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Take a look at our blog to experience the Rex and the Beast perspective on a variety of theme park related issues. At times, we will venture into other areas, such as...

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When Scareactors Are No Longer Actors

Posted by on Oct 12, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

When Scareactors Are No Longer Actors

There has been a growing trend in the mazes of Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort over the last several years, and it is one that has me somewhat concerned. For new readers at RexandtheBeast.com, let me preface these comments by bringing up our 14-year string of HHN visits. Rex and I have been visiting Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL since HHN 13 and we certainly do not keep coming back because we simply want to blog about it. We love the houses, love the scares, and believe it is the best theme park haunted event in the nation. But, as with most things that are beloved, there is the accompanying nitpicking because, hey, we care so much.

So with that said, back to my concern. Who can argue that one of the great strengths of an HHN maze is the set design and attention to detail? After all, the event is hosted at Universal Studios! When walking into the houses that are located inside the soundstages, I sometimes want to jump out of line and just gawk at the exterior of the haunt. So incredibly beautiful. Nevertheless, a beautifully designed set still does not make an exceptional house. That piece of the puzzle belongs to the actors and the combined efforts of any given acting crew working the maze. Sometimes a certain crew will make a maze delightful while the same maze with a different crew falls flat. It is the actors who make the story come alive and help the guests understand the flow of the chaos that is unfolding before our eyes.

Because of that, I believe scareactors need freedom to act.

Here’s what I mean. For many folks who love to work inside a haunted maze, it is an art form to them, i.e., it truly is acting. Based on the skill of the actor, they will utilize timing, feel, anticipation, observation, and various movements to make the story both come alive and, hopefully, provide a few scares. It is unquestionably true that some scareactors possess these skills better than others. I love watching and at times being scared by an actor who completely throws themselves in their work. It is a special thing.

But in today’s mazes at HHN, it seems those acting freedoms are becoming rarer. The reason? Timed audio cues.

HHN mazes seem to be moving in the direction of trying to capture a consistent guest experience that is accentuated by the presence of audio cues usually on a 5-15 second loop. These cues, especially in the IP houses, have the scareators actually talking, using dialogue from the films. The ability to “feel out” a guest or wait for the appropriate time to strike is replaced with a steady, consistent, ongoing audio cue. Now, to be fair, it appears some of the scareactors are still able to decide when to hit the audio, but it is clear that they are instructed to keep it on a consistent, even course so that every guest sees the same thing.

While speaking with theme park guru Seth Kubersky a few weeks ago, I let him know the gist of this article. He made the helpful observation that HHN mazes are becoming more like a dark ride experience than a typical, flexible haunted house where no two experiences are the same. In this way, the HHN mazes are attempting to do what the omnimovers did for The Haunted Mansion – everyone sees the same thing.

Now, this isn’t all bad, of course. There is something to be said for making sure every guest is viewing the same story in the mazes, and it is definitely neat to hear dialogue from the films. But it is also a risk vs reward type of situation. What if by providing a more consistent experience for the guests the overall quality level of the mazes drops? So, you have a haunted house that everyone experiences in basically the same way, but everyone is experiencing a lessened version of what would be possible if the scareactors were free to be free.

There are also practical issues to address. Unlike a local haunt where guests pulse through in groups, giving the actors more time to rest to avoid wearing themselves and their vocal chords out so quickly, HHN mazes incorporate the famous “conga lines” where scareactors have no break until the new shift comes in. Different ideas have come and gone, such as the “shaker cans” that were designed to shock you as the scareactor jumped out, but for now they have landed on more timed audio tracks.

For my taste, these audio scares have become too much, too often. I think they can be effective and should be utilized, but not to the extent they currently are. I want to see the scareactors in full creative mode, not hampered by the limitation of an audio track.

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Review: Halloween Horror Nights 26

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Review:  Halloween Horror Nights 26

For the 14th year in a row, RexandtheBeast.com traveled to Orlando, Fl to attend Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort. The event this year would host nine haunted houses (mazes), five scarezones, and two live shows.

We found HHN 26 to be superior to the 25th-anniversary edition last year. Although HHN 25 seems to have plenty of support from die-hard fans, RexandtheBeast.com felt that 25 was lacking in depth and quality content. We much preferred HHN 24, which included the original Halloween maze, to the 25th-anniversary event. Although this year’s event still did not eclipse HHN 24 for us, it was nevertheless a solid outing for Universal.

Maze Reviews:

Halloween:  Hell Comes To Haddonfield
Following the story of Halloween II, this maze is near perfection. I love how you begin in the closet with a swinging light fixture, just like in the film. You then follow the movie’s plot line, moving to the row of houses outside the Doyle house, entering the hospital, and ultimately seeing Myers set ablaze. The recreation of the famous hot bath scene was sensational and even the lovable security guard Mr. Garrett is seen in the aftermath of receiving a hammer to the skull. For any fan of the Halloween franchise, this is the ultimate treat.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Rex and I were surprised to see this maze toward the middle or bottom of favorites for many fans. We loved it. Not only was it a gorgeous recreation of the dreaded farm house, but it was terrifying. The opening room was sensational, with the smell of rotten chicken filling the room, but my favorite room by far was the living room scene where the sound of the flash from an old camera was heard and the lights would dim with each flash. So creepy.

Krampus
Although the film did not live up to the hype and expectations (director Michael Doughtery’s first movie called “Trick r Treat” is one of the best horror films of the last decade), this was a fantastic maze with a wonderful set. Rex and I are partial to winter-based mazes, and the Christmas scenery fit the bill. This is one where you kind of smile and point more than you get scared and jump, but it is near the top of our list.

Ghost Town:  The Curse of Lightning Gulch
A sequel from HHN 14, this was one of the more highly anticipated mazes of the year. The balance between actors and set design was well done, and it was fun to watch a couple of “shootouts” between the ghostly cowboys. One reviewer remarked how the Ghost Town scareactors seemed to just ignore the guests and do their own thing, and I think there is some truth to that. But this was a fun, beautiful maze worthy of the HHN original content.

The Exorcist
This was the first maze we experienced at HHN 26 and I had my concerns about the content. Thankfully, the maze stayed pretty true to the film and re-created several of the famous bedroom scenes. The ending scenes had the potential to be very hokey and ineffective, but they delivered quite nicely. This earned a thumbs up from RexandtheBeast.com.

American Horror Story
This might have been one of the most detailed and well-planned mazes of the entire haunt. Rex and I were at a disadvantage since neither of us have seen the television program (who has time to watch TV?!) Nevertheless, the quality of this house was on display and it seemed to capture the essence of the series quite well. There were some good scares, and the clown Twisty with the massive smile was definitely creepy. Still yet, perhaps because of our ignorance of the show, Rex and I walked out of the maze somewhat indifferent about what we had just experienced.

The Walking Dead
For what seems like the 27th year in a row, HHN has brought back The Walking Dead for one of their haunted houses. This particular maze was a “best of” the previous year’s efforts, which led to two nice things. First, the best scares were on display and it provided some great entertainment. The dark strobe room with multiple zombies slowly attacking still scared the pants off me. Second, perhaps this was their way of saying goodbye to the franchise for a while. We can only hope.

Tomb of the Ancients
Rex and I walked into this maze prepared to be blown away because of the rave reviews we read on Twitter. Well, we just didn’t get it. For me, it felt like I was walking through a beefed up Kong queue with a few scareactors. It was well designed to be sure, but not worth the excitement that had been generated. This was our disappointment of the event.

Lunatics Playground 3D
Although Rex enjoyed it a bit more than I did, this maze goes down as the worst I have experienced at HHN during my 14-year run. I found virtually nothing about it to be compelling or effective. A staff member kept announcing, “this is the best house in the park” while folks were walking by, which of course is a clue that it is really the worst. Which it was.

Show Reviews:

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Look, here’s the deal – either Rex and I are just too old or the show has disintegrated over the years into a pile of vomit, or both. We left vowing to take a few years off from Bill and Ted. It was that bad.

Academy of Villains:  House of Fear
Where Bill and Ted disappointed, the Academy of Villains far exceeded expectations. Like “Tomb of the Ancients,” this was receiving spectacular reviews online, but this time, they were warranted. I was moved, inspired, and enthralled during the performance. If anyone in the audience was toying with the idea of pursuing dance as a career, this show would push them over the edge. Incredible stuff.

Scarezones:
Without additional comments, here are my rankings of scarezones for this year.

Dead Man’s Wharf
Vamp ’55
Survive or Die
A Chance In Hell
Lair of the Banshee

Overall, Halloween Horror Nights 26 was a solid outing and a lot of fun. Still though, it seemed to lack some of the magic from previous HHN experiences and I have some thoughts on why that might be. I’ll write about those in another article. To read my review of The Repository, an upcharge event at HHN 26, click here.

 

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Review: The Repository at Halloween Horror Nights

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Review: The Repository at Halloween Horror Nights

Rex and I were initially skeptical of the virtual reality upcharge attraction called “The Repository” at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL. After all, we had yet to experience a VR attraction that did not leave us nauseated and frustrated. But hey, this was Halloween Horror Nights – surely this would not be your average, run-of-the-mill, cheapo VR gimmick in order to make a few more bucks…right?

Absolutely right. We were thrilled with the experience.

It all began by exiting Universal Studios to find the entrance to the Blue Man Group where The Repository attraction was located. In all of our years attending the Universal Orlando Resort, we had never made the walk back into the Blue Man Group area, so this was new territory for us. A small sign pointed us in the right direction and we were led into a medium sized room about thirty minutes before our scheduled time.

We were escorted to a round table – number five to be exact – where a few other folks were already sitting and reading a piece of paper in front of them. When we sat down, we realized the paper was a liability form we had to sign and soon learned that the scareactors in The Repository were able to touch you – something that is a big no-no over in the HHN mazes. Along the wall of the room were posters sitting on various easels that described historical items and events of a supernatural or grotesque nature. It was actually quite a bit of reading, and we were hoping this wasn’t material that needed to be memorized! A chalice laced with arsenic, a skull of a pirate that is cursed, a series of bells that are accompanied by ghosts, and so forth.

Finally, it was time for us to begin. We were given only one instruction…only one. If you get sick, lift up both of your hands. That’s it. That’s all we knew about The Repository.

I am going to refrain from writing specific spoilers about the attraction because that would ruin the fun. So, without giving too much away, here is what happened next… 

We were led into a detailed room with two live scareactors waiting on us. From the first second of the experience, it was game on. I discovered very quickly that attentiveness would be absolutely key to surviving The Repository. The “host” of the first room was an excellent actor but talked incredibly fast. The soundtrack playing in the room was quite loud, so the microphone the scareactor was wearing barely allowed his voice to raise above the music, and even then it was difficult to hear. But that might have been intentional. Were we supposed to hear everything he was saying? Hard to say.

There were 10 of us in the room divided into three teams. Our team was the “green team” and as we found out, “green always goes first,” so off we went into the next room with a new host. Again, the acting was very good and there was a small, simple puzzle to solve in this room, although for timing purposes, the host did not really even let us be “stumped” as he pointed out the answers just as soon as he asked the questions.

2016-10-03-20-58-04

We were probably 10 minutes into the experience at this point and the big question still remained – what the heck were we supposed to do? No clue.

Off to the next room with a female host this time dressed in riot gear. Again, she was a great actor and the room was beautifully detailed. At this point, each member of the team was holding a different colored light and were picking up on the idea that we were supposed to remember the order of colors. Now keep in mind, we had still heard no mention of virtual reality, headsets, or anything. We knew very little, but we were still having a blast.

And then it happened – we were taken into a square room that seemed to have padded walls. Rex and I were told to stand back to back. Headsets were placed over our heads and earphones were placed on us. Not to beat a dead horse, but we had no clue – absolutely no clue – what was about to happen.

With our headsets securely in place, everything faded to white (which in the horror genre typically means you have entered into the afterlife) and then the first “scene” appeared right in front of our eyes. It was a library/study. The virtual reality was incredible and I wasted probably 15 seconds just standing in awe of what I was seeing. I could even see Rex through my VR headset, albeit he was a freaky looking mask character surrounded by a flame.

I started to see some of the images and colors we were instructed to look for, but still didn’t know what was going on or what I was doing. For a moment I thought I had to figure out how to survive as ghosts and grim reaper looking specters started closing in on me. But then I realized it wasn’t a matter of surviving as much as it was observing and memorizing patterns. But I didn’t even know how to process what I was seeing. It was sensory overload, but in a good way.

After three different scenes of virtual reality, including a rather terrifying stage where I was perched on top of a high tower and the floor was collapsing beneath me, the headsets were taken off and we were swept into the final room. Our task was to arrange 6 colors in the proper order. Do you remember the piano playing scene in the classic 1985 film “The Goonies?” This final scene reminded me of that. If we got the order incorrect, we were blasted with smoke and had to try again. Our time limit was two minutes and unfortunately, we didn’t survive.

We were then given a sticker for our effort and led to an outside gathering area to discuss with our team what went wrong. That was part of the fun as we talked about the things we should have done and attempted to make sense of what just happened.

So, the question of all questions is this – was The Repository worth the $50 upcharge to an already expensive Halloween Horror Nights experience? RexandtheBeast.com believes it was absolutely worth it. Here are my pros and cons of the attraction:

  • PROS
    Wonderful actors who never broke character and helped immerse you into the thrill of the experience.
    Beautifully designed sets and superb attention to detail.
    Outstanding virtual reality, the best I have ever seen by a long shot.
    A tension-filled climatic final scene that gets your heart racing.
  • CONS
    My biggest complaint is the incorporation of the Repository items (such as the aforementioned chalice, skull, etc) into the objective of the virtual reality game. Although I understand the desire to keep things mysterious, I felt that the underlying story and the objective of our mission were not defined clearly enough. It required lots of hindsight conversation with multiple team members to try and discern all the various information, and even then we still aren’t sure how everything pieced together. Again, it would be equally disappointing if everything was completely clear and nothing was left to the skill of the team to figure out the mission, but too much was left unknown for us to fully appreciate the backstory and its incorporation into the attraction as a whole.

At the end of the day, it seems The Repository ultimately came down to figuring out the order of 6 colors through three virtual reality scenes. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not complaining because the experience from beginning to end was thrilling and fulfilling. This is not really a “haunted” attraction in the sense of traditional “jump scares” and those kinds of things, but felt more like an “escape game” with live actors and superb virtual reality. If spending an extra $50 is within your means, then RexandtheBeast.com recommends The Repository as a unique, fun, thrilling experience that will be one of your favorite memories at Halloween Horror Nights 26. We have tried upcharge attractions at haunted events before (for example, the “Alone” experience at Howl-O-Scream) and this has been our favorite upcharge experience to date. As with anything, it is not without its faults, but for the first year, we were certainly impressed. Rex and I hope to see them again – next time we will be ready.

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Lunchtime with Rex and the Beast – A New Podcast

Posted by on Aug 20, 2016 in Articles, Audio Journeys Podcast

Lunchtime with Rex and the Beast – A New Podcast

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In case you haven’t noticed, Rex and I have been recording a new kind of podcast we are calling “Lunchtime with Rex and the Beast.” Rex and I speak on the phone almost every day and talk about theme park news, but we don’t have time to officially podcast for 30-40 minutes. So, we decided to start recording our phone conversations that take place usually around lunchtime and let you get a sneak peak into our thoughts. These are unscripted and are just our thoughts as we chat. We hope you enjoy these shorter, more off the cuff podcasts! To listen, go over to our podcasts page.

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Three Ways To Ruin A Haunted House

Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Three Ways To Ruin A Haunted House

The haunting season is almost here (well, 4 months is pretty close anyway). Occasionally RexandtheBeast.com likes to help haunted house guests experience the most out of a haunted attraction, and the best way to do that is to avoid three massive mistakes. As a reminder, here they are again for your consideration.

1. Do Not Talk Back/Get Snarky/Provoke The Scareactors.
We have all been with “that person” who talks during the entire walk through of a haunted house, and usually directs their annoying verbiage toward an actor in the house. For me personally, this is the single greatest distraction when experiencing a haunt. The problems are multi-faceted. The first issue is how screaming back at an actor just makes a person look like a buffoon. And if you are prone to do this kind of thing, then you probably are. Second, this kind of action is many times a way to mask what is actual fear on the part of the guest. If you can yell back and “prove” you are not scared, then maybe you will feel better about yourself. Third, mocking the actors is just rude and disrespects those who work hard in a hot environment for our enjoyment. I think you can usually ascertain the personality of a person pretty quickly if they fall into this category. And it aint good.

2. Do Not Resist Being Scared.
Haunted houses these days are nothing short of spectacular. Even the local haunts have become incredibly detailed and very high quality. Obviously, the haunts at an event like Halloween Horror Nights are just off the charts in terms of quality, planning, and storytelling. Some haunts are even more concerned with the look and feel of the house than they are the scares themselves. For these reasons, it is very easy in today’s haunted attraction market to let yourself experience the atmosphere as if you were really in that particular environment. Even if you are a person who does not scare easy, all haunted house guests should let their guard down and allow the maze to have its full, intended effect on us. Why in the world would a person pay money to convince themselves the whole thing is fake and there is no reason to be scared? RexandtheBeast.com have been through hundreds of haunted houses. We have fun in every one of them because we let ourselves “be” in the environment.

3. Do Not Judge A House Based On Jump Scares Alone.
For the average haunted house guest, an attraction is only as good as the number of times they jumped in fear. We must be willing to move past that one evaluation point when considering the effectiveness of a haunt. To be certain, jumps and scares are important elements of a haunted house, but as I mentioned in point 2, today’s market is saturated with incredible storytelling and details that are jaw dropping. In a very similar way, a horror movie should not be critiqued only by the number of times the film actually scared you. There is so much more to the storytelling of a horror film that transcends simple scares, as important as those are. Mazes like the ones at Halloween Horror Nights really require multiple walkthroughs in order to begin to pick up on all the various details of the haunt and the flow of the story. So expand your thinking on why a house might be a very good house, even if it didn’t make you jump quite as much.

