The character shines through facial expressions and mannerisms that even put a smile on the other singers' faces.
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.
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.
In honor of Walt Disney's birthday, we take a spoiler-free look at Saving Mr. Banks as it heads into theaters soon. We also learn all about the Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project, restoring Walt's birth home.
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