HolidaysSaturday SixUniversal Orlando Resort

The SATURDAY SIX Looks at CHRISTMAS in the Universal Orlando Parks! (Breakfast with the Grinch, Holiday Parade, Tribute Store and MORE!)

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(photo by @bioreconstruct pixie dust by Scott Walker)

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the 2023 Christmas Celebration at Universal Orlando! Each year the Universal Orlando Resort goes all out when it comes to the Christmas season and this year was no exception. Today we are going to look at some of our favorite parts of the event starting with…

# 6 – The Legacy Store Tree

Before we even step into the parks, our first stop will be at The Legacy Store located in Universal Citywalk.

Garlands and red-green lighting near Universal’s welcome sign in CityWalk. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Since its opening in 2021, The Legacy Store has been filled with tributes to the rich history of the Universal parks. Inside you will see pictures from the creation of both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, along with other incredible details such as a model for E.T. Adventure ride vehicle. I am a HUGE fan of scale models of ride vehicles, both at Universal and Walt Disney World, so you can imagine how happy I was seeing that the Christmas Tree inside The Legacy Store is decorated not just with scale model ride vehicles…NAY NAY… but ride vehicles from iconic Universal attractions!

2023 Legacy Store Christmas Tree. Note the old attraction ride vehicle tree ornaments. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Let’s check out this awesomeness, starting with a Captain Jake’s Amity Boat Tour vehicle from JAWS!

Jaws ride scale model boat. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Next up we have a open-air aerial tram from KONGFRONTATION!

Kongfrontation scale model ride vehicle. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

My 2023 theme park bingo card included a lot of things, but it did not include a scale model of the BART Subway Train from Earthquake: The Big One!

Earthquake scale ride vehicle model. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Not to mention a scale model of the oil tanker that famously catches on fire during the attraction! (seriously, this tree is so great I’m going to use my entire allotment of exclamation points just in this one section!!)

Earthquake scale model. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

All of those were just the appetizers though for our main course: a scale model DeLorean ride vehicle for BACK TO THE FUTURE: THE RIDE!

Back to the Future the Ride scale model DeLorean. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

How GREAT is this?

Back to the Future the Ride scale model DeLorean. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

The details are perfect.

Back to the Future the Ride scale model DeLorean. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

In fact, maybe even better than perfect. Because if we look closer into the ride vehicle it reveals the panel that guests would see during the attraction…

Back to the Future the Ride scale model DeLorean. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

…and the screen features Doc Brown, just like BTTF: The Ride did (right next to the Flux Capacitor, also just like the ride.) ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!!!

Back to the Future the Ride scale model DeLorean. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

There are “Rumors and Innuendo” that we may see even smaller scale models of these scale models for sale in the future (just writing that line reminded me of one of my all-time favorite moments from the movie Austin Powers.) Here’s hoping that’s true because I’ll be buying ALL OF THEM.

# 5 – 12 Icons of Christmas Past

Speaking of classic rides we miss, returning this year after making their debut in 2022 are the 12 Icons of Christmas Past that Universal has hidden in the Christmas decorations throughout Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Universal Art Director Jacquie Perry describes them as “ornaments that represent shows, rides, or experiences that are no longer here in the theme park.” While adding, “they are hidden — some better than others — in decor pieces near the icons’ former location. It really helps to know the history of our parks to know where to look.”

So keep your head on a swivel and hidden among the copious amounts of garland and wreaths throughout the parks you just may see a certain pair of dragons that also just stole the show at Halloween Horror Nights 32

Dueling Dragons, Ice Dragon. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Dueling Dragons, Fire Dragon. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad ornament. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

One of my favorite articles we did in this fine blog series over the course of 2023 was the one looking at all the details and references hidden in the windows of Universal Studios Florida. One of those windows pays tribute to Michael Morman. Many reading these have probably never heard of Mr. Morman, but he started off his career at Universal playing the role of Winston in the Ghostbusters Spooktacular. The façade for the Ghostbusters show was their well known fire house, which you can still see in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida. Mr. Morman eventually moved up to head of entertainment, and he has a window playfully dedicated to his “role” as the NYC fire department’s Company Chief.

Tribute window. (photo by @litemandhide)

During the Christmas season, a large wreath is hung on this window and it also pays tribute to Ghostbusters!

Icons of Christmas Past. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Ghostbusters ornament. Marshmallows covered in slime. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Another great detail. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

We won’t give them all away here, but there’s some really great tributes hidden across the parks…

Twister: Ride It Out! (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Fieval’s Playland. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Jaws ornament. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

# 4 – Tribute Store

I don’t think we could sing enough praise for the work that Universal has done on the various Tribute Stores we have seen in Universal Studios over the past several years. Whether Halloween Horror Nights, Mardi Gras, or even Jurassic Park, the Visual Team in charge of these Tribute Stores hits one home run after another. I’ve long joked that these Tribute Stores are so awesome that hopefully we would one day get a Tribute Store dedicated to Tribute Stores, and we pretty much got one this Holiday season because the Tribute Store is packed with references to previous Tribute Stores.

