Central Florida Horror Vacation, Part 2: Halloween Horror Nights, 10/29/04

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Horror Vacation, Part 2: The R.I.P. Tour of Halloween Horror Nights

Friday, October 29, 2004

There are many things I find scary: terrorists, George Romeo's "Dead" movies, and re-runs of "Mr. Belevedere,” but for several Octobers, I have been consistently scared by one thing: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.

This year, I decided to do the R.I.P. Tour of Halloween Horror Nights. The R.I.P. Tour is a VIP tour of the event. You have true front of the line access to the major rides and the haunted houses. There is no waiting in line or even waiting in the Halloween Horror Nights Express lines. You go right to the front of the line! You're lead by an expert VIP tour guide and he or she gives you background and information on each ride and house. This privilege is pricey, though. The tour costs $120 plus tax and doesn't include Halloween Horror Nights admission. Yet, when I did the tour for the first time two years ago, I found it well worth the cost and I was looking forward to doing it again.

Before going to Halloween Horror Nights, I checked into my hotel. I booked one night at the Best Western Movieland, which is located on the corner of Universal Blvd. and International Drive. The Best Western Movieland is pretty much a stone's throw away from Universal Orlando. In fact, you make two left turns out of the hotel and you're on Universal property! I got a good deal on the hotel $49 per night through AAA, but I had to pre-pay for the room first. Although it was a small property, I had no complaints or problems with the room either.

At around 6:00 pm, I headed out to Universal Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights. It was only a few minutes drive from my hotel to the Universal parks. I had free valet parking with my R.I.P. tour, so I better take advantage of it! I dropped my car off at valet parking and headed to the VIP Tour office at Islands of Adventure. The walk from valet parking to Islands of Adventure was about 5 minutes.

I checked in and my R.I.P. Tour guide tonight was Chris. I had her as a tour guide when I did it two years ago. She did a great job, so I requested her this time around. Why try something else when you can have the best? To identify me as part of the R.I.P. Tour, I was given glow sticks to wear around my neck. After checking in, a tour guide was taking small groups of guests to the VIP tour holding area in the Navigator's Club (situated about Confsico's Grill). I had never been up to the Navigator's Club before! I had heard this was a private area for Steven Spielberg when he visits. Wow, I'm going to someplace I've never been! I felt quite special! The group negotiated through the Port of Evil to the Navigator's Club. The Scare-actors didn't seem to be scaring anyone at that time.

The tour guide took the group up the elevator to the Navigator's Club. The club had a bunch of tables, a big screen TV, and a balcony. The balcony overlooked Islands of Adventure and you could see parts of Marvel Super Hero Island, Seuss Landing, and Port of Entry. Looking down on the guests below reminded me of Roller Coaster Tycoon. Too bad you couldn't put your mouse pointer over one of them and see what they were thinking. If you could, what would they think? Hmmm…

At the Navigator's Club, I met up with my tour guide, Chris, and some of the other VIP tour members in the group. The group had several younger guests with some of them being teenage boys. Hmmm...I wonder if they are screamers? We'll find out soon enough! Somehow, parts of our group were at Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure show, so Chris took us to the Toon Lagoon Ampitheater to meet up. We were going to see the first show at 7:30.

One thing to note is that before each ride or haunted house that we entered, Chris found a quiet spot and huddled the group together. She gave us the story and background of the ride or haunted house we were about to experience. This gave me a better understanding of what I was going to encounter and helped me enjoy the ride or the haunted house more.

The R.I.P. tour groups had the best seats in the house. They were in the center, right behind the sound booth. The groups were let into the theater before anyone else could enter. I saw the Bill and Ted show last year and I don’t recall laughing once during it. This year’s show was a lot funnier. The show had John Kerry, President Bush, Darth Vader, Clark Kent from “Smallville,” Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie, Garfield, Hellboy, Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, and of course, the two excellent dudes Bill and Ted.

After the Bill and Ted show, we headed to the Disorientorium house at Marvel Super Hero Island. The group had formed up into a big Conga line where everyone was holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of them. I chose not to hold onto anyone’s shoulders. I ain’t ‘fraid of no Scare-actors! Throughout the night and before the group entered a haunted house, several group members made triangle symbols with their hands and said, “Form up! Form up!” Each person in the group formed the Conga line and they all lined up in the same order. I brought up the rear and didn’t form into this line.