This year at Halloween Horror Night in Orlando, FL, Rex and I are planning on spending at least two nights at HHN for the purpose of soaking more and more in of the haunt as a whole, and also to experience various mazes more than one time. We believe this will help us enjoy the attractions more and give us a better foothold on which we can rate the houses.

Happy Haunting! RexandtheBeast.com – Join The Journey!

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“The Exorcist” Is Coming To HHN 26

Posted by on Apr 27, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

“The Exorcist” Is Coming To HHN 26

To the surprise of most Halloween Horror Nights fans, Universal Orlando released information during the month of April for two of the forthcoming HHN 26 mazes. One of those mazes will be The Exorcist, the legendary 1973 film directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty. Wow.

These are deep waters for Universal Orlando. I have been attending HHN every year since 2003 and I cannot remember a maze that will have dealt directly and specifically with such an acutely religious demonic possession theme. I mean, sure, every haunted house has an element of the spiritual and supernatural attached to it, but “Demon Cantina” from HHN15 and “Hades” from HHNXX hardly compare to the serious minded, intellectually driven nature of The Exorcist.

A little background…

Roman Polanski’s 1969 smash hit Rosemary’s Baby brought something disturbingly fresh to the cinematic world of horror; a mainstream film centered around religion and the occult. At the time, movies tended to be either belligerent or overly sentimental concerning the topic of religion, but Rosemary’s Baby changed the landscape. For the first time, author William Peter Blatty pondered whether his idea for an exorcism story might actually find an audience. But there was something markedly different about Blatty. Unlike Polanski who was an agnostic Jew, Blatty had given himself to faith as a young man and took a theology class at Georgetown University where he heard about a real life demonic possession story, even going as far to track down the priest involved with the exorcism to learn more. Blatty enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby, but took issue with the cliched “glowing eyes” ending, thinking that Polanski dismissed any credibility of a serious minded religious film and instead opted for another horror freak show that pointed to nothing greater than itself.

This was an important topic for Blatty and he desired to make the possessed girl, Regan, only a tool by which the devil could attack the real star of the film – faith itself. Father Karras isn’t sure of himself or his religion, but is forced to deal with it face to face. That is what makes The Exorcism a movie for the ages.

Friedkin and Blatty ended up having some disagreements over the direction of the film, as Friedkin wanted to keep things morally ambivalent and hype up the gore elements, while Blatty pushed for a clear explanation, a la the ending of Psycho, for how faith won in the end. But even with Friedkin’s ambiguity, The Exorcist packs a much bigger punch than the just the famous spinning head and vomiting scenes.

So, what does this mean for the HHN26 maze? Well, probably not much. It’s a haunted house, so what can you do? Director for Creative Development, Michael Aiello, provided some insight into how the HHN team would be approaching The Exorcist maze. He said, “…translating The Exorcist presented us with many unique tests and questions. One big question was, ‘How do you adapt a film where most of the story takes place in a single bedroom?’ The answer we landed on was first to break down and assess all the visuals and moments from the film. Piece together every moment within that bedroom and examine why it was intense, scary or even vile. What textures can we reconstruct differently, sometimes in an incredibly abstract way?”

He then goes on to describe an example of how they might tell the story in an “abstract way.” He says, “The famous ‘pea soup’ scene for instance. What if we were surrounded in the materials of the retch-covered bed? What if those layers of mattress padding literally enveloped us? And let’s be honest, traversing through a vomit-covered bed is pretty horrifying and disgusting by itself. Now add a possessed girl into the mix!”

This makes sense, of course! For a Halloween Horror Nights maze, this makes perfect sense. Notice the words Aiello uses to describe their process for creating the maze: “visuals, intense, scary, vile, abstract, horrifying, disgusting.” Everything fans like us want! But still yet, those were just the tools necessary in the film to tell a much deeper, much scarier story.

My greatest fear is that The Exorcist maze, because it will be nearly impossible to capture the intellectual and faith tension of the film in a haunted house, might simply become a super exaggerated display of already exaggerated imagery from the film. Will we be placed in a spinning room and made to think we are inside Regan’s head? That is the kind of thing I could see HHN doing, in line with Aiello’s aforementioned “pea soup” example. This maze has the potential of feeling like “Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare” of HHN22, where we we “journeyed inside Alice Cooper’s twisted mind.”

But count me among those who are excited to experience this! If anyone can pull it off, the creative team for HHN-Orlando most certainly can, and you better believe that Rex and I will be ready and willing to be a part of the carnage. RexandtheBeast.com – Join The Journey!

*For a wonderful history of modern horror, I recommend “Shock Value” by Jason Zinoman. 

 

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Star Wars Land In Light Of The Force Awakens

Posted by on Jan 2, 2016 in Articles, Disney World

Star Wars Land In Light Of The Force Awakens

Last August I wrote this opinion piece on the announcement of ‘Star Wars Land’ at the Walt Disney World Resort. I provided a few reasons why I was “pumped” at the announcement and a few reasons why I was “not pumped.” In light of the jaw-dropping success of The Force Awakens, I think my primary concern for the “not pumped” position is even stronger.

The single biggest concern for me in the announcement of Star Wars Land was the enormity of newness. Here are my words from August 18, 2015:

To be a mega-fan of the Star Wars franchise inherently means to have fallen in love with the places, the imagery, and the atmosphere of the films. For me, the primary motivation for creating a 14 acre land themed to one of the most beloved films in the history of cinema is the ability to place die-hard fans in the world they know and love. Creating a “never-before-seen planet” kills a significant aspect of what SWL could be, but won’t be.

Although a minority are criticizing The Force Awakens for its duplication of so many elements from A New Hope, the reality is that a significant part of the film’s success has been because it was conceived as a fan’s film. Millions of Star Wars fans like me are flipping out because we seeing familiar, beloved, and even comforting images in the context of a new film. J.J. Abrams is to be commended for an incredible film, but not necessarily commended for breaking new ground.

This is where I have to give George Lucas some real credit. Most Star Wars fans (I am NOT included) despise the second trilogy of films because they were such a departure from what we loved about Star Wars. But Lucas didn’t want to make another trilogy of what he had already accomplished. He wanted a different visual, different planets, different ships, and so forth. (Granted, much of the hate for the original trilogy is due to some horrific acting, but my point still stands).

I think Lucas would probably be rather pleased with the idea of Star Wars Land at Disney because they are breaking new ground with new planets, imagery, etc. But I wonder if die hard Star Wars fans would love the land a little more if J.J. Abrams was in charge of its construction.

Time will tell.

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The Beast Reviews HHN 25

Posted by on Oct 24, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

The Beast Reviews HHN 25

Halloween Horror Nights 25 has come and gone for RexandtheBeast.com. We look forward to attending HHN in Orlando, FL all year long and this trip was another great one. This article will deal exclusively with Halloween Horror Nights, but we had an epic trip in other ways as well, including a tremendous room at the Hilton Double Tree, a fantastic experience at The Escape Game on I-Drive, and trying out the Orlando Eye for the first time. But for now, on to Halloween Horror Nights.

Being the 25th anniversary of the event, RATB was of course expecting something special. It was no surprise that Jack was brought back on board as the event’s icon for this year, which is fine with me. I do not have a love for clowns as a general rule, but Jack is about as well done as you can get. Universal decided to release the details to most of the mazes at one time this year, and waited until pretty late to do so. Having said that, we were thrilled with the complete line up when all was revealed. All that was left was to get to the park and experience the event.

Annual Passholders Event

For the second year in a row Rex and I attended the Annual Passholders Event that allowed us to get into three mazes a bit earlier than the rest of the guests. This year we had access to The Walking Dead, The Purge, and Insidious. I remain uncertain about the Annual Passholders Event. We arrived a bit before the holding area opened (4:00 pm) and there was already a pretty good number of folks in line. We then stood in the sun and waited until 5:30 to get early access. We decided to try The Walking Dead first since it would empty us right at the entrance to The Purge, one of the two “tent houses” this year. We ended up waiting a good while for The Walking Dead, which means that by the time we were through the maze, we were already using our Express Passes for The Purge because the lines were already so long. Incredible.

The reason I am torn about the Passholders Event is because I feel to get the true benefit of the opportunity, we should be getting through all three mazes without the need of our Express Passes. Here’s the deal – for years Rex and I would time our “stay and scream” location so that we were sitting down and eating in Fennigans during the holding period (guests go to the location just to the side of Fennigans to stay and wait for HHN to open). Although it gets crowded in Fennigan’s, it is a wonderful tradition and much better than standing in the sun. Now, even though the Annual Passholders get early access to three mazes, starting at 5:30, Universal still released the normal holding areas around 5:45, a whopping 15 minutes difference. From the Finnegan’s location, we would immediately go to the soundstage houses and get one or two in before we need to start using Express Passes.

So, when you consider we lose the tradition of Finnegan’s, we stand in the sun, and we don’t get through the mazes without express passes, I’m just not sure that the Annual Passholder’s Event is really worth it.

Some Thoughts On Rating Houses

There are certain elements of Halloween Horror Nights that will always be special and exceptional. Simply being in Universal Studios late at night with the sounds of horror circling all around is enough to catapult this event to the top of any haunted experience on the planet. I imagine that Rex and I could simply purchase our tickets, stand in the center of the park for 2 hours and watch the carnage unfold without walking through a single maze and still give the experience a positive review. But, at the end of the day, the haunted houses (mazes) still trump everything else, so let’s go to those…

I will review the mazes in just a minute, but first let me share a few comments on how I approach these reviews.

  1. More than any other haunt I have attended, HHN mazes are completely dependent on timing. Because of the sheer number of people, HHN mazes do not have the luxury of “pulsing” people through the haunt. Thus, there is an always moving “conga” line of people walking through the attraction. This undoubtedly creates some problems. Whereas a local haunted house will pulse people through the scares in groups of 7-10, HHN always has a string of people walking through. Nonstop. All the time. It never ends. So, a local haunt can much, much, much better replicate the same scares for each group because they can reset and wait for the next group of people to come along. But at HHN, it is inevitable that some people will miss the scares because the line is always moving. This creates a significant open door for varied reviews of mazes, especially if someone only attends the event once (like we do).
  2. Rex and I believe that scareactors will learn and adapt to the atmosphere and direction of their house over time. Though it might not always be the case, a house will probably be stronger a few weeks into HHN than on opening weekend. Not always, but usually.
  3. For RATB, rating a maze is not as simple as adding up numbers in various areas of consideration. In other words, we do not give each maze a number rating for “scares” and a number rating for “atmosphere” and a number rating for “story” and then add up those numbers to determine the overall value of the maze. We believe there are simply too many subjective factors at play in a haunted house to use such a systematic approach. Haunted houses are kind of like poetry; they either move you or they don’t. In light of this, RATB does not believe there is a such thing as a “correct” review.
  4.  Nevertheless, RATB gives greater weight to reviews from folks who have attended the event multiple nights and have a greater possibility of seeing the various scares and elements of a house that might be missed with a single walk through. The flip side of this also has to be considered. By walking through a house multiple times, it is possible to become “numb” to the creativity and design of a maze and subsequently become more critical of the details, leading one to be unduly harsh and think less of the house than might have been thought through a single walk through.

Rating The Mazes for HHN 25

Let’s just get to it, shall we? Here are my rankings of the 2015 HHN mazes from least favorite to most favorite.

9. The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead
Although you can count me among the many who are tired of seeing The Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights, I nevertheless thought last year’s TWD maze was fantastic. I came to this year’s zombie themed maze tired of the franchise, but open minded. After all, at the end of the day, we are talking about zombies here. But, HHN finally ran out of ideas. This was the weakest maze I have ever experienced at HHN, and I have been attending since 2003. Most of the scares, especially during the first half of the maze, could be recreated at a 1982 roller skating rink haunted house. Strobe lights, jump scares, and dark hallways. Incredibly disappointing.

8. Asylum in Wonderland 3D
As far as 3D mazes go, this was a great one. I think the effects were some of the best I have seen and it was disorienting to say the least. But, 3D mazes are not my thing and this one, almost by default, was destined to be pretty low on the list. Rex is much more interested in classic fairy tales turned upside down, but I have not enjoyed the concept near as much. Why do 3D mazes always have themes that fit so nicely with 3D (clowns, Alice in Wonderland, etc)? Why not try a 3D maze themed to a original story of a brutal serial killer, or something like that?

7. Run: Blood, Sweat, and Fears
I was really excited about this maze because I enjoy the backstory and the concept as a whole. I was doubly excited about seeing Hellgate Prison be the backdrop of the game show RUN. Unfortunately, apart from being back in the prison, there wasn’t much here to brag about. Walking past the various kill zones and mayhem is a great idea, but it seemed lackluster and missing something. I was expecting to have this maze higher on my list.

6. American Werewolf In London
If you loved the 2013 version of this maze, you will love this one. The puppets have to be the single greatest prop to any HHN maze of all time and the flow of the maze is beautiful. Love it.

5. Freddy vs. Jason
This house had some unbelievably great elements. How can you not be pumped about the theme of two horror legends going face to face? Walking into camp crystal lake at the beginning of the maze was a special treat, surpassed only by the surreal and incredibly creepy entrance to the Elm Street house, complete with two little girls just outside the house who will scare your socks off. There were a ton of Jason’s in this maze (too many perhaps?) and strangely, the house utilized video projection screens toward the final half. They looked cool enough, but since HHN mazes are a conga line, you can’t stop and see what the heck is going on with the video. Thus, I’m not a huge fan of something that requires you to camp out a little while to get the full effect. Still, this was a beauty of a maze and a great addition to HHN 25.

4. Body Collectors
My rankings from this point on could really be in any order. I think each of the remaining houses could easily be a number 1 house for this event. Body Collectors is a special blend of beauty and gore. The facade to this maze is absolutely stunning, with a frozen, snow laced sanitarium awaiting those who dare to enter. Some of the classic scares from previous Body Collectors were in tact, such as the ripping of the spinal cord from a screaming girl’s body. Being inside Shadybrook gave me a warm feeling all over, but the horrors and gore were everywhere. Terrific maze that I hope will continue to be a franchise player in future HHN events.

3. Insidious
The creep factor is through the roof on this maze, combined with some genuine scares. I was terrified after seeing the baby monitor on the side table as you enter the haunt (that scene in the original film scared me to death). Again, some beautiful imagery was to be found throughout this maze and in terms of jumps and scares alone, this maze comes in second for the event. The only thing I found lacking was that the facade was clearly a rehash of the Myers house from 2014 and even some of the rooms seemed to be modified from last year’s maze in this tent. Nevertheless, this is a major thumbs up.

2. The Purge
Non-stop carnage and confusion. This was one of the most active and violent houses I have ever seen (not to mention loud). Not overly themed and prop oriented, this one is all about the terror of feeling violated and threatened in a no-law zone. The alarm at the beginning of the maze signaling the purge got my blood pumping. And most of all, this was the first maze where I ever witnessed a plant used effectively – Rex and I were freaking out. We have never seen a haunted house effectively use a plant before. For whatever reason, hardcore HHN fans are down on this maze apparently because it was originally scheduled to be a Scream maze. But who cares? I thought for certain The Purge was going to be my favorite of the night, until….

1. Monsters and Mayhem
So much fun and so scary, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This would be a great maze for any haunted house fan, but if you have any history with Halloween Horror Nights at all, this one will have you screaming in the hallways. Since Rex and I have been attending HHN since 2003, we were able to recognize almost every throwback in this maze, although there were still several things we had never seen before. But by far was the special scene from Castle Vampyr, which causes Rex and I to briefly stop for a moment of reflection and awe. I wish we would have had time to walk through this one a second time.

Scarezones are a fun part of HHN every year. Here were my rankings this year.

5. Scary Tales ScreamPunk
It seems the scarezone toward the entrance of the park is never one of the better ones, and this year was no exception. This just didn’t do it for me.

4. Evil’s Roots
A staple of HHN, this zone is decked out in jack-o-lanterns, fog, and things that go bump in the night. Always a good zone.

3. All Nite Die In
I think this small location outside of the old Disaster attraction makes it difficult for any scare zone, but they did the best with what they had. I enjoyed seeing some old characters from the films of yesteryear.

2. Icons
Interesting idea – various icons from past years have their own little booth and will do interactive elements with onlooking guests. I enjoyed it.

1. Psychoscareapy
Generally the best location for a scarezone, this one had lots of roaming psycho patients who did a good job creating a unique personality. Tons of fun.

Neither Rex nor I are huge show guys, but we did catch Jack’s carnage show, which was fun, but we missed Bill and Ted’s this year. But let’s face it, we are primarily there for the mazes and I thought this year was a solid outing for HHN. As usual, we are already interested in what might happen next year!

To see our photo collection from HHN 25, click here.

 

 

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 20

Posted by on Sep 16, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 20

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14
HHN 15
HHN 16
HHN 17
HHN 18
HHN 19

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 20: Horror Nights: The Hallow’d Past – Halloween Horror Nights
There were a couple of great houses this year, including Legendary Truth: Wyandot Estate, the Beast’s favorite–a house I loved as well, but my favorite was the Hallow’d Past. I enjoyed seeing a lot of the history of HHN but it wasn’t just a nostalgia house, there were plenty of scares as well. If there was any negative about this house, it was it was so packed with information, props, etc., that it was impossible to see it all in one or two walkthroughs–but if you are going to have a negative, what a great negative to have!