The overall theme of the store is the Universal Tribute Store and Post, with the story being that we are walking into an active shipping company.

Tribute Store entrance. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Our first room is set up like a post office for Universal Orlando, and it is absolutely LOADED with unbelievably great details. Always check out the bulletin boards in any Tribute Store for true gems.

Tribute Store bulletin board. (photos by Hedgehogs Corner)

I mean c’mon, a reference to Universal Studios Escape, the disastrous marketing campaign that set the entire resort back a decade? Incredible.

This stamp set featuring attractions of years past would be something I would buy in a second if Universal actually sold it. Stamps include Monster’s Café, previous Tribute Stores, Universal Cinematic Spectacular, and   even a tram from the old studio ride Universal Studios Florida used to have.

Details upon details. Here among all the details we have a preview map for Islands of Adventure along with references to the Dead Coconut Club makeover in Citywalk.

I love the concept of these mailing tubes installed, giving the story that mail is being sent to various locations across the resort, including Production Central, Diagon Alley, and World Expo in USF.

The tubes themselves are also decorated, such as this one for Volcano Bay.

Our second room in the Tribute Store continues the “post office” theme with the Owl Post from the Wizarding World.

Fun to look at the great details in the room, such as packages that would be sent by wizards and witches.

Our third room might be my personal favorite, because it is the Whoville Post Office and based off the live action How The Grinch Stole Christmas movie. It would be almost impossible for me to narrow down my top 5 Christmas films, but Jim Carrey as the Grinch would be in there. Just an amazing experience.

One scene in the film involves the Grinch breaking into the post office, and this mask is the one he wore while sneaking around in Whoville.

One of my favorite moments in the Grinch movie is when the Grinch is adding his own mail into mailboxes “Jury Duty! Jury Duty! Jury Duty! Blackmail! Pink slip! Chain Letter! Eviction notice!”

The shipping costs are listed in Whomolians, the official currency of Whoville.

You’ll see Whomolians scattered in this area.

The Whoville Post office is also home to the world famous Tribute Store snack case!

The Tribute Store snack case is always loaded up with elaborately themed treats. Because the snack case was in the Whoville Post Office, the snacks were all themed to the world of The Grinch.

Including a Grinch Onion Cheesecake Tart…

…and a can of Who Hash trifle cake.

Our last room is the Earl the Squirrel post office. This room is stuff with Earl goodness, including photos of Earl photoshopped into photos, such as this one with Santa E.T.

This one with Earl seeing the windmill burn down from Frankenstein (1931) is next level bonkers and I am here for it.

On social media, there is always a lighthearted battle between the team that runs the Halloween Horror Nights account and the main Universal Orlando Resort account. Earl got the knockout blow with this photo having a Halloween Horror Nights event decorated for Christmas.

Keep your eyes open in Earl’s room for some deep cuts to Universal’s past.

The wallpaper in Earl’s room is sublime.

As truly remarkable as these stores are to walk around in to see all the details, they are – in fact – gift shops designed to sell you merchandise. Everything is themed though, and even the cash registers to check out at are themed to campers adorned with bumper stickers.

# 3 – Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s

The highlight for many guests during the Christmas season at Universal is the Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios Florida. This parade is included with your park admission and you’ll see it proudly advertised outside the park. The giant wreath hanging in the main arch is one of the largest wreaths in America and is comprised of four pieces that are 16 feet each.

For my 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 their parade 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 total blast.

Fan favorite brands are included throughout the parade, including Despicable Me.

Which of course features the mega popular Minions.

Minion. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

One of my favorite parade units is the one for Shrek, because I love the three blind mice characters.

I also absolutely love the old timey robot characters in the parade.

Robot. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

But of course the main draw is the big cheese himself, Santa Claus.

Santa in the reindeer-driven sleigh in Universal’s Holiday Parade (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Santa expressing the Heart Hands emoji 🫶 during Universal’s Holiday Parade. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Each night Earl the Squirrel in the tree listens to Santa speak in the parade. On cue, Earl turns on the Christmas Tree. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 2 – Holiday Tour

An upcharge feature that Universal offers during the Christmas season is a special Holiday Tour. This starts off with  guests checking in at 6PM in Citywalk by walkway near Hard Rock Cafe. The first stop on the tour is seeing the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular show. Grinchmas – 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 last year the show was performed 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.

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.

There are many groups taking the Holiday Tour, each with about 12 guests and one guide. After the Grinchmas show, the order of the stops along the tour vary for each group as to keep all the waits low for everyone.  Our groups next stop was checking out various soundstages that are located in-between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. One of these soundstages is the Universal Production Office, which I saw during a recent Universal 2-Park VIP Tour.

Production Offices. Photo taken during 2-Park VIP Tour.

For many, meeting Max and the Grinch is worth the cost of the entire Holiday Tour.

Parkscope Nick and family meet a resident of Whoville.

There is a small dining experience with some light snacks (pasta, chicken nuggets, French fries etc) and dessert options available.

Grinch took the plush and said, “What’s this? A unicorn? I hate.” He then dropped the plush straight onto the floor. When told the unicorn’s name was Lemon, Grinch replied, “It’s name is Lemon? I hate it less now.”

