My Return to the Cinema at Universal Orlando Resort!

On Friday, July 17th, I returned to the cinema! I’ve been waiting for this day since the middle of March when movie theatres closed during the COVID-19 shutdown. From the moment I learned that the theatres around me (Tampa & Orlando) would begin reopening in mid-July, I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to once again sit in a recliner in an auditorium in front of a giant screen with surround sound to experience the magic of motion pictures as cannot be replicated, even in the very best at-home VOD experiences. The smells, the sights, the people (in their respective masks), and the energy all help to create the immersive cinematic experience that has been a staple of motion pictures since the earliest days of film distribution. And what better way to return than seeing E.T., Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Jurassic Park over the weekend at the Universal Orlando Cinemark at CityWalk. The former two, I had never seen on the big screen before, and I never turn down an opportunity to see the latter. There is a magic to arriving at the box office to pickup your ticket, walking inside, being greeted by a smiling face and directed to your auditorium where you take a seat to watch a movie at the exact same time as other others in attendance. You will laugh together, cry together, scream, together. That “togetherness” creates an infectious energy in the room that transcends the mind and heart. Watching movies at the Universal Orlando Cinemark also provided me with the ability to watch the movies then ride them! Both E.T. and Jurassic Park are attractions at Universal Orlando (while T2-3D is a former attraction), so I could watch the movie then experience the ride! How cool is that?!? Although some of you live in areas that have not reopened movie theatres, others do live near cinemas that have reopened; and I hope this article serves as encouragement to leave the couch in your living room behind, and return to the cinema!

Friday, July 17th couldn’t come quickly enough for me. As soon as I heard that was the day that movie theatres would begin reopening, I was primed to return to the cinema to properly experience motion pictures. It’d been nearly four months to the day since I had watched a new movie. Yes, I know what you’re thinking–why not just watch “new” movies on streaming services? That’s one band wagon that I refused to climb aboard. Although I could write an entire article on just why I don’t care to watch “intended to be theatrical release” movies at home, in short and among other reasons, I am far more at ease and comfortable sitting by myself in an auditorium than I am sitting alone in my own living room. And it’s not just the temptation to look at my phone or have my MacBook close by. Watching “theatrical” first run movies on VOD at home lacks the experiential factor that comes along with theatrical movies, not to mention the lack of structure at home. Also the sheer number of films to choose from can be quite daunting; I prefer knowing that there are 1-3 new movies coming out most Thursday nights. When I wasn’t attending press screenings, I would watch whatever was new on Thursday evenings. VOD doesn’t offer that. With the VOD platform, there are dozens of titles that release weekly. It’s overwhelming. Plus, after-movie conversations with the staff at the movie theatre or friends are so much fun! Watching at home deprives us of the opportunity to share in discussions and heated debates over what we just watched together for the first time.

This article is about my experience at the cinema; but in case you’re wondering, Universal Orlando Resort has been a model company in our post-shutdown economy and world. Disney World: we are going to open in July; Universal Orlando: hold my beerand we’ll do it better. From the passholder days on June 3-4 (to which ALL UOAPs were able to attend) to today, Universal is keeping guests safe whilst delivering the magic and opening up the gateway to epic adventures. Even before you get to CityWalk, all Guests and Team Members undergo temperature checks. And yes, Team Members and Guests were wearing masks and following social distancing markers. So any reports to the contrary, are grossly exaggerated. Take it from me, I have literally been there ten times since the reopening, so I’ve seen the park on multiple days. That same attention to health and safety in the theme park was carried directly over to Universal’s movie theatre partner Cinemark.

Much like Universal, Cinemark was on their A-game from box office to exit. When I bought my ticket to E.T., I was able to see on the seat selection monitor just how the company was implementing social distancing. Every row was divided up into two-seat sections. After every two available seats, there were two empty seats. And with the theatre using big recliners, that put six-ish feet between parties. Yes, that means that if you’re a party of three or more, that you cannot sit immediately together. However, if you are a larger travel party, you can purchase tickets together early, and seats will be blocked off on either side of your travel party. The concession stand had social distancing markers in place, and even turned-off every other Freestyle Coke machine. But the Coke machines weren’t the only things that were intentionally turned off to promote social distancing; even the restrooms were setup to accommodate the “six-foot rule.” In the men’s room, every other stall was cordoned off. Of course, what funny is that most guys know that you never take the urinal stall directly next to another guy. So, I thought that was kind of humorous.

