It’s settled. My son and his oldest two friends have declared a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood during the weekend after Thanksgiving an annual tradition. By that Saturday, we’re all tired of turkey, cornbread dressing and pie anyway, and roaming through the myriad worlds inside Universal Studios, where thousands of holiday lights twinkle and every food and drink imaginable beckons is the perfect in-between-major-holidays treat.
Since the boys are still under 16, I was the designated chaperone this year, following at a distance behind them as their lanky legs took them to their first ride. “We’re getting on all the rides, Mom!” my son, brandishing his express ticket, yelled back at me.
The park rank in its “Awesomest Celebration of the Season” with the return of fan favorites “Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” and “Grinchmas,” which will run daily through Sunday, Jan. 1. All holiday festivities are included in the price of theme park admission.
After agreeing on a meetup place at closing time, I let the boys run off and spent most of my time in “Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” which brings the spirit of the holiday season to the village of Hogsmeade. Wandering through Hogsmeade is as magical as the first time: the snow-topped cottages trimmed in soft lights, the carts selling hot, cold and frozen Butterbeer, the a capella performance from the Hogwarts Frog Choir. The cloaks and wands remain popular items inside the village shops. I stopped inside the atmospheric village pub, Three Broomsticks, for a frosty Butterbeer and the Bangers & Mash plate — grilled English sausage, creamy mashed potatoes, roast tomatoes, sautéed onions and cabbage, minted peas and gravy.
By the time I left Three Broomsticks, night had fallen, so I slipped into the crowd staring up at Hogwarts Castle, which once again comes to life in a dazzling spectacle, “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.” The light-projection show stuns with larger-than-life imagery and animation dancing in and around the castle, featuring music and sounds from the “Harry Potter” film series.
After the light show, I moseyed on over to the “Grinchmas” Who-bilation inside Universal Plaza, located in the heart of the theme park. Children and adults marveled at the topsy-turvy 65 foot-tall “Grinchmas” tree decorated with hundreds of ornaments and thousands of LED lights. Every evening, a jovial tree lighting ceremony will excite guests as they listen to the Grinch tell his story along with the Who-ville Whos. The show ended with a flurry of snowflakes, and the baby in front of me tried to catch them all.
A variety of activities are available to guests looking to get into the “Grinchmas” spirit. The Grinch and his faithful dog Max are available for photo opportunities throughout the day. Cindy-Lou Who leads daily story time for young visitors looking to learn of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and the Who-ville post office is accepting postcards with holiday messages. Additionally, an array of sweet holiday treats, including hot cocoa, are available for purchase.
Adding to the theme park activities, Universal CityWalk is dressed for the holiday season with spirited décor and a 40 foot-tall Christmas tree featuring more than 200,000 LED lights. The infamous Voodoo Doughnut was our last stop at the end of the night. My glazed vegan doughnut was as decadent as the boys’ lavishly iced non-vegan ones!
Admission to Universal CityWalk is free. More information available at CityWalkHollywood.com.