Old Town and IOA HHN (10/25/03)

Associated parks:
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Monday, November 3, 2003 9:50 AM
While it was the third day of our Florida vacation, it was the first that would involve an amusement park. That’s because we spent the first two days in beautiful Naples to unwind. Usually we reserve Naples for the end of our Florida trips, but being the wild and unpredictable people we are, Linette and I decided to go there first this time around. Since there is very little in Naples to tickle the fancy of the average coaster enthusiast, I will spare you the details of those two days.

We left Naples at noon to make the long and boring drive up Route 75 to Tampa and then Route 4 to Orlando. Its actually only two and a half hours of driving, which is the same amount of time it takes us to drive to Hershey or Lake Compounce for the day, but there is something about the Florida landscape that is so… uneventful. The straight stretches of road, sometimes only two lanes wide with both lanes of traffic moving at speeds considerably below the posted speed limits, are mind-numbing and seem to double the amount of time it should take. Half of the people in Florida must drive white Grand Marquis and gold Buicks, and they must secretly be limited to 65 miles per hour at the dealerships before their aging occupants get behind the wheel and take to the road.

At any rate, we made it to the Kissimmee exit around 3:00 and ventured down Route 192 to find our hotel- the Best Western Main Gate East. This was the first time we were staying in Kissimmee- the last two times we stayed at the Holiday Inn Sunspree in Lake Buena Vista and the Comfort Suites on Turkey Lake Road. Tempted by the low rate ($55/night), we decided to give it a try- after all, it was only a few miles from everything, right? Well, what they don’t tell you is that Route 192 is a heavily-trafficked stretch of traffic lights, a tourist haven that features a non-stop barrage of fast food eateries, gift shops, stores, hotels and other tourist stuff (there’s even a chapel for shotgun weddings!) Its an ugly road (it makes I-Drive in Orlando seem downright pretty) and it takes forever to travel just one mile. Our hotel, of course, was located a few miles down the road, so any time we wanted to get back to “mainland” Orlando, it took us fifteen minutes just to get to Route 4. Some advice to those planning to stay a few days in Orlando- Kissimmee is not really the value that they make it out to be. You are probably better off being in Lake Buena Vista or near I-Drive- those places are a much better overall value when you take driving time into consideration and not just mileage.

After checking into the hotel (it was once a Four Point Sheraton but seemed to have gone downhill since becoming a Best Western- we had a laundry list of complaints, which is something rare when we have stayed at Best Westerns in the past), we journeyed down to Old Town, which sits close to Route 4 on Route 192. We had never been, so we really didn’t know what to expect.

Defining Old Town is kind of tough. The complex consists of a Days Inn and Suites hotel (a number of buildings that looked as though they were transplanted from the Jersey Shore), a bunch of upcharge attractions and a shop-infested main “drag” that has some mechanical amusements at either end. Is it a small amusement park? A shopping mall with some rides? A miniature resort? Either way, it was quite crowded, as the place was hosting some kind of classic car convention, and parking in the free lot was a challenge akin to what you have to endure at a shopping mall four days before Christmas.

After finding a parking space, we walked down the main drag, which seemed to be quite a charming little “Main Street”-type affair, to the far end of the complex where the Windstorm coaster stood. A standard SDC Windstorm, I wasn’t expecting much- my Windstorm experience has been limited to Rye Playland’s Hurricane, and I recall that being quite a miserable experience. But, being part curious and part credit whore, I thought that it would be fun to give it a shot. After purchasing some tickets, we loaded into the train. A pretty sad looking train. While the coaster seems to have been given a new paint job recently (green and purple), the train retains its faded red, white and blue paint job, looking like patio furniture that has spent a few too many years in the direct sun. After loading in, we climbed the bumpy lift hill and were off.

To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as Rye’s coaster- it was much considerably smoother- almost bearable. But the transitions were still pretty bad. The ride has a very interesting layout, and some of the banked helixes look absolutely insane… it looks like a modern-day Jet Star, along the lines of something you would expect Anton to come up with if he were still with us, designing little coasters. But the train seems to move too slowly through some of the banks, causing you to slide to the side of the train as there is insufficient force to keep the riders in their seats. After one unremarkable ride, we bid farewell to the coaster and wandered back behind the mall for a stroll through the rows of classic cars. We took a spin on the ferris wheel at the front of the park to get rid of some extra tickets and were out within an hour of pulling into the lot.

