The SATURDAY SIX Checks Out CHRISTMAS at the Universal Orlando Resort

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the holiday celebration at the Universal Orlando Resort! With the coronavirus playing havoc with the theme park calendar this year, a couple months ago it was uncertain whether the Florida parks would even have much of an effort at bringing Christmas to the theme parks to close out the year. We’ve all seen the quarterly earnings report with both Disney and Universal losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Thousands of theme park Cast Members and Team Members are still currently out of work (to find out how you can help, CLICK HERE). Projects were stalled if not outright cancelled. It seemed like we were doomed to a “death by a thousand paper cuts.”

Then something amazing happened. Universal went forward with a modified version of Halloween Horror Nights. While Disney was letting entertainment go left and right, Universal was bringing more entertainment in. For the first time in a while, things for a theme park fan were looking up.

For many guests, the Christmas season at the theme parks is the most special time of the entire year. Decorations are up, Christmas music is playing over the speakers, and both Disney and Universal do an incredible job with their annual events like Mickey’s Very Merry and Grinchmas. For these “unprecedented times,” a lot of what we loved in the past can’t be done right now. The good news is that – with a little creativity – Universal Orlando was able to put a gift under our Christmas tree after all…

The iconic entrance arch to Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @Nitro230)

Today we’re going to take a look at the holiday celebration, and we’ll kick it off with…

# 6 – Voodoo Doughnut

We’re running out of superlatives to describe our favorite bakery at Universal, as Voodoo Doughnut once again has come through with some wonderful Christmas themed offerings. In previous years, Voodoo has had donuts themed to Santa Claus and the Grinch, and for 2020 they have two Snowman donuts along with an ornament donut.

Voodoo Donut holiday donuts. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Let’s get a close-up of these beauties…

Snowman donut. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

The filling inside the head of the snowman is white chocolate mocha cream.

Cross section of snowman “head” donut. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

While the body is filled with chocolate peppermint cream.

Cross section of snowman “body” donut. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

The ornament is filled with gingerbread cream cheese and tastes as good as it sounds. One of Voodoo’s best ever tasting seasonal offerings.

String lights on the ornament donut. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Cross section featuring the yummy gingerbread cream cheese filling! (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Hard to get better than themed donuts, but this year Universal introduced The Holiday Treat Trail! We’ve seen similar gimmicks like this over at Disney, including at EPCOT and Disney Springs. If guests purchase five qualifying treats at various locations around Universal, they are rewarded with another snack. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

Holiday Treat Trail guide map. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Holiday Treat Trail guide. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

The map features a look at Universal CityWalk and the two theme parks, and has a place on the side for guests to get a stamp after their purchase.

Treat Trail stamps. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

A bottle of Cinnamon Coke can be purchased at several locations throughout the parks and CityWalk.

Cinnamon Coke. (photo by @Nitro230)

Red Holiday Popcorn can be purchased at the popcorn cart near The Incredible Hulk Coaster in Marvel Superhero Island.

Popcorn. (photo by @Nitro230)
Popcorn. (photo by @Nitro230)

This Pumpkin Spice Churro is available at the Production Central cart in Universal Studios Florida.

Pumpkin Spice Churro. (photo by @Nitro230)

The Holiday Wreath Cake is available at the TODAY Cafe in Universal Studios Florida.

Holiday Wreath Cake. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Slice of Holiday Wreath Cake. (photo by @Nitro230)

When you have all the stamps collected, you can head on over to the Silver Screen Coke kiosk in USF or The Watering Hole in Jurassic Park at IOA and get your redemption prize: a Christmas tree sugar cookie.

Christmas tree sugar cookie. (photo by @Nitro230)

# 5 – Earl the Squirrel

One of the best “secrets” at Universal Orlando comes every holiday season, and can be found in the gigantic Christmas tree that is installed at Universal Studios Florida.

Christmas tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Christmas tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Many guests now know the “pro tip” of taking your own picture through a reflection in one of the Christmas bulbs, but not as many know that Earl the Squirrel makes appearances by popping himself out of the tree.

Earl the squirrel. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Even better? This year EARL IS WEARING A FACE COVERING!

