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Photo TR: A "Scare-ibbean" October with TPR '11

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Okay, I know I risk pissing off the obvious tens of thousands of folks that were chomping at the bit to post about several more awesometastic monorail pics, but we're skipping ahead in the programming. Such is life.


Discovery Cove




Seriously, out of all we did that week in Orlando, this was easily the highlight. I know it's easy to check out the website, and perhaps experience a little sticker shock depending on which package interests you. However, the truth of the matter is that Discovery Cove is probably the best value in all of Orlando.


Depending on seasonal deals, Facebook promotions (thanks for the heads up, Renee!),etc., etc., you can get a Dolphin Swim Package at the Cove; which includes the ability to visit one other Busch park of your choice for a duration of up to 14 consecutive days prior to, after, or combined around your visit to the Cove, all for as little as $200.


And what does a day at Discovery Cove include? Well, for us it was a huge breakfast, a small crowd, large first come/first serve l.o.c.k.e.r.s, unlimited snacks/drinks/"beer", a small crowd, a huge and delicious lunch, unlimited access to all areas of the park, a reserved 30 minute dolphin swim experience, and most of all.......a small crowd, and a great chance to relax and take it all in!


So let's recap. For $200 a person, that's a packed day at Discovery Cove PLUS 14 consecutive days at either Sea World, BGT, or Aquatica. Um, yeah....in the end, it's very difficult to argue this one.


As for the Discovery Cove experience itself, it completely exceeded expectations. If you're a water park fan, a fan of the beach, a Sea World fan, or even just a little of all of those, this is a must-do. Because they only allow a certain number of guests in each day, it really improves your overall visit. You never feel cramped or rushed to do anything. Our Dolphin Swim was scheduled for later in the afternoon, so we had the bulk of the day to experience the place at our leisure.


We arrived shortly after opening, and although there was a bit of a line out front, the check-in process seemed to move along fairly well. After you're checked in, you receive a lanyard with a card showing your picture and Dolphin swim time/location. You're required to wear this all day tucked into your wetsuit or vest, yet was never as annoying as it might seem.


So we checked in, grabbed a l.o.c.k.e.r., and made our way to breakfast. Not much to say except it was a really good quality breakfast buffet with pretty much all the major staples you'd expect to have for that meal (which, let's face it, would probably set us back $25-30 right there at the other parks). After that we grabbed our bags that each guest receives. It included a mask, souvenir snorkel which you could keep, and a sample packet of specially formulated biodegradable sunscreen (for the safety of the park's marine inhabitants).


Each guest is also required to wear either a wetsuit or vest while in the water areas. We suited up in vests and headed out to explore. Here's a review of the major areas:


The Grand Reef: What I really appreciated about the layout of the reef was that someone could enjoy it whether they liked snorkeling or not. Pictures really don't explain how immersive the experience is. They also don't convey just how large some of the rays truly are.....which are easily the width of the wingspan of your outstretched arms. And not only that, but they're not confined to any particular areas of the Grand Reef. In other words, you could wade waist deep onto the "shelf" of the reef, all while being surrounded by schools of fish, including the largest of rays!


Although the water's a bit chilly at first, the snorkeling experience was top-notch. It was incredibly relaxing, and just really fun.


Wind-Away River/Explorer's Aviary: The river itself is really good. The water is warm, and the easy flowing currents navigate through great looking caves and "rain forest-type" scenery. The real bonus is that you can access the aviary through it, and vice versa. Several times we exited the river to feed some birds, and then jumped right back in to continue on. Oh, and the river actually winds its way directly through the aviary itself....which was pretty unique, and definitely a great feature.


Dolphin Swim: I won't get deep into the ongoing debate over dolphins in captivity and these "dolphin swim" sessions that have popped up all over the globe. The only thing I'll say is that I'm an animal lover, and although a piece of me will always be on the fence about them, I feel safe in saying that this is literally the only place I was willing to participate in one due to the outstanding reputation and general respect Sea World has throughout the industry.


