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Photo TR: Scarin' and Crusin' with TPR in Orlando

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What happens when you combine an October week with Theme Park Review in Florida with a week on the Caribbean? An amazing week becomes an awesome two weeks! I always look forward to hitting WDW, Universal, and Busch Gardens (and their various Halloween events) with TPR every year, and the opportunity to add a week on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas was irresistible. Thank you, Robb and Elissa, for another great vacation!


This TR is going to be a bit disjointed because I'm going to hop around a bit instead of posting everything chronologically. Why? It just makes more sense to post the Halloween stuff before Halloween. We'll get to some random Disney stuff, Legoland Florida, and cruise after all the Halloween events are covered. Everybody OK with this? (Why am I asking? It's not like you have a choice here. This is my TR, dammit!)


Let's get off to a mellow start with my favorite night to visit Florida's Magic Kingdom: Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Although this event is geared toward families (what a shock) and is pretty much the same year to year, I always look forward to it for a number of reasons:


1. I'm hanging out with fellow TPR members, which guarantees a good time no matter what happens.

2. Space Mountain wait time--5 minutes.

3. The parade and fireworks are always fun.

4. Candy!


So, don't expect anything too scary here--at least not on the surface. Who knows what lurks beneath?


Boo to you!


Those with party tickets can enter the park at 4:00. The party itself starts at 7:00 and goes till midnight.


Nothing says "horror" like a pumpkin in a jaunty touring cap and bowtie!


"Just leave your kids with me, folks! I'll have 'em all cooked up for you by suppertime."


Shawn wants to make damn sure that he gets his recommended allotment of sugar tonight.


In Scotland, vampires crave sugar and cinnamon, not blood.


Lou has found just the outfit for formal night during the cruise.


Of course, it does have some drawbacks, such as encouraging random people to call you.


I wasn't in costume, but many members of our group dressed up. Say hello to Justin Bieber!


Shannon dresses like this pretty much every day, but Scott's "theme-park geek with a camera" costume was outstanding.


"I am Mrs. Nesbitt, do you hear me? MRS. FREAKIN' NESBITT!"


Ice Bat and Sharktopus have combined to become "Mega Disco Ice Bat and Sharktopus"! Watch your back, Godzilla!


Hanno decided to become a crazy Dutchman.


Behold the horror of the "Boo to You" parade, foolish mortals!


"What? You wenches won't show me your breasts here? They used to in California!"


You know, Playtex lifts and separates. Just sayin'.


The Villains float is always a highlight--right up there with the bald guy and the snack cart.


"Gawrsh! Lookit all you nice folks! Almost makes me sorry to unleash my undead minions to snack on your intestines!"


The Halloween fireworks are always great, too.


Excellent music and lighting effects--plus, they blow stuff up real good!


Uh oh! Tomorrowland has taken a direct hit!


The World of the Future's retaliation is swift and terrible!


You can't participate in MNSSHP and not ride the Haunted Mansion. That would be a serious faux pas.


The new interactive queue is fun.


It brings out your "inner Phantom of the Opera."


"Oh, I could spend all night shoving these books back on the shelf. Really, I could."


This spider is nearly as big as the ones we enountered in Jamaica during the cruise.


"See ya real soon"--IN HELL!


"Goodnight, folks! I hope you liked consorting with the Prince of Darkness!" Next up will be Universal--and HHN.

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OK, it's time to ramp things up a bit. Out with the cutesy and in with the gory! On the the 21st Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando!


This is my favorite theme-park event. Last year's event was a bit "off," with no particularly memorable houses, weak scare zones, and a really bad Bill & Ted show. This year was a definite step up with much better (if somewhat familiar) houses, slightly improved scare zones (not outstanding, but OK), and a slightly better (as in I didn't want to gouge out my eyes and fill my ears with hot candle wax) Bill & Ted show. The whole "Lady Luck" theme didn't come off. I was on the RIP Tour, where William (our excellent guide) explained the concept of how Lady Luck appears throughout history, and each house involves a moment when someone's luck could be either good or bad (mostly the latter) based on the the choices he makes. It seemed a bit thin for a theme--and it doesn't bode well if it has to be explained in detail. ("Icons" like Jack the Clown and Director are easier to understand without a lot of back story.)