Earl the squirrel protecting us. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

# 4 – Holiday Tree Hunt

During the “taste” of HHN this fall, guests got to participate in the Scarecrow Stalk and that theme continues with the Holiday Tree Hunt. Here’s how it works: similar to the scavenger hunts at EPCOT like Figment’s Brush with the Masters during Festival of the Arts or Spike’s Pollen-Nation Exploration during Flower & Garden, guests purchase a Holiday Tree Hunt map ($9.95). The map includes the locations of all the themed trees at locations inside the parks and at Universal CityWalk. Like the treat trail mentioned earlier, at each location your map get can a stamp. There are a lot of trees throughout the resort, and the good news is that Universal will give you the ornament redemption prize even if you haven’t received every stamp. This way you can collect the stamps at your leisure and not have to stress about “getting them all” before the park closes or your vacation ends.

Holiday Tree Hunt signage. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Holiday Tree Hunt guide map. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Holiday Tree Hunt guide map. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

At the Universal Studios store in CityWalk, the tree is loaded with some fun nods to Universal attractions.

Holiday Tree Hunt. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
How great is that ET ornament?!! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Shrek’s Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Sahara Traders, gift shop for Revenge of the Mummy. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
The details on these trees are worth spending some time checking out. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Love the scarab beetle ornament. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
MIB Gear. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Incredible. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

One thing I love about the Holiday Tree Hunt is that it gives guests a chance to check out some of Universal’s incredibly themed stores. Whether you buy merchandise or not, the attention to detail in many of these stores will blow your mind. Tons of fun gags and props to check out.

Spongebob Storepants. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Spongebob Storepants. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Anything cuter than a Hello Kitty tree? (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Island’s of Adventure Trading Company. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Fantastic “Old World” theming to the IOA Trading Co. store tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

It’s Christmas, you have to have a Grinch tree!

Mulberry Street Store. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
The Grinch stealing items from the tree…(photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Harry Potter themed tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Harry Potter themed elements. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Marvel Superheroes tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Sorry Disney, only one theme park in Florida is going to have a Christmas tree themed to Marvel superheroes. Have to enjoy this little nod to that moment in Avengers Endgame when Thor’s hammer went to Cap(photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Jurassic Park tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Couldn’t love “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” banner any more. Incredible!!!(photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Betty Boop next to the tree in Toon Extra. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Toothsome Chocolate Emporium tree. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Toothsome Chocolate Emporium details. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

The ornament redemption prize is double sided, and features the Holiday Tree Hunt logo on one side.

Holiday Tree Hunt ornament. (photo by @Nitro230)

With a holiday themed Universal Orlando Resort logo on the other side.

Holiday Tree Hunt ornament. (photo by @Nitro230)

# 3 – This year, the Grinch takes YOUR photo!

Possibly the greatest character at any theme park to interact with is The Grinch during Christmas season at Universal. For most of the year, The Grinch walk around character in the Universal parks is based on the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but during the holiday season the character is based around the Jim Carrey version in the live action remake. This allows The Grinch to be able to use his razor sharp wit while having fun with guests. In previous years, guests would queue up to have their picture taken with The Grinch in Seuss Landing. For social distancing, this year The Grinch takes YOUR photo, and here is how it works…

Grinch photo experience QR code. (photo by @Nitro230)

Instead of standing in a traditional line, guests scan a QR code to make an appointment for their experience. When it’s time, you and your family get to interact with The Grinch.

(photo by Seth Kubersky of The Unofficial Guides)

After a bit of frivolity (along with any requested selfies,) The Grinch will then get behind the store’s camera to “take your picture.”

One of the most evil, vile, and disgusting characters ever created. Also pictured: The Grinch. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

The Universal Photo Connect app will then have some fun Grinchmas-themed options for you to enjoy.

The Grinch meets Seth. (photo by Seth Kubersky)
A Grinch “selfie.” (photo by Seth Kubersky)

# 2 – Tribute Store

The Tribute Store for HHN has been a true highlight of recent horror seasons. Filled with rooms packed to the brim with details and merchandise, the Tribute Store is an HHN fan’s dream come true. Out of nowhere, this year’s HHN-themed Tribute Store was almost immediately converted over to a Christmas themed Tribute Store!

Tribute Store facade for Christmas actually slightly more scary than the one for Halloween… (photo by @Nitro230)

Word on the street is that the Visual Merchandising team at Universal spent several months designing this fantastic store for another location in Universal Studios Florida. Over the course of just one week, the entire location was disassembled and moved over to be put back together again to replace the HHN Tribute Store. There is a ton of great merchandise to browse though along with rooms themed to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Harry Potter, and even Earl the Squirrel!

