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Photo TR: A Tale of Two Orlando Halloweens

Universal's HHN & SeaWorld's HOS

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How can you tell it’s fall in Orlando?

a. The cool, crisp air
b. The multicolored leaves drifting on the cool breeze
c. The picturesque locals in the cardigans, bustling about their business raking leaves and making apple cider
d. Billboards advertising theme-park Halloween events every two miles or so 

The answer, of course, is “d.” In fact, fall starts in late August or early September, when parks tend to kick off their Halloween events. 

Yes, All Hallows Eve is back in Orlando after a pandemic year off. Let’s look at the old and the new: “30 Years of Fear” at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and “Inaugural Fear” at SeaWorld’s Howl-o-Scream. 

Universal celebrated the 30th annual HHN with ten houses (some of which I think were set up last year), with plenty of tributes to Halloweens past. Past icons returned to scare guests: Jack the Clown, Chance the Harlequin, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Usher, the Director, Lady Luck, and Fear. (What? No love for Bloody Mary?) 

And how well did Universal do this year?  Let’s look at the houses first, from strongest to weakest.

The Bride of Frankenstein Lives--Universal’s Classic Monsters are among my favorite horror films, and it was great to see a house that picks off where their best movie, Bride of Frankenstein, leaves off. Frankenstein’s lab explodes in glorious black-and-white, but his latest creation, the Bride, survives in living color; however, the original Monster is not so lucky. The Bride dedicates her life to reviving him, which somehow involves the blood of the Brides of Dracula! They spin a good yarn here, and if you’re a fan of the Classic Monsters, you’re going to love this house.

The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy--Remember kids, when you lose a tooth, be sure to put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy--or else. Again, good storytelling is the key here. The moral: Fairies are, well, real jerks. (Didn’t Knott’s once do a Tooth Fairy maze? I have no idea what that one was like.) 

The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin--Great atmosphere in a maze that heralds the arrival of the Pumpkin Lord, the ruler of Halloween. Universal is doing a somewhat more malevolent riff on Jack Skellington here.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre--When in doubt, go with a classic. This maze is based on the original Tobe Hooper flick, not the “reboot,” and is stronger for it. You’ll be craving BBQ as you exit.

Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience--A crazed puppeteer and troupe of actors and dancers haunt the ruins of an old theatre. Excellent sets and a bit of Shakespeare, too.

HHN Icons Captured--Jack and his friends have their own dark realm, and you’re their guests. Each Icon gets the opportunity to shine, but Jack and Chance rule the place.

The Haunting of Hill House--This is a good re-creation of the Netflix series, but if you haven’t seen the show, you can still enjoy it as an “old dark house” maze.

Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth--This is a “tribute” to past Legendary Truth mazes. I wasn’t too familiar with the back story, but I appreciated the 1940s pulp fiction/film noir atmosphere combined with horror. If anything, they tried to do a bit too much. 

Welcome to Scarey: Horror in the Heartland--Another “tribute” to past mazes set in the fictional town of Carey, Ohio. I remember two of them well: Leave it to Cleaver and H.R. Bloodengutz: Holidays of Horror. It’s a bit disjointed, but fun.

Beetlejuice--The “Ghost with the Most” finally gets his own house. It’s an enjoyable “comedy” maze, which captures the spirit of the Tim Burton flick pretty well. 

Overall, a strong year for houses, but the scare zones were pretty weak. They were mostly tributes to past years’ zones and are “Instagram friendly” (that is, scare actors on mini-stages, perfect for selfies). The Seek and Destroy zone was a poor shadow of the old Purge zones, with a wee bit of “Tron” thrown in (the “space cadet” costuming was laughable). Some of the scare actors in the Lights, Camera, Hacktion zone were pretty amusing, though. 

Something to remember if you’re planning to do HHN: Express Passes are a must (especially if you only have one night to attend). 

So come along with me and Erik Johnson at HHN. Robb and Elissa also came over to make a lap around the Studios and blast some alien scum on Men in Black with us. It was great seeing everyone in person again.