The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 20:  Legendary Truth:  Wyandot Estate
This was a classic ghost story haunted house done to perfection. The scenes were beautiful, including some gorgeous lightning effects in the conservatory room. The ghosts with their simple but highly effective lights up faces perfectly fit the atmosphere of the haunt. I loved this house and we went through it twice in one night to make sure it was as great as we thought – it was.

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 19

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 19

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14
HHN 15
HHN 16
HHN 17
HHN 18

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 19: Silver Screams
This is getting old (picking the same favorites)! I guarantee HHN 20 will see different houses chosen! For review/analysis, see the Beast’s comments below!

The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 19:  Silver Screams
Silver Screams is in my top 3 mazes of all time for Halloween Horror Nights and clearly my favorite for HHN 19. Everything about this haunt was perfect – especially the opening effect of the Universal Palace Theatre disintegrating into a dilapidated, haunted theatre right before our eyes. There was a aura of “old school” with this haunt with the very noticeable vignettes from various horror films, and yet it was perfectly modernized in the way only Universal can. A major, major thumbs up.

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 18

Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 18

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14
HHN 15
HHN 16
HHN 17

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 18: Scary Tales: Once Upon a Nightmare

This is one of my favorite houses of all time. There was just something awesome about taking the classic fairy tales and turning them on their heads.  Universal has done this many times, but I felt this house really did it well. I was genuinely disturbed by some of the images. I have never forgotten Cinderella’s stumps dripping blood as I walked by. Very intense. This is the kind of house that I feel really adds to the “horror” in Halloween Horror Nights, and I loved it. This was another year that the Beast didn’t make and it bums me out to no end that he missed this house.

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The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 18:  Unknown (Did not attend event)

 

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 17

Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 17

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14
HHN 15
HHN 16

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 17: PsychoScareapy: Home For The Holidays

I said last post that I am looking forward to my favorite houses and the Beast’s being different in some of these HHN favorite house choices…HHN 17 is not the year for that to happen! I liked Dead Silence and A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dreamwalkers, but PsychoScareapy: Home for the Holidays was my favorite. Great theming and like the Beast I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the holidays as well. This was a pretty good year overall.
The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 17:  PsychoScareapy: Home For The Holidays
By now you probably know that I am a huge fan of the PsychoScareapy series and this maze was my favorite. A van of insane people from Shadybrook crashes in a peaceful neighborhood during Christmas and the result is chaos. I loved the disturbing juxtaposition of typical Christmas traditions, that should be calming to us, with demented and gory images. Moving from one house to the other was done beautifully and the outside views of snow and holiday decoration were perfect. This maze is in my top 5 of all time.

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 16

Posted by on Sep 11, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 16

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14
HHN 15

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 16: Scream House: Resurrection
I am writing this after reading the Beast’s favorite maze, and we are now 3 for 3 in choosing our favorite houses (since the Beast wasn’t at HHN 15). I don’t think this will last, but it is a bit of a statement of how the best houses from the “early” years of HHN clearly outshone the other houses. Scream House: Resurrection was that house for HHN 16. Oddly, what I seem to remember most from that year was the Scarezones, which does not happen many other (if any) HHNs. I do have one of the great “Sweet 16” shirts with the cutoff finger for the candle!

The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 16:  Scream House: Resurrection
HHN 16 was not one of the stronger years in terms of mazes. Although my favorite franchise, PyschoScareapy, was back in play, I didn’t enjoy this year’s offering as much primarily because they blended Jack and Shadybrook. Run was a good maze with a good premise, but the maze I remember most belonged to The Caretaker. Since I missed HHN 12 and the original Scream House, this was my encounter with The Caretaker and I found his presence to be eerie and effective. Plus, a mortuary is always a chilling location for bumps in the night.

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 15

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 15

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13
HHN14

Well, Halloween Horror Nights 15 was the first HHN that Rex and the Beast were not able to attend together. The Beast had some other important life events, so Rex went with the third sibling of the family, their sister, Melissa and her husband, Andy.

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 15: Body Collectors

This was a bit of a strange year for a number of reasons (including the lack of the Beast being there), but I did enjoy Demon Cantina and, because our sister enjoyed it so much, I had a good time with the Skool, but Body Collectors was on another level this year with the harvesting of body parts (some happening a little early!) and awesome atmosphere.  And, we will be seeing a little more of the Body Collectors at HHN 25!

The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 15: Who Knows? Slacker missed the event!

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 14

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 14

Rex and the Beast are recalling our favorite mazes from past HHN events as we get closer to our arrival in Orlando on September 17.

Click the event to see our previous favorite mazes:
HHN 13


Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 14: Castle Vampyr
In what will be the biggest landslide of any year, Castle Vampyr wins for HHN 14. The Beast and I have discussed how HHN 13 and HHN 14 seemed to be a fulcrum for the explosion of Halloween Horror Nights into what it has become–the premier Halloween event in the country hands down. Castle Vampyr was part of fueling that explosion. It is the number one house most talked about by HHN aficionados in reverent tones yet today.

 

The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 14:  Castle Vampyr
What is possibly the best house in Halloween Horror Nights history, Castle Vampyr is a no-brainer for HHN 14. Although this event had several strong mazes, including Horror In Wax and Hellgate Prison, nothing comes close to Castle Vampyr. I remember being stunned as we exited the maze and some 11 years later, the house still holds its own.

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Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 13

Posted by on Sep 7, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

Our Favorite Maze – Halloween Horror Nights 13

Rex and I arrive in Orlando, FL for Halloween Horror Nights 25 on Thursday, September 17. Every day until our arrival, we will post our favorite maze from every year of HHN, starting with the first year we attended, HHN 13 (2003). Because there have been so many superb houses over the years, some events are more difficult to pick one definitive favorite. But, that is part of the fun. So, enjoy!

Rex’s Favorite Maze From HHN 13: Psycho Scareapy
Memories flood back when thinking of HHN 13, our first Halloween Horror Nights.  And although I have a very strong affinity for All Nite Die-In (I loved the general feel of the Director and the “Die-In” from that house) and for Screamhouse Revisited (more of a classic haunted house), it is impossible not to pick Psycho Scareapy as the favorite.  I don’t think this is quite as much of a slam dunk for me as it is for the Beast, but the sights, the sounds and the smells of Psycho Scareapy make it #1 from our first HHN year. “Do you want to be in pictures?” HHN 13; Loved it, and it started a tradition that continues to this day!

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The Beast’s Favorite Maze From HHN 13:  Psycho Scareapy
2003 marked my first Halloween Horror Nights event and picking my favorite maze from this first year is tricky. The first maze I ever walked into was All Nite Die-In, which was also the icon house for the year (The Director). I remember so clearly the big white screen where the “drive in” was showing the films and The Director came launching at us from behind the screen. But, it is Psycho Scareapy that gets my vote. First, this house turned into a franchise that remains my favorite series of houses for HHN, but more important, the maze left several distinct impressions with me. Perhaps the most important is the reality based smells of this house, for who can forget the bathroom scene that made all of us want to puke from the odor? I have been in several “insane asylum” themed houses over the years, but nothing comes close the PS series, and this first entry was a beauty.

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Giveaway: Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando

Posted by on Aug 21, 2015 in Articles, Universal Studios Florida

Giveaway: Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando

As many of you are well aware, our buddy Seth Kubersky has written a great new book about Universal Orlando entitled The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. We are going to have Seth on an Audio Journeys Podcast shortly to discuss the book, and items related to Universal Orlando.

seth

So, as part of that process, we are going to offer you a chance to win a free copy of Seth’s book, The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando.

All you need to do is contact us below with the subject line “I Want My Seth Kubersky!” (we and Seth are old enough to get that joke!):  [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Subject’ type=’text’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form]

We will then enter you into a drawing for a free copy of Seth’s book (you must live in the United States or Canada).  The winner will be announced on August 31.

So, watch for our Podcast with Seth the week of August 24th and make sure to tell us “I Want My Seth Kubersky!”

Thanks, and Join the Journey with RexandtheBeast.com!

 

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The Beast’s Thoughts On Star Wars Land

Posted by on Aug 18, 2015 in Articles, Disney World

The Beast’s Thoughts On Star Wars Land

I suppose it is somewhat difficult to express a multitude of thoughts and opinions on a topic for which there is very little content. As everyone knows by now, The Walt Disney Company recently announced the forthcoming arrival of the Star Wars universe to both the California and Florida parks. The announcement provided some concept art for the new Star Wars themed land and a very brief description of two key attractions – a Millennium Falcon ride and a second ride that “puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”

So, is The Beast Pumped or Not Pumped about this announcement? Here are my initial thoughts:

PUMPED
There are plenty of excellent reasons for being extremely pumped up about this announcement. First, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I do not follow the so-called “extended universe,” which means I don’t read the books, watch the animated Clone Wars series, and so forth. But when it comes to the movies, especially the original trilogy, I know them inside and out. Thus, I would be hard pressed to think of another film franchise that could elicit as much anticipatory elation within me as Star Wars. So at the raw emotional level, I am most definitely pumped!

Second, I believe in Disney. We at RexandtheBeast.com do not turn a blind eye to shortcomings at either Walt Disney World or the Universal Orlando Resort, but we are most certainly not haters. We root for both companies because, frankly, we want both to succeed in bringing theme park fans like us great attractions for the rest of our lives. Although it is undoubtedly true that Star Wars Land would not be announced as a 14 acre solitary IP land without the enormous success of Universal’s Harry Potter “lands”, it is equally true that Universal Studios would not be where they are today without the vision and precedent of a man named Walt Disney. Both are great resorts, both have great parks, both have world-class attractions, and both know what they are doing. In other words, I give Disney’s Imagineers the benefit of the doubt on this announcement – I am confident they will deliver a jaw dropping experience.

Third, the concept art is beautiful. So beautiful in fact that hardcore theme park fans, including Universal Orlando lovers, were virtually unanimous in their celebratory comments about the concept art. To put it mildly, when our Twitter feed is 90% positive about a recent theme park announcement, especially one as big as this, it signals something very special has happened. Negativity seems to dwell among theme park twitter feeds, but not on the day of this announcement, and it was fun to watch.

NOT-PUMPED
One little phrase in the SWL announcement caught my eye, caused my heart to sink, and cut my confidence in half. The line describes the nature of the planet on which park guests will be thrust into the Star Wars world. It says, “these new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport guests to a whole new Star Wars planet…” (emphasis mine). In another paragraph, the wording is similar and says, “Ambitious plans to bring Star Wars to life in the two parks include creating Disney’s largest single-themed land expansions ever at 14-acres each, transporting guests to a never-before-seen planet…”(emphasis mine). For me, this is troubling. To be a mega-fan of the Star Wars franchise inherently means to have fallen in love with the places, the imagery, and the atmosphere of the films. For me, the primary motivation for creating a 14 acre land themed to one of the most beloved films in the history of cinema is the ability to place die-hard fans in the world they know and love. Creating a “never-before-seen planet” kills a significant aspect of what SWL could be, but won’t be.

In my opinion, one of the reasons The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley work so well for Universal is because fans actually make the walk through the hidden entrance to Diagon Alley, an entrance they know so well, and can now actually see, touch, smell, and taste the very place they have imagined in the books and saw on film. We are there in person! We get to go in the actual wand shop, see the actual castle, be amazed at the actual bank, and sneak into the actual dark places. How effective would both Harry Potter lands at Universal be if Universal Creative designed two never before seen Harry Potter locations? Answer: Not nearly as effective.

When I look at the concept art for SWL, I am impressed by it’s beauty as I’ve already mentioned. But take away the picture of the Millennium Falcon and the fact that C-3PO is standing around and I would have NO IDEA this is a Star Wars themed area. No idea at all! As a matter of fact, the concept art without the addition of those Star Wars ships and characters could easily be confused for a portion of Avatar Land, or anything else for that matter. However, go to Universal and you will immediately know where you are because you have already been there – in your imagination and in the theater. As a matter of fact, J.K. Rowling will not allow character meet and greets with “Harry” and others because there is only one Harry. So, the way you know you are in the world of Harry Potter is not by a guy waving at you and saying, “Hi, I’m Harry Potter,” but rather because it is the real deal, the real place, the world you are familiar with.

In my opinion, this will dramatically lessen the impact of SWL, at least for me. I’ve seen a few tweets from fans discussing the cantina that is mentioned in the SWL announcement, hoping and praying that it will be themed similar to the Mos Eisley Cantina in Episode IV, a heart-warming place with heart-warming music. They want that because we want to experience what we know and love.

Can Disney overcome this issue? Yes, absolutely. As Tim Cappello so powerfully reminds us, I Still Believe.  But it does take more faith.

Lastly, I’m confused by the timing of the announcement. Whereas Universal will announce a major new attraction or land and have that sucker built within 2-3 years, Disney seems to be doing a very similar thing they did with Avatar Land; making a huge announcement that has no hope of being completed within 5 years. Perhaps the pressure from Disney fans that has been applied from Universal’s seemingly endless array of ground breaking attractions and resort additions caused Disney to make a premature announcement in order to silence the troops. But boy, it sure seems like a long way off.

I want to end on a positive note and say once again how excited I am about the prospect of SWL. I think what we know now and what we will see then might be two very different things. But I’m thrilled to see Disney make such an exciting and potentially game changing announcement, even though I’m concerned it might be only a fraction of what it could have been.

May the force be with Disney. And with us all.

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Amusement Parks in the Sky

Posted by on Aug 11, 2015 in Articles, Parks

Amusement Parks in the Sky

I had the opportunity this past weekend to drop by what we refer to at RexandtheBeast.com as one of the Amusement Parks in the Sky–Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. My family had spent the weekend in Aspen and on the drive back to Denver you go through Glenwood Springs (where Doc Holliday is buried and partook of the hot springs for his tuberculosis before his death). Since my son was old enough to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the park, we decided to hit it on the way back.

Now, the concept of Amusement Parks in the Sky is probably familiar to most of you. Perhaps the most famous is Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Although it has fallen upon hard times, hopefully it will return in the 2016 operating season, although I am not holding my breath. But, the idea here is an amusement park is built up on a mountain and, usually, you ride a sky lift, gondola or mountain tram to get up to the park.  In our case, it is a small triple-action gondola.

Gondola

Then, once you get to the top, there is invariably a western theme of some sort, along with various attractions built to take advantage of the views and the mountain on which the park is built. We love these types of parks, which are sort of a step up from the classic old roadside attractions.

So at Glenwood Caverns, the first thing we did was interact with Doc Holliday and Kid Curry themselves. I am holding a Winchester 1873 Carbine and a Model 1897 Shotgun in this picture, which according to them are the most photographed guns in the world! Pretty menacing, don’t you think!

doc

Then after we enjoyed a number of the rides at the park, including a small family coaster, it was time to check out part of what the park is known for: Caverns. Although they aren’t quite as extensive as some of the caverns you can see in the south and the southwest, it was still pretty neat, and my son really enjoyed them!

caros

But in addition to giving you a little trip report, I wanted to remind you not to forget about these hidden gems located throughout the country. Everything doesn’t have to be a Universal Studios or a Walt Disney World. The Glenwood Springs Caverns, the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, Ghost Town in the Sky, Silver Dollar City, Hauntings….if you get an opportunity to experience them, do so, because they bring an interest and excitement that is unique in the amusement park world. In addition to some ok rides and attractions, you get a look back to what attractions were like before the large corporations took over everything, and that nostalgia factor can be a lot of fun.

Especially, when the Amusement Parks in the Sky can give you views like this (our view while eating lunch!):

view

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Lightning Rod At Dollywood – Perfection

Posted by on Aug 9, 2015 in Articles, Dollywood

Lightning Rod At Dollywood – Perfection

Dollywood continues to remind the theme park universe of her firmly established place as a dominant, innovative player with this recent announcement of Lightning Rod, the world’s fastest and first launching wooden coaster. I love everything about it.

The creative element at Dollywood has been hitting home runs for years now as it pertains to capturing the essence of a Great Smoky Mountains theme park that desires to stay relevant. Those two things are not an easy balance to strike. I’m not sure if atmosphere plays a more important role at any theme park in the country than it does at Dollywood, so getting the “feel” right of a new attraction is incredibly important. And yet, Dollywood has long ago set the record straight – this park will not sacrifice ingenuity to be a window of yesteryear. Somehow, Dollywood has managed to keep her guests planted in “down home charm” (taken straight from the Dollywood website) while also competing with, and at times outmatching, other world class thrill parks. It’s as if the guest is seeing the nostalgia of yesteryear through a contemporary window. And they are eating it up.

Enter Lightning Rod. The trailer is an absolutely perfect blend of the aforementioned elements. Where else can you seamlessly combine black and white footage of a “1950s era hot rod” and “elbow grease” with the worlds first and fastest wooden launch coaster? Unlike the Thunderbird winged coaster announced about this time last year at Holiday World, Lightning Rod fits absolutely perfect with Dollywood’s purpose.

The design also looks phenomenal. Launched from zero to 45 mph up more than 20 stories into a twin summit before heading back down the 165 drop is all I need to hear. WOW! Plus, the 90 degree overbanked turns look absolutely sick.

Lightning Rod will serve as a terrific partner with Thunderhead, one of the best wooden coasters on the planet. With Mystery Mine, Wild Eagle, and Tennessee Tornado providing the steel thrill element, Thunderhead now has a wooden brother that should compliment it nicely – different but similar.

I suppose it may be getting tiring to hear, but RexandtheBeast.com had already placed Dollywood very, very high on our top theme park destinations. With Dream More Resort and this forthcoming attraction, it just might be possible that Dollywood will continue to climb in our estimation – perhaps up 20 stories of fun.