I have mixed feelings about Old Town. On one hand, the place is clearly a tourist trap. With the Skycoaster (still the world’s largest, I believe), the Sky Scraper, the sling shot ride and the new drag racing ride (which I understand just opened a couple of weeks ago), there are more than enough upcharge attractions clearly intended to drain your wallet. A spook house-type attraction on the “mall” wanted $7.50 per person! And tickets for the few mechanical rides are rather pricey. The parking was insufficient, the employees seemed mediocre (at best) and the condition of the coaster left a lot to be desired. Still, the place does have potential… if some more mechanical rides were added, including that long-rumored/suggested wooden coaster and the employees were given lessons on being more customer-oriented, it would be worth more than just an hour. But right now, there isn’t much here. Like Chinese Food, it looks interesting, but leaves you feeling unfulfilled after you’ve left the dinner table.

But that was okay, because at night it was time for Halloween Horror Nights at IOA! Last October, we made our first trip to IOA and spent the day in the park and had a great time, followed by an evening at HHN where we had a great time- overall, that day was one of the best I ever had at an amusement park. We loved IOA so much that, when we returned to Florida in May to try a bunch of different Florida parks, we made sure to return to IOA, where we had another great day despite the fact that Hulk was down (yet it mysteriously returned to life after the park closed at 7:00 for some kind of private buy-out). This night would be different.

The line of traffic entering the Universal complex after dinner was greeted by flashing signs, indicating that the HHN event was sold out. Phew! Good thing we purchased tickets online! All we’d have to do is buy some Express Lane passes as others had suggested. Now, I completely disagree with the concept- I find it very wrong for a park to charge money so that you have the ability to jump ahead of other people who paid money to get into the park, but I was willing to make an exception for just once. Well, as it turns out, I could stand my moral ground, because the passes were all sold out. Damn. To make matters worse, IOA closes Hulk and Dueling Dragons at 11:00, which leaves four hours to ride them. Does anyone know why this is the case? Do the coasters have a mandated curfew or something?

We entered the park and headed over to Scream House Revisited. 45 minute wait. The line “guard” suggested we go to Psycho Scarapy, which currently had a 10 minute wait. We heeded his advice (as did many others), headed back to the Jurassic Park building, and got in line. Within a few minutes, we were in. I won’t get into the details, as I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises for those that might be attending this years’ event- all I will say is that it was quite amazing how they got that bathroom to really smell like crap! And yes, the rest of the thing was pretty cool, too.

While in the area, we backtracked a little and made our way over to Dueling Dragons, which posted a five minute wait. Yay! Dueling Dragons is my favorite B&M inverted coaster. I like it better than Montu, Alpengeist, Raptor and any of the other “top tier” inverts out there. I think that both Fire and Ice both have brilliant layouts, especially Fire with that amazing “Wraparound Immelman” and that unbelievable airtime hill. And while both sides of ride could stand alone as great coasters, the interaction between the two sides is what makes the ride so spectacular, particularly the first two near-collisions (I always seem to miss the effect of the third one). To this day, I am still awestruck by the fact that the ride was so perfectly designed to allow for trains traveling on two completely different tracks to ALWAYS reach the same points at the same time. Talk about ingenious engineering!

As promised by the sign, there was a minimal wait for DD- the trek through the never-ending castle probably took longer than the time spent in the actual queuing area. Shocking was the fact that there were three trains operating on both sides, for a total of six trains! I have never seen IOA run more than four trains before! We got back seat rides on both Fire and Ice (to this day, Fire remains the only inverted coaster to make my legs feel weak by the time I hit the brakes), and we probably would have stayed there if there weren’t so many haunted houses left to hit.

Hungry, we hit the Burger Digs in Jurassic Park before heading towards the front of the park. The lines were short enough, but the restaurant, being directly above the Psycho Scarapy house, was filled with the smell of crap that rose from the attraction on the ground floor. A very poor planning oversight, if you ask me. To make matters worse, the seating area looked as though it had been abandoned by IOA employees. All dozen or so napkin dispensers were empty, with no employee in sight to ask for help. The garbages were overflowing, causing people to leave their trays of food on the counters by the garbage cans, and worse, on the tables that they ate at. For a park that seems to have operations down to a science, this was a truly awful scene. It eclipses anything I have ever seen at a Six Flags park, which is saying a lot. I know that scaring people is part of the allure of HHN, but perhaps the park should have had a few less chainsaw-wielding monsters and a few more people dedicated to maintaining the basic stuff? When a park has a few hundred people running around and making little girls scream, there is no excuse for not properly staffing the restaurants and allowing this to happen.