With that said, our half hour session was amazing. It's always been on Shannon's "bucket list" to swim with a dolphin, and that made it even more enjoyable from my perspective. Although the water seemed even colder than the Grand Reef, her adrenaline probably kept her much warmer than she actually was. Heck, even I was shivering at times.


Our trainers were very friendly and engaging. They basically take you in small groups of no more than 8 or so (?) into waist-deep water. There they provide ample time to teach, answer questions, and allow you to touch and hug your dolphin as it swims directly in front of you. Then they ask if you feel comfortable swimming out to the deep portion of the pool in order to be pulled back in by the dolphin. If you're uncomfortable with that, they provide a shallow water experience with the dolphin (which we did not witness in our group).


All I can say is that it was definitely a pretty awesome feeling, and something I imagine anyone would have a tough time ever forgetting, even however brief it may have actually been. Finally, as a "last act" of sorts, each dolphin from the handful of groups occupying the pool does a jumping trick out in front of you. All in all, it's a pretty awesome experience.


So, in closing, I'll just say it again. If you haven't already been......GO THERE. Even without the new additions for next year, we'd still go back in a heartbeat!


Q: You know what else is nice about arriving at Discovery Cove; well, besides this nice topiary? A: Not having to reach into your wallet once again for parking.


As mentioned, there was a slight line for check-in, but it moved quick enough.



You've probably seen this before, but now you've seen it again. You're welcome.


Just one of the check-in desks located inside the main building.


Here's the tag you wear around all day. On it you'll see one sexy beast (results may vary), your dolphin pool and time, and "21" if you're legal to drink. You can also wear the map of the park on your lanyard as well. But let's be honest, the park's not that big, and if you can't navigate your way around it, then you're an idiot.


Once inside the Cove, you really do feel "removed" from the outside craziness that is Central Florida.



Hey, it's the Laguna Grill. Let's grab some breakfast.


Fire makes every report better.....I think.




If there's one thing I've come to expect from Busch parks, it's that their buffet lines always seem to look great.



Shannon is excited because breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not having to break out your wallet at the end of the line was a good feeling as well.


There was a reggae band playing back there later on in the day. It should be noted that there was a more than acceptable amount of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett being played either live or over the park's speakers all day long. This receives high marks from yours truly.


Time to suit up and grab our gear for the day.


This is my sack.


The l.ockers were large enough to store a dismembered body. Sorry, it's October. And October means Halloween. And Halloween means scary things...like dismembered bodies. And that ties into the trip report's name. And I think that worked out well?


Hello, I'll be your tour guide for the next group of pictures.


At this point, I left the camera in the hands of Shannon. She and I both have come to realize that this generally means anything is possible. However, I think you'll agree with me that she did a fantastic job with the following shots! =)


This makes me wanna dive right back in.




I think I mentioned it before, but I was honestly surprised by the size of these rays. The pictures simply don't do it justice. Swimming alongside these creatures was a great experience!


Hi, Dave.


Sharky shark shark shark.


For the record, although Discovery Cove provides a generally more "sophisticated" crowd, that doesn't mean there wasn't a few guests I would've enjoyed tossing in there.



I'm guessing that's a "feeding hole" or something?


Putting your face up against that glass provided a pretty unique perspective.


SeaVenture, the upcharge "diving" experience. Although it looks pretty cool, I'm kind of indifferent to it.


Spotted Eagle Ray. Weird, but I only managed to see it once the whole time I was there. But then again, I guess that speaks to the overall size of the Grand Reef, and just how much there is to see and be immersed in.


And with this, Shannon's time as photographer comes to a close. Well done, hun! She also experienced the Grand Reef earlier in the day. She just decided that the second time around was a bit too chilly for her, which is why she offered to take pics.


Lunchie munchies. (Sorry, no pics of the food, but it was delicious!)


Hmmm, you'd think ordering from a company named "Orca Bay" and placing their box in front of the grill might give off the wrong impression?


Sorry, Adam. These were overrated. The rest of your report was not though.


Up next we'll close out with the Dolphin Swim portion of the show. Stay tuned, and feel free to post any comments in the meantime.