The houses, as is usually the case with Universal, are beautifully designed with very elaborate sets (even in the "tent" houses) and atmosphere to burn. I didn't think there was a real "bummer" in the bunch, but here they are from best to worst:


H. R. Bloodengutz Presents "Holidays of Horror"--A fired horror-movie-show host gets his revenge on his nasty station manager by making his former boss suffer through some demented "holiday" movies. We've seen plenty of movies and mazes that use Halloween themes to rape and strangle Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even St. Patrick's Day, but how many have tackled Arbor Day? This maze is largely played for laughs, and I enjoyed it thoroughly--beware the living trees!


Nevermore: The Madness of Poe--I've always been a fan of Edgar Allen Poe's stories and poems, and this maze really delivered the gothic atmosphere (especially the "Masque of the Red Death" room). I like how the house was a sort of a "tour" of Poe's sick mind, although Busch Gardens Tampa's approach to the same subject matter was effective, too (more on that later).


Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorn Cemetery--Here's a another 19th-century gothic maze, and a more "traditional" ghost story, complete with bitter cold, "snow," and restless spirits. Good, old-fashioned fun (like walking through a haunted-house movie from the 1930s or '40s).


Nightingales: Blood Prey--WWI nurses turn out to be vicious demons who feed on pain and suffering in this maze, which takes you into the trenches and field hospitals of the 20th century's first major conflict. It's a good maze with plenty of scares, but it did seem a little derivative of the Collectors mazes from past HHNs.


Saws 'n' Steam: Into the Machine--There's lots of noise and water in this Industrial Age nightmare, where guests become unwitting fuel for a monstrous machine that provides power to the privileged few. An interesting idea that builds on a steam-punk scare zone from last year (even KD's Haunt has a steam-punk zone this year).


The Forsaken--In a way, this is another "holday" maze--sort of John Carptenter's The Fog meets Columbus Day. A garrison at a 14th-century Spanish fort is massacred by the vengeful spirits of a fourth ship abandoned by Christopher Columbus back in 1492. Although the sameness of the scare actors gets a bit monotonous (they all wear armor and have glowing green eyes), the stormy atmosphere makes up for it (you will get wet).


The In-Between--A hapless college student stupidly opens a vortex to another dimension in this "3D" house. I'm not that crazy about 3D mazes, but this one is fairly amusing, although I think they could've made it an evil clown maze with just a few minor changes--still plenty of fun.


The Thing--This house is "meh" at the beginning, but builds to a fairly strong finish (which is probably where most of the budget went). Still, it was the weakest maze of the night.


Here's a tip--if you want to have extra fun on your RIP Tour, go with Renee and Allison. Those two will scream if they see a random piece of paper on the ground.


Here's a look at HHN. I tried to used my flash as little as possible to take more "atmospheric" (that is, blurry) pictures. So, it's not your eyes. It's my meagre photographic skills.


I have taken this photo in compliance with Florida law.


Holy crap! A zombie construction worker scare zone! Oh, that's just the new mini-golf course. Never mind.


I had some time on my own before the RIP Tour, so I checked out an attraction I'd never experienced before: the aptly named "Disaster."


If only this were true . . .


Christopher Walken likes a paycheck as well as the next man.


Sound advice in any disaster.


"The name of the attraction is 'Disaster.' 'D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.' Does everybody understand that?"


Great. I waited about 45 minutes to watch some "3D" video footage of Christopher Walken pulling a paycheck.


"Help me! This tank is full of Grinch balls!"


Well, that was about 80 minutes well spent.


Let's check out a few scare zones in broad daylight, shall we?


Universal sure gets a lot of mileage out of this old bus.


Uh oh! No one warned me about scary boxes covered with black drapes! MY GOD! Renee! Allison! Run for your lives!


"Tonight I will swallow your soul--while you pee your pants!"


A squirrel! And he's eating a stick! Get ye behind me, Satan!


The horror . . . the horror . . .


We interrupt our usual blood-curdling program of terror to show you Chuck's lunch. Now back to the horror, which is already in progress.


Although I wasn't impressed with the Lady Luck theme overall, I did think she had the best scare zone.


My god! Tourist zombies!


"Tonight, I vill suck all of your blood--or steal your Jello shooters!"


"I have come for your women--and your churros!"


Meanwhile, back at the TPR House . . .


