This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Christmas Gift ideas from the Universal Orlando Resort! Longtime readers of this fine blog series know how much we love theme park souvenirs. In fact, we look forward to the new releases as much as others enjoy looking ahead to upcoming rides and restaurants. While we couldn’t have been more disappointed by the selection of merchandise Disney released for the 50th anniversary of WDW (well, maybe the items released for EPCOT’s 40th was actually worse somehow) across town at the Universal Orlando Resort cool items have been coming out seemingly every single month (“… the gift that keeps on giving all year long.” – Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation.) Today we’re going to look at some of our favorite pieces of merchandise at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
# 6 – Earl the Squirrel merch
Earl the Squirrel is Universal Orlando’s first breakout character created for the theme parks outside of Halloween Horror Nights. Last year this cute little squirrel started to be a focus of merchandise during the Christmas season and that trend continued into 2022 with some terrific new items including this E-Ticket plush and a sweet looking tumbler.
How fantastic is this Earl spirit jersey?
Universal Orlando Annual Passholders have the opportunity to buy an exclusive Earl shirt.
Earl was also used in the merchandise for Mistletoe Pines Village, the retail experience created for CityWalk during the holiday season.
# 5 – Hello Kitty Mashups
Years from now, we will look back at the Hello Kitty store in Universal Studios Florida and remember how we were so blessed to have this unicorn in our lives. There is no Hello Kitty attraction at Universal. There is no Hello Kitty restaurant. However we do have a rather large Hello Kitty gift shop and not only does it include a full line of regular Hello Kitty products, but it also has a Next Level Awesome line of Hello Kitty Mashup items that mixes the Hello Kitty characters with Universal properties such as Jaws, Jurassic Park and even PSYCHO.
This year the Hello Kitty store went through a huge remodel, and many other brands were brought into the store. One of those brands was the Despicable Me franchise. Aside from the mega-popular Minions, another breakout character from that Universe was the “fluffy unicorn.” Fluffy is available on many different products, but also a Funko Pop that is exclusive to the Universal theme parks.
During the remodel of the Hello Kitty store, they added a larger than life Fluffy Funko Pop to take pictures with.
# 4 – Universal’s Great Movie Escape
In early December Universal’s Great Movie Escape opened in CityWalk. This is the first ever Escape Room concept put into either the Universal Orlando Resort or Walt Disney World. Even better, the escape rooms are themed to two huge Universal movie franchises: Jurassic World and Back to the Future.
As always, Universal was tight to the vest with almost any details of this new experience, so it wasn’t until the venue opened that we found out the escape room would have a full line of merchandising. Years ago when I did The Void virtual reality Star Wars experience at Disney Springs, it was one of the greatest things I had EVER done at Disney or Universal. They had a very limited amount of Void merchandise and none of it was impressive. Believe me, I was so PUMPED after doing the Void I was ready to buy, but nothing was worth spending money on. Definitely a good idea by Universal to offer a whole bunch of products for people checking out the escape rooms.
For me, the single greatest item for Universal’s Great Movie Escape is this wonderfully designed jigsaw puzzle. Perfectly fits into the theme of the experience, a great memento, and easy to bring home to friends & family if being purchased as a gift. Classic Michael Scott Win-Win-Win scenario right there.
# 3 – Popcorn Buckets
For DECADES Disney was the clear winner in the Great Theme Park Popcorn Bucket War. It wasn’t even close. For whatever reason, in 2022 Universal said, “You know what? This year we are actually going to try.” Out of literally nowhere, Universal Orlando became the North American leader in themed popcorn buckets. Yes, Disney had the most notable bucket of the year with the infamous release of the Figment Popcorn Bucket for the Festival of the Arts, but let’s take a look at what Universal put out this year…
This popcorn bucket below featuring The Minions is straight up E-Ticket and one of the best theme park popcorn buckets I have ever seen. So many wonderful details.
The stickers on the side of the car have references to the Universal theme parks, Super Silly Fun Land out in Universal Studios Hollywood, and a “sneak peek” of sorts of Villain-Con which will be coming to Universal Orlando next year.
Another fun Minion popcorn bucket this year featured Fluffy as well.
This super cute regular Minion popcorn bucket came out a long time ago but was unavailable for years. It finally came back into stock and is definitely one of the best popcorn buckets Universal has ever designed and looking at what else came out this year has us licking our chops for the popcorn bucket opportunities coming with EPIC Universe…
# 2 – The Wizarding World
You would think after 13 years of being inside the theme parks, Universal would have tapped the Wizarding World of HarryPotter well dry of products. NAY NAY. Each year more and more cool stuff comes out. Here is just a sampling of the items which came out in 2022. We’ll start off with a look at some of the products in support of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, including plush for Hagrid and his faithful dog, Fang.
