Archive for Orlando

AWESOME-tober-fest 2008!!! I survive Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights!!

Posted in AWESOME-tober-fest, Florida, Halloween, Halloween Horror Nights, holiday, Orlando, reviews, roadtrip, Universal Studios with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by Paxton

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Welcome to Week 3 of AWESOME-tober-fest!!! Hope you’ve enjoyed the first two weeks so far. I started off week 1 talking about creepy Halloween sodas. Then, on week 2, I discussed a few of my favorite scary movies. What’s on deck for this week? Well, as teased to you at the end of last week’s article, Steph and I took the plunge and went to our first Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights this past weekend. Universal Studios theme parks hold this event annually and this year marked the 18th year they have done it. I’ve been wanting to go since we moved down to Jacksonville but we never did and thanks to some cheap, discounted tickets at work, we were able to do it this year. In case you didn’t know, ever since around 1990, during the Halloween season, Universal Studios closes its doors (along with Islands of Adventure) around 5:30 – 6pm and clears out all the people. Universal then sets up the scare zones and haunted houses and opens the doors again for people who bought Halloween Horror Nights tickets (yes, it’s a separate ticket). There are as many as 8 haunted houses that are setup in various parts of the park as well as what are called scare zones. In these scare zones are park employees who dress up in scary costumes and follow around patrons trying to creep them out or scare them. Like the haunted houses, each scare zone has a different theme, usually based around what haunted house is near it. Halloween Horror Nights usually has an overall theme each year, too. Last year, with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface it was called the Carnival of Carnage. The year before that they did a “best of” theme with all the best haunted houses and scare zones from the years prior.  This year, the overall theme was Bloody Mary; which included famous myths, legends and fairy tales.  Bloody Mary is the spririt that would appear to you in a mirror if you said her name 3 times.  She’s in the picture below on the right.

It’s a pretty cool theme if you ask me and I was very excited to see what Universal did with it.  So, after work on Friday, the wife and I took off for Orlando and our scary Halloween adventure. Continue reading

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Crashing the House of Mouse for my Birthday!

Posted in Disney World, Florida, holiday, Orlando, personal, roadtrip with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2006 by Paxton

Walt Disney World

This article has been over a week in the writing. Work has been slamming me so I’ve had to write it on and off over many days. Hope you enjoy it. It’s longer than usual so just bear with me.

I wanted to go somewhere fun for my birthday.  Since I now live in Jacksonville, FL, Walt Disney World is only two and a half hours away.  I hadn’t been since 1999, so I decided that is where I wanted to go.  When I went in 1999, my favorite park was Disney/MGM Studios because it had more of the rides and shows that I enjoyed.  To help seal the deal, Disney/MGM had also added a new ride, the Aerosmith Rock & Roller Coaster, since I’d been there last.  So on Cinco de Mayo we packed up the car and headed down to Orlando.

We stayed at a Courtyard Marriot in Lake Buena Vista.  It was, literally, a 5 minute drive to the park on Saturday morning.  We get to the park around 10:30am and immediately head to the first ride, The Great Movie Ride.  A great ride, not just in name only, it is made to look like Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA.  I have been to, and seen a movie in, the real Mann’s, and it’s a great replica.  The ride is a celebration of classic movies and showcases popular scenes from these movies with wax figures and small sets.  Very cool.  It’s like riding through a large Madame Tussaud’s exhibit.   A very cool attraction I like to ride whenever I’m at MGM.

Next we headed over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  The lines were getting a little longer, so we grabbed a Fast Pass at Tower of Terror and went to stand in line for the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster.

  If you’ve been to Disney and haven’t done the Fast Pass, you are missing out.  You grab a ticket from an automatic dispenser and it tells you to return to the specified ride at a specified time, usually about 1.5 hours later.  So with Fast Pass in hand, we waited in line at the Rock n Roller Coaster.  

The ride itself was very cool. The environment while you waited in line was like you were in the lobby of a recording studio named G-Force Records.  There was a lot of musical memorabilia like gold records and concert posters. All of a sudden a large group of you are ushered into a room that looks out on a recording studio. It looks like Aerosmith is putting the final touches on a track and they notice you. They inform you that they are about to leave for a concert but they want you to come with them. The dialogue in this little drama…is BAD. Do you remember the SNL Wayne’s World sketch they were on when Tom Hanks hosted? The drummer spouts off a long diatribe about supply and demand that sounded unrehearsed and fake. That’s kinda how this sounded. They even throw in the line “Everyone knows how we feel about our fans.” I’m on the ride, I don’t need to be pandered to. Anywho, we are shuffled into the loading area where you load the roller coaster. The cars look like a stretch cadillac limousine. It’s nice. As for the ride itself, it’s very good. Fast, furious and lots of Aerosmith rock playing. The ride is a suped up, much more fun version of Space Moutain. It’s all dark except for neon street signs that keep the feeling of a high speed run to the Aerosmith concert. Lots of fun, but too short. I was having so much fun that it ended just as we got started. I realize that coasters nowadays are getting faster and shorter, mush like our attention spans, but COME ON!!! If you go to MGM Studios, definately get on this ride.