The Disorientorium house was pretty funky. It lived up to its name well as it was very disorienting. There were a lot of rooms with funky checkerboard and spiral patterns. The Scare-actors from the Treaks and Foons scare area two years ago made a return visit here. The spinning tunnel at the beginning was very disorienting (you can see a similar tunnel at Wonderworks in Orlando). The strobe effects got me so confused that I had to join the Conga line. If I didn’t, I would have probably fallen down several times. I didn’t get too many scares in the house. The Treaks and Foons were the scariest here. I did see a chubby Scare-actor in the checkerboard room, though, but I don’t recall too many others.

After the disorienting Disorientorium, Chris led the group to rides on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, and the Incredible Hulk Coaster. There was no waiting in line for us. Chris took us right to the front and we were on in a few minutes. Chris showed a lot of confidence and leadership ability. When we were going to board the Hulk, we had to go up the exit ramp. Going up the exit ramp was like swimming upstream. You’re bound to be pushed back by the onslaught of exiting Hulk riders. One guest was trying to go to baby swap up the exit ramp with a stroller, but he could not negotiate the powerful waves of exiting guests. Chris took command and led the stroller guest and the rest of the group up the exit ramp. She kept on saying, “Move to your left please! Move to your left!” All the guests moved over. She was our Moses who parted the Guest Sea!

After conquering Marvel Super Hero Island, Chris took us through Seuss Landing. Seuss Landing was, as Chris said, “our last look at civilization.” Seuss Landing was not haunted because Mrs. Geisel said she didn’t want any Scare-actors there. The park could dim the lights and play the music backwards, though. I always wondered what the messed-up music was when I walked through Seuss Landing during Halloween Horror Nights. Now I know!

We took a walk through the corn in Field of Screams. Despite being battered by four hurricanes, the cornfield held up very well. I ought to make my house from corn so it survives the next hurricane season! Field of Screams looked nice and I saw several Scare-actors, but none of them tried to scare me.

Then the group went to Horror in Wax. In this house, I remember walking by the statues of the classic Universal monsters like the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s monster, and others, but after that, I don’t remember a single thing from this house. I recall getting a lot of scares from this house and saying, “Whoa! That was a good one!” a lot.

The next house was Halloween Horror Nightmares. This was the house that I was most looking forward to experiencing. It had a lot of the Halloween Horror Nights mascots like Jack the Clown, the Caretaker, and the Director. On paper, it sounded like a pretty fun house.

The group was heading to the Halloween Horror Nightmares house, but we wait a bit because the house was in the middle of a crew change. The replacement Jacks, Caretakers, and chainsaw men came out and started scaring people left and right. After waiting a few minutes for the shift change, the group formed their Conga line and entered the house. We were stuck in the first room with the Director’s music and the smashed seats (they looked like they were from the old Herc and Xena show). It seemed like we were there for about 5 minutes. There were some good scares in this house. One particularly good one was from a Scare-actor I passed who just stood there. I thought I was in the clear until he turned around and growled in my ear from behind. That one made me jump! The strobe room with the Jacks in it was pretty good too. The strobe would flash and no one was in front of me. The strobe would darken and then flash again. Then Jack would be in my face! That made me jump too! The house, though, didn’t live up to my expectations. It was missing something. I don’t know what it was missing, but I had a feeling it was missing something.

After the group exited the house, most of them collapsed in fear and they sat down at an empty spot on the sidewalk. I think the chainsaw room got to them. Chris saw that we needed a break, so we claimed a spot for the Festival of the Dead parade. We were situated between the lagoon and the Halloween Horror Nightmares house. It was prime bead catching territory. I was catching beads quite well, even though I had a video camera in one hand. It’s a good thing I had a lot of practice during Mardi Gras! A scare-actor in the parade peered into my camcorder. Another put a bead around my neck.

