Theme park news: Earl the Squirrel / More Epic Universe land / Epcot NYE fireworks 

Universal Orlando has a new walkaround character for the holidays: Earl the Squirrel. 

The character, an original creation for the Universal Orlando Resort, will hold meet-and-greets on select days at Universal Studios Florida from Dec. 11 through Jan. 2, 2022. 

“Earl’s origin began more than a decade ago, when Universal Orlando’s Entertainment team discovered a squirrel nestled in the branches of its iconic Christmas tree,” Universal said in a press release. “Surprisingly, the squirrel had an affinity for blue Christmas lights, often stealing strands and bringing them back to his nest. Over the years, Universal has paid homage to this remarkable incident by placing a lifelike squirrel in the Christmas tree for guests to discover and creating merchandise inspired by its fuzzy friend.”

Earl is heavily featured on holiday merchandise at Universal, as well as inside the Holiday Tribute Store. An entire room is dedicated to him, called Earl the Squirrel’s Christmas Curios Museum & Emporium.

Universal is in the middle of its holiday celebration. Special offerings include the “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular” stage show, the nightly Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s and the “Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle” projection show. 

Universal Orlando acquires more land for Epic Universe road construction

Universal Orlando bought two parcels of land earlier this month that will be used for right-of-way for the road leading to its new Epic Universe theme park. 

According to the Orlando Business Journal, Universal purchased a 5.25-acre space for $1.2 million and a 7.66-acre parcel for $1.76 million. The seller was Lockheed Martin, the defense giant whose Orlando facility borders the Epic Universe land, which Lockheed originally sold to Universal in 1998. 

The newly-purchased land will be used as right-of-way for the 1.7 mile extension of Kirkman Road that will connect the new Universal park to existing roads. While construction on the extension began in August, there is no timetable either for its completion or the opening of Epic Universe

Disney World will have New Year’s Eve fireworks

Traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks will be back at Epcot and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World this year. 

Epcot will put on its fireworks show at 11:54 p.m. on Dec. 31, preceded by “Harmonious” at 6:30 p.m. Magic Kingdom will show the Fantasy In The Sky Fireworks at 11:50 p.m., with the new regular nighttime show, “Enchantment” show being shown at 6:30 p.m. 

Disney’s Hollywood Studios does not have fireworks scheduled, but will be open until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Animal KIngdom will close at 7 p.m. 

No such displays were held in 2020, when COVID-19 vaccines were not widely available and Disney World was still enforcing physical distancing. In fact, all parks and Disney Springs closed before midnight, with Disney instead offering pre-recorded fireworks on in-room TVs to resort guests.