As we head into the holiday season, Grinchmas returns to Universal Studios Hollywood for another year of fun with characters, shows and entertainment based off the popular 2000 live action film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The event takes place inside Universal Plaza and on the Studio Tour from December 10 and 11, and from December 16, 2016 to January 1, 2017.
While the bulk of this year’s Grinchmas remains remarkably similar to last year’s event, there are a few notable changes that are still worth covering, so let’s take a look at what Grinchmas 2016 has to offer.
Because of Universal’s new expansive and unified entrance plaza, Grinchmas’ holiday overlay looks slightly different this year. While the arch carries over the same sparkly theme as Grinchmas 2015, Universal’s new palm trees now feature a string of LEDs that brighten up the entrance plaza at night. It’s difficult to encapsulate the entire entrance at night with photographs, but standing in front of the arch should make for a nice – albeit slightly different – photo opportunity.
Of course, during the day, most of Grinchmas’ holiday overlay remains the same, including the installation of seasonal green gates just beneath the arch.
Since the debut of Universal Plaza in 2013, Grinchmas has taken place in the park’s main piazza. While Universal Plaza offers a wide and expansive space for Grinchmas, its perforated entrances prevent Grinchmas from offering large scheduled shows or play areas (like the snow play area in the now-defunct Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show arena). Subsequent Grinchmas events post-2013 have traded celebrity readings, longer tree lighting ceremonies and a snow pit in favor of smaller shows and activities that operate throughout the day, preventing the concentration of crowds inside the Plaza.
On the plus side, Universal has been able to cram more activities into the event, including several small shows, activities and photo opportunities that weren’t offered before. It makes for a somewhat cluttered experience during the day, but the event looks much nicer at night for anyone interested in taking photos.
Meet the Grinch
As with previous years, Universal offers the opportunity for you to interact and take photos with the Grinch. Like Halloween Horror Nights, Universal’s dexterity with makeup and prosthetics really shines during Grinchmas, and the Grinch is no exception. If you’re at all familiar with Jim Carrey’s performance, you’ll be delighted (and perhaps shocked) at Universal’s uncanny ability to recreate the character from the film with absolute authenticity using a combination of makeup and skilled character actors.
But be warned – wait times for this relatively small photo opportunity have a tendency to balloon in the afternoon and evening hours to 45 minutes or longer. If at all possible, we suggest arriving early (preferably at park opening) to experience more manageable wait times.
Of course, meeting the Grinch wouldn’t be complete if you couldn’t meet his dog, Max. With the help of some trainers from Universal’s Animal Actors, guests can also meet Max the dog through his own meet and greet. Wait times usually aren’t as long as his owner, but we still recommend coming to the park early to avoid long wait times.
Trim up the Tree Lot
If you’re in the mood for coloring, Grinchmas also offers the opportunity to decorate a small paper ornament. Christmas trees are scattered throughout Universal Plaza, so once you’re finished coloring, you’ll have the chance to hang your creation for the public to see.
Who-ville Post Office
If you’re feeling charitable, you can also complete an activity that will donate a book to a child in need. The Who-ville Post Office will hand you a post card for you to fill out three good deeds that you’ve performed along with space to fill out your city, state and name.
Once you’ve mailed your post card, First Book will donate a book to a child in need and you’ll have the chance to complete a scavenger hunt around Universal Plaza.
Alongside the Grinch and Max, Grinchmas also offers a slew of characters to interact with, including Cindy Lou who, Martha May Whovier, Mayor Augustus Maywho and the citizens of Whoville.
While some characters can be spotted as the event starts, movie-specific characters – such as Mayor Augustus Maywho – usually roam in the afternoon or evening. You’ll have an especially great chance catching them after each nightly tree lighting ceremony once the show concludes.
While all of Whoville’s citizens are fun to interact with, we’d like to call particular attention to the postman. You can usually spot him wearing a fuzzy blue jacket with a rotund midsection dancing along with the Wholiday Singers shouting out funny non sequiturs.
Despite not being a new character, the postman continues to be the breakout star of this year’s event by encapsulating a sense of unconventional-yet-endearing sense of humor that Universal is known for.
Story Time with Cindy Lou Who
If you’ll be bringing children to Grinchmas, you might be interested in Story Time with Cindy Lou Who. With shows running throughout the morning and the afternoon, guests can hear a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Unlike last year’s show which relied on audience participation and the citizens of Whoville to tell the story, this year’s show only features a pop up book and Cindy Lou Who’s narration, making it a somewhat smaller affair. While not a dramatic reinvention, the lack of additional characters does make this show less interactive for guests.
Martha May and the Who-Dolls
Making another appearance at Grinchmas, Martha May and the Who-Dolls perform several song and dance numbers throughout the afternoon. However, unlike last year’s show, the actress that portrays Martha May is a live singer – a welcome change from Universal’s tendency to rely on prerecorded tracks.
Other than the live singer, the show still features a mix of choreography and a brief opportunity for audience participation.
The Wholiday Singers
The Wholiday Singers are also back with their a cappella interpretations of Christmas ballads and contemporary hits, with shows throughout the late afternoon and evening.
Like Martha May and the Who-Dolls, the show remains mostly unchanged from last year’s production, but the singers are still worth watching if you’re looking for new interpretations of your favorite holiday songs.
Whoville on the Backlot
A longtime staple of Grinchmas, Whoville on the Backlot also returns to the Studio Tour for 2016, featuring actors performing on the actual set used in the Universal film.
Featuring a slightly different arrangement (Universal has removed the stilt walkers), this short stop runs during the Studio Tour’s operating hours. For the best view, be sure to sit in cars 2 or 3 on the right hand side facing the driver.
Wholiday Tree Lighting
Join the citizens of Whoville every night for their annual tree lighting ceremony inside Universal Plaza. Occurring every 30 minutes starting at 5:30 PM, this small show features a mix of song and dance with your favorite Whoville characters.
The nightly tree lighting – like many others – remains mostly unchanged, though the Grinch no longer performs in front of his meet and greet, and instead walks towards the stage at the start of every tree lighting. Seating is tight around the tree, so we recommend waiting till the latter half of the day for a less crowded show experience.
For the most part, the basic formula of Grinchmas has remained the same for the past three years.
Despite opening Super Silly Fun Land and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the bulk of Universal Studios Hollywood’s holiday efforts are still concentrated towards the center of the park inside Universal Plaza. While this certainly is a fine offering in its own right, we can’t help but wonder whether or not Universal should expand their holiday offerings to other areas of the park – something that would surely allow Grinchmas to breathe after being constrained inside Universal Plaza for the past three years.
Indeed, ever since the introduction of Universal Plaza, Grinchmas seems to have emphasized speed and efficiency above all else – ushering in a sense of uncomfortable urgency throughout the event. The Wholiday Tree Lighting – in particular – feels rushed and truncated in what should be a prolonged show about the true meaning of the holidays. While adding additional show times to compensate is certainly appreciated, the constant flow of activity and entertainment also produces a flurry of guests searching for limited seating in front of the tree. Not only does this make navigating Plaza difficult, but it also forces guests to intrude on ongoing shows – a real distraction for those who have been waiting patiently for their favorite performance.
In the end, with Wizarding World and Super Silly Fun Land completed, we’d love to see Universal expand their holiday efforts beyond the scope of Universal Plaza. A longer tree lighting ceremony would certainly be appreciated (even if it means the event needs to be held offsite), and we’d love to see Grinchmas’ existing roster of shows revised and perhaps expanded to other areas of the park.
For now, Grinchmas still remains a strong holiday event, with several characters, shows and activities to keep your itinerary filled throughout the day.