"Don't you have a tour to meet, you little worm?" Ulp! Er, off I go to meet the group. More pics to come.

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Darkness falls, and the blurriness increases, at Halloween Horror NIghts.


The terrifying RIP lounge with its horrifying cash bar!


I swear to god that I thought this was the restroom. Sorry about that.


William was a great tour guide--thanks!


Lady Luck actually looks somewhat friendly in this photo.


One of the Lady's minions.


Odd numbers are frightening! No restaurant can comfortably seat a party of seven!


Hmm--let me guess. You're "Gluttony," right? I think we met at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival.


"Cleavage" = "Lust." The ladies portraying the Seven Deadly Sins become more grotesque as the evening wears on.


Aghh! More zombies! Wait, it's just Joey, Allison, and Renee. Phew!


Once again, I have taken this photo in compliance with Florida law.


I was so happy that we had front-of-the-line privileges for HRRNR that I was inspired to take blurry photos of it.


To invert, or not to invert? That is the question.


I was not under the influence of a Jello shooter when I took those last two photos.


My failed attempt at taking a photo of one of the "collapsing" buildings. You might want to check out Hanno's TR for some good shots.


I did get a decent shot of the Rat Girl.


This building is crumbling to dust before my eyes. I swear.


Hmm--something tells me that Lady Luck lurks languidly nearby.


And so she does.


These guys had applied to be Hellraiser-type Cenobites, but were rejected. They couldn't handle having nails pounded into their heads.


A full moon at HHN seems appropriate.


Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe at MIB.


"So, up for some bowling after work tonight?"


"I'm not so sure I agree 100% with your police work there, fellas."


There can be no HHN without FIRE!


This is why it's a good idea to do the RIP Tour or get Express Passes.


The In-Between was a better-than-average 3D house, but it seemed a bit "random" (that is, they could cram any goofy thing they wanted into that house).


There were a few Jack-o-Lantern trees, but not nearly as many as in the past.


That's all from HHN--next up is Busch Gardens Bash (and Howl-o-Scream) at Tampa.

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A Theme Park Review Bash and a theme-park "haunt"--that's a tough combination to beat. There was no way I could pass up Busch Gardens Bash and Howl-o-Scream at Tampa this year. Combine ERT on Cheetah Hunt and Montu with some great backstage tours (of Montu and an HOS maze), the Fright Feast, and front-of-the-line passes for HOS, and you've got one long, outstanding day at BGT!


First things first: Cheetah Hunt is an excellent ride. Yes, it lacks that "intensity" that some enthusiasts love , but its long, unique layout, beautiful setting, and surprising pops of airtime more than make up for it. I especially like the "twisty" bit through the old Rhino Rally river gorge. This is an excellent addition to BGT's already stellar coaster lineup and is really whetting my appetite for BGW's Verbolten next year.


As for Howl-o-Scream, I have to admit that I enjoyed it a bit more than Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Yes, Universal's houses are more elaborate, but BGT makes up for that with creepier atmosphere throughout the park, thanks to using roving bands of "the undead" instead of clearly marked scare zones. You never knew who or what you were going to bump into all over the park: Zombie doctors? Zombie clowns? Zombie cheerleaders? These teams of monsters worked together beautifully and ensured that no part of the park was "safe"--well done, BGT!


The houses were solid overall, too. Granted their settings aren't as elaborate as what you get at Universal, but they're definitely a cut above most other park haunts, and they really load them with scare actors.


Ultimate Gamble: Vampire Casino--The house always wins at the Revivara Hotel, and the stakes are you! This sets in this house, from the casino floor to the hotel laundry room, measured up to Universal standards, with plenty of surprises and some fairly elaborate effects. The big finish is excellent (and actually improved the second time we went through it). The vampire "host" out front was hilarious, too.


Nevermore--Here's BGT's version of an Edgar Allen Poe maze. While I think Universal's is a bit more interesting, this walk through random Poe tales, such as "The Black Cat," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "A Cask of Amontillado," is quite well done. The "Pit and the Pendulum" room is particularly good, but watch out for Fortunato (you will get wet).


Nightshade Toys--I went through this toy factory from Hell in its old location a few years ago. The new location is smaller, but the house is still excellent. But beware Little Tina Tinkle (you will get wet).


