Here's a trip report I wrote about last year's Halloween Horror Nights...
The R.I.P. Tour of Halloween Horror Nights, Friday, October 29th, 2004
There are many things I find scary: terrorists, George Romero's "Dead" movies, and reruns of "Mr. Belvedere," but for several Octobers, I have been consistently scared by one thing ... Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.
This year, I decided to do the R.I.P. Tour of Halloween Horror Nights, which is a VIP tour of the event. You have true front-of-the-line access to the major rides and the haunted houses. There is no waiting in line or even waiting in the Halloween Horror Nights Express lines. You go right to the front of the line! You're led by an expert VIP tour guide, and he or she gives information on each ride and house. This privilege is pricey, though. The tour costs $120 plus tax and doesn't include Halloween Horror Nights admission, yet when I did the tour for the first time two years ago, I found it well worth the cost and was looking forward to doing it again.
Before going to event, I checked into my hotel. I booked one night at the Best Western Movieland, which is located on the corner of Universal Boulevard and International Drive. The Best Western Movieland is pretty much a stone's throw away from Universal Orlando. In fact, you make two left turns out of the hotel and you're on Universal property! I got a good deal on the hotel -- $49 per night through AAA -- but I had to pre-pay for the room first. Although it was a small property, I had no complaints or problems with the room.
At around 6:00 PM, I headed out to Universal Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights. It was only a few minutes drive from my hotel to the Universal parks, and I had free valet parking with my R.I.P. Tour, so I thought I had better take advantage of it! I dropped my car off at valet parking and went to the VIP Tour office at Islands of Adventure. The walk from valet parking to Islands of Adventure was about five minutes.
I checked in, and my R.I.P. Tour guide was Chris. I had her as a tour guide when I did it two years ago, and she did a great job, so I requested her this time around. Why try something else when you can have the best? To identify me as part of the R.I.P. Tour, I was given glow sticks to wear around my neck. After that, a tour guide was taking small groups of guests to the VIP Tour holding area in the Navigator's Club (situated about Confisco Grill). I had never been up to the Navigator's Club before! I had heard this was a private area for Steven Spielberg when he visits. I felt quite special! The group negotiated through Point of Evil, but the scare-actors didn't seem to be scaring anyone at that time.
The tour guide took the group up the elevator to the Navigator's Club. The club had a bunch of tables, a big screen TV, and a balcony that overlooked Islands of Adventure, where you could see parts of Marvel Super Hero Island, Seuss Landing, and Port of Entry. Looking down on the guests below reminded me of Roller Coaster Tycoon. Too bad you couldn't put your mouse pointer over one of them and see what they were thinking.
At the Navigator's Club, I met up with my tour guide, Chris, and some of the other VIP Tour members in the group. The group had several younger guests, some of them being teenage boys. Hmmm ... I wondered if they were screamers. We'd find out soon enough. Somehow, parts of our group were at Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure, so Chris took us to the Toon Lagoon Amphitheater to meet up. We were going to see the first show at 7:30 PM.
One thing to note is that before each ride or haunted house we entered, Chris found a quiet spot and huddled the group together. She gave us the story and background of the ride or haunted house we were about to experience. This gave me a better understanding of what I was going to encounter and helped me enjoy the ride or the haunted house even more.
The R.I.P. Tour groups had the best seats in the house, centered and directly behind the sound booth. The groups were let into the theater before anyone else. I saw the Bill and Ted show last year, and I don't recall laughing once during it. This year's show, however, was a lot funnier. It had John Kerry, President Bush, Darth Vader, Clark Kent from "Smallville," Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Garfield, Hellboy, Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, and, of course, the two excellent dudes, Bill and Ted.
After the show, we went to Disorientorium, located in Marvel Super Hero Island. The group had formed into a big conga line where everyone was holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of them, but I chose not to hold onto anyone's shoulders. I ain't 'fraid of no scare-actors! Throughout the night and before the group entered a haunted house, several group members made triangle symbols with their hands and said, "Form up! Form up!" Each person in the group formed the conga line, and they all lined up in the same order. I brought up the rear and didn't get in this line.
Disorientorium was pretty funky. It lived up to its name as it was very disorienting. There were a lot of rooms with weird checkerboard and spiral patterns, and the costumes from the Treaks and Foons scare zone two years ago made a return visit here. The spinning tunnel at the beginning was very disorienting (you can see a similar tunnel at Wonderworks in Orlando). The strobe effects got me so confused that I had to join the conga line. If I hadn't, I would've probably fallen down several times. I didn't get too many scares in the house as the Treaks and Foons were the scariest. I did see a chubby scare-actor in the checkerboard room, though, but I don't recall too many others.
