I visited Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights for the very first time last year (recap here), and while entertained and awed, the sheer force of bodies and bratty behavior made me carefully consider returning for 2009. It’s one thing to have a haunted house attraction that welcomes giddy hordes of eager horror enthusiasts, it’s another to encourage said fanbase to booze up to a point of sickness, treating the Universal layout like an elaborate frat party. Granted, it doesn’t always reach a point of distaste at HHN, but I’ve made a few visits to the event this year, and again, while exceptionally themed and executed, the experience can be awfully trying at times. This year registers as extraordinarily irritating.
The Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Convention has come to Orlando this weekend, bringing a mass of celebrities, uncomfortable beards, and smiles to town, thrilling horror fanatics who wait all year for this event. To kick off the festivities, there’s a Zombie Walk, encouraging undead fans to dress up as decrepitly as possible and march (or drag) a harrowing 1/2 mile to the front door of the host hotel. It’s a community of fun-loving, grotesque participants, and there’s a clear love for the macabre tradition.
Last year, I stumbled upon Sea World Orlando’s Halloween Spooktacular by accident. While making a routine visit to the park, I wasn’t immediatley aware that a holiday blow-out was in progress over by Shamu Stadium and Bayside Stadium, leading me to wonder why “pumpkin fish” signage and strange costumed characters were suddenly around every corner. Turns out Sea World has their own variation on a theme park Halloween celebration, and get this: it’s free with admission.
Character dining at Walt Disney World is always a mixed bag. Elementary culinary experiences aimed toward the Duggar crowd of mass appeal, these family feasts are a chance for broods to chow in total chaos while costumed icons roam the floor encouraging photo and autograph interaction. It’s really never about the food at these establishments, only the easy-peasy face time with characters that would normally be a hassle and a half to tackle within a theme park. Still, Disney does cough up a little extra effort for these daily events, leading me to visit the restaurant Chef Mickey’s, located in the Contemporary Resort.
When I finally received the opportunity to board the “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit” roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida today, I figured the event might be an intricate prank assembled by my enemies to humiliate me further. Since its “opening” on August 19th, “Rockit” has been nothing but trouble to ride, enduring a series of vague technical glitches that have routinely thwarted my angelic plans to partake in the excitement. Additionally, Universal employees have been sinisterly trained to shoo away any potential inquiry of service during down periods with squawks of “it might not open today” or “it doesn’t look good.” And then I would learn the coaster opened for business 15 minutes I left. Arg.
I think a proper challenge for any resident of Orlando (or perhaps adventurous tourist) is to dine at all of the pavilions located within Epcot’s glorious parade of countries, the World Showcase. It’s an expensive proposal (Mickey’s a cute mouse, but he loves money), but not impossible, especially if this lofty gastric quest is portioned out over an extended period of time. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, satisfying an itch for a theme-park-exclusive challenge and to wave an extended middle finger toward my personal foodie fraidy-cat nature. While I’ve visited a few of the countries in the past for eats, I’ve never actively pursued them all. It’s time to change that. The first stop was the famed Le Cellier, located inside the Canada pavilion.
Wow. Star Wars Weekends ended over a month ago, and I never got around to posting my pictures from the event. Chalk it up to pure absentmindedness, not a reflection of the month-long celebration of all things “Star Wars.”
The Magic Kingdom Turkey Leg. If there was one single Disney food item I developed an insane amount of curiosity about over the years, it would be that salted, exotic meat stick.
I’m not a wide-eyed roller coaster enthusiast, so please forgive me if I breeze through a discussion of the new Manta ride at Sea World Orlando with minimal attention to industry detail. I have little formal education in the world of inversions and pretzel loops, preferring to simply, perhaps mindlessly enjoy my limited time being heaved through the air, leaving the suspect jargon to those who know exactly how to wield it. All I can safely type is this: Manta is a gorgeous coaster with some serious deficiency in the awe department.
I’ve always felt a special kinship with Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios). It’s the only theme park I’ve, in a strange sense, “grown up with,” having visited for my first time in 1990, a little over a year after the property first opened to the public. The experience also marked my first taste of a scarily form-fitting theme park ambiance, instantly hooking me on the sweet stuff that continues to captivate me to this day.
Today was the park’s 20th birthday. How’s that to make a guy feel old!
Traditionally, I’m not a pie guy. I’ll walk over a blazing pile of jagged coals barefoot to get to cake, but pie is a meal capper that’s certainly worthy of appreciation, but rarely desired beyond a slight this-is-dessert-so-live-with-it interest. The Great American Pie Festival shimmies over to Celebration, Florida every year to champion the boldest architects of the sweet treat, turning a lakeside corner of the small Rockwellian town into a makeshift street fair with shopping, games, and pie gorging available for all. It’s a chance for pie to stand up and show the masses it can walk the walk and talk the talk just as proudly as those sycophantic goofballs cake and cookies. Today, pie is at last king.
There’s a surplus of holiday enchantment to participate in down here in Central Florida, but the outrageous locations are always the most entertaining to visit. I suppose it just wouldn’t be the holidays without a big-ass Gingerbread House from Disney.
There are a few specialized events I try to never take part in willingly: poetry slams, film festivals, food tastings, and especially haunted houses. Horror is easily consumed on the big screen, where the distance between the macabre and the audience is sufficiently tolerable. Take that dosage of terror and lend it a 360 degree atmosphere, and my fraidy cat heart will inform my legs to immediately sprint the opposite way.
During the clammy weekends of June, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) puts on a show. Mind you, it’s not just any old show, but a “Star Wars” show: virtual catnip to families and nerdly shut-ins everywhere. It beams out like a siren song across the world, calling the Lucas-faithful to Orlando to partake in 12 days of the most Jedi-approved merriment a mere human can handle.
These are the “Star Wars Weekends.”
Over the next two years, the Orlando theme park wars are going to reach unheard of levels of showmanship. After years of construction slowdown and financial baby steps, the three major theme park entities (Sea World, Universal, and Disney) are all currently in the heated process of rolling out several big-ticket attractions, intending to inject a little exhilaration into the Orlando area that, if aimed just so, will alter the stagnant attendance rankings the suits are always looking to goose.