Deconstruction: The Doctor is Out of Control--This is another "blast from the past" maze, and it's held up pretty well, although the storyline is a bit murky--something about an insane plastic surgeon who grafts random organic and mechanical parts on people. It's the goriest maze at HOS.


Death Row Vengeance: Fear the Dead--I was told that this might be the last year for this maze, as the scare actors have really beaten up this building over time. This is the only "zombie penitentiary" maze that I know of, and it's pretty well done.


Zombie Mortuary--Again with the zombies in the most disappointing maze at HOS. It starts out pretty well (the mortuary sets are well done), but the remainder of the house is just a slight redressing of the old Trapped in the Walls maze, which was a bit "meh."


Here's a look at a great Bash day and night at BGT. My thanks to the park and to Robb and Elissa for putting all this together. It was the perfect finish to my "Year of Bashes"!


Hmm--this looks a bit familiar. I think I've seen this rose somewhere else--but where?


This can wait until later . . .


. . . first things first.


Speaking of "first things first," it's group-photo/clench-and-squish time.


How about a little ERT on Cheetah Hunt? After all, it's not all that "intense," right?


Reason 1 of "Why ERT is a good thing." This line would be insanely long later in the day.


Hmm--perhaps Cheetah Hunt is too intense if you've had breakfast at Waffle House.


Let us discreetly allow the clean-up crew to go about their work by looking at some of the detail in the queue.


OK--Cheetah Hunt is now "Crouse ready."


This is an excellent ride--great views and some pops of air.


"Grr! Cheetah hunt you and kill you good!"


What? It goes over the Sky Ride? Unexpected! (You had to have been at the group lunch to get this joke--sorry.)


Well done, BGT--I hope Verbolten is as good as this ride.


Reason 2 of "Why ERT is a good thing."


Hmm--drums carry message, bwana! Drums say, "Look for Lou. . .


. . . in Happy Place."


You don't say?


I've never hated Gwazi like many others do (probably because I've been lucky), but I think the new trains did improve it a bit.


Now here's what they should've used on Gwazi.


But let's not forget the most important ride of all.


New credit--go, me!


Norman gave us an excellent, detailed backstage tour of Montu (which is now the best inverted coaster in the South).


Let's head to the barn, shall we?


Remember that you must first be "authorized" to go here--not "martinized" (that's for dry cleaning).


Some of you with more delicate sensibilities might want to look away, lest the sight of naked coaster parts sends you into a swoon.


A member of the Montu crew put togeter this display explaining what the various parts do--a nice touch.


"Cmon--hold it! Fondle it! You know you want to!"


Ah ha! Plans! I must watermark this picture immediately!


Although this applies to Cheetah Hunt, not Montu, this demo of how magnetic brakes work was a nice touch, too.


Hot, steamy, naked Montu! (Because BGT is a year-round park, they always have one train undergoing rehab.)


Looking at the station from Montu's barn.


This is for the upcharge "X-treme Montu." They chain you to the "seat" and you have to hold your OTSR in place.


Joey Ray loves naked Montu!


You can get great pictures of the ride during this tour.


A pair of those would make a nice mailbox.


Big loop.


Little loop. (I thought long and hard about these captions.)


You never know when . . .


. . . Montu will strike! HOS is next.

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Time to check out "The Dark Side of the Gardens"--Tampa style.


Let's start with a tour of Nightshade Toys.


This one of the oddest safety rules I've ever seen; apparently, "misuse" of plastic yard containers is a big issue. I wonder if Lowe's or Home Depot have this problem?


The uber-terrifying TPR crew gathers.


Scott, the mastermind of HOS, gave us a great tour--thanks, again!


In we go! Picture taking was not allowed inside the house.


But there were plenty of creepy things to photograph outside.


Scott dared us to walk through the spinning rooms.


Aghh! Vertigo!


Once you've toured Nightshade Toys, you're changed forever. But it's nothing to be concerned about . . .


We had some time to kill before HOS, and I'd never ridden the park's train.


I didn't know BGT had a pushmi-pullyu--in your face, Animal Kingdom!


One more look at Cheetah Hunt, just because it's so good.


"Look into my eye . . . you will do my bidding . . . you have an overpowering urge for . . .


. . . tacos!"


On the plus side, I think this show was better than Control Alt Deceased. On the minus side, it still wasn't a good show (and I missed getting a picture of the dancing Jager bottles).


