The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal Orlando’s Christmas Celebration (Grinchmas, Macy’s Parade, and MORE!)

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Universal Orlando’s Christmas Celebration! Universal gets a lot of praise for what it does during Halloween – and rightfully so considering HHN is now the world’s premier haunt experience – but I would argue its Christmas season is almost criminally underrated by theme park fans. Universal goes above and beyond each holiday season, and despite every obstacle in the world thrown at them over the last twelve months, this year’s event is the best yet. Let’s take a look at look at why, starting with…

# 6 – Cabana Bay’s Holiday Beer Crawl

Earlier this year we made a compelling argument for why Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the greatest Value Resort of all time (and in my opinion, it’s not even close). Well, somehow the best got even better as this year The Bae debuted a new Holiday Beer Crawl! Here’s how it works:

Buy each of the holiday beers from the 4 Cabana Bay bars across property, and get one beer of your choice for free. Your redemption beer can be any beer offered, not just one of the 4 holiday beers. Your Holiday Beer Crawl card is punched by the bartender, and then you use the card to redeem the free beer.

SWIZZLE LOUNGE: Santa’s White Christmas stout by Ten10 Brewing Company from Orlando, FL. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Santa’s White  Christmas beer tap. (photo by Scott Sanders)
GALAXY BOWL: Dunder & Blixem by Big Storm Brewing out of Clearwater, FL. (photo by Scott Sanders)
ATOMIC TONIC: Winter Lager by Samuel Adams. (photo by Scott Sanders)
THE HIDEAWAY BAR & GRILL: Shiner Holiday Cheer by Spoetzl Brewery from Shiner, TX. (photo by Scott Sanders)

PRO TIP: If you plan on doing this, make sure you pay attention to the venue operating times, specifically Atomic Tonic as they are closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Also, Galaxy Bowl doesn’t open until the late afternoon for bar service.

If you are more of a liquor connoisseur, be sure to check out the seasonal offerings available. How can you not love a drink called “YIPPIE PIE YAY”?!

Swizzle Lounge seasonal offerings. (photo by Scott Sanders)

It wouldn’t be Cabana Bay without a new refillable mug design dropping just for the Christmas season. Cabana Bay opened in 2014 and already has about a dozen different refillable mug designs. Just INSANE. If I could marry this resort, I would.

Christmas themed refillable mug. (photo by Scott Sanders)

# 5 – Mistletoe Pines Village in CityWalk

I have no insight into the behind-the-scenes goings-on at Universal Orlando, but I have a gut feeling the resort hired someone away from Disney that had something to do with EPCOT’s Food and Wine. Why? Because food kiosks and outdoor kitchens at the resort have taken a lightyear jump in quality at Universal in just one year. Actually, even crazier to think this person could have just been let go by Disney along with the other 28,000 furloughed Cast Members and has now created a new revenue stream for Universal that pretty much didn’t exist outside of pop-up bars selling beer and pizza slices.

Whatever the case, not only have the food booths at events like Halloween Horror Nights become remarkably better, this year brought the introduction of Mistletoe Pines Village in CityWalk.

Mistletoe Pines Village. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

The signage throughout Mistletoe Pines is INCREDIBLE.

Mistletoe Pines. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Mistletoe Pines. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

These travel posters are so well designed they should be available as prints for guests to buy. Just gorgeous work.

Mistletoe Pines. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Mistletoe Pines. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Mistletoe Pines. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)

There are several photo-ops in the area as well.

Mistletoe Pines. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Mistletoe Pines. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)

Mistletoe Pines was created in order to sell snacks, drinks, and holiday-themed merchandise. The Holiday Sweets booth has some fun options including Frozen Hot Chocolate, cookie dough, and gingerbread creme brûlée.