Robbie Coltrane, the actor who portrayed Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, passed away in October of this year. Coltrane brought a level of humanity and warmth to Hagrid that has resonated – and will continue to resonate – with generations of fans. This year Universal also released Hagrid’s umbrella toy, which was that character’s “wand.”
Here at the SATURDAY SIX we love our Pressed Pennies, so imagine our surprise when Universal released a new Wizarding World. pressed penny book.
Our FAVORITE pressed penny books are the ones which include an exclusive design you can’t get anywhere else.
The movie Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore seems like it came out a decade ago, but believe it or not it was released earlier this year. When the movie came out, new Fantastic Beasts products made their way into the Wizarding World along with a really sharp looking line of products for Hogsmeade Village and the Hog’s Head Inn.
A huge part of the Harry Potter Universe for many fans is being sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses. Your Humble Author was – shockingly – sorted into Slytherin (which we covered in THIS ARTICLE on the Dark Arts.) A whole bunch of products came out this year that were specific to the various Hogwarts houses, including this line of plush below.
A “cutie” line of Hogwarts house plush also came out.
Speaking of cute, check out this plush featuring a Mandrake and a Cornish Pixie.
One of the bigger hits of the entire Wizarding World at Universal is the interactive wand experience. This year Universal released collectible spell marker medallions along with a sharp looking display board.
Every year Universal releases a special Collector’s Edition wand for collectors.
2022 also brought with it a whole bunch of other new wands as well.
I’m not a big Loungefly guy, but these bags featuring Hogwarts Castle and Diagon Alley are pretty dang cool.
The iconic Chocolate Frogs at the Wizarding World (which is pound for pound-one-of the all time Best Theme Park Souvenirs) now have both milk chocolate and dark chocolate options available.
The deep dives into the Potter Universe also continued.
# 1 – Mold-A-Matic Figures!
In a true pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment, Universal started releasing Mold-A-Matic figures several years ago. Mold-A-Matic machines were ubiquitous in Florida when I was vacationing with my family as a kid, but they have all but disappeared. Not only has Universal brought them back, but they have released several seasonal offerings throughout the year. Let’s take a look at what we got in 2022, starting with the most recent figures, including a well known squirrel…
In Islands of Adventure the All Hallows Eve Boutique was themed to a Krampus store for the holiday season, and the Mold-A-Matic was appropriately a black Christmas tree.
During Halloween Horror Nights we got the AMAZING Creature From the Black Lagoon mold.
Along with this next level awesome mold featuring a design from The Tribute Store.
That’s right, in 2022 the Mold-A-Matic machines went meta.
During the summer the Tribute Store paid homage to some classic Universal movies including E.T., Jaws, and Back to the Future. The Mold-A-Matic machines in the Tribute Store featured options for Jaws and BTTF.
The BTTF one was often having problems though…
HONORABLE MENTION – Marvel Superheroes
The current situation between Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando when it comes to the Marvel Superheroes is not a good one for us merchandise fans. Because both companies own “half the baby” (so to speak) neither put their full effort into creating products we fans actually want to by. The level of effort put into Marvel pales in comparison to what we see for other theme park properties such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pandora – The World of Avatar, and – as we mentioned above – The Wizarding World. As a lifelong comic book fan who loves Marvel superheroes, this drives me CRAZY.
As a person who constantly lives my life trying to get a future generation hooked on comic books and comic book characters, I needed to look outside Marvel Superhero Island for gift ideas. Where can you find one? Wal-Mart. I had no idea that these even existed, and now I wondered how I lived life without one.
Two different Black Panther tool sets are sold at Wal-Mart. Let’s check out the Household Tool Set.
The cases themselves have a great looking design.
Lots of various tools available. It is important to remember these are not cheap plastic tools designed for kids. This is an actual tool set you can get stuff done with (that kids will also love because of its design.)
Rachet and socket set.
Logos on the tool handles? That gets my Seal Of Approval.
Now I can finally shift some of the housework off my shoulders…
Now let’s check out the Cordless Power Screwdriver Set.
The tools sets are made by a company named UKonic and while on their site I noticed they have another tool set themed after Thor’s Hammer. INCREDIBLE.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Gives Santa Our Universal Orlando Merchandise Wish List! 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.