Eager to get out of the garbage-ridden and smelly restaurant, we headed over for Superhero Island for a spin on the Hulk. A feat which proved to be a challenge, as the number of people in the park seemed to be growing faster than the population of China. Things did not look good: a 45 minute for Spiderman and –gasp!- a 90 minute wait for Hulk.

No. Freakin. Way.

We both love Hulk… along with DD, it remains amongst our favorite steel coasters. But there was no way in hell that Hulk was worth that long a wait. Disenchanted, we ventured back over to Seuss Landing to see how long the wait for Scream House Revisited was. Still 45 minutes. Oh well. We gave in and got on line. And after more than an hour of waiting, we were finally in.

Once again, Scream House was fantastic- a first class attraction, all the way. But after waiting that long, it had to be. We ventured back over to the Hulk. Still 90 minutes. We then made a decision that is totally out of character for us. At 11:00, with 3 hours of HHN left to enjoy (endure?), we decided to call it a night.

Maybe it was the crowds, which were numerous and were becoming more obnoxious as they got more and more loaded on alcohol that was available at stands placed about every ten feet or so. Maybe it was the ridiculous lines that inevitably sucked some of the fun out of whatever it was that we were waiting for. Maybe it was the fact that the Yankees lost the World Series that night (and the park seemed to be filled with Marlins fans, who seem to come out of the woodwork whenever they have a good season). But whatever the reasons, we didn’t have a good time at HHN. And as much as we love IOA and haunted houses, it will probably be a long while before we return to the park for that.

Disappointed, we made it an early night to prepare ourselves for a Disney double-header the next day: Animal Kingdom and Epcot.

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002
*** This post was edited by Rob Ascough 11/3/2003 2:52:47 PM ***

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Monday, November 3, 2003 11:24 AM
Wow. I can't imagine how fast the line would move with a total of 6 trains on Dueling Dragons- it moves very fast with only 4.

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"If you're thirsty, it's too late to go get a drink." Chinese Proverb

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Monday, November 3, 2003 11:29 AM
It was pretty quick... quick enough to keep waits below the 5 minute mark, provided that you were willing to take one of the middle rows. I'm not sure if it stayed that short because we never made it back there after our first rides- the park did get more crowded as the night progressed.

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002

+0
Monday, November 3, 2003 5:37 PM
Rob,
It's too bad that you missed out on the Halloween Express tickets. When we went three weeks ago, I swear that it was the best $15 I have ever spent. We got all of the houses done (two twice), double rides on Hulk and Spiderman, Dr. Doom, as well as six front row rides in a row on the Dragons before the event even started (we stayed in the park after it closed for the day and they opened them early) all in about 5 1/2 hours. If anyone has any reservations about buying these things, throw them out the window and get them. After a disasterous time last year because of the crowds, it was a no-brainer for us and helped make the night. This event has become so big, that one really has to put a little thought into preparation before you go.
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G's! They're what's for dinner!
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Monday, November 3, 2003 7:19 PM
Rob,

The ONLY flaw that I saw in your well thought out trip, was the fact that your visit to HHN (10-25-3) was on a "Peak" night, Saturday! Both Friday and Saturday nights are considered "Peak" nights -- in other words -- Massive (local) Crowds! hence all the so called Marlins Fans.

The next time you visit UO for HHN -- IF you plan on going again, try a "Non-Peak" night, which means a Sunday thru Thursday...

I went twice, and both times were on a Sunday ("Non-Peak") night. and did the "Stay & Scream" thing. We covered ALL the Houses (twice) and also got at least one ride on both Hulk and DD.

Next time give it try and use the "Non-Peak" and "Stay & Scream" menthod...
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"OBVIOUSLY... we have more work to do!"

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Tuesday, November 4, 2003 4:16 AM
Pale Rider: How I wish that we could have purchased those express tickets! I didn't think that they would sell out of them, but I guess a lot of people heard about them and decided to get them. I was talking to someone in line for Scream House and they told me that they were staying on the Universal property and they purposely woke up early in the morning to get to IOA and purchase express tickets for the night's event, only to find out that they were all sold out.

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-Rob
A.C.E. member since 1990
Posting @ Coasterbuzz since 2000
E.C.C. member since 2002

+0

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