Holiday Sweets at Mistletoe Pines. topped with mini-marshmallows and holiday sprinkles. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Frozen Hot Chocolate – hot chocolate mousse, . (photo by @JodiCab22)
Frozen Hot Chocolate. (photo by @JodiCab22)
Christmas Tree Cookie Dough – chocolate chip cookie dough in a waffle cone covered with holiday sprinkles. This is also served on a stick, and everything is better served on a stick. (photo by @JodiCab22)
Gingerbread Ornament – Gingerbread crème brûlée, with a chocolate mirror glaze.  (photo by @JodiCab22)

# 4 – Tribute Store

The Tribute Store in Universal Studios Florida has consistently become so good for every Universal event this year (including Mardi Gras and HHN 30) that I think we have become spoiled by its excellence and take it for granted. The store – located across from the giant USF Christmas tree and next to Revenge of the Mummy – is another incredible achievement in design. Recently I had a visit to EPCOT to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and spent some time in their Creations Shop (after discovering that the entire France Pavilion in World Showcase doesn’t sell any Remy merchandise, which blew my mind). The store is perfectly fine, but walking through it I couldn’t help but think “it took Disney how long to build this?!” Meanwhile the Tribute Stores at Universal seem to pop up almost overnight and – to me as a guest – appear to have a million times more thought and care put into them.

Tribute Store. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Concept designer Mike Artwell posted some behind-the-scenes photos of how the charming facade of this year’s Tribute Store was created. As a person who just wrote the 2021 TURKEY ADDENDUM -showing the “A to B” process of how an elaborate drawing for the SATURDAY SIX was created – I’m definitely interested in how things are designed from a creative standpoint.  First, let’s check out the final product and we’ll see how we got there…

Tribute Store facade. (photo by Mike Artwell)
Very first sketch of the Tribute Store facade design. (concept sketch by Mike Artwell)
3-D modeling of Tribute Store design. (concept art by Mike Artwell)

Once inside the Tribute Store, there are wonderful design elements everywhere, including this look into Santa’s office.

Tribute Store. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Tribute Store. (photo by Scott Sanders)
“Prance around the room.” (photo by Michael Carelli)

Every time you see a cork board in a Universal Tribute Store, it’s sure to be filled with fun references and jokes.

Tribute Store. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Tribute Store. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Christmas and model trains go together like peanut butter and chocolate, but this year’s Tribute Store features a train pushing a DeLorean car in a moment referencing Back to the Future 3. This may be the single coolest thing ever featured in a theme park gift shop in history.

DeLorean being pushed by a train. (photo by Alicia Stella)
Grinch’s dog Max on an ornament. (photo by Michael Carelli)

One thing Universal has done this year is allow guests to be a part of the Tribute Store experience. For HHN, they basically photo-shopped a guest into a design and hung them on the walls. For the holiday season, adult guests could have a caricature of themselves be featured on “Earl’s Wall O’ Fame.”

Earl’s Wall O’ Fame. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Elf of the Year. (photo by Scott Sanders)
I think the entire world is wondering why Bacini – the official dog of Universal Orlando – is not featured on this wall, but we’re not passive-aggressively mad or anything. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Like Mistletoe Pines in CityWalk, while the design of the Tribute Store is straight up E-Ticket, the reason it exists is to sell merchandise and snacks. There is a ton of merchandise throughout the entire Tribute Store so you can find gifts for everyone on your shopping list. Here are some of my favorite items specific to the Tribute Store…

Tribute Store Coins. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Two new “Mold-A-Matic” plastic figurine designs.

Tribute Store mold machine. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Tribute Store mold machine. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Universal’s commitment to plastic molds over the last several years makes my heart grow three sizes. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Of course there’s a also a metric-ton of Earl the Squirrel related merchandise. T-shirts, hats, plush, etc. In my opinion, you can’t have enough items featuring this little guy. Where Disney has Figment, Universal now has their parks-created character that everyone loves.

Christmas scented candle. (photo by @caitlizgrace)
What an incredible ornament. (photo by Alicia Stella)

One tradition of the Tribute Store seems to be the inclusion of a vegan brownie. These always taste great.