 

 

Room at Christmas Tribute Store. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Reference to the iconic entrance archway of USF. (photo by Shelby Denham)
Christmas Tribute Store. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

After the return of Wax-A-Matic in the HHN Tribute Store, what a delightful surprise it was two see two more machines in the Christmas Tribute Store. One machine offers molds of Santa Clause.

Santa Clause mold machine. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

While the other machine has a snowman mold.

Snowman mold machine. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)

The molds also feature the Universal Studios branding.

Santa Claus and Snowman molds. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Love this ornament done in the style of a cross stitching pattern. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Rubber duckies are all the rage right now. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Transition from Weihnachtsmarkt to Grinch room. (photo by Megan Stump)
A look inside The Grinch themed room. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Great details everywhere. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Grinch themed merchandise. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Grinch themed merchandise.(photo by Nitro230)

One area in the Tribute Store is decked out with posters elements from the tribute store along with a ton of photos from Universal Christmas events from years past.

Love that Earl the Squirrel poster. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
My kingdom for a year round Wax-O-Matic machine at the parks! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Christmas photos. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Christmas photos. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Harry Potter themed room.
Harry Potter standing on Hogwarts Castle. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Who needs a Christmas village display at their house when they can have a Harry Potter village?

Harry Potter village. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Earl the Squirrel’s Tree Farm room is where you can get all the holiday themed snacks!

Earl the Squirrel’s Tree Farm. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
THEMING~! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Early’s Sweet Treatz. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Sweet Treatz pricing. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
This ornament shaped snack has a delicious peppermint glaze over a chocolate mousse base. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Gingerbread whoopie pie. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Christmas Tree Cone. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Bring your appetite! (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Sugar Cooke Tree Stacks. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Red Velvet Candy Can Pops. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Vegan Reindeer Brownies. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)

The HHN Tribute Store had gummy “beating hearts,” and the Christmas Tribute Store has it’s interactive treat too…

Earls’ Gummy Lightz. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Earl’s Gummy Lightz. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Gummy LIGHTZ. (photo by @Nitro230)

Gummy Light. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Gummy Light. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Sticky Bunz. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Sticky Bunz. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Pecans! (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Sticky Bun. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Hot Chocolate Bombz sign. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Hot Chocolate Bombz pricing. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Hot Chocolate Bomb. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
The ornament melts into the hot chocolate. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Exit leads to an Earl the Squirrel photo op. (photo by @Nitro230)
Earl!!! (photo by @Nitro230)

 

# 1 – Universal’s Holiday Experience Featuring Macy’s Balloons

One of the highlights at Universal every Christmas season is the great parade they have at USF featuring Macy’s balloons. Think of it as a theme park version of the world famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. With a bit of ingenuity, Universal was able to give guests a version of the “parade” with an experience held inside a soundstage. Guests are able to check out some of the elaborately themed larger-than-life balloons, along with getting social distant pictures of some Universal characters.

Universal’s Holiday Experience. (photo by @Nitro230))
Universal’s Holiday Experience. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Universal’s Holiday Experience. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Gru welcomes you to the minion themed float. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
One of the penguins from Madagascar was out front of this float. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Universal’s Holiday Experience. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Puss in Boots welcomes guests to the float and balloon featuring characters from the Shrek films. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Gingy’s house float and Santa Donkey/Dragon balloon. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Gingy balloon! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Despicable Me themed balloon. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Nutcracker balloon. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
“Santa!! I know him! ” – Buddy the Elf (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Santa’s sleigh float. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Everyone’s in the Christmas spirit! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
The big man himself! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Santa is available for photos and socially distant selfies.

Santa. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Santa. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

HONORABLE MENTION – Food Truck Funnel Cakes

A food truck at Universal Studios Florida has changed its menu over to our beloved funnel cakes, and the results couldn’t be more spectacular.

Funnel Cake menu. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

Fried chicken and funnel cake? We’re IN.

Fried chicken funnel cake. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Oh baby! (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

So there you have it: Six Reasons we love Christmas at the Universal Orlando Resort! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

DAVID & DEREK: The Do’s and Don’ts of COVID-19 Safety Protocols at the Theme Parks

6 Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Don’t Exist (but Totally Should)

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Signage Hall of Shame

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will  enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.

Next Week:

The 7th Annual

THEME PARK TURKEY OF THE YEAR AWARDS!!!

ARE YOU READY?!!!!