 

 

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Vacation: Holiday Road

Posted by on Aug 6, 2015 in Articles

Vacation: Holiday Road

A couple of months ago, I was watching the new trailer for the Vacation movie that hit theaters last weekend. This is a sequel of sorts to the original series of Vacation movies in that Rusty, the son of Clark and Ellen Griswold, has grown up and decided to take his own family on a vacation to Walley World. After I finished watching the trailer, I called the Beast to express my concerns with what I had just seen.

The trailer seemed to show a movie that forgot what made the original Vacation (and, to a slightly lesser degree, Christmas Vacation) a classic movie. Now I was not bothered by the potential increase in vulgarity and sexual situations generally (the original Vacation was a National Lampoon production, rated R and plenty risqué for 1983), but because those issues were not being used in a broader context, which is the family dynamic, with a good, flawed father leading the way.

Clark Griswold in the original Vacation was a man that wanted nothing more than to give his family a vacation of a lifetime. There is no doubt how much he loves his family and how much they love him. That is the fulcrum around which all of the crazy situations, foul-mouth meltdowns and colossal screw-ups happen, which makes them all work in a comedic manner. The frustration Clark feels when the family isn’t as excited as he is to continue the vacation, and his confusion with his place in the family and growing older that leads to the Christy Brinkley scene in the pool–those are feelings we can all understand and empathize with, it’s just Clark takes them to a whole different level in how he reacts to them–hence the humor.

For anyone that grew up watching movies in the ’80s, this understanding of emotions and its importance in the pathos of Clark during the course of the cross-country trip can be understood when you hear the name of the main writer of the story and the screenplay–John Hughes. John Hughes knew what he was doing when he wrote about flawed people, the emotions surrounding them, and our love towards them–see The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Uncle Buck.  All of these movies are funny, but touching in how they deal with misfits, bad choices, life in general and its quirks in particular.

So, unfortunately it appears my initial concerns about the new Vacation were right, the reviews are terrible, it is plummeting down the box office totals, and will have no lasting impact unlike the original, that’s too bad. But I think the overriding difference can be summed up as follows:

At the end of the original Vacation, when Clark says to Roy Walley (a Roy/Walt Disney lookalike!), “Wouldn’t you do the same thing for your children.” and Roy says: “No.” But, then he goes ahead and drops all the charges and they ride the coaster together. One reason that seems to work is that we actually like Clark and his family and think Roy should too.  We would be happy to hang out at Walley World with those Griswolds.  I don’t believe that is true for Rusty and his family.

So, enjoy the Holiday Road and Six Flags Magic Mountain (standing in for Walley World), with the original Griswolds!

 

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The Kings Island Brady Bunch Relay

Posted by on Jul 31, 2015 in Articles, Kings Island

The Kings Island Brady Bunch Relay

Growing up, one of my favorite shows to watch after school was The Brady Bunch.

VIBE-Brady%20Bunch

And one of the classic episodes that even you younger whippersnappers in the theme park would probably remember is The Cincinnati Kids (although I bet many fewer of you have seen or even heard of the classic gambling movie that name is a play on–extra credit: recognize the actor at 3:09 in that clip talking to Steve McQueen from a Universal attraction?).

In The Cincinnati Kids, the Brady Bunch visits Kings Island, which at the time (1973) was one of the few top-level amusement parks in the country–and had the Racers, probably the number 1 roller coaster in the country at that time. The episode is awesome all the way through for its great shots of the early days of Kings Island to the classic clothes and hairstyles of the day.

But, I want to focus on one aspect of the episode, which is the Brady Bunch Relay through Kings Island at the end of the episode. First, a little background for you poor folks who have not seen the episode. Mike Brady brought design plans in a tube canister to deliver to some business prospects and in typically 70s farce fashion, a canister was misplaced and the Bradys had to search Kings Island trying to find the canister and plans before the business prospects had to leave.

A video of this part of the episode that I will reference in the rest of this article can be found here.

The first amazing thing you will notice is that Marsha and Jan are checking out the old timey cars to see if the canister was left in a car (0:17 of the video). But notice the lax security in 1973! Marsha and Jan are just walking next to the cars in the ride itself while the workers help people out of the vehicles. A similar issue is true with Alice on the spinning barrels at 0:41. Then we get a little look at the park, food and game options for Bobby, Cindy, Greg and Peter.

But then, Jan finds the canister in the long-defunct classic ride area of Kenton’s Cove Canoes and Shawnee Landing, and the relay begins!

Now this is where I really love this episode. You have 6 young kids, a housekeeper and a mom and it takes all of them to relay the canister from the “back” of the park to the front of the park because they get so exhausted running (granted many of them are running in twos).

First Marsha and Jan take off at around the 2:06 mark (the William Tell Overture is a nice touch) and they run until they can’t run any more; fortunately, right as they are about to pass out they see Alice, who grabs the plans at 2:50 (what was she doing at the trash can?) and takes off, then she runs remarkably well (nearly taking out a young patron at 3:10) but can’t make it any farther when she sees Bobby and Cindy at 3:21.  Bobby and Cindy then take off and head toward the front (check out the crowds in the background watching Bobby and Cindy run at 3:38-3:41; this was an operating day at Kings Island and the crowds watched filming, so there was no real way to get them out of the shots in some cases).  Then we get to the teenage boys Greg and Peter (we must be close to the front by now) at 3:56, and even they can’t make it to the front (although they are already at International Street!) as they have to stop and pass it off to Carol (Mom) at 4:38, who finishes the “Relay.”

Now, Kings Island is a big park, but I don’t think it is so big that it takes multiple relays from multiple young, athletic people to get from the back to the front of the park! Now, of course, this is all in fun, but it is funny to see how they can decide to write a show and action that makes no sense based on the park and related issues—which leads me to my favorite conceit of the whole show. So, let’s assume Kings Island is so big that the relay had to happen, and that was the only way they could get the plans to Mike in time. Carol shows up with the plans at 5:01–and at 5:20 in real time (19 seconds later for those of you with math issues), everyone shows up to see if the plans made it in time! So all of the handing off, resting, extra running, etc., allowed Carol to make up only 19 seconds on everyone else! I think Jan and Marsha should have just hauled it to the front themselves! I love 70s TV shows!

All kidding aside, it is neat to see Kings Island from the past (don’t miss the Racers at 5:41 (hey, is that Don Helbig on there!)) and a nostalgic episode Rex and the Beast highly recommend watching if you haven’t seen it before.

RexandtheBeast.com

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HHN25: Walking Dead–Again

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

HHN25: Walking Dead–Again

Well, Universal Orlando officially announced what we all knew was coming for some time now: The Walking Dead is returning to Halloween Horror Nights 25 for the fourth consecutive year. The Beast and I are not huge TWD fans and, in general, not as big a fan of the “IP” houses at HHN as we are “original” houses, but we are taking this announcement in stride for a few reasons.

Last year’s TWD house was by far our favorite TWD house and we hope that Universal can continue the upswing in the houses based on this franchise. Also, TWD is still a big draw both as a TV show and as a concept and it does bring a wide swath of attention to HHN (an event that we know is really hurting for attendance and attention!). An additional odd benefit of a TWD house is that it helps with the crowds in the other parts of the park! The crowds for TWD house are usually insane (multiple hours sometimes last year), and that allows for at least a little respite in some of the other scarezones and houses.

We have discussed our preference for original over IP houses, with an understanding that a great IP house is obviously better than an average original house.  And, of course, our preference notwithstanding, this issue is pretty much dead–IP houses are here to stay and we are going to be lucky to have 1-2 original houses per year from here on out (and HHN24 was a great year for IP houses, maybe the best).

So, although this is not a surprising or tremendously exciting announcement, it is another fun step on our journey to HHN25 (Rex and the Beast will be there opening night). So, we’ll see you there!

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Rex Reminisces: Dueling Dragons

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 in Articles, Islands of Adventure

Rex Reminisces: Dueling Dragons

Ah, the Dragons: Blizzrock (Ice) and Pyrrock (Fire). They were two of our favorite icons and rides at Islands of Adventure from our first trip there in 2001.  Having the view of the coaster in the background as Blizzrock and Pyrrock dueled at the entrance to the queue was one of the great views in themeparkdom.

dragonsrex

In addition to just being a great ride when dueling (for those of you that have only ridden Dragon Challenge or the non-dueling Dragons…sorry), the original Dueling Dragons had one of the great queues of all time.  It had a moving stained glass window at the beginning that was a great effect, a good backstory told by Merlin and it was a great place to cool down during the hot summer days in Orlando!  But the greatest parts of the queue were the fire and ice rooms, where the Dragons got loose in the castle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also have great memories of Dueling Dragons because it is an attraction where a few special moments happened with RATB over the years. First, a classic that we have talked about many times is the ride where we started up the lift hill with our brother-in-law right as a downpour hit. The entire ride felt like paintballs were blasting us (or more appropriate to the theme, ice chips!), and we couldn’t stop laughing. The famous after-ride pic from that moment is below. It is without a doubt, my favorite single ride on any ride or attraction that I have ever experienced.

orlandodragons

Second, we used the backdrop of Dueling Dragons for a couple of scenes (including the final confrontation scene) in Mission IOA:2 Universal Revenge. Considering all of the fun we have had with that short movie over the years, DD being part of the movie makes that a special memory for us.

Finally, I can remember walking through the queue at Dueling Dragons for the first time and being in awe of the size, length and detail of the queue (especially in 2001, pre-Potter and the Theme Park world changing with respect to detail and queue theming). Those feelings are strong (and relate to a previous article on Theme Park Emotions) and bring an importance to the attraction greater than its EV (exhilaration value) alone.

So, for all of the above reasons (and many more), we were sorry to see Dueling Dragons go to make way for Dragon Challenge and Hogsmeade. Don’t misunderstand, Hogsmeade is spectacular and we certainly don’t want it not to be around, but we wish it could have been accomplished without the eviscerating of an iconic ride and visually stunning queue. But, change is inevitable and if the dueling was going to have to go anyway (thanks, inconsiderate jerks), you couldn’t ask for a better replacement than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

We are sure many of you have great memories of Dueling Dragons as well, let us know what you think. Do you agree it was better than Dragon Challenge? Do you like it better now?

In closing, I (Rex) am going to quote a classic Robert Frost poem that I memorized in 8th grade and that I always thought of when I walked through the queue of Dueling Dragons with the Beast (and usually quoted it to him as well!):

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice

From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice is also great.

And would suffice.

-Robert Frost

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Hauntings in Gatlinburg, TN

Posted by on Jul 11, 2015 in Articles, Gatlinburg

Hauntings in Gatlinburg, TN

Before you read another word, play the above SoundCloud clip of the classic Hauntings audio that booms on the famous parkway in Gatlinburg, TN, enticing innocent bystanders to pay the small fee to watch a ghost show that will apparently “scare you to death.”

Having spent much of my childhood living in a little eastern TN town about 1 hour from Gatlinburg, the tourist trap became a home away from home for me and my family. It didn’t take long for a wide eyed 10 year old to fall in love with the cheesy but oh-so-wonderful attractions that lined the parkway in Gatlinburg. At the time, Pigeon Forge could not compete with Gatlinburg’s endless array of captivating, though often disappointing, attractions, museums, restaurants, and hotels. Today, the story is quite different. Dollywood has single handily transformed Pigeon Forge from a jealous sibling into the entertainment leader of the Smokies.

Many of the sights (and smells) were forever burned into my conscience during those family vacations, especially the marketing and visually captivating signage of the Gatlinburg museums and shows that promised a journey into another dimension, perhaps a haunted or unexplained dimension, that was the perfect trap for little boys with a wild imagination. As a matter of act, one such museum that did not last very long was simply called, “World of the Unexplained.” I fell for that kind of stuff hook, line, and sinker.

So, right in the heart of the Parkway situated adjacent to the Fudge Shoppe of the Smokies (the best fudge in Gatlinburg) in the Reagan Terrace Mall is a small little show called “Hauntings.” I always found the set up to be so weird because it has a very small facade, but it is a two story building, so the decorating for Hauntings actually goes on top of the first floor Fudge Shoppe (see photo below). Thus, it looks like these whacked-out ghostly busts are ready to enjoy a piece of fudge.

fudge_shoppe_of_the_smokies_gatlinburg_tn_716

It is not immediately clear what Hauntings actually is from the outside. You might initially think it is another walk through haunted house, like Mysterious Mansion or Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and the only real description that is easily noticeable simply says, “an extreme ghostly adventure.” Hey, sounds good enough to me, let’s do it!

DSCF1445

I have now watched the Hauntings ghost show probably a dozen times. As of this writing, the last time was in November of 2014. It was eerily familiar. There was a teenage girl with her gangsta looking boyfriend hanging around as she “worked” the cash register. I put worked in quotations because no one really goes to this show anymore it seems. I hated to have to cause her to do something, but me, my brother, my sister, and my brother-in-law wanted to see the show. So, she had to tear herself away for a few moments from the embrace of her boyfriend to take our money and instruct us that the next show would be in 5 minutes. We waited with bated breath.

Like so many attractions in Gatlinburg, and so many owned by this particular family (who also owns World of Illusions and Treasure Quest Golf), Hauntings has the potential to be so, so good. The first 5 minutes of the experience are by far the best. It begins like this…

When it is time for your show, you are brought into the small door and immediately notice a staircase leading up the next level. This is done well with low lighting and spooky, if not silly, little framed photos on the walls going up the staircase. Although not a big deal, it sets the mood rather nice. You turn left into a door that is propped open and find yourself inside a very small “theater.” In reality it is a room with about 6 rows of benches that are roughly 15-20 feet from the front of the stage. The little stage is set up to look like a living room of a house, with a rug, desk, paintings on the wall, bookshelf, mirror, etc. After everyone has taken a seat, the door automatically and ominously closes and the lights go completely out, leaving you sitting in that brutal kind of darkness where it is darker than dark. Then, a truly horrifying array of loud screams and moans fills the room, but only for a couple of seconds. The lights come back on and the door slowly opens on its own. The narrator kindly speaks and says something to the effect of, “for anyone who has had second thoughts, now is the time to leave. When the show starts, there is no option to leave the theater.” It is quite a powerful beginning to the show and I have often wondered if anyone has left the theater after those first few seconds.

From there, things go downhill fast. The soundtrack for the narration is in poor condition and the consistent effect throughout the show – that of a mirror floating off the wall to demonstrate the arrival into another dimension, is laughable. You could both hear, and at times see, the hydraulics pushing the mirror out and back in.

The narrator attempts to communicate with the spirit world and asks them to do a variety of things. Then, the audience is asked to join hands to help the communication process. Unfortunately, someone apparently breaks the chain by letting go of a hand (even though we never let go of course) and that seriously ticks off the spirit world. So, they start going crazy. The walls become transparent and you can see ghosts in the walls and there is a distinct feeling of someone actually walking in the room with you, which does provide a chilling effect. Those few seconds of the ghosts being upset with the audience are very well done and do provide a scare.

Then, the finale comes, and yes, it is actually scary. It is scary enough that I do not want to provide a spoiler in this review. Let’s just say that the final scare of the evening will actually make you lean back and probably let out a little yelp.

Walking back down the stairs to the exit always leaves me wondering – is this attraction so outdated, unloved, and cheesy that I just wasted my money? Or are the few scares coupled with the nostalgia element worth every penny spent? For me, I always end up answering with the latter, and secretly excited about the next time I might get the opportunity to live again by being scared to death.

 

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Twister: Riding Out Of Our Lives

Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 in Articles, Universal Studios Florida

Twister: Riding Out Of Our Lives

Twister: Ride It Out is a simulation attraction at Universal Studios Florida and has been a part of our lives since May 4, 1998. Soon, the F5 tornado will be riding out of our lives. The Universal Orlando Resort is through foolin’ around and literally around every corner, change is taking place. Some of this remarkable change has come in the form of new attractions and amenities that have been (or will be) built from the ground up in never before used locations (Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Volcano Bay) and others have arrived at the expense of dearly beloved rides (Jaws was swallowed up by Diagon Alley).

Twister is the next to go, and although there are rumors about a Tonight Show attraction taking its place, RATB is not really in the rumor business. Instead, let me offer a few thoughts about the departure of this simulator.

Its Got That Feel
One of the aspects of Twister that I will miss the most is the “feel” of the attraction. For me, the feel – that intangible something that makes an attraction really special – is every bit as important as the EV (Exhilaration Value). Even though the ride isn’t really that old (1998), there is a certain kind of nostalgia that fills every corner of the place. This is in part due to the setting itself – Wakita, OK. The small town feel with a drive-in movie theater and the very real possibility that someone is sucking on chili dogs outside the tastee freeze makes this one of the places that you just enjoy being in. And in a very real sense, that is the entire point of a theme park destination; to take you to a different place where you can just enjoy being.

The Lean
This is now the stuff of legend, but Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt provide the commentary for the pre-show and it is flat out bizarre. I can only assume they were directed to make the anticipation for the attraction to feel “heavy”, but they go way over the top on discussing not only what the park guest is about to experience, but also the relentless nature of making the film. Apparently Bill and Helen were fighting about something at the time so they refused to be on the same set together. Thus, in the pre-show there are two monitors where Bill and Helen are offering their lines, pretending to look at each other. Bill is especially in whacked-out mode as he inexplicably leans in such a way that his right shoulder is about a foot lower than his left. I wish I could get a High Definition copy of the pre-show video. It is that amazing.

The Memories
Rex and I have walked through the small town of Wakita many a time, taking friends along with us on occasion, and we have never been disappointed. Change, even when good, always brings loss. This change will too.