Vegan brownie. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Christmas tree cupcake. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Whoopie Pie with peppermint frosting. (photo by @AliciaStella)

# 3 – Earl The Squirrel!!!!!!

Right before press time, Universal dropped a bombshell by introducing the Earl the Squirrel walkaround character. If you don’t know the story behind the creation of Earl the Squirrel, check out this article. As guests, over the years we have seen fun tributes to Earl in the giant USF Christmas tree progress to Earl-themed merchandise, and now we have a full blown walkaround character to take photos with. I feel like it’s beating a dead horse at times, but it is such a stark difference in how Universal is treating their theme parks compared to Disney down the street (where I guess we’re supposed to be excited that they are finally bringing trams back?). Just for one park though, the other parks will get them “sometime” next year. WHAAAAAT? Remember I mentioned going to EPCOT recently to ride Remy? Well it was raining that whole day so you can imagine how fun that walk back to the car was.) Anyway, here is Earl is all his glory:

Earl the Squirrel. (photo by The Universal Orlando Resort)
Earl the Squirrel. (photo by The Universal Orlando Resort)
Earl now taking photos for guests at the park. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
SAT SIX Editor-in-Chief Megan Stump gets a selfie with Earl.

# 2 – Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s

For our family, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV every year is the official start of the Christmas season. Universal has its own version with the Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s in Universal Studios Florida. Not only are there the large balloons that are synonymous with the Macy’s parade in New York, but you’ll also see elaborate floats and tons of Team Members and characters walking the route as well. It’s a blast.

(photo by Scott Sanders)
Team Member Snowflakes. (photo by Michael Carelli)
We begin! (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. (photo by Scott Sanders)
The Minion-themed float. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Minion trapped in a ball of snow. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Minion Team Member. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Penguins of Madagascar float. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Penguins of Madagascar float. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Penguins of Madagascar balloon. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Spongebob Squarepants balloon. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Are you kidding me? How GREAT are these “three blind mice” from the Shrek unit? (photo by Michael Carelli)
“Gingy” baloon. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Balloon from the Shrek unit. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Shrek and family. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Getting a strong Lollipop Guild-vibe from this group. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Nutcracker unit. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Everyone loves the robots. (photo by Megan Stump)
A fan favorite Robot character. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The big man himself. (photo by Michael Carelli)
IT’S SANTA!!!!! (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Aerial photo giving us a unique perspective on the start of the Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 1 – Grinchmas

To quote pro-wrestling legend Pat Patterson, Seuss Landing goes “banana” for Christmas. The entire area is over-the-top decorated and you’ll even see citizens of Whoville roaming around the park interacting with guests.

Seuss Landing. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

However, my favorite part of Grinchmas is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular show which – in my mind – is THE best show at any theme park. Essentially it is the retelling of the live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie (starring Jim Carrey), but done in the amount of time it takes to watch the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In previous years the show took place in a Universal soundstage right outside of Seuss Landing, but this year the show is being held in the Blue Man Group theater. This makes a great experience even better because the actual seating at the Blue Man Group theater is fantastic and there’s not a bad view in the house.

Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Martha May and other Whos getting their Christmas shoppping done. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

Similar to the live action movie, the main focus of the show is The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, and every year the Cast Members playing these roles crush it.

The Grinch being The Grinch. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The Grinch looks out into the audience. (photo by Scott Sanders)
The Grinch hatches his plan with the real star of the show, Max. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The Grinch in Whoville. (photo by Scott Sanders)
The Grinch. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The Grinch taking a Christmas tree back to the North Pole for “inspection.” (photo by Michael Carelli)
The Grinch. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
The Grinch. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
“Fah-who foris, dah-who doris, welcome Christmas, bring your light.” (photo by Michael Carelli)

There are a whole bunch of new snack items found in Seuss Landing during the holidays, including the Grinch sugar cookie.

The Grinch sugar cookie. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Even the unwavering Zaxs at the Zax Bypass are dressed in their Christmas best.