Next, Chris led the group to rides on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Doctor Doom's Fearfall, and the Incredible Hulk Coaster. There was no waiting in line for us as Chris took us right to the front. Chris showed a lot of confidence and leadership ability. When we were going to board the Hulk, we had to go up the exit ramp. Going up the ramp was like swimming upstream. You're bound to be pushed back by the onslaught of exiting Hulk riders. One guest was trying to go to baby swap up the exit ramp with a stroller, but he could not negotiate the powerful waves of exiting guests. Chris took command and led the stroller guest and the rest of the group up the exit ramp. She kept saying, "Move to your left, please! Move to your left!" She was our Moses who parted the Guest Sea!
After conquering Marvel Super Hero Island, Chris took us through Seuss Landing. Seuss Landing was, as Chris said, "our last look at civilization." The island was not haunted because Mrs. Geisel said she didn't want any scare-actors there, although the park could dim the lights and play the music backwards. I always wondered what that messed-up music was when I walked through Seuss Landing during Halloween Horror Nights. Now I know!
We then took a walk through the corn in Field of Screams. Despite being battered by four hurricanes, the cornfield held up very well. I ought to make my house from corn so it survives the next hurricane season! Field of Screams looked nice, and I saw several scare-actors, but none of them tried to scare me.
Next up was Horror in Wax. In this house, I remember walking by the statues of the classic Universal monsters like the Phantom of the Opera and others, but after that, I don't remember a single thing. I do recall getting a lot of scares from this house and saying, "Whoa! That was a good one!" a lot.
The next house was Horror Nights Nightmares, which was the one I was most looking forward to experiencing. It had several Halloween Horror Nights mascots like Jack, the Caretaker, and the Director. On paper, it sounded like a pretty fun house. The group was about to go inside, but we waited a bit because the house was in the middle of a crew change. The replacement Jacks, Caretakers, and chainsaw men came out and started scaring people left and right. After waiting a few minutes for the shift change, the group formed their conga line and entered. We were stuck in the first room with the Director's music and the smashed seats (they looked like they were from the old Herc and Xena show). It seemed like we were there for about five minutes. Overall, there were some good scares in this house. One particularly good one was from a scare-actor I passed who just stood there. I thought I was in the clear until he turned around and growled in my ear from behind. That one made me jump! The strobe room with the Jacks in it was pretty good, too. The strobe would flash, and no one would be in front of me. The strobe would darken and then flash again, and Jack would be in my face! That made me jump, too! The house, though, didn't live up to my expectations. I don't know what it was missing, but something wasn't there.
After we exited the house, most of the group members collapsed in fear and sat down on the sidewalk. I think the chainsaw room got to them. Chris saw that we needed a break, so we claimed a spot for the Festival of the Dead Parade, situating ourselves between the lagoon and Horror Nights Nightmares. It was prime bead-catching territory. I was catching beads quite well even though I had a video camera in one hand. It's a good thing I had a lot of practice during Mardi Gras! One scare-actor in the parade peered into my camcorder, and another put a bead around my neck. The people in the group had so many beads that most of them looked like Mr. T!
After the parade, we walked through Amity and World Expo (which seemed quite deserted). Chris then took us to Men in Black Alien Attack to blast some "alien scum." It had the shortest wait I've ever seen - five minutes. After the smoke cleared, I had scored 584,000. Others in the car scored 19,000 to 48,000. They thought that they were hot stuff ... until they looked at my score. It prompted one girl to throw down her gun and say, "I **** at this game!" Chris, who had a score of 704,000, asked if anyone wanted to ride again. I was the only one to volunteer, so we didn't ride again and headed to Jaws instead.
Jaws also had a five minute wait, but Chris took us to the front of the line again. Jaws is a lot better at night. You can't see the shark, but you can feel its attack. The gas dock explosion is quite amazing at night, and it is just as hot!
The group had settled down from the terror of Horror Nights Nightmares, so Chris took us to Deadtropolis, which now had a wait time of forty-five minutes. Chris escorted us to the front of the line, and we were on our way to encounter zombies. I remember the TV screens at the entrance with the news reports and the scare-actor with the baseball bat. After that, Deadtropolis was a complete blank to me. I don't recall any scares in this house, making it this year's dud at Halloween Horror Nights.
