Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: Halloween Horror Nights

Detailing our quick weekend jaunt to Universal Studios Florida. Read all posts in this report here.

Please accept this, the most apropos Halloween post I could hope to offer.

After our early afternoon break in the hotel, we walked back to Universal Studios Florida. Incidentally, I should say that I would totally recommend the DoubleTree at the Entrance to Universal Studios if that's the theme park complex you're focusing on for the trip. I freakin' loved being able to walk from the hotel to the resort, plus there was a Starbuck's on property that was never busy and a convenient gift shop as well.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back to USF for Halloween Horror Nights. We made our way back to CityWalk, where a nice security guard gave his seal of approval for my Jurrasic Park shirt. On our way into the Studios, Pat bought us beers, which we sipped in a leisurely way as we traveled. I suppose that's the one thing Universal's layout can offer that Disney's cannot...

Universal beer

We entered the park about an before official close, leaving us time for one ride. Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon was nearby and boasting basically no wait, so we headed inside. I can't really offer any commentary on the virtual queue system they have set up there as there was basically no wait. However, I have a LOT of thoughts on the ride itself, most of which can be boiled down into a single acronym: WTF?

It is a profoundly weird piece of theme park ephemera, turning a standard motion simulator experience into... into... is this what tripping on acid is like? I mean, I was already on board when that one Roots dude rapped the safety spiel, but the main ride is something else entirely. WHY does Jimmy Kimmel have a glorified go-kart? HOW do we somehow get little farther than Times Square? WHO are Sara and Gary? WHY do we leave eponymous NYC halfway through to take a roller coaster ride on the moon? WHAT EVEN IS THIS???

If you can't tell, I consider it an absurdist masterpiece and I am deeply in love with the entire thing. But probably not for the reasons the creators would've expected.

Anyway. By the time we finished tripping our asses off with Jimmy, the park was shutting down to day guests. Since we had tickets for Halloween Horror Nights, we were allowed to stay in the park during the transition in Stay 'n Scream holding tanks. We chose the one closest to the Ghostbusters house, since that was our primary goal.


By my estimate, about 15 minutes before official go time, our Ghostbusters line began moving, and we were entering the house and 10 minutes later. Strangely enough, I wasn't nervous in the slightest. Maybe it was the beers Pat bought me while we were waiting in line. Maybe it was the complete lack of facade; basically you were outside a warehouse, and then you went inside and bam, the library from the opening scene. Whatever the reason, I went through the whole thing with my eyes open and had fun and everything!

Mind you, as has been noted in reviews, the Ghostbusters house isn't really trying very hard to scare anybody. It's more of a medium to tell the story of the movie. You go from the library to the firehouse to Dana's apartment to there is no Zuul to Gozer to Stay Puft with little more than the occasional terror dog leaping at you from a wall as any kind of scare.

I was absolutely fine with that, but I do think the whole thing felt rushed. I think they might have been better served putting together a standalone plot set in the Ghostbusters universe so they didn't feel like they had to hit Every Original Plot Point, but what the hell do I know.

Me? I don't know much. But Pat knows EVERYTHING about Ghostbusters. And, alas, he was somewhat let down by the experience. He too felt that not only the house itself was rushed, but that we, the people of the line, were rushed going through it. He wanted more interaction with the cast than was available. In fact, over the course of the evening I asked him a couple times if he wanted to go again, and he said no.

So that was not the rip-roaring success that I would've hoped. But there was one more point of light to hit: the event gift shop. While none of the merchandise was inspiring enough to purchase, there were tons of great set pieces decorating the store.








Since it was nearby, I dragged Pat through another round of my beloved Revenge of the Mummy before we grabbed a drink some bad pizza and did an exploratory lap of the lake. 

The scare zones were still warming up for the most part (indeed, the Zombieland area never really seemed to get warm...), but Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe was going full force. Here are thrice the number photos of me in the Dragula car than you'd ever want because I love the robot man and can't choose from among his amazing poses:




Next up we went through the new Fast & Furious ride, which was pretty much EXACTLY the same as the Kong Ride only with different decoration/video. Points for this iteration for Vin Diesel hanging from a helicopter, I guess?

After that we headed over to Rip Ride Rockit, our secret song codes memorized. But we couldn't get the secret menu to come up! On the way out I asked a cast member if the secret menu was even still a thing - and he offered us a second ride to try again. Alas, we still couldn't get it to work, but it was super nice of the SM to give us the second shot.

From there we headed into Diagon Alley, which as it turned out was still fully open. The Gringott's line was a little long, so we hopped into Florean Fortescue's for ice cream instead. I freaking LOVE the clotted cream ice cream here, but apparently I'm the only one - Pat did NOT like the lick I gave him, and I even overheard a woman ahead of me in line ask for a description and then reject it. What, you don't like sweet-n-sour milk? >D

Florean Fortescue's

We swooped around the lake and took a spin on the Simpsons ride, which is no Back to the Future but fun enough. Then we circled back to Gringott's for one last go-round, plus a late-night viewing of the fire-breathing dragon.