Inside the auditorium, I observed that all guests were wearing masks except when eating or drinking. Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled, just like restaurants permit dine-in guests to remove masks when eating, then movie theatres should NOT be thought of any differently. And I’ve also heard the “what about the ventilation system” argument why theatres shouldn’t reopen. If we do not expect Target, the supermarket, schools, places of business, libraries, and gas stations to turn off their environmental systems (and some of those are places that you spend extended amounts of time at, especially if you are still reporting into an office or store for work), then movie theatres should NOT be held to a different standard. Upon leaving the movie, I observed (what appeared to be).a third party cleaning company that was preparing to go inside and clean the auditorium for the next showing. Clearly, Cinemark and Universal have thought through how to maintain a safe environment for all guests and staff. As John Hammond would put it, “sparred no expense.”

The first movie I chose to watch on my return was E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. This is a movie that is particularly dear to my heart because it inspired one of only two remaining opening-day attractions left at Universal Studios Florida (the other being the Horror Makeup Show). I adore the movie, but it’s the attraction that gives it a special place in my heart. Whenever I ride it, I am reminded of my family, and in particular my sister since she comes down to Florida to visit me a few times a year, and we always go to Universal together. When I am riding that bicycle through the forest and through the Green Planet, I feel that my sister is next to me saying “I’ll. Be. Right Here.” Watching this timeless classic on the big screen for the very first time was a breathtaking experience. I cried so many times during the movie, and yes I laughed too. It was like watching it for the very first time, period. I’d like to say it took me back to seeing it in theatres as a kid, but this came out before i was born. Compared to watching it on TV at home, this was a totally different experience that immersed me in the world of the movie. For the runtime, I could shut out the chaos and confusion of the world in which we presently live, and get lost in this cinematic fantasy that has delighted audiences for nearly four decades.

After I watched the movie, I went to visit a friend of mine working in Islands of Adventure before heading back to Universal Studios to ride the E.T. Adventure, then take in the new Bourne Stuntacular show that is in the former T2:3D show building. Although I had seen the show during it’s opening weekend, I wanted to go back to the former home of the T2 attraction before watching T2: Judgement Day on the big screen for the first time! So after returning ET to the Green Planet and following Jason Bourne, I went back to the Cinemark to watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day. And WOW! That film still holds up incredibly well. more than twenty-five years later, and that movie still delivers the spectacular in spades. Yes, even the old CGI effects still look killer (well, most of them anyway). The picture, the sound, everything transported you from that auditorium to the streets of LA along side John, Sarah, and Arnold. Words cannot capture the magic of the moment of sitting there, watching another timeless motion picture on the big screen.

The next day, I met up with the Always the Critic podcast to watch Jurassic Park together! Since there were four of us, we couldn’t all sit together, but we were all able to watch the movie together, and that’s the most important element. Now, Jurassic Park is a film that I did get to see in theatres in 1993 and upon re-release in 2013, 2015 (leading up to Jurassic World), and in 2018, so this was not as mindblowing as the former two; however, it is my favorite movie of all time and I never miss a chance to see it on the big screen. Having the opportunity to watch it with new pod-friends was an experience that will long be remembered. It was so much fun when we all go together immediately following the movie to talk about how amazing it was to see on the big screen surrounded by incredibly sound technology. We even commented on how we jump at certain parts even though we know that they are coming up. Something about seeing it in a movie theatre with other people that still makes you jump and react much in the same way you may have done when you did see it for the first time.

There are other movies that I plan to see on the big screen such as Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, select Harry Potter films, and more. I hope that this idea of running old and new classic movies continues into the Halloween season so we could get screenings of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, SCREAM, Misery, Carrie, The Shining, and so many others! Perhaps this is how cinemas will reimagine their business model. In addition to the new movies that will eventually be released in theatres, they will continue to show motion pictures that have contributed significantly to the human experience over the decades.