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I completely endorse everything you have said about Discovery Cove, the food, the fun, the price, everything about the park is fantastic experience. When I went to DC a few years ago I think that for an extra $50 you can visit all of the Central Florida Busch Parks (Aquatica, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Adventure Island) as many times as you want for 2 weeks. $250 for a 2 weeks pass to SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Aquatica AND a day at Discovery Cove is an unbelievably good deal.


I enjoyed the Dolphin swim and interaction, but I would probably not pay for it a second time. To me it was one of those things that is fun to do once but I don't feel the need to do it again (kinda like getting an SLC credit).

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^ I hear what you're saying about the Dolphin Swim, and I pretty much agree. On our next visit though, we'll probably try the "Trainer For a Day" package. I asked our trainer about it, and that one supposedly includes being pushed up out of the water by the dolphin(s). To me, that'd be an incredible feeling.


I'm sure you already know my opinion on this segment of your report!

Not enough dolphins?


Adam, mix in some alcohol and maybe then we're talkin'.



Discovery Cove: The Final Chapter.....


Hi, Bob. We're heading into our "briefing session" with the trainer before entering the dolphin pool.


You sit in here and watch a short video on dolphins, yada yada yada. This picture is blurry. The tv screens were not.


"Time to check another off the 'bucket list'." =)


Random Discovery Cove guest: if you're reading this, I'll sell you your picture for $19.95.


"Okay, so what you had for lunch was yesterday's dolphin. "Today you'll get to interact with a new one. If you fail to seem excited and thoroughly pleased with your Dolphin Swim experience, we will be forced to BBQ Flipper. Enjoy!"


You people better start cheering.


Her face says it all.


I LOVE this picture.





I renamed him "Andrew Luck" for the day. I hope it works.



Afterward, we grabbed some snacks....


....and some "beer," and hit the beach to relax a while.


Dude looks pretty confused about why I'd take a picture of this. I'm sorry, I still don't have a logical answer either. By the way, Landshark was basically the lesser of three evils.


Speaking of evil. Ugh, I'll have a crab juice.


Life is good. Better with a decent beer.....but still good.


We stopped in to see Renee and purchase our pictures that were taken randomly throughout the day by park staff, and also during the Dolphin Swim. Included in the photo package were two picture keychains. Seriously, who actually uses those things?


Here's a look at one of the photos taken by park staff.....and OMG, it's underwater!! Seriously though, the staff did an excellent job. Thanks again, Renee!!


This is a look at Serenity Bay, a warm water pool which is the beginning/ending point of "Wind-Away River."

Okay, including this one, the next group of pictures are stock photos that are included in the picture disk we purchased. What that basically means is that we bought 'em, and they're damn well gonna be seen by someone. So enjoy the stock photos, along with stock captions!


Discovery Cove.




More birds.




Be sure to check out the many turtles Discovery Cove has on display. Just ask Renee.






Spotted Eagle Ray.







Thanks for viewing, everyone. Hope you enjoyed!

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Included in the photo package were two picture keychains. Seriously, who actually uses those things?


I've always thought that photo kitchen magnets would make more sense than photo keychains. Discovery Cove looks great, and you're right--Landshark is definitely the least of three evils, if your other choices are Bud and Bud Light.

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--Landshark is definitely the least of three evils, if your other choices are Bud and Bud Light.


Water is the least of any of those evils. InBev is really on my poo-poo list after the story I heard about Goose Island this week......


Great report, as usual!

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By the way, Landshark was basically the lesser of three evils.


Landshark is pretty bad, but have you ever gone to a Margaritaville restaurant and had a "Loaded" Landshark? They put lime flavored tequila into the beer bottle and it tastes amazing! Makes the beer much more tolerable, haha.


PS - the smiles on both your faces while swimming with the dolphins are so great!

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Seems like I remember there being a different bar at Discover Cove that had margaritas and Pina Coladas and some other beer options (I think I remember Amber Bock). Bad free beer is better than no free beer.If it's free you can't complain about the type or the temperature.


Scott, did you happen to notice what was going on with or take any pictures of the old Reef? I always wondered what they did with that after the new reef opened this past spring. I know there were some issues with leaking ground water in the old reef and that was part of the reason for opening the new reef but I never did see if they planned to re-open the old reef as a freshwater exhibit, or repair the leaks and open as a salt water reef or what.