We got off the Rock N Roller Coaster at exactly the time our Fast Pass said to be back over at the Tower of Terror. So we head over and get in the Fast Pass line. We literally walked right up and into the ride. Maybe a 2 minute wait. That was nice. The Tower is a great ride. You walk through the basement of an old hotel, get in an old elevator and it takes you around the Twilight Zone until it drops you up and down in a random sequence. Very fun and thrilling. Another good ride.

Next we hopped back over to the other side of the park to visit the Star Tours gift shop. I had been on the Star Tours ride several times and so had everyone else. I didn’t see any need to go again as it is only a mediocre ride. If it wasn’t based on Star Wars, I would probably say the ride somewhat sucked. It seriously needs to be updated. While walking to the Star Tours gift shop, I noticed some things had changed since 1999. Outside the ride there used to be a life-size speeder bike you could get your picture with. Check out this cheezy pic from my visit to MGM in 1999. That is no longer there. And the gift shop, The Jawa Trader, has been upgraded tremendously. There is a lot more room and they built tatooine adobe builings around it. I guess they had to sell more merchandise. You think they would have upgraded the ride. This is what I bought at the gift shop. It’s a Star Tours passport to Florida. They never have my name personalized, so I gotta get the generic items.

From here we moved onto Muppet-Vision 3-D. This is an awesome 3-D show featuring the Muppets as they demonstrate their new breakthrough, Muppetvision. It’s pretty funny and the theater itself interacts with the movie. They even have balcony seats with Statler and Waldorf sitting in them yelling out insults just like the Muppet Show!! All of your favorite Muppets show up so it’s lots of fun. I love the Muppets so I love seeing this show everytime I go to MGM Studios.

Lunchtime, baby! We decided to eat at the nicest place in the park, The Brown Derby. It’s a recreation of a famous restaraunt in Hollywood, CA. It’s upscale and very nice. We had wine and I ordered strip steak and mashed potatoes. The food was phenomenal. If you go to MGM and don’t have a bunch of kids with you, this is the place to eat. Kids won’t like it much, but it’s a great adult place.

Lastly we hit the MGM backlot tour. It’s really short, and doesn’t compare to the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tour, but it’s fun. In the beginning they show a special effects presentation featuring Pearl Harbour. They take members of the audience to perform. My group of 4 was chosen to be the participants. My wife had 900 gallons of water dumped on top of her and the rest of us stood on a fake PT boat and reacted to bombs going off around us. It was a lot of fun, but we didn’t get to see the performance. Apparently they take what we did and edit it into a short film that the people in the audience see. Since we were not with the audience and busy taking off our rain-gear we didn’t get to see the edited result and Disney said it gets deleted immediately. I was really disappointed to hear this. When we were “acting” on the PT boat, I really played it up. Running around and screaming like a girl, it was awesome. I totally wanted to see it edited together. Oh well. The rest of the tour took us on a tram ride to see a few abandoned movie props and an exploding movie set. Not bad.

By this point we were out of things to do at MGM, so we decided to park hop over to Epcot center. Epcot was in the middle of some Flower and Garden festival so it was all dressed up in pretty flowers. We first rode Spaceship: Earth which is a slow, meandering history of communication on Earth. It is housed inside the famous white “golf ball” that everyone associates Epcot with. The ride was okay, but it had been a long day and this was a welcome respite from the heat and walking. We then proceeded to the World Showcase and started to visit the countries. We went to Mexico and rode the River of Time. Another meandering “history of…” ride. The Mexican marketplace was cool, but boring. I did enjoy my “fiesta” margarita, as did everyone else in my party. We wound up drinking our margaritas while walking around Norway.

Of the countries we visited this time, my favorite was Norway…and not just because we drank margaritas next to the Maelstrom. The ride, the just mentioned Maelstrom, was fun and random, but the film they showed afterwards was a little on the silly side. Norway does have a cool giftshop where you can buy bad ass Viking helmets right next to not-so-bad-ass sweaters.

We finally stopped when I couldn’t walk anymore. I was so exhausted. We decided to hit a movie after leaving the parking lot. Well, for the next two hours we drove around looking for a theater and found nothing. The only theater we could find was the AMC at Downtown Disney, and there was no way we were getting a parking spot there on Saturday night at 8pm. Believe me, we tried.

So we went to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings and then crashed back at the hotel. This was one of the most fun trips to Disney I’ve ever had. I’m glad I got to do it for my birthday and with our friends, The Stars. It was a blast.

The drive home the next morning was an interesting event. We hit not one, but TWO crashes. The normally 2.5 hour drive back stretched into almost 5 f’n hours. I was so salty when I got home that I could’ve spit. My friend, Dave, slept probably 90% of the way. When we got back to Jacksonville he had no idea we had been stuck in traffic for like 3 hours.

None of this dampened the experience though and I look back on that trip with much fondness.

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