It is time!
In spite of all those things, and to quote the great Rafiki of The Lion King fame, “it is time!” Twister is a fine attraction that provides a rush of adrenaline, especially for first time riders, and is a perfect example of Universal’s once theme park motto – “Ride the Movies!” I personally still enjoy the overall experience, especially the pre-show, and certainly do not believe the attraction is a black spot on the overall quality of Universal entertainment. It definitely still holds its own.

And yet, Universal has paved a certain kind of direction for their theme park resort, one that insists on looking more to the future than simply appreciating the past, and Twister falls in the latter camp. I am curious if the upcoming Terminator Genysis movie will give a little extra life to Terminator 3D attraction, for it to was beginning to feel like one of the experiences that is rooted in a time gone by. Of all the attractions at Universal Studios that should be the first to go in order to make way for the future, Twister is the right call and should be the first on the list.

And so The Beast will say goodbye to my friend Twister, thanking her for the good times and great thrills. As I do, I will wait patiently for what Universal Studios will be offering next, and hope it will be a whirlwind of a good time.

*You can read Rex’s thoughts about Twister’s departure here.

 

 

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Skyplex. Coming to Orlando?

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 in Articles, I-Drive

Skyplex. Coming to Orlando?

As fans of RexandtheBeast.com know, our focus is on enjoying the theme/amusement park experience. Therefore, we do not spend a lot of time being critics of parks with “sky is falling” analysis, but we do give our thoughts on attractions, parks and experiences.

montutu

However, we do have some concerns with the potential Skyplex development that has been proposed on I-Drive in Orlando that we wanted to mention. As we tweeted back in June of 2014 when the Polercoaster was announced, in response to a question from Arthur Levine @AboutThemeParks as to whether we were saying the whole project could fall apart, “I am. I’m ordinarily very positive, but have an odd negative reaction to this.”

disneybored

Since June, 2014 when we questioned the project, Skyplex has announced plans for a 350-unit hotel complex, the worlds largest Perkins restaurant, a retail component called SkyPlaza, a drop thrill ride called SkyFall, multiple parking garages and a surf park/pool on top of one of the garages, among other proposals. Meanwhile, no actual dirt work has been done to our knowledge on any part of the project except for the Mango’s restaurant/bar.

In connection with the various new announcements set forth above, the opening for the project has been pushed back a couple of times and is now stated as sometime in 2017 (although admittedly, it has never had a firm opening date).

So, with the issues that I-Drive has (which we will discuss on a future podcast) and the required funding for a complex of this size and nature (reportedly $300 million+), is this a project that makes sense and can get the required funding–because we have heard nothing specific about that funding being completed or locked up.

This has been an amazing couple of years for Orlando and park projects, and Skyplex was part of that wave in announcing its project. But Skyplex is not a Universal or Disney project (no one is concerned about whether Universal has the funds to complete Skull Island: Reign of Kong) and with the limited history of the people and companies involved (and of even the Polercoaster/Skyscraper concept) we believe more skepticism about this project than we have seen is appropriate.

As Joshua Wallack, managing principal of the project said in May, “Sometimes I don’t believe that this is real,” said Wallack. “But it is.”  We at RexandtheBeast don’t believe it either, but we hope we are wrong!

Beast! It’s Skyplex!

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Is “Skull Island: Reign Of Kong” A New Island At IOA?

Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Articles, Islands of Adventure

Is “Skull Island: Reign Of Kong” A New Island At IOA?

Universal Orlando’s announcement of the long rumored Kong attraction brings yet again another year of anticipation and excitement as we look forward to experiencing the thrills of Kong in the summer of 2016. Reaction on Twitter and among the top theme park informational websites has been mostly positive concerning the new attraction. But there is one aspect of this new ride that I am surprised is not getting more attention, especially from theme park purists who live and breathe this stuff – Universal Orlando has not explained how this new attraction will fit into the overall thematic design of Islands of Adventure. 

Interestingly, no one seems to really care. Maybe Rex and I are thinking too hard about this (we probably are) and maybe we should just concentrate on the excitement of an awesome new attraction coming to IOA (we probably should), but Islands of Adventure at the Universal Orlando Resort is my favorite theme park destination for a reason. The attention to detail combined with the various themed “islands” that house some of the greatest attractions in the world made an immediate impact on me the first time I stepped foot into the Port of Entry in the early 2000’s. It is no surprise that the “island” concept of Islands of Adventure is a big part of its appeal.

But what exactly is an “island” at Islands of Adventure?

Universal Orlando’s official website describes the park like this:  “Take an unforgettable journey through the uniquely themed islands of Universal’s Islands of Adventure®, where the world’s most cutting edge rides, shows and interactive attractions bring your favorite stories, myths, cartoons, comic book heroes and children’s tales to life.” Notice the use of language here. The islands of IOA are where the rides, shows, and stories come to life. The islands host the attractions, stories, restaurants, etc. Wikipedia says something similar in describing the islands when it says, “guests depart from a main port to visit six (sic) other distinctly themed islands, all emphasizing adventure.” The emphasis here is that we are leaving a port to visit places that are specifically themed and host the adventure.

This is all confirmed by a simple glance at an IOA park map. The various islands, of which there are currently seven, are color coded and written in bold print. The attractions, shows, and restaurants that each island hosts are written in normal print underneath the island’s name. This is of course common sense.

https   www.universalorlando.com Images IOA_ParkMap_tcm13 48043.pdf

So, any time you are speaking of an attraction, a restaurant, a show, or a store at IOA, you can always ask the question, “what island is that in?” and receive a clear answer. Ripsaw Falls is in Toon Lagoon. River Adventure is in Jurassic Park. Captain America’s Diner is in Marvel Super Hero Island. And so on.

Now, let’s ask the same simple question about this newly announced attraction – “What island is Skull Island: Reign of Kong in?” Well, you might say, isn’t it painfully obvious? It’s in Skull Island! But not so fast. Skull Island: Reign Of Kong is the name of a single, specific attraction coming to Islands of Adventure in 2016. It just so happens that this particular attraction has the word “island” in its title. There is no precedent, and frankly it makes no sense, for a single attraction to be considered an “island” in the way Islands of Adventure has historically been themed and designed.

Here are a few things to consider:

1. Universal Orlando has been remarkably consistent in not describing a new “island” that will host Skull Island: Reign Of Kong. They have simply revealed details about the attraction itself, which just so happens to be an attraction themed around an island. Are you tracking with me? Rex and I are of the opinion that we will not see Universal Orlando count Skull Island: Reign of Kong as another official island, which would bring the total to eight islands. Which leads us to…

2. Interesting comments by Mike West, executive producer of Universal Creative, in light of this discussion were spoken to the Orlando Sentinel. Mike says, “It’s really its own story and its own environment that we’re creating…It’s really an entity unto itself. It’s Skull Island, it’s the home of Kong, but it’s really just creating this massive, dramatically themed environment in that area of the park that’s just his home…It’s unique and something we haven’t done before.” (emphasis mine). Look at all the different ways, indicated in bold print, that Mike describes the area where Skull Island: Reign of Kong will be located. He uses about every word imaginable except the word “island.” He had to go out of his way to do such a thing. If this were not intentional, Mike would have certainly said, “Skull Island will be an entirely new island at Islands of Adventure where we are creating this massive, dramatically themed environment…” But nowhere do we find Universal using language that describes Skull Island: Reign Of Kong as an entirely new Island.

3. Even Wikipedia has no idea what to do with this. On their timeline for Islands of Adventure, there is an entry for May 31, 2007 that says, ” Universal Studios and Warner Bros. officially announce Islands of Adventure’s seventh island, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,…” (emphasis mine). But on the entry for May 6, 2015, it says, “Skull Island: Reign of Kong is announced as a new area/attraction based on the 2005 film King Kong.” (emphasis mine). The difference is obvious. When the WWOHP was announced, it was clearly a new island because it would host various rides, shows, stores, and restaurants. But since Skull Island: Reign of Kong is just a single attraction, Wikipedia correctly does not call it an “island.” I give credit to the editor of this Wikipedia page who correctly wrote that this announcement by Universal unveiled a new “area” but not a new “island.”

4. What about the park map in 2016 when the attraction opens? Where will Skull Island: Reign Of Kong go? RATB believes that the attraction will be listed in a different color and set aside by itself, but Universal will still not count it as an 8th island in the park. This is why we believe Mike says that this is “something we haven’t done before.”

Based on these things, I believe the following things are still yet to be determined and will eventually shed light on the discussion:

1. Perhaps Universal Orlando is going to build a counter service restaurant or an arcade or something themed to Skull Island that will expand the area beyond just the attraction itself. If this were to happen, then I believe Universal could conceivably begin calling Skull Island the 8th island of IOA. We have not seen any evidence yet to suggest there will be other things to do or see beyond the attraction itself (which is going to be a site to behold, for sure!)

2. If the attraction is the only thing being constructed, then Universal has to make a decision. They can choose to play dodge ball and simply ignore the issue altogether, which apparently is working just fine since no one seems to be talking about this but us, but that will be disappointing. I had much rather UO just come out and say, “this is an incredible attraction that hosts Kong, but it is not a new island.”  Or…..

3. Universal can redefine the concept of the “island” at IOA and establish that a single attraction can double as an “island.” Since Mike is being so careful to avoid the island language, RATB does not believe that this will be the approach they take.

Why does all of this matter? Well, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t at all. But for those of us who are on the journey of the best theme park experience, making such a radical shift in the thematic approach of the best theme park on the planet is a pretty big deal. Time will help erase some of the confusion, especially if more Skull Island themed options are built. But for now, we believe that UO is being intentional in the way they are avoiding “island” language and desire for the Kong attraction to be a unique addition to the IOA family of attractions. Mind you, just not an island!

RexandtheBeast.com – Join the Journey!

 

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Thanksgiving In Gatlinburg

Posted by on Nov 28, 2014 in Articles, Gatlinburg

Thanksgiving In Gatlinburg

Rex and I spent the first part of Thanksgiving week in Gatlinburg, TN – one of the most awesome places on the planet. Although we were with family and were not in full RATB mode, we nevertheless made the time to experience a few things, some for the first time, and some for the hundredth time. Over the next few days, I will be writing a few reviews of the attractions we managed to squeeze in during Thanksgiving.

For this article, I will briefly discuss the overall experience of Gatlinburg, TN.

Fans of Gatlinburg, TN are typically divided into two camps:

1. Those who love the touristy Parkway with all the shops, attractions, fudge, candy, pancakes, and rundown but incredible motel lodges.
2. Those who loath the aforementioned things, but can’t get enough of the Great Smokey Mountains.

Count me among the former. Although I certainly appreciate the beauty and wonder of the Smokey Mountains, hiking has just simply never been my thing (and Rex’s either, although it seems in the last several years he has has a change of heart when it comes to the great outdoors). There are plenty of fantastic lodges and cabins up in the mountains, well removed from the traffic and the tourist traps if that is your preference, but for me, the busy, narrow streets of Gatlinburg filled by the aroma of both the Smokies and Fannie Farkle’s smoked sausage subs is like heaven on earth.

I also think tradition plays an important role in one’s like or dislike of the Gatlinburg Parkway (and by the way, Pigeon Forge is no longer the place you endure in order to get to Gatlinburg, it is now a force of its own. But, this article is about Gatlinburg). Rex and I lived in east TN for many years, so frequent family trips to Gatlinburg in the early to mid 80’s provided endless memories of great times. I would pester my mom and dad to take me once again inside the World of Illusions and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! I remember so many cool places that are no longer in operation, and then some of those cool places are still right there today  and haven’t changed a bit (e.g., World of Illusions). Rex and I can tell stories for hours about the great times we spent along the shops and motels in Gatlinburg.

Thus, the real pleasure of Gatlinburg is in the building of traditions and memories with people you love. Although Dollywood is turning (has turned) the larger area into a theme park destination, Gatlinburg nevertheless remains a place for repeat customers who want to pass down a family heritage of catching a show, eating at a favorite restaurant, and maybe taking a lift on the tram to Ober Gatlinburg. For example, when I arrived in town this past week, the first thing we did was eat at the Best Italian restaurant – home of the most amazing garlic rolls on the planet. My family stumbled across this little gem nestled back off the Parkway during one of our visits to the Christmas parade way back in the 80’s. It is now a family favorite for us. Gatlinburg, perhaps more than anywhere else I have ever been, provides a deep sense of meaning and emotion, coupled with the excitement of the lights, noise, smells, and traffic jams. When you drive into the Parkway, you immediately feel something more than just a cool place to do some things. There is something important about Gatlinburg that resonates with our human desire to not only have fun, but to build lasting memories with loved ones in the process.

This past week continued the memory making. Rex and I will remember our first experience down the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster with our kids, the hilarious encounter at Denny’s where the host was prepared to give us free Mac n Cheese, and my nephew’s first encounter with the legendary World of Illusions.

Over the next few days, I will be providing brief reviews on the following attractions in Gatlinburg:

Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster
Hauntings
World Of Illusions
Fanny Farkles
Amazing Mirror Maze
The Donut Friar
Jack Huff’s

RexandtheBeast.com…..Join The Journey!

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The Beast Reviews HHN 24

Posted by on Oct 3, 2014 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights

The Beast Reviews HHN 24

Another Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort has come and gone for RexandtheBeast.com. In this article I will provide brief summaries of the 8 mazes, 4 scarezones, the Bill & Ted show, and general comments about the haunt. This is the event RATB most look forward to all year, so here we go…

Halloween Horror Nights 24 is one of the best haunted events Rex and I have ever attended. This is primarily because of the quality of the mazes (haunted houses) this year, so let’s begin there.

Rex and I experienced the annual passholders RSVP event this year, the first time we have ventured away from the Fennigan’s holding area, which has been a long tradition for us, so I was hesitant to sign up for the event. I’m glad we did. Our primary reason for trying out the RSVP event was so we might have a fighting chance to experience the Halloween maze twice during the course of the night. We wanted to get through it first as part of the RSVP event, and then return after the sun had set with our express passes. Despite getting absolutely soaked while in line for the RSVP event, we were among the first 20 people in line and walked directly into our first maze of the evening, Dollhouse of the Damned, with zero wait.

Our simple ranking scale for the mazes is: Excellent – Great – Good – Fair – Poor. The list below is the order in which we experienced the mazes.

Dollhouse of the Damned (Excellent)
Rex and I walked out of DOTD and were all smiles. Our two thoughts were:  1. Is this going to be the best maze of the night? 2. If the rest of the mazes are even in the same ballpark in terms of quality, we are in for a special night. The concept of the house was simple enough – enter this dollhouse and be in danger of becoming one of the demented toys within. The first room set the pace with an array of yarn, sewing machines, needles, and a nice effect of a “doll” impaled on a stake being created with a live actress’s head. From there, things just got weird, creepy, and demented. A room of cribs that housed “babies” with huge heads smelled rather disgusting. We were sprayed by an adult baby sitting in a high chair with an adult baby laugh. There was an eerie ballerina room, a depiction of a doll sawing off a man’s leg, Teddy Ruxpin hanging on the walls, and a marionette room. One of the creepiest parts of the maze for me was a disgusting looking mother who was loudly, and disturbingly, counting the number of strokes she was giving her baby with a hairbrush. But perhaps the most demented part of the entire house was a series of mummy looking figures hanging on the wall who were holding, cradling to be more precise, a small, newborn baby. The creep factor was off the roof on this house and it reminded me and Rex of just how incredible the original content of HHN can be as opposed to the IP mazes. A truly spectacular house.

Roanoke (Good)
We couldn’t help notice how Roanoke was getting mostly poor reviews from our friends and colleagues on Twitter. This is another original content maze and depicts the inhabitants of the famous lost Virginia colony turning to cannibalism. This maze was housed in the parade building, which has historically produced high quality houses. The quality of the sets were terrific, the theme was consistent and easy to follow, the smells (Reality based? Absolutely.) were noticeable and spot on, especially the tobacco room, and the whole maze simply worked. Roanoke relied heavily on what I call “cage scares” – the lining on the right and left of scareactors who are behind some sort of “cage” (in this maze, these were barn-like stables) and you have to worry about who can get out and who are locked in the cage. Several rooms used that technique in Roanoke. The finale was effective with two large wendigos stalking you. I especially liked how the religious angle was played toward the end, attempting to defeat the evil by burning down the villages and using sacrifices in order to bring things back to peace. We really enjoyed this maze and found the negative reviews to be a bit off base. On a side note, Rex and I walked through Roanoke the first time absolutely alone. Not another person was in the maze. That was a first for us at an HHN event.

Halloween (Excellent)
The ultimate haunted house in honor of the ultimate horror film. Make no mistake, this maze was clearly designed to show honor and respect for the 1978 classic film directed by the legendary John Carpenter. Rex and I mentioned our excitement for this maze in podcasts and articles, as well as some concern we had that the house just wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype. That was all forgotten when we stepped inside. From the wonderful Myers house as the facade to the final room of the immortal Dr. Sam Loomis, Halloween worked perfectly. Fair warning:  The only way to truly appreciate the power of this house is to know and enjoy the original Halloween film. Much of the maze will be unappreciated by those who have not seen the film. By far the most awe-inspiring room was the kitchen scene when Michael stabs Bob, sticking him to the kitchen wall, and then famously tilts his head by and forth to admire his work. The scareactor playing Michael recreated the look with brilliance. I was near tears (and holding up the line) as I watched in awe. Small tributes to Halloween 2 and 3 were noticeable in the house.  All I can ultimately say about this maze is….thank you Universal. Thank you.