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Landshark is pretty bad, but have you ever gone to a Margaritaville restaurant and had a "Loaded" Landshark? They put lime flavored tequila into the beer bottle and it tastes amazing! Makes the beer much more tolerable, haha.

Nope, I've never heard of that. To be fair though, whenever I'm at a Margaritaville (which will most certainly be documented during the Cruise portion of this report) I generally avoid the beer altogether. It's all about Margaritas and boat drinks!


PS - the smiles on both your faces while swimming with the dolphins are so great!

Thank you!



Seems like I remember there being a different bar at Discover Cove that had margaritas and Pina Coladas and some other beer options (I think I remember Amber Bock). Bad free beer is better than no free beer.If it's free you can't complain about the type or the temperature.

It's funny you mention that. To the left of Shan's head in the "beer handoff picture," you can see a couple taps for "margaritas" and something else (possibly Pina Coladas?). I hadn't noticed it until after we grabbed the beer and turned to walk away. By that point, we just wanted to sit and relax awhile before heading back to the condo. We were also supposed to meet up with the gang at Carrabba's that evening for "Wine Wednesday," which I thought would certainly make up for the bad beer.


Sadly, we weren't able to make it to Carrabba's.

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I really can't wait till KT's six years old so we can do this! She was just drooling over your pictures!! "Is that Shannon with a dolphin!?!?" She loved it!


Also, something I find interesting is it seems they've really improved and added value to this since we did it very early on back in 2001. There was no breakfast, much more limited food and snacks, and no warm water!


Really excited to get to check this place out again!

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^They announced that the old saltwater reef will be replaced with the Freshwater Oasis. It looks like it'll be a great expansion for the park!


Thanks!, and that does sound great, I must have skimmed the press release to get to the Penguining World of Harry Penguin. It'll be interesting to see how they use parts of (if any) of the old saltwater reef with the new Freshwater Oasis.


I really want to make a return trip to Discovery Cove after reading a couple of people's reports of the new reef, it looks like it's worth checking out.

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I'm so glad you guys got to go to Discovery Cove! I experienced it for the first time as a guest last week and I absolutely loved it. Yeah, they don't have the best beer selection, but I was a fan of the mango slushies and margaritas. I agree with you on the lemon slushies - sorry, Adam. I think they need more rum.


Included in the photo package were two picture keychains. Seriously, who actually uses those things?


Ok, so I've had mine on my keys for the past two days, but I'm pretty sure it's only gonna last about one more day - it's pretty annoying to carry around. But they're really great and you definitely need two of them! Actually, kids do seem to love them for their backpacks.


Thanks for visiting me!

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I really can't wait till KT's six years old so we can do this! She was just drooling over your pictures!! "Is that Shannon with a dolphin!?!?" She loved it!

This made my day.


Also, something I find interesting is it seems they've really improved and added value to this since we did it very early on back in 2001. There was no breakfast, much more limited food and snacks, and no warm water!

Wow. Yeah, they really have improved it quite a bit then. I was definitely skeptical when the place was built, but I'm really happy to see how it has grown, and continues to!



Thanks for visiting me!

To quote a certain someone, "You're welcome." We're honored to be your first "TPR guests." Do we receive a plaque or a monument at the park for that?


And yeah, I can see those keychains working for backpacks. That makes sense, but as an actual keychain? Like you said, they're just too bulky. And in the age of the smartphone, they just seem rather primitive to be carrying around. I agree with Chuck, a magnet frame would be a great substitution!

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Unfortunately there are no pictures from the next part of the report. It was gonna be dark, I expected to be drinking a bit, and I pretty much just didn't wanna be bothered with the camera. I'll just go ahead and paste the review I wrote up in the official HHN thread for posterity, if nothing else.


Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 21


First off, I'm not the biggest Halloween-type person. It's cool and all, but it's not necessarily the highlight of my year. With that said, this was the one event I had been wanting to experience for quite some time. I've read glowing reports for years and years, and have watched it grow into the juggernaut that it is today.


