We like our holiday traditions, from Advent to eggnog, from "Angels We Have Heard on High" to evasive elves.
And it appears Orlando's theme parks are partial to their own traditions. This year, their holiday lineups contain no new major activities, relying on old favorites to draw folks through the turnstiles.
So I went into Universal Orlando's celebrations looking for freshness among the familiar last weekend. These events are included in park admission and will run daily through Jan. 1.
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For the 11th year, Macy's Holiday Parade works the streets of Universal Studios. Balloons seen in the retailer's famed Thanksgiving parade in New York City migrate south for December. These giant inflatables are seen live only in New York and Orlando.
"People ask me all the time, 'Where else do these balloons fly?' They don't anywhere else," says John Piper, vice president of Macy's Studio, the facility that builds the parade balloons and floats. Electrical wires and traffic signals are typical obstacles, Piper says, although they swing the lights out of the way in New York, where electric wires are underground.
"It's hard to find a place that it would even be possible let alone that it would really fit. Universal was perfect," he says. "Not only do they control the whole environment but they create the environment."
The theme park's year-round re-creation of Big Apple street scenes, including the storefront of the flagship Macy's on 34th Street, makes the balloons seem at home, Piper says.
New to the Orlando parade are "trycaloons," which debuted in New York last year. It's a two-seater cycle with a costumed performer pedaling in front and backed by a big balloon character designed to look like it's pedaling, too.
"They were an immediate hit. We thought this would be a great addition for our parade in Universal Studios," Piper says. The balloon characters on the two trycaloons are a Nutcracker and a Mouse King.
During the parade, I felt bad for the marching band that was drowned out by blaring recorded music. We heard Darlene Love belt out "Great Big Holiday" long before the parade passed by us. If I were king of all theme parks, I'd zone the music or mix up the playlist, like they do for the Mardi Gras parade. That's my Christmas wish for Universal.
Also back at the Studios is Mannheim Steamroller. The instrumental supergroup, whose first gig at Universal was a two-show, one-night event in 2008, has a record eight concerts at the park this year. It performs holiday hits at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23.
On Sunday night, there was a healthy crowd that sat on the Music Plaza's artificial grass during the performance. It reminded me of a picnic. Ah, Florida in December.
Steamroller also has a presence next door at Islands of Adventure, providing the soundtrack for the popular "Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular" stage show. The musical, presented multiple times daily, hasn't seen drastic changes this year, aside from some choreography and blocking, according to show director Laura Wallace.
It's the third year that the show has been inside a soundstage, which seats 800 spectators. It's more comfortable for guests, Wallace says, and there are creative benefits, too.
"The indoor musical show is much more theatrical. We can use lighting to help us with moments. We have video projection, which adds so much of that animated Grinch side of the story to the show," she says.
"Outside, sometimes our choral moments with all the live singers were lost in the breeze," she says. "Inside, it's a controlled environment that you really hear those moments when the Whos are just singing. It's beautiful."
Expect more Whos out in the streets of IOA, especially the week of Dec. 26, when the park should be packed.
I'm a little down that the old Who marching band with its wacky Seuss-inspired instruments has dwindled to one sousaphone-ish contraption and a pair of cymbals.
But it's great that a real dog still plays Max, (usually) barking on cue. And when he makes the grand entrance with the reindeer head gear on, all cameras and iPhones in our crowd went up.
It's a Kodak moment — perfectly, wonderfully traditional.
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