Take a Chance at Halloween Horror Nights 26

Halloween Horror Nights. Did a chill run down your spine? It should have- this is the nation’s premier Halloween event. In its 26th year at Universal Orlando, Halloween Horror Nights has a stellar lineup of houses, both original and intellectual … Continue reading

Big Day For 2 Of Orlando’s Theme Parks

Today was an exciting day for two of Orlando’s major theme parks- SeaWorld and Universal, to be exact. SeaWorld hosted its Media Day for its newest coaster, Mako, which has been marketed as the fastest, longest and tallest roller coaster … Continue reading

Happy New Year!

I am finally writing my first post of the new year! (I know it’s eight days late…forgive me.)

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

A new year brings new opportunities, new relationships, new adventures and SO MUCH THEME PARK NEWNESS.

Are you as excited as I am?!

Before I run down the list of new things happening at some of our favorite theme parks this year, can I just say that you need to experience NYE in Disney at least ONCE in your lifetime? It’s magical. In fact, it needs its own post. *Makes mental note to do a post on NYE in Disney*

Now that I’m done being sidetracked, let’s talk about some of the things you can experience this year in some of the best theme parks in the country!

1. I am just going to leave this list of 10 new rides/attractions coming to theme parks across the country via Theme Park Tourist here. All I have to say is…I need to go to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Look at the list–you’ll see why.

2. This year, Disneyland will be celebrating 60 years of being The Happiest Place on Earth! (July 17 is the day Disneyland opened in 1955.) The Diamond Celebration is set to begin this Spring, and I need to find my way to California.

DisneylandDiamondAnniversary3. The Sorcerer’s Hat at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is officially on its way out as of yesterday. Workers have begun to dismantle the impressive structure and soon, The Chinese Theatre will be in full view as guests walk down Hollywood Boulevard. Will the Earful Tower resume its duty of being the park icon? Only time will tell!

4. I know it’s far away, but Universal Studios Florida will be putting on their 25th Halloween Horror Nights event this fall on select nights from Sept. 25-Oct. 31. I am a huge baby when it comes to anything horror, but HHN keeps me coming back every year. If you’ve never been, this is the year to go. I guarantee they have some amazing plans up their sleeves.

5. The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World returns this Spring from March 4-May 17. I have personally never attended the Flower and Garden Festival AND I will be in Disney completing my college program this Spring, so I’m excited to go for the first time!

6. A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure takes place from Jan. 30- Feb 1.*Fun Fact: YOU CAN DRESS UP!* There are so many fun events planned throughout the weekend, so take a look here and form a plan of action if you plan on going!

7. The ‘Frozen’ Fun may have ended at Walt Disney World (except for the sing along at DHS), but it’s just starting over on the other coast! At Disney California Adventure, you can meet the royal sisters, shop at Wandering Oaken’s, play in the snow, and maybe even get a warm hug from Olaf! Details can be found here. There is also a ‘Frozen’ show at Disneyland, so be sure to get a park hopper ticket in order to experience everything ‘Frozen’!

8. Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be here again before we know it! (May 15-June 14 to be exact) And with the release of a brand new Star Wars movie at the end of this year, I bet the event will be even better!

I guarantee there are more things happening this year, and as I find them out I will add them to the list! If you know of anything super awesome happening at a theme park this year, let me know in the comments!

What events are you looking forward to most? What theme parks do you plan on visiting? Let me know so I can live vicariously through you!

Halloween Horror Nights 24

Halloween Horror Nights is a hard ticket event that takes place on select nights from September through November at Universal Studios Florida. From 6:30 pm to 2:00 am, the biggest names in horror come to life and you are faced with the task of surviving the night–if you dare.

With this being my third straight year attending HHN, I decided it was time to share some tips on how to make the most out of your night and reviews of the houses I went into. Because I am a super scaredy cat, this was actually my first year going into more than one house, so I’m even more excited to share my experience!

Here we go:

Tip 1) Get There Early

It is not enough to get there on time; you need to get there EARLY. My family and I arrived about an hour and a half early and we were literally the first people to enter the event (aside from VIP guests who had entered the park at an earlier time). You want to arrive early because A) there is a pre-show that takes place before you’re let into the park and B) you get as much time as possible to get everything done. If you don’t arrive early, don’t expect to get into every house unless you have bought fastpasses (which, in my opinion, you don’t need if you get there on time and have a game plan). This brings me to my second tip.