Should you choose to attend your local cinema, make sure they are following local, state, and federal guidelines and ordinances. Many movie theatres will require masks even if local government bodies do not, and that’s okay. I don’t like wearing one when I go out, but I wear one without complaint because I want to be cooperative and responsible. If your cinema is taking the recommended CDC and DOH precautions, then return with confidence that your health and safety are priorities for your cinema. You will probably see the theatre staff happier than ever because they (1) have their jobs back and (2) are incredibly thrilled to welcome you once again to the movies. By returning to the cinema, this will provide the empirical data necessary for distribution companies to justify releasing new movies in theatres once again. Without butts in seats, it makes it difficult to make a decision to release a movie theatrically. Your return to the cinema will do your mind and body good, it will help to bring back jobs, pump money into the economy, keep the cinematic experience alive for generations to come, and bring a smile to your face.

There are inherent risks with life; everyday we get out of bed, there are risks. Yet, we still get up and go about our day. You don’t allow the possibility of a car accident to stop you from driving, so don’t allow the possibility of contact with COVID-19 to stop you from living your best life ever. Do your best not to treat your return to the cinema (or theme parks) any differently. Now, don’t be selfishly reckless either; follow the guidelines and ordinances for your state or city without complaint. Wear your mask, if asked to do so (which is probably all movie theatres and theme parks right now), maintain the 6ft rule as reasonably possible, and above all, exhibit a positive, optimistic attitude in order to continue to build the general level of confidence that we will not live in fear but take the necessary precautions to promote health and safety for all. So, it is plain to see that movie theatres CAN and WILL intentionally make accommodations and implement precautions to promote health and safety to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I never once felt unsafe at any point in my return to the cinema. Return to your cinema this weekend!

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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“Doctor Sleep” horror film review

A brilliantly unsettling and crisp horror film! Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is both an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, by the same name, and a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This highly anticipated film had the unusual task to fit the Kubrick film and King’s novel The Shining, since it is well known that King was not happy with the Kubrick adaptation. Although many unplanned sequels to iconic classics are challenged to justify their own existence, and often fail to live up to the magic of the original, Flanagan defies the fate that so often befalls sequels and delivers a compelling film worthy to be connected to Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece. While the specter of Kubrick is lurking in the background, and our foreground story takes place on the backdrop of The Overlook Hotel complete with the presence of Jack Torrance, it isn’t merely grown-up Danny whom shines in this film. Both Danny’s young counterpart Abra (Kyleigh Curran) and the mesmerizing villainous Rose “Rosie” the Hat (Rebecca Furguson) shine brightly against the macabre imagery and themes. Doctor Sleep takes audiences to some very dark places–a no holds barred approach–that will surely get under your skin and cause you to cringe at the vile actions on screen in Rose the Hat’s quest for ostensible immortality. There is something irresistible about returning to the infamous Overlook Hotel, and this film knows that you are mostly in the auditorium because of anticipating the trade mark carpet, Navajo-deco interior design, and bloody elevators, and holds that ace up its sleeve until the third act. Whereas the storytelling could have taken the easy way out, knowing that you would blindly accept virtually everything as long as you get to check back into The Overlook, it still offers a compelling, challenging narrative that brilliantly sets up the showdown at the most infamous hotel in all literature. Combining the best of the King novel with the haunting imagery and ominous atmosphere of Kubrick’s masterpiece, this film surpasses the expectations and apprehensions most of us had when we knew the legacy shoes this sequel had to fill.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless-mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul… (IMDb)

Where do you go when you never want to see snow again? Florida or Southern California. And that is precisely where this film opens up (but it’s obviously Georgia). However, not with young Danny Torrence, we meet a kid whom encounters Rose the Hat and her “friends.” The audience is immediately hooked to the story after tragedy befalls the young lady. Mean while, across town at the same time, young Danny gets visited by that iconic “bathing beauty” from Room 237. Following a chance encounter with Dick Hallorann, Danny learns how to take control of the haunts of his past that are just as hungry as Rose the Hat is for the energy from that which creates the shine. While Danny may be able to contain the manifestations of the horror of his past, the experience at The Overlook and the untimely death of his mother had a profound, far reaching effect upon the direction of his life. As an adult, he, much like his father, turned to alcohol to dampen the trauma. After waking up next to the dead body of a coke-addict, he heads for New Hamshire. Precisely why is never fully explained; but it’s there that he meets an angel of sorts that sets him up for a successful return from the life of an addict to a fully-functional adult.

