This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Universal’s HHN 31 Tribute Store! It is getting challenging to come up with appropriate superlatives to describe the effort Universal is putting into its Tribute Stores in Universal Studios Florida. While across town EPCOT seemed to have spent years building the “well, it may not be good but it’s good enough I guess” Creations gift shop that is as sterile as a hospital’s intensive care unit, the Tribute Store in USF is changed multiple times per year and is a love letter to theme park fans. Over the past few years we’ve seen Tribute Stores dedicated to themes such as Mardi Gras, Christmas, Jurassic World, and more, with our favorite possibly being the ultimate Universal fanboy tribute: the store dedicated to Jaws, E.T., and Back to the Future.
Last week in this fine blog series we took a Big Picture Look at this year’s incredible Halloween Horror Nights 31 event as a whole, but today let’s take a closer view of what’s inside the HHN 31 Tribute store…
# 6 – Overall Theme: A Dark Ride
Disney created the terminology StoryCoaster to better describe the difference between themed roller coasters like Expedition Everest and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and roller coasters you find at amusement parks like Six Flags or Cedar Point. I co-oped that phrase and dubbed myself a TouringPlans StoryBlogger. Universal has now taken the concept to an 11 and created StoryStores. That’s right, the entire HHN 31 Tribute Store tells an elaborately themed story to the guest while they walk through a retail environment.
The overall theme for the HHN 31 Tribute Store is that guests are taking a dark ride through the store.
The first room you enter contains the operator controls.
For anyone who has worked at a theme park, or paid attention when being loaded onto a ride, the operator control panel below may look familiar to you. It even includes an E-Stop button. There is a small post-it note at the top right which says “Get birthday card for Greg”…
…which is a running theme throughout several Tribute Stores. In this past summer’s tribute store to Jaws, E.T., & BTTF, there was a reference to the birthday party for Greg too.
The next part is absolutely INCREDIBLE. First, notice on the ground the “tracks” for the dark ride the guests are on in the overall story for the gift shop. Like many old school dark rides, we begin our journey by passing through something at the entrance, in this case a cat’s mouth. Does that cat’s mouth look familiar?
It should, it is referencing the black cat facade to a Tribute Store from back in 2019.
The “ride” passes by four themed experiences in the store. First up is the Haunted Hills Pumpkin Patch.
Again, note the dark ride tracks weaving throughout the experience, guiding the guests through each room.
These hanging pumpkins look spectacular. Almost like a haunted chandelier.
We mentioned in last week’s article on HHN 31 that Lil’ Boo – the breakout character from HHN 30 – can be seen throughout the event. In the Tribute Store you can see our cute lil’ pumpkin seemingly being eaten by a larger pumpkin.
Each area of the Tribute Store also has fake merchandise created for it, including this fun shirt for the pumpkin patch. We’ll cover more of these items later in the article but this is so meta it may break the scale.
Our next area of the store is the Spooky Cemetery.
This area is straight up E-Ticket.
Behind this winged statue are two ghosts…
…who, like a small town’s dark ride, have movement up and down to scare guests.
Here’s a quick video of them in action.
Another fun surprise of the cemetery is this head, which pokes itself out of the ground.
This “head on a stick” has its own fake merchandise too. This I would buy in a second if Universal actually sold it.
There are several photo-ops throughout the Tribute Store, including this coffin experience in the cemetery.
Here we have the SAT 6’s own Megan Stump doing her best impersonation of WWE’s The Undertaker.
Our next room is the Witches Cottage.
I still can’t get over the dark ride tracks running throughout the store. Such a wonderful detail.
Lots of spooky atmosphere inside the Witches Cottage. There just might be a fun detail in the top right of this shelf space…
… where we find a squirrel. I will work on confirming whether or not this is an actual reference to Universal’s other breakout character, Earl the Squirrel.
Here we are leaving the Witches Cottage and onto our next experience.
Our last themed room on the dark ride is through the Hollow Hills Halloween Festival.
There are a whole bunch of fun references and signage throughout this room.
The “established 1892” in this signage for gasoline is referencing the introduction of the automobile. Who said you wouldn’t learn anything by going to theme parks?!
Several 31’s in this picture below…
Major Sweets is a character in the Sweet Revenge scarezone in this year’s HHN.
# 5 – The Stained Glass Windows
Now that we’ve seen the store as a whole, let’s take a closer look at some of my personal favorite little details. I’m a huge fan of stained glass window art in general, so I loved that the Tribute Store incorporates them into the overall design, including this five star pun…
Some of stained glass artwork contains movement.
The large ghost moves around while the leaves rustle above the scarecrow.
Throughout the store you’ll see smaller stained glass “windows” like the haunted house one below.
These stained glass windows are the exact same designs used for the suncatchers available in this year’s Scarecrow Stalk, which we covered last week’s SAT 6.
# 4 – The Crypt
For the last several Tribute Stores, Universal has given guests the opportunity to be featured within the actual Tribute Store. For the HHN 31 Tribute Store, the gimmick is that guests would be paying to be featured in a mausoleum. Think of it like the bricks outside Disney’s Magic Kingdom or EPCOT’s Leave a Legacy program.
You can see that, as of press time, spots are still available. I feel that Disney is leaving money on the table not having something like this because (I believe) if they had it the concept would be sold out a year in advance.