Giggles & Gore INC (Fair)
Clowns are not born…they are made! We left this maze feeling the way we expected to feel – underwhelmed. This is really just because Rex and I do not enjoy clown houses, it’s that simple. Having said that, Giggles & Gore was the best clown house we have seen. The gore element combined with the theme of clowns creating other clowns provided a much needed change from the typical 3D clown houses with bright colors and vortex tunnels. In the first room, a man is strapped to a chair with his eyes forced open as cartoons are being “burned” into his conscience. From there, we see people getting smashed, gorged, tortured, mutilated, and transformed into evil clowns. A great scene of a clown ripping the intestines out of a helpless victim was effective. But there were some rather boring stretches of of the house and some uninspiring clown decorations which places this in the “fair” category. Nevertheless, the maze was still strong and worth seeing.

Dracula Untold: Reign Of Blood (Good)
This is the story of how Dracula came to be Dracula, but as is often the case in a haunted house that has a conga line, the story was very, very difficult to follow. The design was gorgeous, the scares were sparse but well done (including a wonderful scare of Vlad holding a decapitated head), and the costumes were impressive. I think we followed the story of how Vlad was conquering the world, burning villages, and making war only to be nearly killed himself. He then transforms into Dracula and we get to see his impaled victims and the general carnage that follows. There was no finale to this maze which was disappointing. We were impressed by the sets and the costumes, but underwhelmed by the story and the scares.

Alien vs Predator (Great)
This maze takes two great movie franchises and brings them together for a magnificent, effective maze. After entering the environment inspired by LV-426, I was wide eyed and amazed at the sets that perfectly capture the spirit and look of the Alien franchise. Then we saw our first Alien puppet, which was phenomenal. Universal has hit a home run two years in a row with their puppet creations – last year’s being the unbeatable werewolves from An American Werewolf in London. Then, we see the Predator in his terrifying, dominating presence. The two are not actually fighting, so the “versus” concept is a bit misleading, but who cares? This one is just so much fun to look at and soak in. Not many scares to be found, but plenty of atmosphere. A great maze.

The Walking Dead: The End of the Line (Great)
Raise your hand if you are tired of The Walking Dead themed mazes and scarezones at HHN? Everyone’s hand raised? Good. BUT…this maze surprised me. I was ready to hate it, the franchise, and Universal for bringing it back yet again, but I found myself delighted by the enormous scale of the sets and the scares. The first half of this house from very mediocre with single zombies lunging out for a scare. But in the middle of the maze, when we entered a grocery store, everything changed. A remarkable set of a crashed helicopter turned the maze around and I found there to be many scares and many inspiring sets from that point on. At one point, we entered a dark, strobe filled roam that was littered with walkers. It was an unnerving experience. The finale was a typical chain link fence, like you normally see at a local haunt, but still yet it worked fairly well. I’m glad to say this was the sleeper of the night for me.

From Dusk To Dawn (Good)
Rex was more of a fan of this maze than I was, but we both agreed that the opening barker and the first few scenes were very effective, immersive, and entertaining. The final shootout scene was equally impressive. Unfortunately, the middle part of the maze was repetitive and bland. The more of a fan of the franchise you are, the more you will enjoy this house.

Due to the heavy rain before and during the event, the Face Off scarezone was not operating at full capacity, so we really can’t provide a review that would be adequate. We spent the most time in the Purge scarezone and found it to be good, but not unlike the previous post-apocalyptic scarezones HHN has dished out – the notable exception being the auction and characters identified with the film. MASKerade was probably my favorite scarezone simply for the beauty and detail of the costumes. Bayou of Blood was fun as well, although we were unfortunately unable to witness the now defunct sacrifice scene. Scarezones are obviously not as important to the overall quality of the event as mazes are, but I found this year’s scarezones to be just fine, just not terrific. There have been better offerings in previous HHN years.

I don’t really have much to say about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure because the show has never done much for me. According to our colleagues, it was a great year for the show, perhaps one of the best ever. If that show was one of the best ever, then I’m not really motivated to continue to spend upwards of an hour of HHN time at Bill & Ted’s. Rex might disagree. Finally, we once again this year did not have time to experience The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As I said at the beginning, the quality of HHN ultimately comes down to the houses and boy, did Universal ever deliver. We can only wait with great anticipation as to what will be in store for HHN 25.

 

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Halloween Soundtrack Variations

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Articles

Halloween Soundtrack Variations

The score for the original Halloween film has been considered one of the most effective in any movie genre to evoke the proper atmosphere for the evil incarnate known as Michael Myers. The story is one of legend – how John Carpenter screened the film for a studio executive minus the score; they were unimpressed and called the film, “not scary.” After viewing the film with the score added, this same executive had a rather different opinion.

Most fans will know how each film in the franchise has a slightly different version of Carpenter’s score (except for part 3, which is a different beast altogether). However, what is frustrating for this Halloween fan is how even the soundtrack from the original 1978 classic has been altered and, in my opinion, weakened.

In 1998, a 20th Anniversary edition of the Halloween soundtrack was released. I am happy to say I own this edition as it is already becoming rather expensive on Ebay (near $30). This soundtrack is a Halloween fan’s dream, as it keeps virtually the entire score from the film intact and in order. For the casual listener, this will become tedious as so many of the cues are identical from one track to the next. Also, the 20th anniversary edition keeps some of the famous dialogue from the film in the score, which I enjoy, but can understand how some might not like the talking interspersed with the music.

In 2010, a new MP3 edition of the original soundtrack was released and is the current version available for purchase (Good news – if you are an Amazon Prime member, you get the entire album for free). This version is an abridged selection of the score, but covers all the essential cues from the film. If you are looking for just the great music without the dialogue and repetition, this is the version for you. The 2010 version is ideal for haunted houses, Halloween parties, etc.

Now, here is the problem from a purist standpoint. For some reason, which I can’t understand or come up with a possible motivation, the 2010 edition places a bass drum front and center of the main title credits, pounding away throughout the duration of the theme. It is simply inexplicable. If the film score had this bass drum in the original version, then it was so pushed in the background that it is completely inaudible. The difference is substantial.

I have placed both the original film score title credits and the 2010 soundtrack release back-to-back in the MP3 below. See if you agree that the first sample, from the film itself, is the superior version of the score.

Although I have already ripped my 20th Anniversary CD to MP3, I am hopeful that at some point in the future they will release the 20th Anniversary edition in a MP3 form. Until then, these kinds of differences are not the end of the world, just a little confusing.

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The Beast Reflects On HHN Tent Houses

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Articles

The Beast Reflects On HHN Tent Houses

Rex and I have been attending Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) in Orlando, FL at the Universal Orlando Resort since 2003. In 2006, the event began constructing mazes (haunted houses) in two “sprung tents” that apparently were built specifically for HHN. This year’s event, HHN 24, is bringing one of the most anticipated houses in recent HHN history – a maze based on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween. This maze will be housed in one of the aforementioned tents, so I thought it would be appropriate to quickly review (and remind myself) the mazes that have come and gone since 2006 in the sprung tents. Since HHN 16, I have seen all but 4 mazes in these tents, so I have a decent perspective on the overall quality of the “tent houses.”  Here we go…

2006 – Sweet 16
PsychoPath: The Return of Norman Bates
As a  huge original Psycho movie fan (not that vomit of a remake mess), I had high hopes for this maze. So much could be done with the atmosphere and creepiness of Psycho. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. The first part of the maze was nothing but a bunch of “jump scares” from Norman and the last part of the maze was an attempt to “get inside” Norman’s mind, but all that really entailed was a bunch of funhouse elements, such as the vortex tunnel, etc. Thumbs down.

The People Under The Stairs: Under Construction
This was one of the worst mazes of all time. Supposedly the maze was going to be illuminated by helmet lights, the kind you might see on a miner’s helmet, but the whole concept failed miserably, you couldn’t really see anything, no detail to the house at all, and everything was a disappointment. Thumbs down.

2007 – Carnival of Carnage
Jack’s Funhouse In Clown-O-Vision
I’m not partial to 3D mazes and I am sick to death of clown 3D houses. Having said that, this was as good as you are going to get if you are into those things, but I’m not. Thumbs down.

The Thing: Assimilation
Being a Carpenter fan, I was pumped about this house, but weary since I was brutally let down at HHN16 and Psycho. Although The Thing was much better than PsychoPath, it still lacked the quality I was hoping for from this epic film. The sets looked brilliant, but the storytelling element of the maze did not appropriately gel. Nevertheless, The Thing remains one of the strongest tent houses to date. Thumbs up.

2008 – Reflections of Fear
This was one year I missed – Rex attended and could comment on these tent houses, but I have nothing to say. It is a shame for I heard that Dead Exposure was a pretty good effort.

2009 – Ripped From The Silver Screen
Chucky – Friends Till The End
Child’s Play has never been one of my favorite horror film franchises, but this house wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t anywhere near great. They at least gave Chucky a little twist by having him be the mastermind behind creating more serial killing monsters, but I left feeling underwhelmed. Thumbs down.

The Spawning
Just kind of boring…the theme of an evil lurking in the underground sewer systems is cool enough, but this maze fell flat. Something just wasn’t there. Thumbs down.

2010 – Twenty Years of Fear
Catacombs: Black Death Rising
This house told the story of a plague where the infected were locked down in the catacombs. Well, they have found their way out and are seeking revenge. All I really remember about this maze were the doctors who had some whacked out masks. Nothing great here. Thumbs down.

Havoc: Dogs Of War
HHN loves military-based post-apocalyptic themes (especially in scare zones). Havoc was pretty decent and created an atmosphere of chaos, noise, and destruction. Not really scary, but entertaining. Thumbs up.

2011 – Lady Luck
Rex and I missed this year unfortunately.

2012 – HHN 22
Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare
This is another “enter into the mind” house (similar to PsychoPath from 2006). Alice Cooper ranks at the top of my least liked tent houses. Classic rock hits were blaring at the entrance and through the maze, but this simply is not a haunted house. Thumbs down.

Penn & Teller: Newkd Vegas
I love Penn & Teller and I loved the concept for this house. It was different, bright, detailed, and fun. However, it was not creepy, scary, or memorable in the sense of ranking it among the great houses, which was disappointing. Thumbs down.

2013 – HHN 23
La Llorona
For some reason I liked this house despite its weaknesses. I found the set and design to be gorgeous and would have been happy simply to walk through it without any accompanying scares. The urban legend of La Llorona was chilling and I thought this worked fairly well. Thumbs up.

After Life Death’s Vengeance
Another 3D house, but of all the capital punishment mazes I have seen, this one was a bit better than the rest. The 3D elements were not carnival style and there was a cool vibe throughout the maze. Thumbs up.

So, out of the 12 tent houses I have experienced, I give a marginal thumbs up to only 4. None of them were fantastic. This, of course, is disconcerting when considering that the Halloween maze will be housed in one of the tents. Nevertheless, I am very optimistic that Halloween is going to break the trend of mediocre tent houses and set a new standard for excellence. Here’s hoping!

The Beast

 

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The Status Of The Dark Ride

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Articles

The Status Of The Dark Ride

I love dark rides. They have always been my favorite type of ride since I slowly rode through the spooky hallways of the Haunted Inn at the Pavillion Park  in Myrtle Beach, SC in the early 80’s. (for what it’s worth, the video below perfectly captures my memories of the now defunct Pavilion at Myrtle Beach). Dark rides have been an important staple of amusement and theme parks since tickets have been sold – but what is the current status of these memorable rides?

The very act of defining a dark ride can be tricky, and like so many other aspects of theme park culture, there is a subjective nature to branding a ride a “dark ride” or labeling it another way, such as an “enclosed rolled coaster.”  There simply is no definitive right or wrong. Thus, on the one hand, we can say dark rides are not only alive and well, but they are thriving. The last major “E-Ticket” attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort have been dark rides:  Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Transformers The Ride, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. But on the other hand, we can say dark rides have become associated so heavily with state-of-the-art technology that the creaky, atmospheric, simplicity of traditional dark rides are in danger.

We can make our case fairly clear by looking specifically at one of the best theme parks in the business – Universal Studios Florida. This one park has many dark rides, but over the course of time they have become increasingly more complex and technology driven. E.T. Adventure is a superb dark ride featuring animatronics designed by the famous Sally Corporation. The ride places guests on “bicycles” and by the power of E.T.’s touch, the bikes begin flying through the air, eluding NASA officials and ultimately find their way to E.T.’s home planet. From start to finish (an awesome finish where E.T. says your name in a voice that is terrifically unintelligible), this ride is a classic example of a dark ride done right. But over time, the dark rides at USF began to evolve into more thrilling and more advanced adventures. Men In Black incorporates the best dark ride shooting experience on the planet. Revenge of the Mummy features an incredible blend of advanced special effects and the speed of a roller coaster. Transformers 3D is an immersive assault on the senses and features the most effective 3D technology I have ever seen. And from what I’ve heard (I will be able to tell you for certain after September 25 when I ride it for the first time), Escape From Gringotts is a masterpiece of dark ride ingenuity.

Having said all that, my point is ultimately this:  Can we ever expect Universal Studios Florida to build another traditional dark ride similar to E.T. Adventure?

I think probably not. Our only hope would be an attraction that is squarely situated and designed for children (think The Cat In The Hat at Islands of Adventure). In fact, when looking at the list of dark rides built over the last decade, the only ones that come close to a traditional dark ride feel are those which are designed with the younger generation in mind.  The Little Mermaid Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at Magic Kingdom comes to mind. But what about rides like The Haunted Mansion? Pirates of the Caribbean? And the glorious Spaceship Earth? Will we ever see these traditional and effective rides built with adults in mind again at the top theme parks?

I’m not complaining here. In our recent podcast, Rex and I listed our top three favorite dark rides. Two of my three are rides that beautifully incorporate this new, advanced design (Spiderman and Forbidden Journey). The level of quality and immersion made possible by advancements in theme park technology are truly jaw dropping. And yet, they cannot capture the same kind of emotional response that traditional dark rides can foster. I am amazed and highly entertained when riding Spidey and Forbidden Journey. I am moved when riding Haunted Mansion. There is a difference. One is not necessarily better than the other, but both experiences are essential. I do not begrudge for a moment the broadening of the dark ride experience. I just hope we have not seen the last of traditional dark rides in the world’s most advanced and important theme parks. They still have something to say and they still have an audience with both adults and children.

And for this Beast, they remain my favorite.

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My Initial Thoughts on Holiday World’s “Thunderbird”

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Articles, Holiday World

My Initial Thoughts on Holiday World’s “Thunderbird”

Tonight I (The Beast) along with a few thousand other theme park fans watched the live stream of Holiday World’s major announcement about a 22 million dollar attraction coming to the park in 2015. The park had been teasing fans for 66 days about the new ride and made the announcement via live stream in front of a live audience at Holiday World. In case you missed it, the big announcement is an April 2015 arrival of the first launched winged coaster called Thunderbird created by the legendary coaster company B&M. The coaster will take you from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds into a 140′ immelman loop and features a 125′  loop, the largest on a winged coaster to date.

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Here are The Beast’s initial thoughts:

1. Holiday World is re-branding itself with this attraction. This is a park that lives off tradition and old school thrills. Although the water park boasts some impressive attractions, the park’s momentum and legacy is built around its 3 classic and fantastic wooden roller coasters. Those coasters drive everything else about the nature of the park. Not only is Holiday World bringing in a steel coaster, but they are bringing in a steel coaster that has a modern-day hype connected to it. I am not opposed to a steel coaster, but a winged coaster does not fit the Holiday World machine as it currently exists, which is why I say this will re-brand the image of Holiday World to a certain degree. In my opinion, winged coasters will come and go, giving way to the next cool, modern invention of thrilling coaster seekers. Wooden coasters will never go anywhere. So, this is a new day for Holiday World, either for good or ill. I will say this…Dollywood has beautifully incorporated a winged coaster into her nostalgic, traditional mold and it has worked perfectly, so it can certainly be done. Speaking of Dollywood…

2. Thunderbird needs to give a nod to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN for at least two elements. One, the theme of a bird taking flight. This is of course an obvious theme for a winged coaster, but other coasters in this genre are not themed like Wild Eagle quite as much as Thunderbird seems to be. Two, in a strange bit of irony, one of the best wooden coasters in the world is at Dollywood named Thunderhead. So, Holiday World is known for their wooden coasters but names their first steel coaster eerily similar to one of the best wooden coasters of all time. Yep.

3. I can’t stand the name or the logo. Seriously, this looks like something an airbrush dude in Gatlinburg pulled off in about 35 seconds. Both go in The Beast’s hall of shame.

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4. I think the first 15 seconds of the ride will rock and the final minute will be mediocre. That is a wild prediction considering I have seen an animated film only 3 times thus far, but I think I’ll will be right. The launch aspect will be unique and fun and I love launching into a huge immelman loop. Fantastic. After that, I predict an enjoyable but nothing spectacular ride.

5. The whole announcement was almost a complete fiasco as the live stream was non-existent for the first few minutes. Thankfully, they pulled it together by the time the actual announcement happened.

6. Holiday World is an incredible park with incredible rides. I hope Thunderbird is successful and draws more fans and more attention to a truly terrific place to spend a day of fun. The Voyage is one of the best coasters out there and The Raven is a timeless classic. I hope Thunderhead will be able to keep up.

 

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Festival of Fear 2014 Ticket Giveaway!

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Articles

Festival of Fear 2014 Ticket Giveaway!

RexandtheBeast.com’s Festival of Fear 2014 Ticket Giveaway

festival of fear ticket giveaway

Rex and the Beast love the fall and the haunt season that comes with it. Starting with our Festival of Fear Tour in 2009 when we toured the country hitting various haunts, we have continued to enjoy Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream, Knotts Scary Farm, other national and regional haunted attractions, and various local haunts in Colorado and in Kentucky. We have produced and directed a full length documentary on a Denver-based haunt called “City of the Dead,” and the Beast is one of the foremost experts on the original 1978 movie, “Halloween.” So, it is safe to say we love Halloween and the season around it. Now we want to share that love with you!