But first, there’s some new coaster at Islands of Adventure  . . . something to do with dinosaurs? Let’s try that first.

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So, what about this VelociCoaster I’ve heard so much about?

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I can sum this ride up in two words: “Holy crap!” 

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Put a coaster in the velociraptor habitat, they said. What could possibly go wrong, they said. This ride is a great mixture of thrills and theming.

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The airtime here (and elsewhere) is unbelievable.

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Front-seat rides are particularly good, but there isn’t a bad seat on the train. If BGW's Pantheon is half as good as this ride, I'll be very happy.

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We also took time to ride the topless, oh-so-sexy Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall.

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Time to head to the Studios . . . uh oh.

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Ah, fall in Florida. Good to see Jack and all his cronies.

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We killed some time in the Legacy Shop.

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If you’re a hard-core HHN fan, this is where you beg Universal to take more of your money.

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She looks mean.

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But she looks nice . . . wait! Did she just wink at me?

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“Those women are with me. Shove off!”

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If you find this growing in your yard, you might want to move.

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Oops! My bad! I wrecked the wagon that was carrying all the homicidal maniacs.

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We did “Stay and Scream” and went through three of the back houses before using our Express Passes. It’s a time-honored strategy.

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Hmm--I think the Pumpkin Realm’s entrance will look a bit more impressive after dark.

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Yep--it does.

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Count Drac-o-Lantern strikes!

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Er, is this theatre even open? Looks like it needs a few renovations, maybe some paint.

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Don’t let Hill House’s resemblance to an industrial-park warehouse fool you. There’s a big gothic pile of a mansion in there.

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Curious George Revamped: Vengeance Comes in Yellow. Yes, the Man in the Yellow Hat has had enough of George’s shenanighans and has sold the monkey for medical experiments! Scariest maze ever!

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Just kidding--it’s the queue for Beetlejuice.

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Meanwhile, back in the scare zones, this is going on. The Queen of Gorewood Forest seems very un-nice.

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Photo taken as required by Florida law.

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“Ya want some popcorn? Soda? Hot dogs? A punch in the face? I ain’t got all night!” 

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“That big bulge down below is all my accumulated sweat.”

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30 Years of Fears . . . and Lines.

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Yep--30 years, Just in case you didn’t catch it the first time.

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I’m with you, pal. I have no idea what’s going on here, either.

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Get those fingers out of your mouth! You don’t know where those fingers have been.

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30 Years of Fire, too.

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“Yes, I’ve been standing here for 30 years . . . of fears.”

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This scare zone was full of gyrations . . .

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 . . . and goofiness. He might make a nice pie, though.

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The big winner of the night.

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Pleasant dreams, HHN. Howl-o-Scream is next.

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Can't wait till Playland(PNE) finally gets it all together and bring back haunt houses and haunt zones next year. I miss them, so(il) much!

This all looked great, Chuck. Was there any foodstuffs to .... enjoy? And/or spirits (the liquid kind) as well?

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SeaWorld’s “Inaugural Fear” of Howl-o-Scream seemed like a tentative step toward a big Halloween event. You might say the park was dipping its big toe in the swamp water to check the temperature. How did it compare to Universal’s HHN? It’s probably not fair to say, as it would be like comparing Broadway to community theater. HOS did have “icons” in the form of vengeful Sirens, who had their own outdoor show.

There were only four mazes, with at least vaguely sea-related themes. They were all pretty short, with rather basic set design (lots of plywood here). 

Water’s Edge Inn--This haunted hotel was the best of the lot, but it probably helped that there were very few guests there when we went through it. The scare actors worked it pretty hard and chased their few visitors all over the place.

Captain’s Revenge--Pirates romp around more-elaborate sets than in the other mazes. This one was fun, at least.

Beneath the Ice--This was the only maze where we had to wait in a huge line. People go nuts at an Arctic research facility. If your idea of horror is people banging on random things with sticks, SeaWorld has a maze for you.