Tip 2) Do Not Worry About Rides

Look, you can go on rides any other day you visit Universal. And if you REALLY love Universal, I would suggest getting a day ticket as well as a ticket to HHN. This is why: You are paying anywhere from $59 to $79 on a ticket for this event, and while seven and a half hours may seem like a lot, in retrospect, it isn’t. There are eight haunted houses, four scare zones, and two shows. The lines for the haunted houses get long, and they get long FAST. If you waste time going on rides that are there year-round, you will not be getting the most bang for your buck. If you’re there for the houses, do the houses. You’ll be more satisfied that way.

Tip 3) If You Like The Walking Dead, Make That Your First House

HHN has collaborated with AMC’s The Walking Dead for the third year in a row, which is what originally drew me into the event back in 2012. The house created for this year is the largest ever created for a HHN event, which, of course, makes it the headliner house. If you have any interest in going through this house (which you should, it’s phenomenal), then this needs to be the first house you go through. The wait time throughout the evening climbs to two and a half hours, and if you’re waiting that long for one house you will probably only get to experience two or three out of the eight. Trust me–DO. THIS. HOUSE. FIRST. It’s at the front of the park, so just make a beeline for it.

Tip 4) Have A Plan/Know Before You Go

This being the third time my family and I have attended the event, we’re pretty much veterans at this point. Since theme parks and theme park events are my thing, I always follow the social media accounts and read up on the events beforehand. This makes it a lot easier to devise a plan of action so that you aren’t standing around trying to figure out where to go next. Go to the event website, make a list of your must do houses, and then map it out once you’re there. There are also wait times available online once you’re in the park, so be sure to utilize those as well.

Tip 5) Don’t Ignore The Scare Zones

I know the houses are the best part of HHN, but don’t forget about the scarezones! It’s easy to just power walk right through them while you’re rushing to the next house, but you really should stop and experience them. For example, The Purge scare zone has a few ‘shows’ that they put on and if you walk right through, you’ll miss them. They really are worth watching (even though they freaked me out, but that’s why you’re there, right?).

And now, onto the reviews:

*Side Note: I only went into six houses so I will only do a review and rating for those six houses. I did not go through Giggles and Gore Inc. mainly because clowns sort of creep me out (thank you, American Horror Story), but also because I wanted to get a drink with my dad. Priorities, people.

My entire family also decided to not do Dracula Untold because I read a few reviews that said this house wasn’t really worth going through. We easily could have since we passed it and the wait time was short, but we wanted to experience the scare zones and see a show instead.*

Haunted House Reviews and Ratings:

The Walking Dead: End of The Line- 5 out of 5

I am a HUGE fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and this house was absolutely fantastic. I know a lot of people were a little iffy about HHN bringing this back for the third year in a row (I wasn’t because I’ve loved it every year), but this was absolutely well done. I went from screaming to being in complete awe of the details and how visually stunning the maze was. The creative team did an excellent job of making the guest feel like they were walking through season 4 of TWD. I’m also always impressed with the makeup they do for their ‘walkers.’ They must watch a lot of episodes to get the makeup accurate, and boy, is it accurate. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but there is one ‘room’ that will make you disoriented and terrified–it’s the best room in any of the houses, in my opinion. If you go, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If I could only do one house all night, this would be it. I know it would annoy some people, but I think they should bring it back next year because based on the season premiere of the fifth season, I can see them coming up with an INCREDIBLE maze. I’m just saying.

Halloween- 5 out of 5

While TWD was my favorite house of the night, this was a close second. I actually have never seen Halloween (I know, it’s a classic, but scary movies terrify me) but that didn’t make the experience any less scary. The fact that they made the outside of the house look exactly how it does in the film (from what I was told) is impressive and really makes you feel like you’re stepping into the movie. I thought the projection on the outside of the house was interesting and certainly got me a little scared before I even got into the house. Once inside, I was getting scared around every corner. If you’ve seen the movie and you’re a fan, this house will please you. This is also the first house where you must walk side by side instead of in a straight line, which I thought was interesting. Overall, another solid house and job well done. Side note–this house isn’t over until it’s over. You’ll see what I mean 😉

