Holiday Spirit
I went to Universal Studios Hollywood for the holidays and ranked all the experiences, including the...

Universal Studios Hollywood's 2023 Holiday Experiences, Ranked

Cop this hack if you want to get a viral TikTok with the Grinch.

The holidays have taken over Universal Studios Hollywood with a festive menu, sparkling decor, and seasonal shows. The center of the celebration happens in Universal Plaza, which has been transformed for the season into Whoville from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but Potterheads can also enjoy Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Since there’s a lot to see at Universal this time of year, here’s what’s worth checking out and what you can skip if you’re short on time.

Since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve become somewhat of a theme part expert and visit each of the California (and Florida) parks at least a few times a year. It’s become my yearly tradition to go to Universal Studios during the holidays to enjoy a warm Butterbeer in Hogsmeade, get a pic with Max the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and see the Grinchmas tree lighting. Another must-do that scrollers of TikTok have likely seen on their FYP is the Grinch meet and greet that is at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida in Orlando.

Getting to interact with the Grinch IRL is hilarious, but wait times can be over four hours long. If you have just one day to explore the park and want to enjoy all the food, rides, and shows that you can with enough time to do some holiday shopping for your besties, it helps to know what to prioritize. After spending the day at Universal for my annual holiday trip, here are the holiday experiences that are worth your time.

The Hogwarts Castle Light Show Is So Magical

Rachel Chapman

You might assume that meeting the Grinch is at the top of the list because of his virality, but the true must-see of the holiday season at Universal Studios is the light show on Hogwarts Castle. It’s magical and a befitting show for the Wizarding World, with light projections on the castle along with a Harry Potter soundtrack.

While it’s the same show from previous years, it’s still a spectacle that gets you right in the holiday feels. My favorite way to enjoy the Hogwarts Castle show is to grab a warm Butterbeer before and pick a good spot to capture some content. The earlier shows tend to be less busy, so keep that in mind when planning out your day.

Rating: 5/5

The Grinch Meet And Greet Is As Fun As TikTok Makes It Seem

Rachel Chapman

There’s a reason Grinch meet and greet TikToks get millions of likes — it really is a highlight of Universal Studios’ holiday celebrations. This year, Universal Studios Hollywood has made it a little easier for you to see the Grinch, too. Instead of just one opportunity in Universal Plaza, they have also set up a second photo location at the end of the Universal Studio Tour. Pass members can also take advantage of an exclusive Grinch meet and greet near the entrance to Jurassic World — The Ride.

Out of all three locations, the pass member one was the best with a short line and cute backdrop. However, the Studio Tour photo op is a hidden gem with the shortest wait time, and it’s perfect for anyone just there for one day. If you do want to see the Grinch in the Whoville plaza, go there as early as possible since the line only gets longer throughout the day.

Rating: 4.5/5

Most Of The Universal Studios Characters Are Dressed Up For The Holidays

Rachel Chapman

Not only can you get a picture with the Whos from How The Grinch Stole Christmas, but all the other characters around the park are also feeling festive. Donkey from Shrek wears a holiday wreath around his neck, while Shrek is dressed in a homemade Christmas sweater. Even Hello Kitty looks fab in a peppermint candy dress.

Rating: 4.5/5

Don’t Miss The Max Meet And Greet

Rachel Chapman

While at Universal Plaza, another meet and greet must is to visit the Grinch’s dog, Max. The line is usually not too long, so it’s definitely worth your time. Plus, you get a pic with an adorable dog dressed as a reindeer, like Max in the film, and he may even do some tricks, thanks to a trainer nearby. There are also other characters from Whoville walking around the area to keep you entertained as you wait.

Rating: 4/5

The Festive Merch Makes Great Holiday Gifts For Friends

Rachel Chapman

You’ll definitely want to make time to stop by the many shops at Universal Studios to check out their holiday merch. They had plenty of Grinchmas items like a popcorn bucket and spirit jerseys for collectors, but Potterheads will want to check out their Christmas at Hogwarts line as well. It includes sweaters, beanies, gloves, mugs, and scented candles. You can also find Harry Potter-themed ornaments to decorate your tree at home.

Rating: 4/5

The Grinchmas Tree Lighting Can Get Pretty Crowded

Rachel Chapman

The Grinchmas tree lighting is very festive, but also very popular. People will camp out for hours on the benches to reserve seats for the their family, and at a certain point, they’ll close off the Universal Plaza before each show to control the crowds. So, if you aren’t in the plaza before they put up the barricades, you’ll need to wait for the next showing.

The reason it gets so crowded is the lighting is a must-see for the holiday season. There’s a show beforehand with Whoville characters, like Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch, singing songs before the big tree at the center is lit. Unless you have a good spot to see everything, though, it’s not as much fun. It might be worth it to grab a snack and some hot chocolate from one of the nearby carts, and camp out on one of the benches for a spot to sit. However, if you’re limited on time, you can see the Christmas tree in all its glory after each show is done for a quick pic for the ‘Gram.

Rating: 3/5

Hogsmeade’s Holiday Decor Is Magical But Nothing New

Rachel Chapman

I was really hoping for something new at the Wizarding World this year for the holiday season, but their decor and shows seem to be the same as usual. They’re sticking with what works, and what works is truly magical. After reading the books and watching all the movies, getting to walk around a snow-capped Hogsmeade with Christmas decor is nostalgic AF.

They’ve even added some holiday wreaths and garland to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey queue in the Gryffindor Common Room and near the Sorting Hat. And across from the castle, the Hogwarts Frog Choir can get you into the holiday spirit by singing seasonal melodies.

Rating: 3/5

The Holiday Food Is Really Hit Or Miss

Rachel Chapman

As a foodie, I was a little let down by the holiday menu at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was hoping for more savory options, but most of the Insta-worthy menu items were sweet treats like a giant Grinch donut or Gingerbread Whoopie Pie. I tried ordering the whoopie pie, but it was sold out pretty early in the evening.

They did have festive hot chocolates and even a warm espresso martini — which I had to try — and those were just fine, but nothing quite beats a warm Butterbeer this time of year. I also tried the Grinch’s Heart Lemonade hoping that it would be like the viral Grinch Punch from TikTok, but it was a little too sweet for my liking. I did appreciate the gummy heart garnish and glow cube that made the drink picture-perfect, though.

Some of the best menu items for the holidays aren’t even available in the park, but at the restaurants in Universal CityWalk. The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium has a ‘Tis the Season Milkshake, made with vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, and caramel that is topped with whipped cream, holiday sprinkles, buttercream frosting, white chocolate, and a gingerbread cookie. If you’re a foodie like me, I would skip out on the seasonal treats and just go for what you know is good, like the menu at Toadstool Cafe in Super Nintendo World — which is not decorated for the holidays.

Rating: 2/5