I've also read the not-so-glowing reviews from recent years about its slow demise. Put it all together, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect as a HHN virgin. Well, if there's one word to sum up my whole experience, it's "anticipointment."


Don't get me wrong, we still managed to have a great time with some great friends. However; for what I paid, I feel like I really got bent over by Universal (I suppose the house did indeed win). The one thing that still holds up is what everyone continues to be 100% correct about - the Express Pass. If you're only visiting once, and it happens to be on a typically busy evening........BUY IT. There is absolutely NO way we could've done everything without it.


Our visit was not unlike many others you've read about. We met up around official park opening time, got several houses done before darkness and bigger lines, ate some stuff, rode HRRRRRRRRRR, saw Bill & Ted, MiB, did the rest of the houses/scare zones, went back and did a few more again (this time with Express Pass), took a spin on Mummy, then left.


Anyway, here's my thoughts on the houses, from favorite to least favorite:



1. Nightingales - Prior to our trip, this was my third most anticipated house. We did it once early in the evening, and then again right before we left. On our first trip through I was blown away by the set and the atmosphere it created. I LOVED the story, the noise, and the general creepiness of it all. Unfortunately, it somehow felt a little flat in the scare department.


Our second visit through was a HUGE improvement though! This time it all just "worked." I realize these things can be hit or miss, and I left feeling really happy that I caught this one at the right time, thus cementing it's place as my favorite of the night.



2. Nevermore - I'm a Poe fan. In reading many of the reports from this year, I realize this fact helps dramatically. I'm also a huge fan of subtle scares. I don't always need scare actors jumping out from behind a plywood board. I appreciate a "feeling" of fright, and that's what this house delivered. Just walking past Poe standing there looking at you with a menacing look gave me a shiver or two. And the "Masque of the Red Death" scene? Top notch!!



3. Forsaken - This was my most anticipated house. The backstory had SO much potential, but the execution of it left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the set and the atmosphere helped out a ton.



4. Winter's Night - This is about where I expected this house to fall....right in the middle of the pack for me. As most agree, the set design was amazing, and the atmosphere they created was pretty impressive. The execution, again, just left me wanting a bit more.


5. Saws N Steam - I'm really warming up to the whole Steam Punk thing. I think this is another house with a story that had some potential, but didn't quite deliver for some reason. I really dug the vibe around this one though.


6. Blood N Guts - Again, I liked the theme, I just thought the scares were pretty lame. Piers may have been the highlight of this house. You're welcome.


7. The Thing - I've heard some folks talking about the buildup to the final scene, but I'm not gonna tell you anything about it......but that's because I don't remember a damn thing about it either, other than sub-par costumes.


8. In-Between - You wear cheap 3D glasses for a few minutes.


Scare zones - I thought they were all pretty lame, except for the acid rain thing -the crumbling building effects were awesome. Oh, and I can't forget the black tarp-covered chain link fences of death. Oh, the horror (and comedy of it all)!!!


Bill & Ted - I have very limited resources to pull from regarding shows of the past, so my opinion may not be worth much here. All things considered, I thought it was pretty fun. Music, sarcasm, adult themes/language, explosions, and chicks? Put that up against any other theme park show and it's kinda hard to knock it, right? It was fun. No need to dissect it or get too critical, so I'll leave it at that.


Overall, my first impression of HHN was a mixed bag. There were some highs, lows, and some "mehs." What struck me the most is the short amount of time it took for me to clearly see what the die-hard fans are so concerned with. It literally only took a couple of houses to realize what now seems to plague this event.....it's a victim of its own success.


For years it seems to have been "edgy" enough amongst competitors to carve out it's own unique niche in the industry. Along with that came the accolades ("Best Halloween Event" - Amusement Today, Hauntworld, etc., etc.), and given the corporate nature of things (insurance, security, safety for scare actors, etc.) it just seems like the company is willing to put it in neutral and coast for a while.


And that's a shame really. I'm not opposed to paying a premium price for a premium service/product, but that's clearly NOT what I thought I got from my first visit. Even so, as said before, it helps when you're surrounded by a great group of friends!

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