Alien vs. Predator- 3 out of 5

While this house was not a favorite of mine, if you’re a fan of the movie (which I have not seen), then you’ll be pleased. As much as I hate being scared, I actually enjoy live scare actors and getting REALLY frightened to the point where curse words seep out of my mouth without my being able to control them. This house, however, relied heavily on animatronics, which were actually really impressive. This was another visually stunning house which I really did appreciate, and while I did jump a few times, it wasn’t on the same level as the other houses. There were scare actors, but they didn’t ‘scare’ me so much as startle me, which really isn’t the same. It was a decent house, but not as scary as the others. What really gets you in this house is the weird string-like things that hang from the ceiling that you have to navigate through. It makes you feel like someone is touching you, which only adds to your distress.

Dollhouse of The Damned- 3.5 out of 5

This house was very creepy. As a little girl, dolls are kind of a staple in your life. Even now, I still have several stuffed animals in my room and on my bed. In this house, your dolls come to life–and they want to kill you. Every little girl’s nightmare. There were a few things that REALLY got me, and any scare actor who is waiting for me around the corner is bound to make me scream. This gets a little bit better of a rating than AvP simply because I genuinely got scared a number of times in that house. I also loved the design of the house outside–really super creepy.

Roanake: Cannibal Colony- 3.5 out of 5

This house gets a better rating from me than AvP because this was the first house I walked out of SHAKING. It was not particularly stunning, the makeup wasn’t to die for, and the idea of the house itself has probably been done a million times before. However, the scare actors were SCARY. They were not afraid to get as close to you as possible without touching you. Several actors nearly touched my face and came at me more than once. There was also an actor on the ceiling, and when I realized that, I ducked so low I almost hit the ground. The scare actors truly made this house what it was, but it wasn’t a favorite of mine.

From Dusk Til Dawn- 2 out of 5

In my opinion, I don’t really know why everyone loves this house. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen the show or movie the house is based on, but it just didn’t strike me as particularly scary. Yes, scare actors popped out of holes in the wall and behind scenery and such, and yes it startled me, but it wasn’t…scary. I have never seen Halloween, but that house scared me. Even AvP scared me more than this house did. If you’re trying to plan your evening and this house isn’t someone’s ‘must do,’ I wouldn’t even bother with it honestly. The only reason why this has a rating of two instead of one is because I did get startled, so the actors did something right. But other than that, this house was a dud for me.

A quick review of the scare zones:

The Purge: Anarchy

I saw the first movie and it definitely freaked me out a little, and this scare zone got me good. Chainsaws freak me out, and there were plenty of those. Creepy masks freak me out, and there was no shortage of those. The little ‘shows’ they put on really drew a crowd which made it even better. They ‘auctioned’ off people to audience members, and I liked the fact that they interacted with guests. Then they had the truck come by with ‘purgers’ inside and they went into the crowd and grabbed people and threw them in the truck. (The people were actors, don’t worry.) All in all, a solid scare zone, and probably my least favorite because of how scared I got, which I guess makes it the best one, right? One guy decided to follow me and scare me several times. I was pretty much done after that.

Maskerade: Unstitched

This zone wasn’t particularly scary, but it was interesting to walk through. The costumes were beautiful, and the actors towering above you does add a little intensity to the area because they can swoop down right in your face at any moment and you really won’t see it coming (which happened to me a few times). It wasn’t my favorite scare zone but it was alright.

Face Off: In The Flesh

This scare zone was my favorite simply because the makeup/costumes/masks were ON. POINT. I’ve never seen the show, but that didn’t stop me from taking pictures and really taking my time walking through this area. Not too many scares to be had, but it was really truly interesting.

Bayou of Blood

This area was a dud. The only thing that made it semi creepy was the amount of smoke. The smoke compromises your vision, you don’t see a scare actor, then they’re there, boom, you’re startled. But no one scared me in this area. The smoke just really bothered me. I know some type of show happens in this scare zone but we didn’t stick around to watch, so I can’t really comment on it.

Here are a few things I think could’ve been better:

1) Where is The Walking Dead Scare Zone?

