Theme Park Ranger
9:21 AM EST, December 12, 2013
Happy Hippo is ready for her closeup.
The character is a new balloon that's joined the lineup for the Macy's Holiday Parade, which returned to Universal Studios last weekend. Happy goes way back.
She debuted in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in 1931. She, along with other characters, was created by the retailer.
"At the time there wasn't an overwhelming amount of cartoon characters to really choose from in the landscape to develop large balloons," says Amy Kule, executive producer of the parade.
In recent years, the company has brought back and updated old-school balloons, some of which have appeared in the Universal version of the parade. (The most notable might be "Big Man Santa," which heads up the parade.)
Happy has received a makeover, but she's still purple.
"She's brighter than she was back in the '30s," Kule says. "She's got very elegant, elongated eyelashes. We changed her decoration around her waist. ... She's wearing a really beautiful bow that looks more like a poinsettia."
The Happy balloon has bright red lips and toenails. "She's very feminine and very pretty," Kule says.
For the first time, Universal Studios guests will be able to see a parade balloon before it's marched through the park. Happy will make a street appearance near Mel's Drive-In each night.
"She will walk out as low as we can possibly make her walk, and she flies high as the other performers dance around her," says Lora Wallace, a show director at Universal Orlando.
Her song? "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."
Happy will appear at 3:50 p.m. ahead of the 5 p.m. parade during Universal's event, which runs nightly through Jan. 4. (From Dec. 26 to Dec. 31, the parade will step off at 8 p.m., and Happy will show off at about 6:50 p.m.)
Universal tidbit tidings
•Let us give thanks for improvements at Universal. I'm so grateful for the Music Plaza, where Mannheim Steamroller performs Saturday, Sunday and next weekend. It can be an maddening logjam after concerts, but remember the first Mannheim concert at Universal back in 2008? The stage was wedged in the corner of the New York streets, and the audience had to wrap around the mammoth Christmas tree in hopes of spotting the group.
•Another improvement: When the marching bands in Macy's Holiday Parade go past, Universal silences its blaring soundtrack. In previous years, it has been the battle of the live and prerecorded bands. Now, if Universal would just add variety to its parade music. "Let Your Heart Take Flight" is catchy but no one needs a half-hour of it on an endless loop.
•I suggest watching the parade from a spot near the big Christmas tree. Santa, bringing up the rear of the parade, stops there for a brief show and ceremony. Two words: Dancing snowmen.
•Another recommendation: "The Blues Brothers Holiday Show." There's no seating, but no line either. You're on your own for "A Barney Holiday."
•A final salute to Universal: Kudos for waiting until after Thanksgiving to start the Christmas/Grinchmas celebrations. It's probably tied to Macy's hanging onto its balloons through Turkey Day, but we appreciate it anyway.
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Holidays at Universal
What: Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular at Islands of Adventure; Macy's Holiday Parade and Mannheim Steamroller concerts at Universal Studios.
Where: Kirkman Road and Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
When: Grinchmas multiple times daily through Jan. 4; parade at 5 p.m. daily through Jan. 4; Steamroller concerts at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 14-15.
Cost: A one-day, one park ticket is $92 ($86 for ages 3-9)
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