You must run the gauntlet to escape Fright Feast.


MY god! No parking! It's so scary when you can't find a parking space!


Univeral has collapsing buildings. BGT has this burning building (which is easier to photograph).


You never know what's lurking at Howl-o-Scream.




Even trippier, I just watched this movie last night ("White Zombie").


As you can see, Nightshade Toys is a bit creepier by night.


No real "story," just lots of gore--sort of like the Friday the 13th series.


"I'm too sexy for my shirt! Too sexy for my shirt!"


These blacklight maps are both helpful and atmospheric--nice touch.


I wonder if Lady Luck is here tonight?


"Luck be a lady tonight . . ." aw, she'll probably just rip my throat open and bathe in my blood anyway. Who am I kidding?


Spookiness quotient rising . . .


"Quoth the raven . . ."


The entrance to the Queue of Interminable Waits Indefinitely Prolonged.


"And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming."


I know a good drywall man who can fix that crack for you.


"Rah-rah-rah! Sis-boom-DIE!"


"Mutliate! Evicerate! Kill! Kill! Kill! Yay!"


Hmm--wouldn't it be logical to find zombies in a mortuary? Now "Zombie Carmax"--that would be different!


Count Chuckula has risen from the grave!


The Lady of the Gardens.


And one of her little playmates! Isn't she adorable?


Now that is one strange variety of rose. That's it for BG Bash and HOS! What a great day and night--thanks again, Robb and Elissa!

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The event was awesome. And I really enjoyed HOS that night. I liked how aggressive how some of the talent was in the mazes, especially the Vampire Casino. They didn't touch you, but had no problem getting right up in your face and threatening you with weapons and stuff. Seemed like a lot of the talent in the mazes were really working hard to get scares, and I appreciated it. The one maze that I thought was really lacking in this was the Zombie Mortuary, especially after the first couple of rooms. Like you, I thought it was easily the weakest of the night.



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I thought I'd covered all the Halloween events, but as I went through my photos, I discovered one glaring omission--Old Town! Yes, Old Town does have a "haunt," of sorts--as if the place wasn't scary enough the rest of the year.


To be honest, we didn't actually attend this event. Old Town was just a credit-whoring stop after our day at Legoland Florida (more on that later), and we left before it began. Some of us (mostly just myself and Larry, actually) were planning to check out the year-round "Haunted Grimm House," based on the assumption that it would be open that day. Well, it us open during the day on Saturday; ufortunately, we were there on a Friday. D'oh!


Such is life. I thought I'd share the terror of an hour at Old Town with you, anyway . . . if your heart can stand it!


I'm sure that this would've been the highlight of the week. Of course, some say that every night, year-round is a haunt when you're in Old Town.


We can scarce contain our excitement.


The Haunted Grimm House mocks us with eerie silence--and locked doors.


Oh, really? Alas, we shall never know. Well, not this year, anyway.


OK, where does this rating come from? Trip Advisor? Boy's Life? Wino Quarterly? Bigguns Magazine? Looks like I won't be finding out for myself whether or not this claim is valid.


"Come back at 6:00 pal. Then I'll scare the hell outta ya. That's a promise."


My god! A door that swings out! The horror . . . the horror . . .


Apparently nothing happens before 6:00 pm, either.


"We're closed, fella. The skeleton outside shoulda told ya."


"That's OK, mon! Maybe some of my quality merchandise can cheer you up!"


This reminds me of someone, but who?


Ah, what adoring wife wouldn't appreciate the subtle wit employed here, eh?


I'm pretty sure I saw one of these figurines in Versailles--Ohio, that is.


"If you walk outta that store with any of that crap, I swear to god that I will drop and swallow your head!"


Perhaps an Old Town cruise is what I need.


Or perhaps not.


Well, I can always snag an Index picture of the "Coaster Formerly Known as Galaxy Spin" for Larry.


This bench needs to get over itself.


Well, at least "Life Is Great" at the Fun Spot.


Right, William?


Is life still great on the "Neck Snapper Kiddie Coaster"?


Don't worry, gents. Your brains will realign themselves after the ride is over.


"Ahoy! Be ye stayin' fer our Halloween event? No? Then get out, sez I!" That's it for Old Town. We'll get to Legoland and some random Disney stuff later.

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