From operating a train in the town square (which you’ll recognize as Mystic Falls from The Vampire Diaries complete with the the clocktower and awning of the Mystic Grill in the background–I’m serious–you can read myst… on it, haha) to using his shinning ability to help those in a hospice pass from this world onto the next, the memories of The Overlook become more and more distant. All seems like it’s going well, until he begins to pickup the voices of those whom are being targeted and hunted by Rose the Hat’s gang. I love how the setup in Act I perfectly positioned our three lead characters for the gripping conflict that Act II brought about. Every scene, every moment of the film acts as a visual sentence in a larger paragraph, and those paragraphs are part of the entire story. Each one, a building block that consistently points to the resolution of the film. Never once does the films pacing lag. That’s not to say that it’s not a slow burn. After the shocking opening, it is a slow burn until midway through the film, then the pace quickens exponentially. That being said, the moments that are slower paced still feel perfect for the story that is unfolding. Slowly winding like a music box, the tension increases steadily as it draws you in closer and closer to the central conflict. With each child killed by Rose the Hat’s cult True Knot, the horrifying nature of the violent acts weigh heavily on your mind and heart as the terrifying creepiness of the war that being waged grows closer and closer to home.

Even more than the performances of Ewan and Kyleigh, it is Furguson’s Rose the Hat that steals the show every moment that she is on screen. The friend I was watching this with leaned over to me and said “I want to be her for Halloween next year.” Rose is a strikingly beautiful, seductive, siren like neo-hippie that looks like she just stepped out of a Rolling Stones concert. Everything from her stunning eyes to the rhyme and meter of how she delivers her “hi there” works absolutely perfectly. One might say that she steals the show in very much the same manner that Nicholson’s Jack steals the spotlight at every turn in The Shining. She is the best kind of character of opposition (for all intents and purposes villain), one that you love to hate and love to see on screen. She is vile she-devil, but how she goes about her conquest is fascinating. Ewan McGreggor’s performance as Danny is solid; nothing outstanding about it in particular but a strong performance that convinces us that he IS the adult version of the boy on the tricycle. I appreciate the transformation we witness as he goes from drifter to hero. Shining along side Danny is Kyleigh’s Abra, a newcomer to the big screen that echoes young Danny in The Shining, but a more developed character that actively takes control of her fate.

By far, my favorite part of the movie is when we return to The Overlook. I absolutely love how we watch Kyleigh and Danny drive the windy snowy road through the night to the infamous mountain lodge tucked deep in the Colorado Rockies. Despite the boarded up windows on the derelict hotel, the grandeur of The Overlook is just as present and powerful in 2019 as it was in 1980. Remember that scene of Jack and the hotel manager from The Shining? That same office is used as the doctor’s office at the hospice center. So, not all the homages to Kubrick’s masterpiece are at the hotel, some are sprinkled throughout the rest of the film. You get it all, callbacks to the bloody elevator, the typewriter, the sinister twins, bath lady, and more. While strolling through the dark, twisted hallways of The Overlook, Danny finds himself in the Gold Room where he encounters his Lloyd at the bar, tempting him with his vice. And as tradition has it, his bar tender is the former caretaker. And as such his bartender is Jack Torrance (played by discount Jack Nicholson). With such a great connection to the original film, the fact that this actor looked but not sounded like Jack Nicholson took me out of the film a little. Not to the point that it ruined the experience, but I have to acknowledge this shortcoming. That being said, it’s not so much that the actor is not Jack Nicholson, but I think having Jack Nicholson ADR the few lines that this Jack has would have helped to bridge the character gap between the original and this one. Some of the recasting worked brilliantly; the recasting of Wendy, young Danny, and Dick was spot on!

If you’re a fan of The Shining, then I highly recommend that you watch this film. If by some chance that you’ve been living under a rock and not seen The Shining, then you will still enjoy the film if you’re a horror fan. While this film may not be as terrifying as the first time we checked into The Overlook, it has many frightening moments. Any worries you have that this “not asked for sequel” is going to fail to deliver that which you want to see in a sequel, you needn’t worry! I hope you return to The Overlook very soon.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Halloween Horror Nights XXIX Full Review

