Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Our Belated Christmas At Universal, & The Hidden Holiday Gem Most People Missed!

Since I was sick for Christmas and John was sick for New Year's, we didn't get to visit Universal nearly as much as I hoped for all their holiday goodies. Luckily Universal keeps it all going through the 6th, though, so on Sunday we rushed out to catch the final "Holiday Spell" show (my favorite!) *and* to meet up with Sue, a reader here on vacation.

On the drive over with John and our friend Karen, I mentioned I'd heard about some holiday scavenger hunt, and wondered if it was still going. A little googling later, Karen and I decided we HAD to do this - and it was 2 to 1, so John was outnumbered. The hunt included both parks AND CityWalk, and we had roughly five hours. Aw yeah. It was on.

We hit the ground running and grabbed the Hunt's map from the first gift shop in Universal:

Did I mention this is a Tree hunt? So I hope you're not too Christmas'd out yet, since these ended up being some of the best themed trees I've seen anywhere. Ahhh-mazing. And I haven't seen anyone talk about them, which of course cannot stand. You've really gotta see these.

I'll go in order, since it would hurt my soul to skip any. The first tree was a little lackluster - no doubt easing us in - but had some neat elements:

 There were blue stage spotlights in the branches, along with film reels, scene clappers, and director megaphones.

 Next was the Minions' gift shop:

 We were almost literally running to make our meetup with Sue, so I didn't notice 'til now that plastic roller coaster track - maybe you can drop a marble down it? Oooh, that would be cool.

There are also metal Ferris Wheels! 

At each shop you collected a stamp from an employee, and we were happy to see each stamp was themed to fit the tree. I'll show you the whole set at the end.

I love this store front at Christmas. 

From here we met up with Sue, her hubby Joe, and their teenage daughter to watch Celestina's final show of the season. I planted myself front and center and had an absolute blast. (If you watch my Stories you've already seen several clips!) We ran into a few more friends at the show, too, so we were a big merry group, and I can't tell you the good it did my heart. It felt like a belated Christmas gathering. 

After we "WOO"'d the ladies off stage and fangirled over the sign language interpreter (check my last IG post if you missed the video, he's amazing!), it was back to the task at hand: TREE HUNT.

So we convinced Sue to ditch her family and join us ::evil grin::, and off we went!

The next tree was in the Men In Black gift shop, which I haven't visited in years. I realized as we walked in that I haven't been in most of the park gift shops in years - and I've been missing out! 
The big UFO topper has a color-changing light on the edges, and was filled with planets, funky mod ornaments, and plushes of Frank the pug: 


We had to take a few minutes to look around the rest of the shop, because I'd forgotten how darn cool it is:

Not to mention the place is stocked with everything from Wonder Woman backpacks to Star Trek art. Say whaaaaaat. So many fun finds! I approve.

Ok, here comes one of the best trees in the whole hunt, in another shop I haven't looked at in ages:

 The Mummy!
 This tree is jam-packed with the most gorgeous resin props:

 That's the key to the Book of the Dead below the scarab.

Those are poured resin casts; I flipped one over and it was still the shiny unpainted resin. That shows the amount of handcrafting that went into these decorations: someone hand-sculpted, molded, and cast each of those ornaments. Incredible.  

There's still lots more, too: look at all the mummy arms! 

 It cracks me up that some are holding up the garland.

 There are also plush snakes, Egyptian cats, and the enormous mask of King Tut on the front.

This shop is where some of the classic monsters from Halloween Horror Nights live:

And lots of the displays here were set up like a museum, with lovely artifacts and statues behind glass. I'm definitely coming back here when I have more time to browse!

I admit it, the Shrek tree was WAY prettier than I expected:

 It was under a a wooden arbor and an iron chandelier dripping with greenery.

 The decorations included real metal helmets and gauntlets among the plush toys:

  There were two brass trumpets sticking out of the sides, with a fairy flying in circles at the very top:

 Again, so pretty!

This was the first tree that we noticed had sound effects, but I suspect they ALL had them; it was just too loud for us to notice before this. It had music, magic sparkle sounds, and what I *think* was  the fairy up top whooping and laughing and humming.

After this I tried to listen at each tree, and heard some fun surprises in at least 3 or 4 more.

Next up, the Hello Kitty store! Why I don't visit this shop every time we're in the park is beyond me, because it is SO DANG CUTE.

The tree:
This one had a sweets theme, with giant cupcakes, donuts, candy canes, etc. See the big pink donut up top? That's gotta be a reference to the one you can buy over in the Simpson's land, right?