The Grinch you meet on the Holiday Tour is the one you will see in the Grinchmas show. This is hands-down one of the best interactions you can have at Disney or Universal, it’s just fantastic. 

Pictures with The Grinch and Max.

Once inside Universal Studios Florida, you get a chance to meet Santa Claus. This took place in the building that also holds Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon.

You’ll get to check out the Tribute Store we mentioned earlier in this article, along with the gigantic Christmas tree in USF.

The tour guide explained where Earl the Squirrel was in the tree along with explaining the entire backstory behind Earl (which you can read all the details about in Alicia Stella’s article by CLICKING HERE.)

Earl the Squirrel.

We got a chance to play Minion Blast before our tour guide then walked us over to Islands of Adventure.

Tour Guide Abner leading the group while answering questions from an inquisitive guest.

While in Hogsmeade Village we had some time to get some photos and do a little spell casting.

Casting Spells in the Wizarding World.

The night ended with a showing of The Magic of Christmas playing on Hogwarts Castle.

Rumors and Innuendo suggest that this Holiday Tour was originally created by former Universal President Bill Davis. Beloved by Team Members, Bill Davis retired from Universal not long after the opening of the VelociCoaster (at which Bill had a meme worthy moment.) It’s said that Bill wanted a tour that showed guests everything Universal had going on at Christmas, and boy did they deliver. However, after Bill’s retirement, the tour started to have several cuts. There was a time when guests got a printed out photo with Santa Claus. Last year that was changed to a digital photo. This year that option was gone completely. In years past there was a reserved area to watch the parade. This year the tour doesn’t include the parade at all.

Meeting the Grinch and max is a pretty big deal, as the Grinch meet and greet in Suess Landing gets over two hour waits on the regular. Often it can be up to four hours. Max you can only meet on this tour. The tour gurantees short waits for both.There are still a lot of really great things about the Holiday Tour, but we need to start seeing some additions rather than subtractions going forward. For the life of me I don’t understand why they don’t hold the Santa Claus meet-and-greet into the old home of the Tribute Store (the Macy’s façade, next to Revenge of the Mummy.) Theme the entire area like you do a Tribute Store and turn it into a full photo-op and merchandise experience.

# 1 – Breakfast with the Grinch

Another upcharge experience during the Christmas season is another one worth going out of your way to do, and is also one of the rare character dining experiences at Universal (is that nuts or what?!)  It starts off with meeting the Grinch and having plenty of one-on-one time with possibly the best character at either Universal or Disney. Every Grinch I have ever met at Universal has been hilarious and just awesome to be around.

The Grinch meet-and-greet. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Like theme park influencers, the Grinch loves posing for the camera.

The Grinch meet-and-greet. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
The Grinch meet-and-greet. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

The autograph card you get is also straight up E-Ticket. The front of the card is fine…

…but the back is next level. LOVE IT.

Normally the breakfast is held in Seuss Landing, but Circus McGurkus is currently under a lengthy refurbishment. This year the breakfast is held at Confisco Grille, right outside Seuss Landing. The meal is upstairs at The Navigator’s Club, which is usually reserved for  Universal Orlando Annual Passholders.

The Navigator’s Club seating. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

The Navigator’s Club gives you some pretty cool views out into IOA.

Outside The Navigator’s Club. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Each diner can choose one entrée from the menu.

Each table has a pastry assortment and a bowl of fruit.

Fresh fruit. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

We went with the Martha May’s Chicken and Waffles for one of our entrees. It was wonderful.

Martha May’s Chicken and Waffles – Southern fried chicken, Belgian waffles, whipped honey butter, hot honey drizzle, fresh berries and powdered sugar. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
Martha May’s Chicken and Waffles. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

We also got The Grinch’s Green Eggs and Ham, which was also tasty.

The Grinch’s Green Eggs and Ham – green eggs, sliced roast ham, and roasted potatoes. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)
The Grinch’s Green Eggs and Ham. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Among the various drinks offered was Grinch Juice.

Grinch Juice. Lime, green apple, and pineapple juice. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Each table also got a selection of desserts as well.

Dessert plate.(photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Honorable Mention – Christmas-themed SKILL GAME PRIZES

2023 has been maybe the greatest year in the HISTORY of Universal Skill Game prizes. Earlier this year we saw the debut of a full line of plush themed to Back to the Future which even included Doc Brown’s dog Einstein. For the Christmas season, Universal brought out some new plush you can win, including this great line featuring characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer plush. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

But even better is this Bob Ross plush. Not just Bob Ross, but Bob Ross dressed in his Christmas outfit. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!

Bob Ross with Santa hat. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX enjoys Universal’s 2023 Holiday Celebration! 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 Celebrates Ten Years with TouringPlans

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Merchandise Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Signage Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Food Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Josh easyWDW

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Ian Barritt

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.

Next Week: The 2023 In Memoriam, looking back at what we lost in the theme park world

Len Testa and Jim Hill with their podcast producer Aaron Adams. (art by SonderQuest)

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