My favorite part of any of these “guest participation walls” is the people who have their pets featured, including DisTwitter’s favorite Corgi, Brody.
This is the first time I remember ever seeing a horse featured. Bravo to that horse’s proud owner.
# 3 – The Merchandise
The whole reason Tribute Stores exists is to sell us stuff. Now, we covered a metric ton of HHN 31 merchandise in last week’s SATURDAY SIX. All of that merchandise is available at the Tribute Store. Shirts, pins, candles, you name it. We’ll use this section to spotlight the items I personally like the most, and of course that means I’m starting with the Mold-A-Matic machines.
When the Tribute Store originally opened in early September, both Mold-A-Matic machines had Frankenstein’s Monster molds. These two designs had been available in previous Mold-A-Matics.
Later in the season, both machines would be converted to brand new designs that have never before been offered at Universal. First up is The Classic Halloween Cat mold.
The machines themselves have great theming, and on this particular machine we get a piece of concept art showing the cat’s name is Henry.
The next mold just may be the best Universal has offered to date. It features the actual dark ride vehicle that, in storyline, we’ve been taking through the Tribute Store.
The overall attention to detail is just off the charts at this point.
You want Lil’ Boo merchandise? You’ll find Lil’ Boo sippers, Lil’ Boo bags, Lil’ Boo pillows and more at the Tribute Store.
Both Universal and Disney seem to be going towards these gold medallions, at least for seasonal events like Universal’s HHN or EPCOT’s Flower & Garden. While I prefer pressed pennies, I do like the collectibility in these medallions and just wish at least one of the two companies would put out a pressed penny-like book to store them all in.
The designs for this year are Lil’ Boo, Casper the Friendly Ghost (no idea why), Dracula, and the Pumpkin Lord/one of E.T.’s friends from the Green Planet (not sure which) (that’s a joke.)
What’s great about the medallions both Disney and Universal are putting out is that the even they were featured in are featured on the reverse side of each coin.
Like I wasn’t going to buy one of these.
Love the Studio Screamers line and hope it continues far into the future.
A staple of any Tribute Store is the snack case, which is always filled with crazy looking treats.
The Lil’ Boo pumpkin bowl also has an HHN 2022 logo on the back. Another nice touch.
The big hit of this year is the chocolate brownie coffin. Not only does it look great, it tastes fantastic and who wouldn’t want a tombstone made out of an Oreo cookie?
The Tribute Store is where you’ll want to go for all the limited items released during the HHN season.
We mentioned last week that one item that is big in demand with HHN fans is the album produced by Midnight Syndicate.
What is really neat over the last year or so is that several items found in the Tribute Stores will have autograph signings by the creative team responsible for them. The signings take place at another gift shop in USF, Five & Dime. Here is artist Andrew Stonecypher along with members of Midnight Syndicate at the signing for the HHN album.
Another artist signing is coming up later this week!
# 2 – By The Numbers
Generally speaking, when you see numbers in a design element at a theme, they are probably referencing something. Sometimes the numbers are related to the birthdays of creative people involved in the project, deep cuts such as the project number of the attraction itself (like “791” in the VelociCoaster queue), or other creative references. There are several numbers found through this season’s Tribute Store, including maybe the number most associated with Halloween and the horror genre itself, “unlucky” number 13.
237 is a pretty well known one to fans of The Shining, as it was the Overlook Hotel room number used in the movie version of Stephen King’s book of the same name. Rumors and Innuendo say that Stanley Kubrick, the director of The Shining, was asked to change the number of the room from 217 (which was the room number in the book) to 237 because the hotel where the movie was filmed at (the Timberlane) was afraid guests would be afraid to stay in room 217 once the film was released. The non-existent room 237 was created. Of course after the movie came out, room 217 became the most requested room at the Timberlane.
1408 is another reference to horror writer Stephen King as it is the title of a short story in the Blood and Smoke collection. It is also referencing a “haunted” hotel room.
# 1 – The Faux Merchandise
The HHN 31 Tribute Store experience closes out with a bang as you exit the real gift shop by entering a fake gift shop. This is next level great. TONS of wildly creative stuff here.
Let’s start with how our Tribute Store Dark Ride journey began, with the Black Cat Tribute Store façade from 2019. There are several items in this area referencing that.
Would purchase this shirt in a millisecond.
We mentioned a possible Earl the Squirrel reference earlier in the store, but we have a definite one in this section.
HONORABLE MENTION – Dead Coconut Club
Last month we did an in-depth look at City Walk’s AMAZING transformation of the Dead Coconut Club. The first we fans even heard of the Dead Coconut Club coming was through a fake ad outside the Tribute Store.
There were several other great Dead Coconut Club references INSIDE the Tribute Store as well, including this awesome back scratcher (another item I would immediately buy, no questions asked.)
Eagle eyes will note this Dead Coconut Club coaster in the Witches Cottage area of the Tribute Store.
Last but not least is a series of three great posters, one of which features the Dead Coconut club.
The other two posters are for the Scarecrow Stalk and iconic HHN food and drink items. If Universal releases these as prints, I’d buy all three.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Checks Out the HHN 31 TRIBUTE STORE! 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 THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, 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, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. 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.