And then we took a final spin on Rip Ride Rockit... and Pat got the secret menu to work! He says the secret is a light touch.

By then it was around midnight, but even with 2 more hours of the event left, Pat put in the vote to head home. The lines were still pretty long, especially for the houses. I was too tired to resist, so I followed him out. We walked back to our hotel, got up the next morning, and flew home. Boo. Boo! ('Cause I'm a ghost, see?)

I used to be absolutely terrified of haunted houses and scary movies, but now I'm kinda into them. Unfortunately for me, Pat wasn't really jazzed for the houses because he's NOT scared of such things; he just wanted to ride rides. And I get that. But I think I'd like a do-over with someone who's willing to be just brave enough but not TOO brave for the haunts. Anyone? Anyone? :D

So that was our Universal trip. Stay tuned for food and drink roundups, plus the diary of a Kong completist. See ya around the blog!

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: 10/20

Detailing our quick weekend jaunt to Universal Studios Florida. Read all posts in this report here.

I hopped out of bed for a shower around 7am, then roused Pat for another day of theme park FUN! After a quick stop at the hotel's Starbucks location, we walked on over to Universal Studios, arriving just after opening. (An amateur move, I know, but we were hella tired from our late-night plane ride and needed the sleep).


Our first order of business was to ride my personal favorite Universal ride, which is Revenge of the Mummy - I love Brendan Fraser, I love The Mummy, I love roller coasters, I love dark ride elements, I love Brendan freaking out about his coffee, I love this ride!

Next we skedaddled to the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, a more traditional coaster experience that's still fun. I forgot to look up the secret music codes; I think I just wound up selecting the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and calling it a day.

Then it was off to Islands of Adventure via the Hogwarts Express. While in line, I received a lovely compliment on my Mr. DNA dress from a lady similarly Jurassic Park-attired. Her boyfriend recommended that I swing by the Jurassic Park Discovery Center for some Mr. DNA photo ops, which I vowed to do.

Upon arrival in Hogsmeade we had hoped to pick up another ride on the presently operational Hagrid's Magical Motorbike Whatever It Is, but by the time we arrived the line was 3 hours long, so, pass. Instead we took another spin on the Forbidden Journey, then popped over to Honeydukes for breakfast pastries (finally got my pumpkin pasty - review to come!).

After that we trotted on over to the Hulk coaster, which was boasting a 50 minute wait but Pat really likes it so we jumped into the queue anyway. About 15 minutes in, we passed the single-rider line and decided to take a chance on it. Well, it was completely empty! We wound up on the very next train going out. Good show!

Our next act was to swing by the aforementioned Jurassic Park Discovery Center - where the discovery was that the entire downstairs area was closed. Boo! A nice dino technician did let me hold a stegosaurus egg, but alas, no Mr. DNA for me. Someday.

Dino Discovery Center

We considered investigating an additional ride or two, but the lines were starting to get pretty long; I think after Saturday's deluge of morning rain everyone decided to come on Sunday instead.

Rather than waste away in a line, we decided to skip on out of the park for lunch at CityWalk, where I found a sign that had me all over it.

Stay Silly

(In retrospect I do realize that the phrase is probably "Stay, silly," meaning "don't go," but I like to pretend the comma is just a smudge and my original interpretation stands. Stay silly, my friends.)

Pat really had his heart set on eating outside, so instead of attempting to get ourselves perfectly placed in a sitdown restaurant, we hit up a quick service eatery and did it ourselves. 


The only logical followup was of course to grab a margarita at the airplane bar across from Jimmy Buffett's and strolling around CityWalk for a bit. We ducked into a few stores but none of it proved particularly interesting, so we walked back to our hotel to rest for a bit. On the way I managed to dunk my white sneakers into a truly horrifying amount of mud but now they have character or something? I mean, who makes white running shoes anyway?

Back at the hotel, the sweet and totally apropos sounds of Ghostbusters followed by Ghostbusters II lulled Pat into a restful nap while I changed and prepped for the night's festivities: Halloween Horror Nights!

... which I will detail next time. Because cliffhangers are scary!

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: 10/19

Detailing our quick weekend jaunt to Universal Studios Florida. Read all posts in this report here.

Pat and I began our whirlwind Universal Studios Florida trip in unusual way: with a 3:30am flight. Hey, it was super cheap! Unfortunately, Frontier airplanes are NOT comfortable for sleepers, but we managed to snag some shuteye on the way to Orlando and landed before 6:30am, ready and rarin' for some theme park action.

We picked up an Uber from the airport and hit our hotel before 8am. We were staying at the DoubleTree at the Entrance to Universal, which I snagged for over 50% off on Hotwire as one of their "blind" hot rates. It's not on property but may as well be; we were able to walk to CityWalk in about 10 minutes. We could even see the top of Rip Ride Rockit from our room; if we'd been higher up in the tower we probably could've viewed the whole park.