Dead Vines--Busch Gardens Williamsburg played around with “evil plant” mazes for a few years. They weren’t good. This one, which was set on some creepy island, was maybe (?)  a bit better. Very lame looking sets, and no story to speak of.

But there were some positives, too. Monster Stomp: Slasher Alley was a good variation on Williamsburg’s Ripper Row show. It wasn’t as elaborate a production, but it had completely different music (for example, rap) and some good versions of bits from the Williamsburg show (such as the knives-on-a-coffin percussion routine). The scare actors in the Witchcraft Bayou scare zone really engaged with guests. And the Poison Grotto bar (near the exit of Dead Vines) was pretty cool. There was even a nice little scare near the event exit (neither Erik nor I expected it). They were also running Mako and Infinity Falls.

HOS takes place in a small part of the park and has its own separate entrance. Unfortunately, the exit is far away from the entrance, and it’s a long walk back to the preferred parking lot (properly warned ye be, sez I). 

Here’s a look at Howl-o-Scream, along with a wee bit more Universal. My thanks to Erik Johnson for being his usual affable self and providing the wheels and a lot of the planning. It was also great to touch base with Robb and Elissa (and the GreatZo and Dbru). Thanks for hanging out with us for a while.

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Manta, which in Japanese is AcroBat. Robb and Elissa came out, and the crowds was pretty light. We had multiple rides on Manta. Kraken, and Mako, and even took a spin on Grover. Again, thanks for spending the afternoon at SeaWorld with us!

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We wait with bated breath for someone to put an apostrophe in “tonight’s event.”

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Mako runs during HOS (as does Infinity Falls). It’s a pity they trim this coaster to death after a great start.

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We were already surrounded by zombies. I think we were also zombies after our long day and night at Universal.

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Hmm--either someone has cranked up the fog machines or a SWAT team is attacking.

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Eek! Scary food and drink vendor!

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Witchcraft Bayou? Seriously? That’s the name? Why not “Blood Bayou” or “Gator Bait Swamp” or “Voo-doop-a-doo River”?

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Despite the lame name, it was a pretty decent scare zone.

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Scare actors interacted with guests quite a bit.

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Uh oh! Better put that bag of raw chickens in a locker.

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“Next time, bring live chickens. We need their blood for our rituals.”

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So, the vines are dead? Or are they “undead”? Is the scary part having to do yardwork to clear them out?

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But the maze exit was near this rather intriguing bar.

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Drink up, look up, pass out.

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Arr! Pirates be more fun that killer plants, sez I.

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This way, ya lubbers.  And be sure to give the giant skull a wee bit 'o' rum as ye pass by, lest he get cranky.

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Not quite that same as the original in Williamsburg (Monster Stomp on Ripper Row).

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While this show shared a few elements of the Virginia show (for example, dancing skeletons), the music was a bit edgier.

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And they don’t sell Jell-O shots to the audience in Williamsburg.

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This was an “abandoned campground” scare zone. 056.thumb.jpg.022010479f5532642c1592e867814de3.jpg

One of the scare actors said something about werewolves, but I didn’t see any. RVs are pretty scary though, right?

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This guy might’ve met up with a werewolf.

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Welcome to the scariest zone of all--one with comfort collars!

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OK, what’s left?

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Remember: It’s all about the Jell-O shots.

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The scariest part of this maze was the fear of going deaf from all the scare actors banging on stuff.

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That Siren has one nasty overbite. She’s “Ice.”

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This one is just plain nasty. She’s “Fire.”

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The fourth and last maze of the night--and the best one.

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Time to hit the road.

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“Hey, you two! Come up here! I got Jell-O shots!”

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“Yas-s-s-s, no vun leafs here vithout a Jell-O shot. No vun!”

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Pleasant dreams from SeaWorld’s first Howl-o-Scream.

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In the interest of full disclosure, this happened. I’m not proud of it.

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It’ll take some doing to get the stench of Fast and Furious off of me.

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Thank you, Zed.

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Another VelociCoaster ride made me feel more human after being made a member of Vin Diesel’s “family.”