You know it’s Halloween season when Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights opens! And this year, it opened earlier than ever. What a banner year it is! Opening weekend with my friends was an absolute blast. Over all, this was a solid year for the event that turns 30 next year. Although there lacks an official theme for HHN29, it is very clearly 80’s nostalgia, complete with the laser lights and electronica sounds that were such a quintessential part of the decade. The lineup of houses is outstanding; from fantastic original concepts to familiar and even historic licensed IPs, HHN29 has something for everyone. New for this year is the Halloween Marathon of Mayhem projection/water nighttime spectacular on the lagoon that has showings a few times a night. Don’t miss it! In addition to houses, the crowd favorite Twisted Tater is back; I remember all too well, last year, the iconic starchy snack was absent on opening weekend. Not this year! Although my friends and I had Express Passes, the general wait times were all mostly under an hour. That number will likely increase the closer we get to Halloween; but for right now, waits are reasonable.

If I was to sum up the experience of this year compared to years gone by, I would have to say that this year’s HHN is less scary than previous seasons. This sentiment appears to be shared by others as well. The trend to catering to younger (and by younger, I mean under 17) and their families began last year with the introduction of Stranger Things. Now, I don’t only go to HHN to be scared–that’s not really the point–yes, is that an added benefit? Sure! But when you watch horror movies on a regular basis and attend this most prestigious Halloween event each year, you’re naturally going to become desensitized to the scares. Therefore, it may become less scary over time, but I would have liked to have experienced more terrifying moments in some of the houses. While I am being negatively critical of the level of terror, I want to emphasize that this IS a solid year, and one that I’ve experienced three times this season and plan to attend more.

This year’s houses: Universal Monsters, Graveyard Games, Nightingales Blood Pit, House of a Thousand Corpses, Depths of Fear, Us, Yeti Terror of the Yukon, Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space

This year’s scare zones: Anarch-cade, Zombieland Double Tap, Rob Zombie Hellbilly Deluxe, Vikings Undead, Vanity Ball

Let’s start with my favorite house Universal Monsters! This was the house that I was most eager to experience even before the event began. And I am pleased to report that it exceeded my expectations. In a world of so many remakes and reboots of classic properties, this house delivered a fantastic experiential interpretation of the original monsters that started it all! You get The Hunchback, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s Monster, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Wolfman. Every aspect of this house was planned and executed with detailed precision. We didn’t get some reimagination of these characters in such a way that the house sought to “improve” upon the source material, it was a beautiful display of Universal’s legacy of horror.

My pick for best original concept house is Graveyard Games! This house transports you to a beautiful gothic haunted cemetery that delivers the scares for which you’re searching at HHN. The level of detail in this house is truly outstanding. And it’s not just the undead that are hunting you down. It would have been all too easy to just have another cemetery filled with zombies or other minions of the undead, but here you find any and everything that goes bump in the night and more. This is a house that I could do over and over again, and never get tired of it. I love how much like a real gothic cemetery it feels and that the scares are some of the best at the event this year.

Nightingales Blood Pit is the sequel to Nightingales from several seasons ago. Here you will find yourself in the trenches and catacombs of ancient Rome where sinister, blood thirsty  birdlike creatures have taken over the city. Not even Rome’s famous gladiators are a match for these horrifying abominations. If there was an award given out for best facade, then this house would win! I absolutely love the production design on the outside of the house that (1) you can take pictures of and (2) it instantly begins to immerse you into the nightmarish world into which you are about to descend. All that was missing is the aroma from the scene where “the great library of Alexandria was burned” on Spaceship Earth at Epcot.

House of a Thousand Corpses (HOATC) is an outstanding translation from screen to attraction! This is another house with a great facade, and the best one I’ve seen on this building in years. HOATC delivers precisely what you desire to see in this house! Not only does it have some great hillbilly horror scares, but the casting is fantastic, especially the actors playing Captain Spaulding. The moment I walked into the lobby of the store and saw Captain Spaulding standing behind the desk, you could have told me that it was Sig Haig and I would have believed you. You get it all, blood, guts, the music of Rob Zombie and more.

Depths of Fear is likely the weakest house out of the lineup this year. And it’s not because the concept is weak as much as it is the execution. I get it. It was going for Aliens set underwater. But for most of the house, I wouldn’t tell if I was in outer space or in the depths of the ocean. If this was supposed to be a horror comedy house, then I think I would have liked it more, but I don’t think the comedy was intentional. Although the costuming, puppet design, and other effects were creative, they lacked anything truly scary. Maybe this was another house, much like Stranger Things, that was supposed to appeal to a younger audience.