This is probably my BIGGEST hang up. I know last year the entire park was crawling with walkers instead of the traditional scare zones, and I know a lot of people disliked it. I was not one of those people, but that’s probably because I enjoy the show so much and I LOVED how well done the makeup and costumes were. But aside from that, I just didn’t understand why we didn’t have a scare zone for TWD. It was the headliner house because it was the biggest house ever created, it had the biggest banner in the front of the park, it’s the focal point on the limited edition pin, yet we did not have a scare zone. And yet, HHN in Universal Studios Hollywood had a scare zone AND a terror tram (which I hear is AMAZING). So, I’m confused as to why we also couldn’t put together a scare zone. I think it would’ve done really well over some of the scare zones they chose to implement instead, but I digress.

2) The ‘Welcome’ Show…Eh

Every year they do a ‘welcome’ show/skit before they let you into the park. Last year, because the theme was TWD, the show obviously featured walkers. Smoke filled the streets behind the gate and from the smoke emerged a hoard of zombies. It was INTENSE. I was already shaking and we weren’t inside yet. Of course more than that happened, but I can’t recall. However, I do remember it being longer, and better, than the show this time around. It was quick, it wasn’t particularly scary, and I’ve seen it done better at HHN in California, so it did not meet my expectations. But, again, I digress.

3) Spread Out The Scare Zones

When I can walk through half of the park without coming across a single scare actor, we have a problem. I should be watching my back, no matter where I am. That’s another reason why I enjoyed it so much last year–while there were still certain ‘zones’, they were spread out across a vast amount of the park. This year, I felt that they were kind of all in one big area and then you were pretty much free from all terror unless you were going to a house. It was weird.

4) Bill And Ted–Not As Good As Last Year

Maybe it was all of the digs at Disney that really bothered me, but this show just wasn’t as funny as last year. I found myself really bored and barely laughing. If you’ve done the houses you want to do and want to take a breather, then I’d recommend seeing it. Otherwise, it’s really not worth the time.

All in all, despite my few hang ups, HHN 24 was super fun and did an excellent job of keeping me on my toes and scared. This was the first year I actually made it through more than one house and I didn’t get chased by any scare actors, so for me it was a success. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m already looking forward to HHN 25.

Welcome to Diagon Alley

It’s no secret that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure has been a huge success since its grand opening in June of 2010. However, the creative team at Universal has brought to life an area that very well may trump its predecessor. What area is this, you may ask?

Why, it’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Tip #1: Get to the park BEFORE it opens.

I cannot stress how important this is. For the remainder of the summer, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure will open at 8 a.m. each morning. Diagon Alley is located in Studios, so make your way there FIRST. If you are under the impression that you can get into IOA, ride the Hogwarts Express (more to come on this later), and get into Diagon Alley that way, you’re wrong. You will STILL have to wait on a line in order to get into Diagon Alley, so your best bet is to go straight to Studios.

When my family and I arrived on July 9th (the day after Diagon Alley was officially open to the public), we were allowed into the park before 8 a.m. and were held with the rest of the early morning crowd behind a rope on the ‘street’ that is home to Terminator 2: 3D and Theatre Magic (aka the ‘Hollywood’ section). *Note: On-site resort guests were able to get into Diagon Alley starting at 7 a.m.* When 8 a.m. arrived, Universal employees walked WITH the rope down toward the entrance to the line for Diagon Alley, which is located next to Men In Black: Alien Attack. This was an excellent strategy for crowd control–it allowed the guests to safely, and SLOWLY, make their way through the park, reducing the risk of injury and fights. I was quite impressed with this, actually. Kudos, Universal.

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Once we made it over to the entrance to the line, we were only held up for about 25-30 minutes until we were moving, fast, through the queues. We did stop a few times briefly after this, but we were able to enter London and make our way into Diagon Alley within an hour. Yes, you read that right. The day after the grand opening and we were IN Diagon Alley by 9 a.m. You may gasp. I won’t blame you.

Tip #2: Do Not Take A Return Ticket

If you are already on line to get into Diagon Alley, do NOT, for any reason, leave to get a return ticket, thinking that it will save you time. We saw several people get off the line to get return time tickets that ranged from 9:30-10 a.m. Had they stayed on the line, they would have gotten in WELL before those return times. If you are waking up early to get into Diagon Alley, just wait on the line. It’s the best option if you want to experience everything, including the new ride, before the day is over.