Here is your chance to win a ticket to any 2014 haunt of your choice–courtesy of RexandtheBeast.com. We will draw a name from our list of Twitter followers on September 1, 2014, and the winner will get a ticket to any Halloween event of his or her choice in the United States (maximum value of $100). If you are already a follower of RexandtheBeast on Twitter, simply retweet one of our announcement tweets for the giveaway (there will be several announcements) and we will enter your name in the contest. If you are not a Twitter follower, then simply follow us at twitter.com/rexandthebeast by August 31, 2014. As soon as we see you retweet our announcement or follow us on Twitter, we will enter your name into the contest.

So, one more time, here is how it works:

1. We will draw one name from our Twitter followers on September 1, 2014 who will win one ticket to any Halloween event of his or her choice.

2. To enter the drawing, simply follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/rexandthebeast and you will be automatically entered.

3. If you already follow us on Twitter, you can enter the drawing by retweeting our announcement tweet.

Good luck and happy haunting!
RexandtheBeast.com – Join The Journey!

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DisneyQuest – A Marginal Thumbs Up

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Articles, Disney World

DisneyQuest – A Marginal Thumbs Up

Rex and I have visited DisneyQuest at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Flordia at least 3 times together and 3 times individually that I can remember. I think I can speak for Rex when I say that we always leave the interactive indoor theme park with mixed emotions. First, a little history.

DisneyQuest is an interactive indoor theme park located in Downtown Disney at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida (an area soon to be renamed and remade as “Disney Springs”). The building is a 5-story complex that has no windows and consists of arcade games, virtual reality attractions, a food court, and some “rides.” For the price of admission, all of this good stuff is free, so you are not popping quarters into arcade machines, etc.

Sounds cool, right? Well, Rex and I sure thought so the first time we stumbled across DisneyQuest during one of our adventures to Orlando. We quickly decided to check it out. After buying an admission ticket, you are placed in an elevator that takes you to the third story of the complex. This elevator ride at that time was actually one of the coolest parts of DisneyQuest. Once inside the elevator, the space darkened and the mirrors on either side of the elevator began to show the “Genie” from Aladdin. There was a neat 1 minute film of the Genie entertaining you and getting you excited for when the doors open to the third floor.  The elevators are still there, but the Genie attraction has been removed. These elevators are only for getting you started, you cannot ride them back down to exit. (In fact, finding the exit can be somewhat of a trick!)

Once you step out of the elevator, it is a little overwhelming. You are at an atrium where you must decide where to go to start your adventure. Staircases go off in all kinds of directions. If you have never been to DisneyQuest before, you basically just have to decide where to start and go from there. The layout is somewhat confusing, which actually makes it pretty cool. You never know exactly where you are in relation to anything else in DisneyQuest. There is a “classic arcade” level where gems like Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and Space Invaders are just ready to be played. Then, of course, there is a large section of modern arcade games. One of our favorite attractions at DisneyQuest is the Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblaster. This is basically bumper cars, except a gunner is launching foam balls at other cars and a direct hit sends the other car into a tail spin. Our first time on this attraction was a classic RexandtheBeast memory. We dominated. Rex was driving and managed to keep us from being hit. I was the gunner and basically landed direct hits on everything I shot at. It was great. The second time we tried our luck, we were unsuccessful. We stayed in the “black hole” the entire ride, which means we were spinning for 4 straight minutes. Rex and one of his sons went to DisneyQuest recently and really enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold, which can be a fun multi-player game (especially for the 6-10 year old crowd).

The attraction to avoid at all costs is “Ride the Comix” located on the 5th floor (there is also another one on the 4th floor). It is a cool concept, but after playing for just a couple of minutes, you want to visit the DisneyQuest bathrooms for a good puking session. Plus, there is always a decent line. However, Cyberspace Mountain and Animation Academy are two attractions that are good fun and let you create the attraction, either by building your own roller coaster (virtually, of course) or by trying your hand as a Disney animator.

The “Pinball Slam” game where participants are actively involved in a game of pinball doesn’t really seem to work in the manner that is should. We have a theory that this is just a way for kids to rock and jump around and it has zero effect on the actual game.  Young kids still seem to enjoy it though.

Rex and the Beast give DisneyQuest a thumbs up because it is somewhat unique and has some fun games. It does seem like they could improve some attractions and keep things fresh. Wikipedia says that originally, the idea was that no attraction would ever go unchanged for more than two or three years. However, after the Chicago location and the DisneyQuest project overall were closed, the one location in Florida has been unable to financially merit a complete attraction overhaul. This makes perfect sense. The biggest complaint we have always had is that it seems the complex begs for updates and new attractions. If the original plan had been able to follow through, we would be much more optimistic about DisneyQuest. Nevertheless, people who have never experienced it and are not concerned with another $24-40 per person should check it out.

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Anticipation, Expectation, and the 21st Century

Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 in Articles, Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida

Anticipation, Expectation, and the 21st Century

In 2001, Rex and I were unaware of a second, industry changing theme park located at the Orlando Universal Resort called “Islands of Adventure.” During our vacation to Orlando, Rex noticed an advertisement and suggested we check it out. Those next few hours changed our outlook on theme parks and a few years later, RexandtheBeast.com was born. Today, in 2014, this simply wouldn’t be possible. It wouldn’t be possible to make a trip to one of the most important tourist destinations of the world and not have the knowledge of a new, dynamic theme/thrill park. Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets that make up the blazing speed of the new information highway would have us very much aware of not only the park’s existence, but of its inception and construction. Back in 2001, and even in 2007 when RexandtheBeast.com was launched, things were a bit different. Now, let’s be clear, it’s not like 2001 was the stone age; there were still plenty of opportunities for me and Rex to know about IOA and we probably should have been aware, but we weren’t quite the enthusiasts then as we became a few years later, and the ultimate point is that we couldn’t hide from that kind of knowledge today if we wanted to.

Over the last year the theme park world has been fixated on a certain hashtag called #potterwatch. Everything from the construction plans to the flavors of ice cream available have been on the rumor mill for the long anticipated Diagon Alley – the second phase of the insanely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Orlando Resort. For the most part, the access to this unending mountain of information is an absolute blast to follow. Excitement is raised, vacation plans are made, and the theme park industry benefits from the publicity. But…

From a fan’s perspective, there is one aspect of all this immediate and detailed information that raises some questions. Most importantly, what does the expectation of reading, hearing, and seeing all the hype about a new attraction or “island” do to the actual experience of arriving in person? There are two elements of this question I want to explore.

1. Does following the construction of such a huge addition coupled with reports of theme park industry leaders “shedding tears” when entering DA create an unfair and unrealistic expectation for a person’s own visit? Rex and I briefly mentioned this in our Audio Journeys Podcast #1407 – for us, the idea of crying inside DA is not something we are too concerned about; it just isn’t us. So, we aren’t going to be disappointed when we break into the alley and aren’t weeping with joy. But I wonder if others might be. Thus far, the vast majority of reviews for DA have been superb, going as far to call the themed addition the greatest aspect of any theme park in the world. When these kinds of reviews are coupled with following the construction experience from day 1, how can the actual visit for the rest of us ever live up to the expectation? Granted, folks can simply not read the reviews and shut down their social media accounts. But that, of course, is not reasonable. Again, I think the access to all this information is fantastic, for the most part. But I do worry if the actual visit can ever live up to the prolonged hype.

2. Does knowing everything about DA, even down to the items in store windows, leave some of the magic on the cutting room floor? In other words, would it be more awe inspiring if we went into the alley and were surprised by some of the elements available to us? On this point, I’m happy to say that I (The Beast) have stayed clear of all videos and reviews of the actual attractions and stores. I have no idea what to expect in Gringott’s, in the stores, on HE, and so on. I know a good bit about what is going to be there and the elements involved, but I haven’t seen them in action. I think for me, that will make the experience a little more special.

All in all, I am thankful for the quick access to a world of information on theme parks. But there will always be something special about 2001 when Rex and I had no idea what we were getting in to. I rode Spidey for the first time not knowing what it was. Boy, what a ride that was.

 

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Theme Park, Thrill Park, Amusement Park – What’s In A Name?

Posted by on Jun 26, 2014 in Articles

Theme Park, Thrill Park, Amusement Park – What’s In A Name?

As you are probably already well aware, at RexandtheBeast.com, Rex and the Beast refer to and discuss various destinations that we visit.  A basic question that we are asked from time to time is:  What is the difference between a “Theme Park”, a “Thrill Park” and an “Amusement Park?”  The answer to that question is different based upon who you ask and in what context you ask.  For example, all Theme Parks, Thrill Parks (and Water Parks for that matter) are technically “amusement parks.” And certain parks cross over into more than one category if you are just looking at the generic definition of the categories.  In addition, the marketing departments of various parks may want to call them one type of park even if they don’t seem to technically fit within that definition—for example, no park really wants to be called a Thrill Park because it is a limiting designation, meaning young kids, older people and non-thrill loving people may not feel welcome.

So, what we are doing in this article is not trying to give a definitive answer in all circumstances, but to explain for purposes of RexandtheBeast.com, how we look at and reference various parks.  Also, Rex and the Beast feel that all three types of parks have their place, and our discussion is to classify them for you so that you will understand the references on RexandtheBeast.com, not to rank them or otherwise state one type of park is better than the other—those type of arguments will come later!

Theme Park

A Theme Park is a park that is based substantially upon an overriding theme or “feel.”  The theme does not have to be the same theme throughout the park, but there is no doubt that a “theme” exists.  Examples of this are Animal Kingdom, where the theme is, not surprisingly, the animal world, and Holiday World, where the theme is different holidays, and various portions of the park are centered around those holidays.  Compare those parks to Cedar Point, which although it has various “areas” throughout the park, does not have an overriding theme—except of course, the greatest collection of coasters in one park (can you say, Thrill Park?).  Although it is more of an art than a science, usually you will know when you walk out of a park whether it should be classified as a Theme Park.

One important factor to understand with regard to Theme Parks is that they can still have a thrill aspect.  Many people automatically throw any parks with roller coasters or other exciting rides into the Thrill Park bucket, but that is not always correct.  The issue of being a Theme Park does not preclude excitement or certain thrill rides.  The classic example of this is Islands of Adventure.  Although IOA has a few of the great thrill rides in all of Parkdom (i.e., The Hulk, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, Dragon Challenge), there is no doubt that IOA is a Theme Park, in fact, the island theme is one of Rex and the Beast’s favorite set of themes in all of Theme Parkdom.

Classic Theme Park Example:  Dollywood

Adrenaline Theme Park Example:  Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios Florida

Rex and the Beast’s Favorite Theme Park:  Islands of Adventure

 Thrill Park

A Thrill Park is a park that is substantially based upon and famous for its roller coasters and other thrill rides, which rides dominate the discussion when the park is the subject of any conversation.  There is quite often some level of theming at Thrill Parks, but the theme is not a large feature (or in some cases, even relevant) to a decision to go to the park or in enjoying the park.  When you enter a Thrill Park, rather than feel like you may be entering into a different world—as in a Theme Park—you are usually just planning the speed at which you can get to the first set of thrill rides.  The Beast lives in Louisville, Kentucky near a RexandtheBeast.com favorite Thrill Park–Kings Island.  Kings Island is one of those parks that covers many different levels and categories (it has a great kids area for example), but we still believe it best belongs in this category.

Classic Thrill Park Example:  Six Flags Magic Mountain

Rex’s Favorite Thrill Park:  Cedar Point

The Beast’s Favorite Thrill Park:  Kings Island

Amusement Park

In some ways an Amusement Park is the most difficult park to quantify.  Usually it has attributes of a Theme Park and attributes of a Thrill Park but really doesn’t fit squarely within either definition.  Often, but not always, an Amusement Park is a smaller park that has great history behind it.  Also, this is probably the default type of park.  If you can’t decide if a park is a Theme Park or a Thrill Park, then it is probably not either of those types of parks but is an Amusement Park.  Rex lives near a couple of classic Amusement Parks in Denver, including Elitch Gardens (formerly Six Flags Elitch Gardens) and Lakeside Amusement Park.

Classic Amusement Parks:  Elitch Gardens, Lake Winnepesaukah

Remember that an amusement park can also be a generic reference to all of the types of parks for most people. Also remember, these are not neat, unrelated categories—they inter-related and overlap.  Theme Parks have thrills, Thrill Parks have themes, all parks are at some level Amusement Parks, so don’t get too hung up on the categories—just enjoy whichever park you are at!  Until next time, Join the Journey with RexandtheBeast.com!

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Maelstrom & Frozen…What If?

Posted by on Jun 16, 2014 in Articles, Disney World, Epcot

Maelstrom & Frozen…What If?

Over the last few days I have been reading rumors stirred up once again concerning the dark ride “Maelstrom” that is located in the Norway pavilion of the World Showcase at Epcot. It appears that Maelstrom will be out of operation in August of this year as some folks who have attempted to reserve a fast pass in August have been unable to do so. Thus, the speculation has begun – is Maelstrom going to be closed due to normal maintenance and perhaps updating, or is something new coming along? Something that might take Disney’s hottest property, Frozen, and turn it into a themed attraction.

What many people might not know is that the art directors for Frozen decided to base Arendelle, the fictional land of the film, on Norway. Thus, the beautiful Fjords and even the Stave Churches were inspired by the Scandinavian country. Of course, trolls play a big role in the movie and, if you have ever taken a ride on Maelstrom, you will no doubt remember the presence of trolls along your ride. So it is pretty easy to see how rumors would begin to circulate about a new attraction due to the similarities the ride already enjoys with the film.

So what does The Beast (me) think about this possibility?

Rex and I first experienced Maelstrom  in the summer of 1997 during our first visit together to Epcot. We were certainly not blown away by the ride, but there were some charming elements that touched a nostalgic place in my heart. Rex tends to poke fun at me for my appreciation of Maelstrom (as he does for my love for Spaceship Earth), but I think he secretly enjoys the ride as well. Although I am certainly not opposed to seeing a fresh attraction built around the wonderful film Frozen, here are a couple of things I would be concerned about:

1. The educational element. I know, I know, who in the heck cares about education when on vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort? Well, that is part of what makes Epcot such a special place. The World Showcase is precisely that – an opportunity for families to experience certain aspects of world culture that they might never be able to experience again. After all, when was the last time you considered planning a family vacation to Norway? To have a dark ride coincide with the educational element in a way that is fun and engaging is a great positive for the pavilion. You actually do learn a good bit from the attraction, from the weather to the geography to the oil reserves to the mythology, that would potentially be lost on an attraction themed specifically to the Frozen characters. I would hate to see that. I believe one of the greatest aspects of Epcot is its potential to make children fall in love with learning.

2. The classic effects. Maelstrom has some tried and true special effects that helps create its charm. There are no high definition 3D images bouncing around you, but there are gorgeous water effects, wonderful animatronics, and a solid soundtrack. At one point your ride boat turns around and sends you backwards for a little ways before turning you back forward and sending you down a small hill. These classic but fun elements might be lost on a Frozen attraction.

3. The Tradition. Epcot has done away with several classic rides over the years (the most heartbreaking is still Horizons). Although their replacements have in many instances been improvements for the park, Epcot still needs to hold on to a few attractions that are steeped in history. Obviously, Spaceship Earth isn’t going anywhere. Maelstrom, I think, could be another example of a great little ride that generation after generation gets to experience.

4. The Script. “You are not the first to pass this way, nor shall you be the last.” Need I say more?

I suppose it is possible for Disney to recreate the attraction with a Frozen theme and still maintain some of the elements mentioned…it would just be much more difficult. Is it possible to simply “add” a Frozen touch to the attraction as is, similar to how Captain Jack Sparrow was added to Pirates of the Caribbean? I don’t think so…the ride really isn’t long enough and has too much of a secular feel to it (such as the fairly large oil rig scene) to simply add in touches of Frozen. I believe it would need to be re-imagined all together.

I am more a traditionalist than my brother Rex, but I am very willing to see attractions go when their time has come (Terminator 3D anyone?) In this case, I’m rooting for Maelstrom. Rides of its kind are few and far between.

RexandtheBeast.com – Join The Journey!

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The Beast Remembers: The Mercado Shopping Village

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in Articles, Orlando

The Beast Remembers: The Mercado Shopping Village

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You would think something as simple as two little words describing a shopping outlet would not elicit such strong and bewildered emotions – but that is exactly what happens when I hear the words “The Mercado.” Rex and I experienced some bizarre stuff in this little shopping village.

I should say from the outset that Rex and I felt a weird “Ghost Town” presence about the entire plot of land from the first time we stepped foot into the doomed array of storefronts in the early 2000’s. We knew this place was destined to be shut down and demolished, which is exactly what happened. But oh boy, am I glad we were able to experience some of the whacked out stuff we did during those remaining few years of its existence.

So, let our story begin.

It was in 2003 that Rex and I decided to give the recently opened “Hard Rock Vault” museum a try. We had heard a good bit about it and the structure of an inverted pyramid looking thing from the previous failed attraction, The Guinness Book of World Records Museum, looked enticing. As soon as we walked into the lobby of the Hard Rock Vault, we were thrust into a world of cheesiness primarily because the staff were apparently trained and instructed to be as annoying as possible. One staff member, who would end up being our tour guide, learned I played guitar and promptly asked me to give him a quick “air guitar” demonstration. Rex and I looked at each other in disbelief. The tour was unthinkably lame, comprised of rock history artifacts that you can find at any Hard Rock restaurant, but more importantly the script from the tour guide was simply too forced (interestingly enough, we would be back in this same spot 3 years later with another forced script, but more on that below). This was one of those areas where less information and more time to look over the museum pieces would have been helpful, but the tour attempted to “lure” us into rock lore by using the most ridiculous wording for the tour. We were left convinced that our guide knew nothing more about rock history than we did, but that he had just memorized a lame script. Let me provide the ultimate example…

In what can only be experienced to be believed, we were led into a room called “The King’s Chamber” where Elvis was placed up on a wall as a shrine. Seriously, this was veneration at its best. All around Elvis were various historical pieces connected to The King, but the music pumping through the room was one of Elvis’ slower songs and the guide told us, and I kid you not, that “we will stop here for a few minutes in case any of you need to cry and grieve.” I think the guide noticed mine and Rex’s expression of disbelief because he promptly said, “oh I’m serious, we have people break down in this room and we have to help them out.”