You may find yourself in the US house at HHN29. Based on the popular Jordan Peele movie released earlier this year US takes a stab at adapting Peele’s movie into an attraction. And if you’re a fan of the movie, then you will most likely enjoy this house because it is virtually every major plot point from the movie. The design and attention to detail is right out of the movie. As I found the movie to be just okay, I also find this house to be just okay. I can certainly understand why it was chosen over Toothfairy (which was actually a better and scarier house concept, btw) because of the box office success.

Bring your parka if you want to survive the night in Yeti Terror of the Yukon. Universal Creative delivers another excellent original concept house, loosely inspired by last year’s Revenge of the Swamp Yeti in Slaughter Sinema. So much fun! Not only is this house full of traditional scares, but it is incredibly fun. Completely re-doable. Although you are inside a sound stage, you will feel as though you are braving the icy temperatures of the Yukon. One of my favorite scares is when a giant Yeti arm attempts to grab you from above. Completely unexpected! And the costuming is fantastic too.

Who’re you gonna call? GhostbustersFollowing Universal Monsters, this was the next house I was looking forward to most. And although I was pretty much able to predict what I was going to see in the house, it doesn’t take away from how much fun it was! Many people that are now fans of or regulars at Universal Orlando are unfamiliar with the former Ghostbusters special effects and stunt show that was located where Jimmy Fallon is now. After the house was announced, I was hoping that I would see the same optical effects that the movie and live show used to bring the world of Ghostbusters to a haunted house attraction. And you know what? Universal did just that! From the use of projections and mirrors to a giant StayPuff Marshmallow Man head that smelled of toasted marshmallows, the commitment to staying true to the movie (and even the previous live show) was outstanding.

Returning for a second year in a row is Stranger Things. This time, immerse yourselves in “a solute to all [seasons] but mostly [season two].” My followers who, are friends of Muppet Vision 3D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will appreciate that reference. By all measurable accounts, season three of the hit Netflix series is the stronger one between 2 and 3; however, this house is three-quarters season two. In fact, Star Court Mall, for all intents and purposes,  comprises one room–disappointing. I’d say that’s the word that sums up my experience of the Stranger Things house this year. It’s unfortunate that it was disappointing to me because Season Three lended itself to horror so much that I thought for sure it would have been a more significant part of the house.

Continuing the pattern of a scare zone turned house, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (KKFOS) has lots of cotton candy and popcorn for you! As a scare zone this IP worked so incredibly well that I was cautiously optimistic for the house translation. The caution was because I felt that HHN28‘s Trick ‘r Treat worked better as a scare zone (HHN27) than house. I am pleased to report that as successful the scare zone for KKFOS was, it worked equally well if not even BETTER as a house! Everything about this house works incredibly well. From the campy costumes to most memorable moments from the movie, and even the sounds of popcorn and and aroma of cotton candy permeating every nook and cranny. If you suffer from a fear of clowns, then this is definitely a house where you can face your fears!

If there is an overall weak area of HHN28, it is the scare zones. Compared to year’s past, the scare zones seemed to not be as immersive as they usually are. I was told my a team member that some of the house facades and scare zone elements were removed when it was predicted that Hurricane Dorian was going to significantly impact Orlando. As I have only been to HHN opening weekend (Fri, Sat, and Sun), I have not been back to compare what is now there compared to opening weekend. Of all the scare zones, Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe is the zone that offers guests the best experience. However, I would be remiss not to mention the brilliant laser and neon lights of Anarch-Cade! I loved the cabinet video games and all the lights that reminded me of an old-school arcade in a mall. The other zones are okay, so definitely don’t miss them. But the zones are the weakest part of the event this season. If for no other reason, they are lacking in scares.

Do not leave HHN29 without watching the Halloween Marathon of Mayhem nighttime spectacular on the lagoon. The nights I was there, it ran at 10, 11, and 12M. Although only about 10mins, it is a great way to pay tribute to Universal’s legacy of horror and each house that makes up HHN29. The music and lights are a direct extension of all the houses, full of 80s nostalgia and neon! If there is an area of improvement for the show, it would be to include some pyrotechnics. The water screens, fountains, and projections are great, but I would have liked to have seen some fireworks as well. Now I know that would be difficult with the show running multiple times, but I imagine that Universal Creative is innovative enough to develop a safe method for setting up the show to have pyro in each showing.