South-going-Zax having an eye roll about the Grinchmas bow tie. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
A Seuss Landing tree lit up in all its glory, with Universal’s greatest Christmas gift to theme park fans in the background. (photo by Mike)

HONORABLE MENTION – Roast Beast at Circus McGurkis

Speaking of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, one element of that story that strikes a chord with many is the “Roast Beast” served at the annual Who-ville Christmas dinner. Well, this year Universal created the Roast Beast sandwich and it is BONKERS in the greatest way possible. It is available in the Circus McGurkis quick service restaurant and is well worth going out of your way to try.

Roast Beast. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)

The sandwich is topped with A SECOND MINI-SANDWICH.

Roast Beast. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
Communication. Space Travel. Roast Beast sandwich at Seuss Landing. The three biggest accomplishments by humanity. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
And it tastes good too! (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)

Double Secret Honorable Mention: Decorations throughout the resort

From the onsite hotels to the parks, everywhere you go at Universal will have you in the holiday spirit.

Universal Studios Florida Christmas tree at night. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Who doesn’t love Christmas lights?! (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Note the hanging lighting element at Finnegan’.s (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The cups surely have Team Members’ names writeen on them. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Anyone who read our Artist Spotlight on Sterling Denham will know the significance of this particular window. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Hogsmeade Village. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Diagon Alley during the day. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Diagon Alley at night. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Even the tribute store has the King Kong mold in a special HOLIDAY RED. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Triple Threat Honorable Mention: Tree Trail

It’s the most wonderful time of the year….

Last year Universal introduced the Holiday Tree Hunt and it came back for 2021. Here’s how it works: similar to the scavenger hunts like Scarecrow Stalk at HHN,  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 ($10). The map includes the locations of all the themed trees at locations inside the parks and at Universal CityWalk. At each location your map get can a stamp, when you’ve completed your map you can redeem it for a special ornament. There are a lot of trees throughout the resort, and for the most part they are much better decorated than the ones we saw at Disney Springs for their tree trail. Keep in mind 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.

Here are some of my personal favorite trees, including the best to date that features references to many classic Universal Studios Florida atttractions.

USF classic attractions tree. (photo by Michael Carelli)
King Kong mold in a tree trail tree. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Cat in the Hat tree. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Marvel Superheroes tree. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Jurassic Park tree. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Universal Classic Monsters tree. (photo by Michael Carelli)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Experiences 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 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).

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

The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Christmas Through the Magic of MOVIES

Six Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Doesn’t Exist (but Totally Should!)

The SATURDAY SIX Uses Disney Villains to Explain Theme Park Blogging

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, 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.

This month’s AP button features everyone’s favorite dog. Well, second favorite behind Bacini BUT WE’RE STILL NOT BITTER ABOUT THE TRIBUTE STORE UNIVERSAL. (photo by @JodiCab22)

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3 thoughts on “The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal Orlando’s Christmas Celebration (Grinchmas, Macy’s Parade, and MORE!)

  • December 11, 2021 at 8:02 pm
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    I 100% agree with all this. I’m a die hard Disney fan and decided to go to Universal because my sister really wanted to go, and I also wanted to research the product as a travel agent. We stayed at Endless Summer and Royal Pacific. Both resorts were spotless! I thought that Endless Summer was nicer than the Carribean Beach Resort, where we stayed later in the week. The Grinchmas Spectacular was fantastic as was the parade. I’m already planning a trip back next year! I honestly feel like Universal is delivering a better “pandemic product” than Disney right now.

    Reply
  • December 11, 2021 at 9:07 pm
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    I have loved loved loved what Universal is doing to the point, next time I go to Orlando it will be for Universal. I’ve been a die hard Disney fan, but everything they’ve been doing lately is just too much. I’m very frustrated with Disney. Had my worst ever birthday this year in HS because of stupid G+.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2021 at 10:36 am
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    We went to Universal during the first week of December (i.e. what had been our Disney week until we got priced out). My wife and I agreed that the holiday offerings were great, and we were very pleased with everything that was included. It was very refreshing compared to Disney which has made everything an upcharge.

    Reply

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