The group had so many beads that most of them looked like Mr. T! We didn’t pity any fools, though. We walked through the Amity and World Expo areas. These areas seemed quite deserted. I suppose everyone else was stuck in the long haunted houses line. Chris then took us to Men in Black: Alien Attack to blast some “alien scum.” Chris was praising this ride up and down. She even rode with us. Men in Black had the shortest wait I’ve ever seen on it – 5 minutes. The wait was so short that the single riders line closed. I’ve ever seen that happen! We didn’t even wait 5 minutes since Chris took us the back way into the ride. After we blasted aliens and the smoke cleared, I had scored 584,000. Others in the car scored 19,000 to 48,000. They thought that they were hot stuff…until they looked ay my score. It prompted one person to throw down her gun and say, “I suck at this game!” Chris had a score of 704,000. Chris asked if anyone wanted to ride again. I was the only one to volunteer. We didn’t ride again, but headed to Jaws instead.

Jaws had a 5-minute wait, but Chris took us to the front of the line again. Jaws is a lot better at night. You can’t see the shark, but you can feel its attack. The gas dock explosion is quite amazing at night and it is just as hot! The firewall after the explosion didn’t work, but it was a good ride nonetheless.

The group was settled from the terror from the Halloween Horror Nightmares house, so Chris took us to Deadtroplis. When we passed the house earlier on our way to Men in Black, the wait time was 15 minutes. The wait had now grown to 45 minutes! Chris escorted us to the front of the line and we were on our way to encounter zombies. I remember the TV screens at the entrance with the news reports. I remember the scare-actor with the baseball bat at the entrance and he was giving us warnings. After that, Deadtroplis was a complete blank to me. I don’t recall any scares in this house. Deadtroplis was this year’s dud at Halloween Horror Nights.

It was time for rides again as Chris took us to Revenge of the Mummy. Chris was telling us about the Kong tributes in the ride. Other than the one in the treasure room, Chris said that if you translate the hieroglyphics in the queue, most of them say something like “Kong lives forever” or “Kong rules.” The group ended up riding Revenge of the Mummy three times. At the end of each ride, the group applauded loudly at the fun ride. Chris kept on asking if they wanted to ride again and the group said yes enthusiastically. I didn’t see them do this on the Hulk Coaster when Chris asked for a re-ride. Their reaction makes me believe that Revenge of the Mummy is a coaster for people who don’t really like roller coasters.

It was time to hit the last three houses at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. Chris led us first to Ghost Town. It was time to encounter the “haunted Old West.” The detail in this house was pretty amazing. In fact, Chris said that they started construction on Ghost Town and Castle Vampyr in July. There were some pretty inventive scares in this house. A lot of times, the Scare-actor jumps out and goes “boo!” or yells out something. The scare works, but after getting this type of scare again and again gets a bit mundane. Ghost Town had its share of boos, but the ones I remember went beyond a boo. The Scare-Actor at the bar kept on banging on the table with a small block of wood. He’d bang around and then bang really close to you. This made me jump a few times. Another Scare-Actor seemed to be saying something. He’d look away from you and he’d say, “And so it seems…” Then he’d suddenly move his head right in front of you and keep on talking. This made me jump too! The stables had a strong smell of horse poop. I had bumped into a Scare-actor hiding behind a curtain. There was the curtain and the opening to walk through. What did I try to walk through? The curtain, of course! I felt like I bounced off something from behind the curtain. When I finally walked through the opening, I saw a Scare-actor on the other side. He just said, “Heh, heh, heh…” I thought someone would throw me out of the park for sure for touching a Scare-actor, but no one did. Whew!

Next was Castle Vampyr, the home of the vampires. Chris said that each year, the best house at Halloween Horror Nights gets a pair of gargoyles placed on front of it. Guess what was in front of Castle Vampyr? A pair of gargoyles. Castle Vampyr was a really detailed house. I kept on gawking at the details in this one. The scares were pretty effective too. None of the Scare-actors really did the “boo!” thing. In fact, most of them didn’t say a thing. They’d just jump out and look spooky. That was enough to make most guests jump! There were some other good scares too. One Scare-actor stuck his head out of a hole in the wall and didn’t say anything. He scared quite a few people. Another vampire jumped back and forth on top of bookcases. His foot came so close to guests’ heads that most ducked and screamed in fear. Other Scare-actors bungee jumped to opened windows and made a slamming noise when they landed. This made me jump! The best part of this house was the scantily clad woman who stood on the stairs near the beginning. Just give me a neon yellow seat cushion and a six-pack of beer. I can stay here all night and watch this!