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“You will return the hats of his Excellency, Dr. Victor Von Doom! At once!”

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I do appreciate the theming, and especially the air conditioning, in Dr. Doom’s queue.

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No words necessary.

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Mythos helped me forget about the Fallon ordeal.

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And that’s a wrap from the Universal Resort. Thanks for reading.

 

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Great to see you Chuck (and Erik and Daniel and Robb and Elissa!)

Excellent TR, and enjoyed seeing your pictures of the Halloween events, which is exactly the right distance from which I prefer to experience them. 😆

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 10/20/2021 at 6:58 AM, cfc said:

How can you tell it’s fall in Orlando?

a. The cool, crisp air
b. The multicolored leaves drifting on the cool breeze
c. The picturesque locals in the cardigans, bustling about their business raking leaves and making apple cider
d. Billboards advertising theme-park Halloween events every two miles or so 

The answer, of course, is “d.” In fact, fall starts in late August or early September, when parks tend to kick off their Halloween events. 

Yes, All Hallows Eve is back in Orlando after a pandemic year off. Let’s look at the old and the new: “30 Years of Fear” at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and “Inaugural Fear” at SeaWorld’s Howl-o-Scream. 

Universal celebrated the 30th annual HHN with ten houses (some of which I think were set up last year), with plenty of tributes to Halloweens past. Past icons returned to scare guests: Jack the Clown, Chance the Harlequin, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Usher, the Director, Lady Luck, and Fear. (What? No love for Bloody Mary?) 

And how well did Universal do this year?  Let’s look at the houses first, from strongest to weakest.

The Bride of Frankenstein Lives--Universal’s Classic Monsters are among my favorite horror films, and it was great to see a house that picks off where their best movie, Bride of Frankenstein, leaves off. Frankenstein’s lab explodes in glorious black-and-white, but his latest creation, the Bride, survives in living color; however, the original Monster is not so lucky. The Bride dedicates her life to reviving him, which somehow involves the blood of the Brides of Dracula! They spin a good yarn here, and if you’re a fan of the Classic Monsters, you’re going to love this house.

The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy--Remember kids, when you lose a tooth, be sure to put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy--or else. Again, good storytelling is the key here. The moral: Fairies are, well, real jerks. (Didn’t Knott’s once do a Tooth Fairy maze? I have no idea what that one was like.) 

The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin--Great atmosphere in a maze that heralds the arrival of the Pumpkin Lord, the ruler of Halloween. Universal is doing a somewhat more malevolent riff on Jack Skellington here.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre--When in doubt, go with a classic. This maze is based on the original Tobe Hooper flick, not the “reboot,” and is stronger for it. You’ll be craving BBQ as you exit.

Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience--A crazed puppeteer and troupe of actors and dancers haunt the ruins of an old theatre. Excellent sets and a bit of Shakespeare, too.

HHN Icons Captured--Jack and his friends have their own dark realm, and you’re their guests. Each Icon gets the opportunity to shine, but Jack and Chance rule the place.

The Haunting of Hill House--This is a good re-creation of the Netflix series, but if you haven’t seen the show, you can still enjoy it as an “old dark house” maze.

Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth--This is a “tribute” to past Legendary Truth mazes. I wasn’t too familiar with the back story, but I appreciated the 1940s pulp fiction/film noir atmosphere combined with horror. If anything, they tried to do a bit too much. 

Welcome to Scarey: Horror in the Heartland--Another “tribute” to past mazes set in the fictional town of Carey, Ohio. I remember two of them well: Leave it to Cleaver and H.R. Bloodengutz: Holidays of Horror. It’s a bit disjointed, but fun.

Beetlejuice--The “Ghost with the Most” finally gets his own house. It’s an enjoyable “comedy” maze, which captures the spirit of the Tim Burton flick pretty well. 

Overall, a strong year for houses, but the scare zones were pretty weak. They were mostly tributes to past years’ zones and are “Instagram friendly” (that is, scare actors on mini-stages, perfect for selfies). The Seek and Destroy zone was a poor shadow of the old Purge zones, with a wee bit of “Tron” thrown in (the “space cadet” costuming was laughable). Some of the scare actors in the Lights, Camera, Hacktion zone were pretty amusing, though. 

