The holiday season has begun at Universal Orlando — here’s how the theme park resort is keeping the festive spirit alive while following COVID-19 guidelines. 

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Universal Studios holiday tour with balloons
Credit: Universal Orlando

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

Upon reopening this summer, Universal Orlando instated a number of new health and safety policies, and now they’ve adapted their beloved holiday traditions to the current climate, tweaking their offerings to account for social distancing guidelines while still providing a fun and festive experience. 

The parks are already decked out in their holiday best, with classic Christmas decor lining the streets of New York and San Francisco in Universal Studios Florida, whimsical lights and garlands in Seuss Landing, and magical decorations in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Socially distant character encounters now have a festive feel, there’s Christmas music playing throughout the parks, and you can still catch live holiday-themed performances in different lands, as long as you stand on the markers separating parties by at least six feet (and keep that face covering on, of course). 

Parades and nighttime shows, which typically draw heavy crowds, have been canceled for the most part, though guests can purchase tickets for a new holiday tour that includes an exclusive showing of “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.” Universal’s Holiday Experience Featuring Macy’s Balloons has replaced the yearly parade, giving guests a socially distant and unique way to experience the event this year. The festive walk-through offers guests a closer look at the huge Macy’s balloons and beautiful Christmas floats, and you can stop for selfies with characters and Santa Claus. In some ways, it’s better than the traditional event, since you don’t have to crowd along the parade route for an hour before it starts or strain to look over other guests’ heads to get a good view.

Universal Studios Christmas Market entrance
Credit: Universal Orlando

Universal’s Holiday Tour is another new addition this year, giving guests exclusive access to holiday experiences across Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Starting Nov. 22 and running on select dates through Jan. 3, Universal’s Holiday Tour offers guests priority access to Universal’s Holiday Experience Featuring Macy’s Balloons, a tour of the perfectly themed Holiday Tribute Store, as well as hot cocoa and a meet and greet with the Grinch at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous.

Perhaps most exciting of all, these guests will get to enjoy an exclusive showing of  “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle,” a projection show cast across Hogwarts in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Hogsmeade. Due to social distancing guidelines, this show won’t be available for general park guests, so this is a special perk only for those on the tour. Pricing for this experience starts at $60, and guests will also have to purchase separate theme park admission with a two-park, one-day Park-to-Park ticket. 

Of course, Universal Orlando’s other health and safety procedures are still in effect this holiday season to create a safer experience. Face coverings and temperature checks are required, social distancing markers denote a six-foot space to separate parties, and there is limited capacity throughout the parks, attractions, dining locations, and shops. Hand sanitizer can be found everywhere — attendants even give guests some before they board each ride. On-site hotels (also decorated for the season) have similar policies. Additionally, the properties leave guest rooms vacant for 24 to 48 hours upon checkout when possible and frequently clean high-touch areas, among other new operational procedures. Across the resort, there are also options for contactless payments and mobile ordering, making it easier for guests to follow social distancing guidelines. 

With all these new policies and guidelines, the experience is certainly different than it was a year ago, but guests can still find the holiday magic at Universal Orlando during the modified celebrations this year. 

Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure who loves all things theme parks. Follow her adventures on Instagrram @elizabetheverywhere