 This stop was especially fun because of the cast member running the register: no one else was around, so when Karen presented her map he asked, "What is your quest?"

Karen immediately called me over. "Do I give him the right answer, or the answer I WANT to give him?"

I asked the CM to repeat the question. 

"What," he said with a smile, "is your quest?"

Together Karen and I said, "TO SEEK THE GRAIL!"

He then quizzed Karen on the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow ("African or European?") before stamping our maps. I snatched mine up and said, "And now, RUN AWAAAAAAY!" Our group left laughing and exclaiming over "'uge pointy teeth!" and it was pretty much the best thing ever.

From here we left the park to find the two trees in CityWalk. The one in the Universal store was underwhelming, but had at least one neat effect:

 There were flash bulbs in the tree, and it was wired with sound so you'd hear the bulbs whine and pop as they went off. There were also film strips and film canisters with photos of park characters and attractions. Nicely done, but nothing too gobsmacking.

Toothsome's Chocolate Emporium's tree, on the other hand, made my jaw hit the floor.

[whispering] It's just so beautiful.

I've complained several times over the years that Toothsome never has great trees; usually just some generic purple tinsel ones stuck around the shop, and nothing truly steampunk to fit their style.

This, my friends, THIS is the tree I've always wanted Toothsome to have!


Still photos can't do it justice, because this tree is full of motion. All of the Edison bulbs flicker as the gears and pulleys turn:

 A bellows slowly works over on the left side, and you can hear the sound of it blowing and the gears clanking:

In the middle are three... paint reservoirs? Maybe?

 You can see all the beautiful gauges and clock faces and gears, too.

We had one more treat as we were leaving: Professor Toothsome herself was outside with Jacques:

It can be hard to get a good photo of these two inside, so I was super chuffed. Oh hey, and I just noticed they both have little red berry springs in their hats. Cute!

 Onward to Islands of Adventure, where the first big gift shop is ALSO beautifully steampunk:

Technically it's more of a world traveler motif, but however you classify it, it's stunning:

 This tree also has a steampunk feel: lots of brass, globes, nautical touches, etc:


 There are even framed pictures of Kraken tucked in some of the branches!

Over in Marvel Island was this fun Avengers themed tree:

This one had "spacey" sound effects, and then I heard Stan Lee say "Excelsior!" Aww, you guys, right in the feelz! So I called everyone over to listen for him to say it again... and.... nothing. Harrumph. I can only assume as soon as we gave up and left it played again.

 The Betty Boop store is unexpectedly gorgeous:

Wow. Dang.

As I was snapping pics of the tree, John surprised me by saying how much he loves this color combo:

 Hard to see, but there are red mirrored silhouettes of Betty all over the tree, along with flowers, gems, and metallic stylized hearts.

 This makes me want to decorate a Valentine's tree!

Jurassic Park's tree had some clever movie nods:

The lights from the electric fence in the movie were blinking on the edges, and do you recognize the banner/garland?

 C'mon, that is genius.

Then there were some fantastic teeth and claws (more hand-sculpted resin work), dino eggs, signs, & plushies:

We were ahead of schedule at this point, so we stopped in Hogwarts to grab a hot butter beer:

Sadly I can't have the hot ones since they contain milk, but John took one sip and said, "I take it back, THIS is my favorite kind of Butterbeer." So yeah, if you've never tried it, wait for a cool night and do so! 

We also caught the Hogwarts projection show:

 Because it's awesome.

And also not very long.

We're on the home stretch, thank goodness, because by this point in the night all 4 us of were the walking wounded, ha. Between bum hips and blistered feet and bad backs, we sort of limped our way to the finish line. We covered over 6 miles in about 4 hours, so we EARNED our Scavenger Hunt prizes. 

It was worth it, though, because these last two trees are super good.


Especially behold that seahorse topper:


The Poseidon's Fury tree was so encrusted with gems it took me several passes before I noticed the full size skeleton in the middle. Did you spot it yet?

I love how all the netting and rope and strings of pearls were tangled together like a heap of treasure on the ocean floor. There were also fishing globes and gems and more great resin pieces of Poseidon's crest:

  Ooof. So pretty.

K, last tree!

Ahhh, this makes me so happy. 