It was time for rides again as Chris took us to Revenge of the Mummy. She told us about the Kong tributes in the ride. Other than the one in the treasure room, Chris said that if you translate the hieroglyphics in the queue, most of them say something like "Kong lives forever" or "Kong rules." The group ended up riding Revenge of the Mummy three times, and at the end of each ride, the group applauded loudly. Chris kept on asking if they wanted to ride again, and the group would enthusiastically answer yes.
It was time to hit the last three houses, with Ghost Town being the next one. The detail in this house was pretty amazing. In fact, Chris said that they started construction on Ghost Town and Castle Vampyr in July. There were some pretty inventive scares in this house. A lot of times, the scare-actor jumps out and goes "boo" or yells something. The scare works, but after getting this type of scare again and again, it gets a bit mundane. Ghost Town had its share of "boos," but the ones I remember went beyond that. The scare-actor at the bar kept banging on the table with a small block of wood. He'd bang around and then bang really close to guests, which made me jump a few times.
Castle Vampyr, home of the vampires, was next. Chris said that each year, the best house at Halloween Horror Nights gets a pair of gargoyles placed on front of it. Guess what was in front of Castle Vampyr? I kept on gawking at the incredible details in the house, and the scares were pretty effective, too. None of the scare-actors really did the "boo" thing. In fact, most of them didn't say a thing. They'd just jump out and look spooky, which was enough to make most guests jump! One scare-actor stuck his head out of a hole in the wall and didn't say anything. Another vampire jumped back and forth on top of bookcases. His foot came so close to guests' heads that most ducked and screamed in fear. Other scare-actors bungee jumped to opened windows and made a slamming noise when they landed. This made me jump! The best part of this house was the scantily clad woman who stood on the stairs near the beginning. Just give me a neon yellow seat cushion and a six pack of beer ... I can stay here all night and watch this! The group liked Castle Vampyr so much that we wanted to do it again. The house didn't seem as scary as before because we knew where the scares were coming from, although one scare-actor at the beginning got us twice! In the rave room, the conga line started jumping up and down and dancing. The scare-actors tried to scare everyone, but it was difficult to frighten people who were acting goofy.
We went through Fright Yard on our way to the last house, Hellgate Prison. Fright Yard was noisy and looked good, but it didn't have too many scares. Hellgate Prison's premise was a prison where the inmates had taken over. The other houses were scary, but Hellgate Prison had a creepy feel, and the scare-actors said creepy things. At the beginning, the scare-actors saw our conga line pass through, and the younger guys in the group were all "conga-ing" together. One scare-actor said, "Yeah, you boys keep on holding each other. We like that, yeah!" Creepy! Another scare-actor pointed at me and said, "No Vaseline for you!" Creepy! There was another one acting loony in his bed. Creepy!
After exiting the house, we crossed back into Islands of Adventure through a pathway behind Fright Yard. On this path, a guy with a microphone was heckling guests as they passed. When he saw our group, he said, "You actually paid Chris to lead you around?"
We came into Islands of Adventure by Mythos, where we said our goodbyes and the group broke up. I took a walk around Islands of Adventure even though my feet were hurting from all the walking. I was looking for my scare-actor friend, but I didn't see him. As I walked through Jurassic Park, there were scare-actors in last year's Jungle of Doom costumes. One guest that was frightened by a scare-actor actually went up and slapped him. Now that's a good way to get thrown out of the park! The River Adventure was open and had a five minute wait, but I was too tired to ride. I had to get off my feet before I left for the night, so I stopped by for a burger at Captain America Diner. The burger wasn't too bad, but by this time, my brain felt like mush, and I was about to fall asleep while ordering my food.
I exited the park and picked up my car from valet parking. What was amazing was the valet guy had left my radio at the same volume and on the same radio station. The radio was tuned to 105.9 FM, a loud alternative rock station. He could have been holding his ears and damning the music before he pulled up, but he didn't mess with the radio at all. Now that's class!
The R.I.P. Tour was definitely pricey, but I thought it was worth every penny. I felt like royalty. From the valet parking to waiting in the Navigator's Club to being escorted to the front-of-the-line made the night feel really special. I don't think I would have felt that if I had just used the Universal Express passes. Chris showed a lot of confidence during the tour, too. When we were being escorted to the front of the line, we always had a few guests who wanted to freeload and follow us. Chris would politely shoo them away. She knew the parks well and shared some interesting stories and celebrity encounters. At the end of the tour, I wanted to immediately sign up for a spot for next year's event!