I’ve never participated in the running of the bulls in Spain, nor rung in the New Year in New York’s Times Square, because I don’t need to: I’ve been engulfed by the Christmas week crowd in Orlando’s theme parks. In the spirit of “taking one for the team,” I took on the challenge of visiting Universal Orlando Resort’sIslands of Adventure on two of the busiest days of the year — Christmas Eve (December 24, 2013) and the Friday after Christmas (December 27, 2013) — to give you idea of what guests face during 8 to 10 days on our crowd index.
We maintain our Crowd Calendar to help you avoid days like these, and Tourimg Plans to help you navigate should you be meshuggenah enough to ignore the following photos. These Islands of Adventure Christmas week crowd photos should also serve as great advertisement for the unlimited Universal Express access included with an on-site hotel room. And remember, these mob scenes are just a hint of hordes certain to swarm when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley opens at Universal Studios Florida next summer.
Christmas Eve (12/24/2013)
We’ll start with my mid-afternoon stroll around Islands of Adventure on Christmas Eve:
Wait times are substantial with Forbidden Journey posted at 100 minutes.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year (at least according to that ubiquitous song) and there’s no holiday season quite like a Disneyland holiday. In the past, I’ve experienced Disneyland it all its seasonal splendor during Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Fourth of July. But until last week, I’d never visited the Happiest Place On Earth during Christmas time, and as an Orlando resident I was blown away by the quantity and quality of seasonal celebrations. As we enter the final weeks of the peak holiday season, here’s my personal top five favorite aspects of Disneyland’s 2013 special offerings to distract you from the epic E-ticket queues.
Seasonal Sweets and Treats
Christmas is no time to go to Disneyland on a diet, as I discovered an insatiable need to sample the limited-time seasonal snacks offered and nearly every quick-service counter.
Disney California Adventure is decked out for the holidays. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
It may not have the six decades of cherished Christmas traditions of its older sibling across the Disneyland Resort esplanade, but don’t dismiss the Disney California Adventure holiday celebrations. The park has made great strides since its Cars Land-fueled rebirth last summer, and this year’s enhanced seasonal offerings are no exception. Once you’ve finished checking out my five favorite Disneyland holiday additions, tackle these top picks among DCA’s Christmas presents.
Buena Vista Street Decor and Shows
As soon as you step through Disney California Adventure’s Art Deco gates into the 1920′s era Buena Vista Street, you’ll notice the seasonal spirit in the shop windows. DCA has been criticized for redecorating the original Imagineer-designed window dispays with non-period merchandise, but the retail corridor’s holiday treatments for 2013 represent a return to form.
While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and other seasonal entertainment at Walt Disney World seem to get the lion’s share of publicity this time of year, visitors to Orlando shouldn’t overlook Universal Orlando‘s holiday offerings. Universal Orlando holidays might not have quite the nostalgic lure of Mickey’s merrymaking, but Universal’s options are every bit as expertly produced, and have the benefit of all being included with regular park admission (unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at the Magic Kingdom).
Universal Orlando’s holiday lineup, which kicks off the first weekend each December (unlike Disney, which starts Christmas almost before Halloween is over) and continues through the Saturday after New Year’s Eve, consists of two main components, described in detail below.
Universal still has not released on any dates on when the Potter area will open, but we may have been given a little bit of a hint earlier this week thanks to an interview with Loews hotels chairman Jonathan Tisch. While talking to CNBC (which you can watch here), Tisch said that the upcoming 1,800 room Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal would be:
“The largest hotel under construction in the world outside of China. Phase One will open April 1, 600 rooms. The rest of the hotel by June, when Harry Potter 2 opens.” – Jonathan Tisch, Loews Hotels Chairman
On the Universal website, Cabana Bay is having “preview pricing” that ends on June 14, 2014. That’s another red flag that they expect demand to go up in June. Here’s an example of what type of savings you can get for a Family Suite at Universal compared to Disney. I booked out a room from April 12-18 for 2 adults and 4 children at both Cabana Bay and Disney’s Art of Animation resort. The cheapest room at Cabana Bay was $232.00 a night, compared to the cheapest room at AoA at $498.76. After taxes, this particular week at Cabana Bay would cost a family $1572.06, while AoA would cost $2992.53.
A popular Anaheim tradition returns to the resort on the day after Thanksgiving, as fresh handmade candy canes are again available at both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure through Christmas Day. Availability alternates between Disneyland’s Candy Palace (Fridays and Tuesdays) and Disney California Adventure’s Trolley Treats (Mondays and Saturdays) and is strictly limited to about 120 canes per day.
The complete handmade candy cane schedule is as follows:
At Disneyland’s Candy Palace: November 29; December 3, 6, 10, 13, 17, 20.
At DCA’s, Trolly Treats: November 30; December 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 21.
On Christmas week only, the schedule is Candy Palace on Sunday & Tuesday (Dec 22 & 24) and Trolly Treats on Monday & Wednesday (Dec 23 & 25).
Fresh handmade candy canes sell out quickly, so if you want one you’ll need to secure a wristband at park opening and pick up your candy before 4pm. Candy canes cost $13 each, and no discounts are offered. For more details, check out the full report on the Disney Food Blog.
Are you planning to line up at dawn for one of these delicious holiday treats? Or are you unable to tell the difference between handmade candy canes and the standard store-bought ones? Let us know in the comments below!
I decided to head over to the Magic Kingdom this afternoon to see the Christmas decorations in the lovely, Florida sunshine! It has been very gray and rainy lately. Today was the first day with perfect blue skies, so it was worth running over, even though the park closed early tonight for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Hey boys and girls, it’s movie time! Today on the Touring Plans YouTube Channel we have a very special video double feature direct from Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, featuring the new Walt Disney World talking Mickey Mouse and a Christmas twist to a classic ride.
Now you can do more than just say cheese with the Big Cheese at WDW — you can have a conversation!
In keeping with Disney’s current “Christmas in July” Limited Time Magic promotion, Disneyland Resort made a surprise announcement today and revealed an all-new “Winter Dreams” version of the uber-popular World of Color nighttime show, coming exclusively to Disney California Adventure this holiday season.
The revamped show will debut on November 15, 2013, and is expected to run nightly through New Year’s 2014. The new show will be hosted by Olaf, a snowman character from the upcoming CGI animated film Frozen, and also feature winter-inspired elements from classic films like Bambi and Toy Story.
Did you get all the gifts you asked Santa for last week? The Disneyland Resort found exactly what it wanted under the tree this holiday season: record-setting crowds overrunning both its parks. Heavy attendance will hang around for the first couple weeks of the new year, when the resort returns to its pre-holiday look as the Cristmas decor comes down.
Quietest Day: Monday 12/24 was an 8 out of 10 at the resort, with 7.6 at Disneyland, and 7.9 at DCA.
Busiest Day: Thursday 12/27 was an 10 out of 10 at the resort, with a 10 at Disneyland, and 10 at DCA.