Giving Thanks at Universal Orlando

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Last week, Touring Plans boss mom Julia messaged me about our blog post plans for Thanksgiving. Between preparing for the mega-event of Derek’s Turkeys of the Year and an outlet report she suggested I pen a “thankful” list of things from Universal Orlando. This year has hit everyone hard to varying degrees, so I took up the suggestion of finding some good things to celebrate.

While I am spending my first Thanksgiving alone (but lots of Zoom calls) there are many not as lucky as I, who have put their souls into jobs only to have them ripped away due to the pandemic. If you are financially able to please consider donating to Orlando or Anaheim food banks. Additionally, I participated in a fundraiser last week where we raised money for Cast and Team Members in the Orlando area featuring Thrill Geek, Inside Universal, RetroWDW, Theme Park Bar, and more. You can watch our live stream here.

Team Members

Photograph courtesy Universal Orlando Resort.

The parks simply would not be what they are without the amazing Team Members. I am thankful for every single one of them during my vacations in January and September, from the bartenders at Endless Summer to haunted house operations, Kyle and Keith over at Bigfire Grill to Ryan at Hagrid, and bus drivers to enhanced cleaning crews. You all rock and make this resort as great as it is.

Today Cafe

Photograph courtesy Universal Orlando Resort.

I am, as the kids say, basic af. I like my coffee cold-brewed, food fresh, my beer craft made, and there’s only one place at Universal that offers that – Today Cafe. This counter-service restaurant replaced the Beverly Hills Boulangerie which served pastries, deli items, and store-brand coffee. The new menu that highlights fresh ingredients, healthy choices, delicious coffee, and a New York attitude. For those who rolled into Horror Nights late, the shop also served draft beer and wine on tap. I am thankful for all the amazing new options here, especially the incredible potato salad (I normally HATE potato salad).

Fall Halloween Event & Christmas

There was a time we did not know if the parks would celebrate Halloween or Christmas this year as attractions and entertainment were cut around Orlando. But then in September, something magical happened: Universal said they will be testing a Halloween event. After a rousing success, Universal continued the event through October by opening two haunted houses, offering exclusive food and beverage, trick or treating, and costumes. Then, miraculously, Universal quickly shared their plans for Christmas featuring socially distanced meet and greets, a Christmas walkthrough, and more. I am thankful for Universal taking a big risk in adding more experiences to the parks and keeping some of the holidays alive during this weird time.

The Brussels Sprouts at Bigfire Grille

Ok, this one is pretty simple but hear me out. The Brussels sprouts at Bigfire are, well, fire. The appetizer-sized dish features perfectly crispy sprouts, each leaf crunchy and seasoned perfectly. Accompanying the dish are shishito peppers and a toasted almond smear. The flavors and textures of this dish highlight how much I enjoy Bigfire: simple, but well-executed dishes.

Horror Make-Up Show

If you know, you KNOW. Horror Make-Up Show is an institution, an annual passholder favorite, and easily the funniest show in the Orlando parks. What is billed as an insider’s look into make-up and practical special effects in movies quickly descends into madness as the two hosts play off each other and the audience. No two shows are ever alike and I always make the effort to watch at least once a trip.

(For those wondering, my list is: Robyn, Josh, Summer, then Bill as favs. But they are all amazing.)

You, The Readers

I am not here if you are not here, so thank you dear readers for reading our posts about the caloric content of a cupcake, outlet reports, body augmentation, and more. This column is always a fun challenge that I love surprising and delighting you all with. Now one of these days I will finally get the Touring Plans company card…

Joseph Matt

Avid amusement park and video game fan. Enjoys picking up rare beers at breweries, exploring cities, cooking, and sports.

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