We entered London and even though we all wanted to stop and and take pictures, we were on a mission: Get in line for Harry Potter and The Escape From Gringotts. We walked through the ‘wall’ into Diagon Alley, and were immediately greeted by the focal point of the entire area–Gringotts Bank and its guard dragon. That first sight is honestly breathtaking. My jaw dropped, and I walked in a daze, snapping quick photos as we made our way to the line. The current wait time was 330 minutes, or five and a half hours. No surprise there. However, we took a different route, and this is my third tip for you.

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Tip #3: Wait in the Single Rider line

Okay, okay. I know half the fun of this attraction is the line itself, but if this is your first trip to Universal, do you want to spend a HUGE chunk of your day waiting in line for this ride? In addition, if you’re one of the unlucky few (or hundred) that waited 5+ hours just to get INTO Diagon Alley, do you want to wait another 5 for the ride? That would be 10 hours just waiting in lines. If you have older children that can ride alone, do the single rider line. You may not get to experience the entire queue area, but you do get a quick glimpse of the bank on your way to a hidden corridor until you meet up with the other line in a stairwell leading up to the attraction. Trust me. It’s better in the long run.

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My family and I waited approximately two hours to ride and, luckily for us, we got to ride with each other! My dad and mom got to ride together, and my sister and I got to ride together. In fact, my sister and I got to ride twice. While we were on the ride, it stopped moving. While it didn’t bother us too much because we’ve dealt with malfunctions on new rides before and understand that it happens, many guests were outraged. The whole ‘experience’ was kind of ruined because we did miss a few parts, so the employees allowed us to ride again with a minimal wait. I was very pleased with how they handled this, but I was disgusted by the rude remarks made by the guests who were getting to ride AGAIN.

They were completely rude to the attraction attendants who, of course, have no control over the ride malfunctioning, and are allowing all of us (and there were quite a few of us) to ride again. Be courteous and respectful to these employees. They’re doing their best and it isn’t their fault. Keep the curse words and nasty attitudes to a minimum, please.

I won’t spoil the ride for those of you who will be making a trip to Universal and want to be surprised, but I will say that it’s very different from Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. If I were to describe it, I would say it’s a mix of Revenge of The Mummy and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. However, I honestly won’t be waiting to ride it again until that wait time goes WAY down–but that’s just me.

Within 3 1/2 hours, we had gotten into Diagon Alley and rode Gringotts (twice, in my case). We were feeling like winners–we had managed to do the impossible. This left plenty of time to explore Diagon Alley and, of course, take a ride on the Hogwarts Express.

Tip #4: Stop and Smell The Roses

There may not be any actual roses to stop and smell, but the point of this tip is that it’s important that you take your time to truly explore and take in everything that Diagon Alley has to offer. Watch the stage shows, get a butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour (which, in my opinion, is better than ButterBeer), get in touch with your silly side in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, purchase a wand from Ollivanders, explore Knockturn Alley, or exchange your Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes at Gringotts Money Exchange. There’s so many things to do, and once you leave Diagon Alley you may not be able to get back in due to long lines, so make sure you do everything you want to do before you head out!

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Before leaving Diagon Alley, of course we had to dine at the Leaky Cauldron. The atmosphere was perfect, the food was good, and the service was friendly. If you’re not feeling courageous enough to try their signature dishes, there are a few familiar dishes that are sure to satisfy your hunger, including a chicken sandwich. I would definitely recommend eating here during your trip to Diagon Alley.

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Upon leaving Diagon Alley, we visited the Knight Bus before heading into Kings Cross Station, where we would board the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.

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This leads me to my fifth tip for you:

Tip #5: Make Sure You Have a Park-to-Park Ticket

Because you will be traveling from Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure, you need a park-to-park ticket, or an annual pass, in order to board the Hogwarts Express. Unless you really have no desire to explore the other park (I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to), then definitely get the park-to-park ticket. You’ll be able to fully experience everything the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has to offer, as well as the other attractions within both parks.

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Another side tip–ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions, meaning ride it from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade and then from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross. You get a different experience each way, and they’re both worth experiencing.

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I hope this post has helped you with your own Universal trip planning, has gotten you excited, or has informed you in some way. If you have any questions about anything mentioned or anything left out, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I’d love to help make your trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter even more magical.

Oh, and don’t forget to stop and take a picture of the dragon breathing fire 😉

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