ORLANDO, Fla – The holiday celebrations are officially underway at Universal Orlando Resort.
Guests can sip and savor a hot butterbeer in the Wizarding World, get up-close to some of Macy’s holiday parade balloons and embark on a jolly tree hunt. Also, making the list this year is the resort’s first-ever holiday tribute store located in the park’s New York area next to the ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ attraction.
The tribute store will take guests into four highly-immersive themed rooms to purchase merchandise including T-shirts, ornaments, stockings, drink ware and more. Room themes inside include a German-inspired holiday festival complete with two wax-o-mattic machines, a room taken over by the mean-one, the Grinch, and a Christmas celebration inspired by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Guests will end their walk-through journey by entering a wacky American Christmas tree farm that is run by a cartoon squirrel, named Earl.
Tribute stores are no stranger to Universal fans. Over the past couple years, Universal has created themed shopping experiences for its events like Mardi Gras and most recently, Halloween Horror Nights.
The creative team behind the store flipped the location from a creepy old crypt to a holiday celebration in a record time, roughly 6 days. “We had three shifts, 24 hours a day. So we have people coming in at 5 a.m., and then the next shift would take over, and then the overnight shift just to get it all flipped,” said Rob Cametti, director of visual merchandising and store design.
After entering the mouth of a giant nutcracker façade, guests will experience what Universal is calling the toy maker’s workshop.
Hidden treasures plucked straight from the North Pole litter a workbench, sparking a first impression. It’s not all paint supplies and nutcrackers though. If you look closely you may see small tributes to past events and blocks shaped like the Universal Studios archway, Hogwarts castle and even Krakatau, the volcano from Universal’s waterpark.
Turning the corner, guests will experience the first room that transports you overseas to Germany, where a holiday festival is underway.
“If you look up some of the stuff online in Germany, I mean, those street festivals are beautiful. And one of the things that are iconic about most of them is they have a Christmas pyramid, which is this tiered structure and sometimes it has toy soldiers and nutcrackers. So we wanted to recreate this,” said Cametti.
Inside the room is also a number of ornaments for sale, including all-new retro style Universal ornaments and one of two wax-o-mattic machines. Universal first introduced the machines during Halloween Horror Nights and found them to be very popular.
For six dollars, guests can take home either a Santa Claus or Snowman wax figurine with a special Universal Studios engraving on the front.
Lining the side of the room is a beautiful life-size wooden German-style Christmas decoration.
“What we’ve noticed just in the last few days, is some people are using it for Christmas cards. So they bring their family and use that backdrop. It’s the perfect setting,” Cametti described.
Rounding the corner is a totally different tribute to a Universal fan-favorite, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The wacky, wonky and twisted up world unravels, and takes guests into the pages of the Christmas classic. Max, and the mean one himself are stuffing presents into a package making machine creating another perfect photo opportunity.
The room also includes ornaments, Grinch style villages, and a popular item, pajama sets for the whole family.
“So this is our transition hallway between the front and the back rooms. And like Horror Nights, we did a historical timeline of holidays from the past three years,” Cametti described. “So a lot of these photos we pulled from the archives of, you know, celebrations and décor from past years. And this one here, this is the tree that used to be over Islands of Adventure...there used to be a boat parade with Santa here at the lagoon.”
From a wonky Christmas to an elegant holiday celebration, guests will fly into the holidays at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with ornaments, robes, scarfs, plush owls and other collectables.
Cametti expressed, “one of the cool things about this room this year is we started a new program with embroidery. So we can embroider stars, stockings...eventually robes. So it’s been kind of cool. We do ties and do monograms on ties. So if you want to get a stocking personalized, you know, with your name, your kids names, we can do all that right here.”
The big question everyone wants to know, who is Earl, the squirrel?
“Earl is a little bit of a local legend for us here. And depending on who you talk to, we’re going to get to different stories,” Cametti joked. “So many years ago, there was a power outage in our tall tree out here in front of Macy’s. And some people say Earl was in there chewing on a cord, and he knocked out some of the lights. Other people will say he was just trying to get up to the top of the tree to see more of the Christmas decorations and disconnecting a lot. I don’t know what happened. But a squirrel caused a power outage in our tree.”
Just like that Earl the squirrel was born, and this year the holiday tribute store is celebrating the local legend with his own room. The Universal creative team described the room as good old fashion American decorating. If it twinkles, lights up and blinks, they hang it. No merchandise is being sold celebrating Earl just yet, but Cametti hinted that people should be on the lookout.
The one thing this room does have are the sweet treats. Guests can try a number of pastries including Santa’s dream cookies, red velvet cake pops, vegan reindeer brownies, gingerbread whoopie pies, sugar cookie tree stacks and so much more.
To go with the story of Earl and lights, the area is offering edible Christmas lights in three flavors: butterscotch, peppermint and cinnamon.
Guests can continue to enjoy the tree farm with Earl’s nutty nog with, or without rum, or Earl’s hot chocolate with an ornament chocolate bomb. “What the guests will do is they’ll put that that chocolate bomb in there that we made, and as it melts and as they stir it, the marshmallows will come out of the bomb. It’s a nice visual. The children love it as well,” said Jason Glus, executive chef parks at Universal Orlando.
In true squirrel fashion, the store is also offering hot sticky buns and roasted nuts.
The holiday tribute store is part of Universal Orlando’s holiday celebrations which run through Jan. 3.
Guests unable to attend can also buy merchandise from Universal’s online store.