Something to remember if you’re planning to do HHN: Express Passes are a must (especially if you only have one night to attend). 

So come along with me and Erik Johnson at HHN. Robb and Elissa also came over to make a lap around the Studios and blast some alien scum on Men in Black with us. It was great seeing everyone in person again.

But first, there’s some new coaster at Islands of Adventure  . . . something to do with dinosaurs? Let’s try that first.

001.thumb.jpg.49d6ea318dbb339e507e894aec3bdcc0.jpg

So, what about this VelociCoaster I’ve heard so much about?

002.thumb.jpg.5f8e6bbb741ee6af2eb4a9424f3000bb.jpg

I can sum this ride up in two words: “Holy crap!” 

003.thumb.jpg.09d9128b2fcaf4fbb436146292b58eb6.jpg

Put a coaster in the velociraptor habitat, they said. What could possibly go wrong, they said. This ride is a great mixture of thrills and theming.

004.thumb.jpg.c8db3edd148725a45c650d0682f86e4c.jpg

The airtime here (and elsewhere) is unbelievable.

005.thumb.jpg.fea23107b180f0e82f4774d19987abb9.jpg

Front-seat rides are particularly good, but there isn’t a bad seat on the train. If BGW's Pantheon is half as good as this ride, I'll be very happy.

005a.thumb.jpg.905c079716f533c2e82ec22ffa33c0da.jpg

We also took time to ride the topless, oh-so-sexy Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall.

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Time to head to the Studios . . . uh oh.

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Ah, fall in Florida. Good to see Jack and all his cronies.

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We killed some time in the Legacy Shop.

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If you’re a hard-core HHN fan, this is where you beg Universal to take more of your money.

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She looks mean.

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But she looks nice . . . wait! Did she just wink at me?

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“Those women are with me. Shove off!”

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If you find this growing in your yard, you might want to move.

014.thumb.jpg.79e4ca12102e6ec42a47e1d2b956144f.jpg

Oops! My bad! I wrecked the wagon that was carrying all the homicidal maniacs.

015.thumb.jpg.a7552456101607ba314744131a7328e4.jpg

We did “Stay and Scream” and went through three of the back houses before using our Express Passes. It’s a time-honored strategy.

015a.thumb.jpg.9bea1b11e957eedce8bad97a30e9b6ba.jpg

Hmm--I think the Pumpkin Realm’s entrance will look a bit more impressive after dark.

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Yep--it does.

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Count Drac-o-Lantern strikes!

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Er, is this theatre even open? Looks like it needs a few renovations, maybe some paint.

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Don’t let Hill House’s resemblance to an industrial-park warehouse fool you. There’s a big gothic pile of a mansion in there.

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Curious George Revamped: Vengeance Comes in Yellow. Yes, the Man in the Yellow Hat has had enough of George’s shenanighans and has sold the monkey for medical experiments! Scariest maze ever!

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Just kidding--it’s the queue for Beetlejuice.

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Meanwhile, back in the scare zones, this is going on. The Queen of Gorewood Forest seems very un-nice.

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Photo taken as required by Florida law.

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“Ya want some popcorn? Soda? Hot dogs? A punch in the face? I ain’t got all night!” 

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“That big bulge down below is all my accumulated sweat.”

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30 Years of Fears . . . and Lines.

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Yep--30 years, Just in case you didn’t catch it the first time.

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I’m with you, pal. I have no idea what’s going on here, either.

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Get those fingers out of your mouth! You don’t know where those fingers have been.

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30 Years of Fire, too.

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“Yes, I’ve been standing here for 30 years . . . of fears.”

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This scare zone was full of gyrations . . .

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 . . . and goofiness. He might make a nice pie, though.

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The big winner of the night.

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Pleasant dreams, HHN. Howl-o-Scream is next. slope game

Great report

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