The group liked Castle Vampyr so much that they wanted to do it again. It was time for them to form up into a Conga line. The house didn’t seem as scary as before because we knew where the scares were coming from. One Scare-actor at the beginning got us twice! We knew where he was, but he still scared us! In the rave room, the Conga line started jumping up and down and dancing. The Scare-actors tried to scare the line, but it was difficult to frighten people acting goofy.

We headed through the Fright Yard to the last house, Hellgate Prison. The Fright Yard was noisy and looked nice, but it didn’t have too many scares. Hellgate Prison was a prison where the prisoners have taken over. The other houses were scary. Hellgate Prison had a creepy feel. The Scare-actors just said creepy things. At the beginning, the Scare-actors saw our Conga line pass through. The younger guys in the group were all Conga-ing together. The Scare-actor said, “Yeah, you boys keep on holding each other. We like that, yeah!” Creepy! Another Scare-actor pointed at me and said, “No Vaseline for you!” Creepy! There was another one acting all loony in his bed. Creepy! Man, the Scare-actors’ sayings made me feel so dirty! I need a shower!

After Hellgate Prison, we crossed back into Islands of Adventure through a pathway behind the Fright Yard. On this path, a guy with a microphone was heckling guests as they passed. When he saw our group, he said, “You actually paid Chris to lead you around?”

We came into Islands of Adventure by Mythos Restaurant, where we said our goodbyes and the group broke up. I took a walk around Islands of Adventure, even though my feet were hurting from all the walking. I was looking for my Scare-actor friend, but I didn’t see him. I walked through Jurassic Park. There were Scare-actors in last year’s Jungle of Doom costumes. One guest that was frightened by a Scare-actor actually went up and slapped him. Now that’s a good way to get thrown out of the park! Jurassic Park River Adventure was open and had a 5-minute wait, but I was too tired to ride. I walked through Toon Lagoon and Marvel Super Hero Island. I had to get off my feet before I left for the night. I stopped by for a burger at the Captain America Diner. The burger wasn’t too bad. By this time, my brain felt like mush and I was about to fall asleep while ordering my food. The gerbil in the wheel was on his back, beginning for mercy!

While I was walking around, a few people kept on asking me for a bead. I told them no. One even said, “Donate a bead?” I politely told him no. However, I was thinking, “What do I look like? The March of Dimes? Get your own beads!”

After sitting down for a while, I exited the park and picked up my car from valet parking. The valet guy pulled my car up. What was amazing that he had left my radio at the same volume and on the same radio station. The radio was tuned to 105.9 FM, which was a loud alternative rock station. He could have been holding his ears and damning the music before he pulled up, but he didn’t mess with the radio at all. Now that’s class! I gave him few dollars for a tip and left for my hotel at the Best Western Movieland.

As we passed by the houses’ entrances, I checked out the wait times. I saw wait times from 45 minutes to 70 minutes. It was good to jump these waits and go into the houses without standing in line. I could have had the same experience with the Halloween Horror Nights Express pass at about a third of the price of a R.I.P. tour.

The R.I.P. tour was definitely pricey. But I felt it was worth every penny. I felt like royalty. From the free valet parking to waiting in the Navigator’s Club to being escorted right to the front of the line made the night feel really special. I don’t think I would have felt that if I had just used the Express pass. Chris showed a lot of confidence during the tour too. When we were being escorted to the front of the line, we always had a few guests who wanted to freeload and follow us. Chris would politely shoo them away. She knew the parks back and forth. She shared some interesting stories and interesting encounters with celebrities.

At the end of the tour, I wanted to immediately sign up for a spot for next year’s Halloween Horror Nights’ R.I.P. tour! I’d have to wait until a few months before the next Halloween Horror Nights, though.

In part 3, we’ll look at the VIP Fear Tour at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Howl-O-Scream.

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