Look at the Grinch's fuzzy hands holding up a swag of garland!
 Bahaha! Why do I love this so much?
 And here's Max down low:

This cast member also had a question for us before he'd stamp our maps: he needed to know what make this tree so special. John immediately pointed to the Grinch's hands, and the CM looked so happy, like most people missed that part.
 I'm sure most people DID miss that part, as well as the majority of these absolutely incredible trees, which is a shame. The theming, the custom ornaments and sculpts, the sound effects(!!) - I don't know how well Universal advertised this hunt, but I hope lots and lots of folks got to play and appreciate all these works of art.

Which brings me to the end, and our prizes! Oh, but first, here are all the custom stamps we got for each tree:
Can you match each symbol to each tree? My favorite is the red scarab - but the tie is pretty great, too.

Our prizes were Minion ornaments, which the lady who helped us said changed 3 times, as they kept running out! The first prizes were little figurines, but ours are more like sun-catchers:

It's metal, and really cute! I'm giving it to my Mom, since she still loves Minions. :)

Oh, and get this: the Tree Hunt and the prize were both free! As someone used to Disney's hunts - which usually cost $6 and award much cheaper prizes - I'm gobsmacked and delighted. Way to go, Universal!

I hope they bring this Hunt back next year - maybe even with some new trees? - so be sure to look for it if you're visiting during the holidays. I *HIGHLY* recommend it, if only to get you exploring parts of the park you haven't seen in a while. Besides, it's always nice to have a quest, and be quizzed about the velocity of unladen swallows. :)


 Thank you to everyone who's bookmarked our Epbot Amazon shop! Everything you purchase through the link gives a little back to me and John, plus I add new things to my lists there pretty often - everything from clothes I wear to geeky toys to household gadgets.

You can also support us directly through Paypal, either as a one-time tip or a monthly donation. Mostly, though, I'm just glad you're here - so THANK YOU.  ::mwah::


  1. Ahh! I love this! Thanks for sharing all of the trees!!!

  2. That's a great hunt! For them, it will likely depend on how much cost went it to how much was bought in shops with the extra burst of customers going in hunting, but it's still a really cool hunt! I adore all the details in the trees based on the movies/genres. Just gorgeous.

  3. Thank you so much for this! I tried going to Spiffy Saturday on the 5th, but was late for the first meetup because of traffic and then my shoes got *completely* soaked through from the rain, and I ended up giving up and going home after just a couple hours. I actually walked straight past that first tree in Islands of Adventure and didn't even give it a second glance because I was so focused on getting back to my car, so I really appreciate getting to see all the lovely decorations now that I'm warm and dry again. Hopefully they of all this again next year so I can have a chance to admire it all in person, but for now, your pictures are a wonderful substitute!

  4. Squeeee!! Thanks for letting me vicariously go on this hunt with you, Jen. I just love little hidden fun things like this. I especially loved the Marvel tree, with its comic book expressions (i.e. "POW!") in the branches.

  5. My mom and I happened across the Tree Hunt when we were there in December. So fun, amazing trees, shops I hadn't ever bothered with before, and who doesn't love the thrill of the hunt? (We got the figurine Minions.) I'm glad you got to go!

  6. My friend and I just went in together on a Cricut Maker. Do you have a place we can buy svgs you have created? Thanks!

    1. I don't sell any SVGs, no, but I almost always share the files we use for cutting in my tutorials! I'd start with the Hogwarts House laptop decals, those are some of my favorite crafts for the Cricut.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your photos and experiences! It looks like an incredible time--even if you did end up with blisters at the end!

    And oh thank goodness, I thought I was the only one who put mummies and classic movie monsters on my tree. :D I got some of the Universal Monster mini-Pops in black and white and jazzed them up with black-and-white glitter in the right spots--they made great ornaments!

  8. That steampunk tree is amazing! Also love the Poseidon tree - so gorgeous! I love these kinds of hunts at parks that get you to see parts of the park you would otherwise skip.

  9. What a neat scavenger hunt, and gorgeous trees! I want that tree topper in the first Islands of Adventure shop!!

  10. Ooh, that sounds like fun! Thanks for the pictures!

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  12. Wow, some of these trees look amazing! My favorites are The Mummy tree, the Steampunk tree, and Poseidon's Fury tree! It's amazing to see so many fun themed trees in one area, but these are definitely the ones that made my jaw drop. I completely agree about the seahorse topper and the aesthetic of the nets and ropes. That's the only time I want to see nets left over because it is stunning. I appreciate your attention to the detail on the trees, because I love seeing the close-ups of the amulets and other objects. I'm glad I get to see them on other trees, because I am certainly not making them myself. haha.


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