There you have it, folks! A complete review of Halloween Horror Nights XXIX!. As fantastic as this year is, I cannot wait to see what Universal has in store for HHN 30! Maybe we will see the return of past icons or even reimaginations of past houses. Horror Nights is running on select nights now through November 2nd. If you can afford to buy one of the frequent fear passes with express or just one night of express, then you will definitely increase your enjoyment level and minimize the negative stressors that come along with this annual event.

For my friend Dani’s review of HHN XXIX, please visit her blog too!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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Sky’s the Limit at Cirque Vertigo at Busch Gardens

If you missed Cirque Vertigo last week at Busch Gardens’ Real Music Series during the park’s 60th Anniversary, don’t panic! It is coming back at the end of the Real Music series. This highly popular limited engagement was a packed house at each show. For those who miss the touring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for all its death-defying acrobatics, then you are in for a treat! Returning for the final week of Real Music Real Masters series, Cirque Vertigo featuring the famous Wallenda Duo March 11-16. As none of the Real Music Real Masters shows run on Sunday, for those of us whom work Monday-Friday, make sure you catch the show on Saturday at either 11:30 or 1:30. Seriously, this show fills up faster than Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And with good reason. It’s a limited run and is an absolutely spectacular extravaganza.

I cannot mention enough the importance of picking up a FREE show ticket (that essentially means you have A seat) before the show. The show WILL FILL UP. I imagine that the second run of the show will be even more popular because of all the Twitter and Instagram activity during the first run. So, you have a few weeks to plan your next visit.

At approximately 45-minutes, this is a long theme park show, but it is high impact the whole time. Cirque Vertigo has it all–comedy, acrobatics, audience interaction, and adrenaline pumping music! The show opens with a hilarious monologue and giant ball-spinning act by the emcee. This is a great transition from arriving at the theatre to the show because some tensions were high with the chaotic loading of the theatre. Comedy is a great way to calm down those who may be frustrated that they didn’t get the seat they hoped they would get. Throughout the show, the emcee proves audiences with some laughs between the balancing and acrobatic acts. Although much of his humor is self-deprecating, there is no question that he has some great talent for balancing large objects, Chinese yoyo tricks, and more.

The first act involves spinning lights lots of mindblowing balancing acts. All are fascinating to watch! As the lights fly by, the trail left behind the lights displays the Real Music series logo. This act is a combination of light spinning and gymnastics. Following the light spinning, another acrobat brings out a huge wire frame cube and spins and balances it. Pretty sure that cube was taller than the performer. By far the most impressive routine in the opening was the balancing act on the silver cylindrical shapes. As I am not a circus performer, I am not certain of the proper name for those elements of the act.

The second act takes extreme hula hooping to the next level! I have difficulty just hula-ing with one hoop let alone dozens! The first part of the routine involves juggling hula hoops in a fantastically choreographed routine followed by hula-ing dozens and dozens of hula-hoops.

The third act takes you to the sky as the silks falls from the ceiling and the acrobat ascends! Silk routines are among my favorite at Cirque or Circus shows. There is an incredible beauty to how the acrobat moves up and down the silks. It is clear where the show got its name because of all the vertically aligned acts that reach for the sky. More so than the other acts, this one stands out as aerial interpretive dancing–an experimental ballet suspended above the stage.

Act four starts on the ground, then towers to the rafters. The same acrobat that balanced the giant cube before is back with a different geometric shape. This time, he impresses the audience with incredible feats of balance and movement with the ring. There is literally nothing that this guy can do with the ring. Personally, my favorite routine was spinning on the round and rolling around the stage in it. Following the ring routine, the next acrobat stacks chairs more than 30ft in the air (maybe even higher) and does a handstand! Phenomenal! Such a magnificent display of acrobatic prowess.

The fifth and final act before the finale features the Wallenda Duo! I’ve seen trapeze routines, high-wire acts, and other circus staples, but I’ve never seen a circus act like this one before. With a vertically aligned bar suspended from the trusses, the Wallenda Duo mesmerizes the audience with a gravity-defying routine act that will hold you in suspense as death-defying acts are on display before your very eyes. No CGI, no fly system, no safety net–just world-class acrobats that are (if I remember correctly) fourth generation circus performers.