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Needless to say, the Hard Rock Vault was out of business the following year. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that Rex and I were able to be a part of something so surreal and bizarre that we still talk about it to this day. Nights of Terror.

In 2006 Rex and I were in the 3rd year of our annual Halloween Horror Nights trip and we had been reading about a seasonal haunted attraction that promised to “actually scare you in Orlando.” We thought this was a clear smack against HHN at Universal Studios, so we were rather excited to check it out. There were 4 houses, one of which was called “7 Deadly Sins” and it was an adults only house. After picking up our “Terror Pass” earlier in the day for entrance into all 4 houses (we were afraid the line for tickets would be unmanageable at night), we made our way toward the Mercado on October 13, 2006. We were impressed to see a huge construction LED sign lit up for special “Nights Of Terror Parking.” We pulled into the designated parking lot, which was located east of the Mercado on Universal Blvd., and was promptly told that “you don’t need to park down here; there’s all kinds of room in the Mercado parking lot.” That surprised us, but we were glad to park right next to the event, which is exactly what we did.

Well, I don’t want to go into all the brutal details of our Nights Of Terror experience, that is for another article and podcast, but the atmosphere of that night was the most perplexing, and in some ways, unsettling I have ever been in. It was just hard to believe this was actually an Orlando, FL haunted event taking place – it was opening weekend and the Mercado was deserted. There were a few roaming employees walking around who looked as befuddled as we did. A “band”, comprised of some high school students and their parents, were doing a sound check of what sounded like some depleted form of death metal in the center of the Mercado. When we finally made our way to the first haunt of the night, 7 Deadly Sins, we were underwhelmed with its substandard redolence. Not only did this haunt ignore all rules of reality based smells, it just stunk in every conceivable category, and this was supposed to be the extreme “adult” house. The tour guide was using a script even more forced and cheese-filled than her Hard Rock Vault predecessor three years before and the whole experience created an eerie blending of time whereby we became convinced of the Mercado’s short lived future.

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As always, Rex and I are looking for people who actually visited and experienced “Nights of Terror” in 2006. If this is you, please write us.

After the incredible failure of Nights of Terror, the Mercado was on its last leg. In 2007, a green construction fence was placed around the property to prevent anyone from going inside. By 2008, the entire property had been bulldozed.  You can see Google Street View images below showing the 2007 and 2008 images of the Mercado.

mercado2007 2007 Mercado
mercado2008 2008 Mercado

Today, there is excitement in the air as the old Mercado land is being transformed into the I-Drive 360 Orlando Eye experience. With a huge observation wheel that will tower some 400 feet in the air coupled with the legendary Madame Tussauds wax museum and a Sea Life Aquarium, it appears the land destined for doom will actually become a place of tourist support and excitement once again. You can read all about the forthcoming Orlando Eye right here which is scheduled to open in 2015.

But RexandtheBeast.com will never forget what once was. Our first ride on the Orlando Eye will be in memory of The Mercado and the incredibly fun, if not perplexing experiences we had at her location. These are the reasons RexandtheBeast.com exists. Join The Journey!

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The 2014 Season Begins!

Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 in Articles

The 2014 Season Begins!

The 2014 theme park season is upon us and there are a few interesting events taking place right here at the beginning of the season. RexandtheBeast.com will be checking out some exciting events over the next few weeks and months and documenting them on the website so you can “join the journey” with us. Here are a few things we will be doing:

1. Rex has already been tasting the ultimate in theme park thrills by taking a family trip to the theme park capital of the world – Orlando, FL. What better way to get the season started than by experiencing the best of both the Walt-Disney World Resort and Universal Studios? We will be asking Rex about his trip on an upcoming podcast of “Audio Journeys with RexandtheBeast.”

2. King’s Island, one of the best theme parks in the world, is unleashing the Banshee, their new inverted roller coaster that boasts of being the longest in the world. Banshee opens to the public on April 18 and we will be there to document the excitement.

3. Kentucky Kingdom is back and, hopefully, stronger than ever. With Ed Hart back in the directors chair, RATB is hopeful that Kentucky Kingdom will reclaim its former legacy of being one of the best small parks in the eastern U.S. We will be present opening day to capture all the fun and excitement.

And all that just gets us through the spring. RexandtheBeast.com – Join the Journey!

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Howl-O-Scream 2013 Trip Report/Review

Posted by on Sep 30, 2013 in Articles, Howl-O-Scream

Howl-O-Scream 2013 Trip Report/Review

Due to the close proximity of Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL to the Universal Orlando Resort, Rex and I typically make the quick trip over to Howl-O-Scream to experience the horror they have in store for haunt lovers. This year was no different. Thus, it was on Friday evening, September 27, around 5:30 pm that we departed from our Double Tree hotel room en route to Tampa on an absolutely beautiful Florida day.

Rex and I had been enjoying the gradual unveiling of “The 13” – a mini-theme of sorts that Howl-O-Scream was marketing as the thirteen “evils” that come out to play every thirteen years. Since Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) in Orlando has been progressively building their haunt around established IP’s, we enjoyed the somewhat original content HOS was attempting to produce, granted, the members of the “13” were not all that original with names like “the butcher”, “the demon”, “the psychopath”, etc.  Yet, we were hopeful for a high quality haunt with original concepts. Unfortunately, our hopes were largely unrealized.

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The first “scarezone” is called “The 13” and is the very first thing you encounter when entering the park. I mean it is literally right beside the turnstiles. Don’t blow by this too quickly – if you want to see the members of the dreaded “13” and interact at all with them, this is your only shot. Although 3 or 4 of them can be found in the mazes at HOS, this little scarezone, designed with several doors with the number 13 on them, is really the only manifestation of the “13” theme in the park.

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After a quick ride on Cheetah Hunt (very fun), Rex and I first walked through Blood Asylum, a returning maze for HOS (reviews for every house are given below). Once finishing our way through that maze, the sun had descended and darkness fell on Busch Gardens. I don’t really want to play the compare game, but one of the glaring differences between HOS and HHN is the overall atmosphere (atmosfear?) of the haunt. Busch Gardens, based on its design and layout, is much more spread out with long sections of relative darkness and emptiness. HHN on the other hand is much more energetic and “in your face” regardless of where you are located in the park. This can make for what feels like dead zones at HOS, which is unfortunate but there is really nothing they can do about it.

The three scarezones are weak. I have already mentioned “The 13” was the strongest of the lot. “Harvester’s Haunt” was a typical scarecrow zone that was ineffective, sparse, and pointless. “Pain Lain” had a little more to offer, but you really get the impression that HOS includes these in the park because they feel a sense of obligation. There is nothing inspiring here.

We grabbed a bite of BBQ at the Zambia Smokehouse and Rex had to take a quick moment to do some facetime with his son (hey, priorities you know). After doing some silly things with the video camera, we quickly hit the remaining mazes and soaked up the atmosphere one more time before departing. Howl-O-Scream seems to us to be in a gradual decline in quality. Although I believe the quality of the haunt is superior to most amusement park haunted events, it almost seems they have given up on being a legitimate competitor to HHN, something RATB thought they were trying to do just a few years ago. Although we recommend HOS as a fun haunted event, just remember that this is a not a movie studio with large scale sound studios to design their mazes.

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Maze Reviews

Blood Asylum
This is an old school haunt that tells of a serial killer on the loose in an insane asylum. We enjoyed it – lots of classic scares and traditional rooms, but done well and with a bit of gusto. If you like bloody rooms and enjoy a straight forward, well done haunted house, then you will enjoy this one.
3 out of 5 stars

Death Water Bayou
By far the strongest maze of the night. DWB follows the exploits of the Voodoo Queen (one of the “13”) and has a New Orleans theme. The facade looks great, the set work is wonderful, the scares are plenty, and the flow of the rooms work well. The highlight is a funeral procession done New Orleans style that is followed by a couple of wonderful swamp, pumpkin, and mask rooms. Rex and I took the time to go through this maze twice and we found it to be effective both times. Make certain you experience Death Water Bayou.
4 out of 5 stars

Ultimate Gamble
We followed the best maze of the night with the worst. Ultimate Gamble is probably one of the most ineffective haunted houses I have ever been through. The concept isn’t compelling (werewolves kick vampires out of a Las Vegas casino), the rooms are poorly designed, the casino theme isn’t readily noticeable ( you only see the actual casino at the very end of the maze), and the story just doesn’t gel. If you have to miss a house, miss this one.
1 out of 5 stars

Circus of Superstition 3D
Another 3D house with a circus theme. In some ways it seems that when you have seen one of these, you have seen them all. Having said that, this is about as good of a circus 3D maze that you will find. Classic superstitions (walking under a ladder, black cats, broken mirrors) are all explored and there are some fun elements. As usual, if clowns freak you out, then you will be scared. If they don’t, you will have fun.
2 out of 5 stars

The Basement
Momma has a recipe for all kinds of food and the Butcher is going to make sure you don’t steal it! Interestingly, I think we saw more of mamma than we did the butcher, but all in all there isn’t much in here to discuss. Plenty of kitchen scenes and jump scares. The best element was a huge pot of stew momma was fixing and a poor victim suddenly jumps out of the pot, lunching toward the onlookers.
2 out of 5 stars

Nevermore
This was fun. A lot of Edgar Allan Poe is scattered around the house, bringing vignettes of his famous stories to life. The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado were the first two rooms, both done well. A nice touch was occasional narration that accompanied the rooms, provideing some anticipation during the down times of the house. The set design was probably the second strongest of the night. One of the better houses this year.
3 out of 5 stars

Zombie Mortuary
I enjoyed this house a bit better than Rex did, but there is not too much new here. You begin by seeing a hearse crashed at the entrance of a mortuary and from there the undead are searching for human flesh. If you enjoy zombies doing their thing, then you will be smiling.
2 out of 5 stars 

Make sure you take time to watch our trip video for Howl-O-Scream below. Thank for reading – Join The Journey!

 

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Suspendisse potenti. Curabitur ac

Posted by on Jul 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Suspendisse potenti. Curabitur ac nulla diam. Nunc tincidunt ultricies aliquam. Nulla luctus, nisl quis blandit egestas, neque dui tincidunt velit, ut vehicula mi elit a quam. Ut fermentum auctor mattis. In aliquet est in lacus lobortis eget rutrum augue fermentum. Nullam neque dolor, interdum non vestibulum ac, placerat ornare ante. Donec faucibus nibh id nisl rutrum laoreet. Maecenas mollis felis et lacus ullamcorper vitae sodales orci consequat. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse hendrerit consequat tellus non rutrum. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Donec pharetra euismod arcu, at ultrices ipsum dapibus vitae. Curabitur ultrices porttitor dolor non semper. Duis venenatis ipsum in sapien venenatis id posuere tellus adipiscing. Nulla in arcu ligula, a fermentum lorem. Quisque blandit dui ut velit tempus ac suscipit purus porttitor. Curabitur suscipit aliquet bibendum. Mauris at metus nisl, id vestibulum urna.

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Il n’y a personne qui n’aime l

Posted by on Jul 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Morbi in dolor orci, et commodo ligula. Nam euismod iaculis lacinia. Praesent accumsan, leo volutpat molestie faucibus, augue dolor fringilla sem, fringilla consequat nulla risus vel turpis. Praesent pulvinar tincidunt quam sed fermentum. Mauris blandit magna sed sapien venenatis sed consectetur velit lacinia. Nulla molestie lacinia augue, a tincidunt justo pretium non. Aenean purus nunc, commodo eu suscipit sed, suscipit in diam. Aenean eu sagittis nisi. Suspendisse fringilla urna et dui molestie lacinia ut id lorem. In ligula lectus, porttitor eget rhoncus et, porta sed massa. Donec ut dui nec enim tempus varius ut ac augue. Vivamus lacinia consectetur semper. In hac habitasse platea dictumst. Donec nec odio quis mauris sollicitudin mattis nec quis tortor. In ultrices nisl at nisl sollicitudin in rutrum massa lobortis.

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Contrary to popular belief

Posted by on Jul 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum" (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..", comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

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Universal Orlando Resort Full Trip Report 9/29/16-10/1/16

Posted by on Nov 4, 2016 in Articles, Halloween Horror Nights, Trip Reports, Universal Studios Florida

Universal Orlando Resort Full Trip Report 9/29/16-10/1/16

Once again Rex and I boarded our planes to meet in Orlando, FL for our annual trip to the Universal Orlando Resort and Halloween Horror Nights. Rex flew in from Denver, CO and I arrived from Nashville, TN. After some traffic hiccups in Nashville, I was in danger of missing my flight. Thankfully, it worked out perfect since I stepped up to the gate just as my group was boarding. I am a sleeper on airplanes, so in a very quick 2 hours, I was walking toward one of the most exciting places in Orlando – the Orlando Airport Shuttle that carries passengers from the gates to the main terminal. Getting on that thing is one of the best parts of the entire weekend. I know the fun is about to begin.

I met Rex by the center water fountain and after a selfie (see below) and a brief period of aimlessly walking around trying to find our rental car location, we were soon driving toward the Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal’s newest offering for on-site lodging. One small problem – I was starving. I didn’t think I could wait another second, so we exited onto I-Drive and ducked into the closest CiCis pizza. After loading up on about three plates of pizza and a brief pre-theme park conversation on racial inequality in America, we were off to the parks.

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My first impression of Sapphire Falls was admittedly not all that great. The water color of the front waterfall appeared to be a nice brownish hue as if it had been contaminated with feces. The front third of the lobby was nice enough, but something just seemed undone to me. Of all the lobby experiences at Universal, this one is by far the most disappointing. I needed to pick up my season pass and it was nice to have a ticketing booth separate from the concierge station. I was met by a very informed team member who walked me through all the options. In no time, I had my season pass and was ready to roll. Rex and I were pumped to see that the season passes are back to hard plastic and not just a flimsy paper ticket.

Our guest room was nice with a blue color theme. I have no complaints at all about the room – the problem is I also have no flattery. I will be very surprised if Rex and I stay at Sapphire Falls Resort again in the near future. Royal Pacific remains our favorite, and we enjoyed our stay at Cabana Beach suite more than SFR.

Well, it was time to get to the parks, so we boarded the water taxi and headed toward Citywalk. After an epic Facebook Live video of us simply nodding our heads in unison for 4 straight minutes without saying a word, we arrived at our destination. Now listen people, the walk toward Islands of Adventure with their perfectly themed soundtrack is the absolute best. Nothing can compare with the visual of seeing Cinderella Castle on Main St. in the Magic Kingdom, but Rex and I find the entry soundtrack to IOA to be the best in the business. It was a somewhat difficult start for us, as we made it through the Port of Entry and took a left, anxious to get to Reign of Kong, the attraction we had never experienced. We made it all the way to Toon Lagoon and was stopped – the weather had knocked over something and the portion of Toon Lagoon in front of Dudley was shut down. Yep, we had to walk the entire circle back around the park to arrive at Kong. So, that’s what we did.

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We had a fairly short wait at Kong and were impressed with the queue. It clearly is up there with the best queues in the business. The ride itself was fun, but we were not super impressed with it. For what it’s worth, Rex and I are ready to take a break from “screen based” attractions, especially at IOA. To us, that park needs to stay more in the thrills arena, which means more attractions like Hulk and Doom. But still, it was a lot of fun.

After a ride on Hogwarts Express with a super nice girl from the UK, we spent the rest of our day at Universal Studios waiting for Halloween Horror Nights 26 (Read our review of HHN 26 here). We made our way to the Finnegan’s holding area and it was packed. They gave us the option for immediate seating if we sat down at a table with two other folks, like community dinner. That is not our favorite thing, but we agreed. Thankfully, we were escorted to a table with a young couple who were super cool. We talked about HHN and horror movies and family. Unfortunately, we forgot their names (Sarah and Joe perhaps?). It was a great meal and a great night.

After realizing that my memory card was full and without my laptop to drag off the media, we decided to run to the nearest Walgreens for some Mountain Dew and a new card. They had a nice special going on a 32 gig card and it only took the employee about 27 minutes to walk from the cash register to the “electronics aisle” to unlock the memory card section. After Rex paid for his buggy full of Mountain Dew, we were off for some rest.

After an unfortunate incident with the shower the next morning, I secured all the necessary items for the long day ahead – cameras, batteries, memory cards, phones, passes, and so forth. After a fairly uneventful day at Islands of Adventure, we stopped for lunch at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and enjoyed a fantastic meal. Then we met up with Seth Kubersky and did everything in our power to find him a refreshing beverage. After a quick walk around the park with Seth, it was almost time to head to the holding area for another night of HHN. Unfortunately, Rex had to run back to the room for work related reasons, so I hung out in the Simpson’s holding area and managed to hit 4 houses with virtually zero wait, and this was on a Friday evening!

After Rex returned, we soaked in the atmosphere, watched Academy of Villains, and then made our way to try out The Repository.

No trip for Rex and the Beast is complete without some off the wall video taping, so we managed to record a few memorable clips at City Walk, including this beauty of Rex below.

So there you have it, another epic trip for RexandtheBeast.com – Join the Journey!

 

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