You do not want to miss a single epic moment of Cirque Vertigo!

Visit the Busch Gardens website for more information on this and the other exciting acts coming to the Real Music Real Masters series!

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration 2018 Review

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, no theme park does Christmas better than SeaWorld! From the food to shows to lights, SeaWorld Christmas is a spectacular event. With so much to see and do, you’ll want to experience it multiple nights in order to make sure you create memories that will last for a lifetime. Although I’ve attended Christmas Celebration in the past, it is so magical that I just love experiencing it again and again. Perhaps you are like me in that you attend as many theme park and resort events at possible at Christmas, but if you can only select one for you and your friends/family, then I highly suggest SeaWorld Christmas Celebration!

Before we get into the shows (which are largely unchanged from previous years), I want to talk about the food. Oh, and speaking of food, you’ll want to treat yourself to the sampler lanyard (5 or 10 items) for all the delectable food and drink cabins. My invitation to the media event came with the 5 item sampler, but I can see the advantages of the 10 item option if you plan to attend multiple nights or are there with another person or group. As far as the 5-item lanyard, my friend Dani and I were able to share it and had plenty to eat and drink. Prior to setting out into the park, the SWO public relations team provided many food and drink items for us during the media mixer. My favorite is the s’mores waffle cone! Absolutely delicious. We also had the Christmas dinner and candied popcorn. Out in the park, we had the donut pulled pork sandwich (not included in the sampler), brisket macaroni and cheese, and chicken and waffles! Yes! Chicken and waffles, you heard me. For drinks, we had the Jingle Juice. All the speciality beverages I saw were hot (just FYI). For a cold beverage, there are options but they are not the specialty drinks.

We attended Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, Winter Wonderland on Ice, and Shamu’s Christmas Miracle. Unfortunately, we did not attend O Wondrous Night because of scheduling conflicts. Of course, we also enjoyed the Sea of Trees show on the lagoon that runs throughout the evening. Clyde and Seamore’s show is always hilarious!! You are in for a laugh for sure. Since we were attending during the same showtime as O Wondrous Night, it wasn’t terribly packed but was nicely filled. Largely unchanged, this show is pretty much the same as it was last year, but it is still such a fun show and will have you laughing the whole time. One of my favorite parts of the show is actually the pre-show when the audience all joins together to sing familiar Christmas songs and carols. Although it is a show geared towards the younger members of the audience, there are jokes and references for us adults to chuckle as well. At one point, one of the trainers forgot his line, and there was a comedically self-aware moment. And the Frozen jokes were great. New for this year were some meta jokes about the stores in the mall. So incredibly funny! Poor Blockbuster haha. Do yourself a favor and sit down for a heaping helping of laughter and merriment as Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas!

Winter Wonderland on Ice returns this year! Arrive early for the preshow! Enjoy the beauty of the violin as a fantastically talented violinist plays Christmas music as you wait for the show to begin. Much like the Christmas on Ice show at Busch Gardens, this show features many talented figure skaters in beautifully choreographed skating numbers to your favorite Christmas songs. To be honest, I still prefer the Busch Gardens show, but those skaters are at the park year-round so they can put more time into the show design. That being said, with SeaWorld placing the show on the water’s edge, the exquisite Sea of Trees can be seen behind the ice stage. Since the show is outdoors, SeaWorld is able to integrate some lite pyrotechnics in the show! As a figure skating hobbiest, I have a high degree of appreciation for these shows. I love watching the movements and picking out the ones that I am able to do! Note: I still have a long way to go haha. Bayside Stadium is packed for this show, so make sure to arrive early.

The Christmas Village at Port of Entry is always a treat! With special a’cappella groups, the Christmas village train set, and of course, you can meet Rudolph and Friends! This is the area where you can also enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, craft beer, and cookies! Located near the Christmas Village is Santa’s Base Camp where you can meet the big man himself. With many places to sit down and relax, this is a great place to slow down and take in the smells and songs that make this “the most wonderful time of the year.” I came across the most adorable plushies, once of which is a promotional item! I saw a Shamu with a Santa hat and a Santa Sloth!! There is also a hedgehog and other cuddly plushy animals that will be hard to resist.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW him!

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