Oh, I haven't mentioned an important plot point yet - part of a tropical storm was passing over Orlando that morning, which means it was pouring down rain. I didn't even bother changing my clothes or putting on makeup as everything was bound to be ruined/covered anyway. But we were 100% undeterred from park-touring - Pat snagged us some ponchos from the hotel gift shop and off we went!

We arrived at the gates of Islands of Adventure about 30 minutes before opening. Although the borderline torrential rains weren't exactly ideal, they were performing one helpful function: keeping people the hell away. There was scarcely any crowd waiting at the gates, and when they swung open we hustled inside with only a handful of others.

Before setting off, a detour was required: we ducked into a gift shop and requested plastic bags into which we could stash our poor phones. Incidentally, this is why this post doesn't feature a lot of photos as I was busy protecting my phone from the rain. (Fear not, the next day has lots!)

That done, I led us left, wading through what turned out to be a newly formed Lake Jurassic (squishy socks say what?), and into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Pat claims I took him the "long" way 'round but I stand by it. Right may or may not be technically shorter but left deposits you directly in front of Hogwarts Castle, our first destination since Hagrid's Magical whatchamahoosit was closed due to the weather. I made Pat go in front of me in line and enjoyed watching him discover the various fun elements of the castle queue.

After Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey Past Things That Are Trying To Kill You, we emerged to... buckets of rain. The storm wasn't ready to let up, and it was having an unfortunate effect on the park; namely, a remarkable number of rides weren't operating. Our ponchos were keeping us from miserable levels of wet but there was precious little in the way of rides for us to walk to.

So we made an unusual game-time decision and took the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley. A little early for park hopping, perhaps, but at least Gringott's was open. We were able to get in a ride there with minimal wait, then wandered about Diagon Alley a bit, which in addition to being richly themed is at least partially covered. Pat and I enjoyed Knockturn Alley's little bit of ambiance especially.


The only other ride we took in at USF at that time was Men In Black: Alien Attack. Pat DESTROYED me, and was very disappointed that the ride doesn't display everyone's score; he wanted to know if he'd destroyed everyone else.

We took the Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmeade, then ducked into The Three Broomsticks for an early lunch. It was already absolutely packed, but the cast members were keeping the place in ship-shape, actively seating and busing and just generally achieving a turnover any restaurant manager would envy. We both got turkey leg meals, which were fine.

Turkey legs

The rain was finally letting up, and we set our sights on exploring Hogsmeade a little more. We poked around some shops, ultimately ending up in Honeyduke's where Pat picked up some bulk candy. The cast member who served us was super nice and told us about a secret bar drink: part Guinness, part Strongbow, part Hog's Head ale. We never got around to trying it but maybe you can and report back?


Post candy break, we saw something interesting: while Hagrid's Magical Motorbike Something Something was still listed as delayed, they were running some empty trains. I really wanted to give this a try, so we took a chance and hopped into line. It took probably about an hour, but my faith was ultimately rewarded: the ride opened and we were halfway there!

Hagrid's Magical Way Too Long Name does something sneaky-sneaky, though - the preshow room is strangely far away from the loading area. I'd say we waited another half an hour at least between viewing the preshow and boarding the train, which seems odd to me. But the important thing is that it didn't break down, I was able to climb into the sidecar, and... I loved it!

It's hard to tell since I've only done it the one time, but Hagrid's Magical Skrewt-Viewing Train might be my favorite Harry Potter ride. The launches were super fun, and the show elements really elevated the whole experience, driving home that there was a story along with the thrills. And who doesn't love unicorns?! Mind you, it could stand to be a little longer, and it could CERTAINLY do with being open for longer hours, but I'd love to ride it again someday.

(For those wondering: Forbidden Journey is my second favorite, Gringott's third. I just think the latter is a little too abrupt with the roller coaster elements.)

Pat really wanted to ride the Hulk roller coaster, so we back tracked through Jurassic Park (Lake Jurassic had thankfully drained by then). On the way we passed The Watering Hole, so we stopped for a drink. A super nice cast member made us two Dino Roars (review forthcoming), and informed us if we kept the glasses we could get a discount on refills.

Next we slammed through a bunch of rides in a row: first the Hulk, which Pat really enjoyed. Then the Spider-Man ride, in which Pat rightly asked the question: why is everything in the queue made of blue molding? We looped back around for Forbidden Journey again, then the Jurassic Park water ride. I was a little bummed to find it just the same as before; for some dumb reason I thought the updates Hollywood's version got applied to Orlando as well. But no, same dinosaurs, no mosasaur. Such is life.

The cast member loading the Jurassic Park boats gave me a bit of a hard time about wanting to sit in the back so I wouldn't get as wet, but I am not ashamed! I came to see the sights, not soak the soaks. And that, friends, is why I've only ridden Kali River Rapids once. >D

Since we had the glasses and were in the area and all, we stopped back at The Watering Hole for another round of Dino Roars before jumping into line for Reign of Kong. Sweet mother of my one cat Ruffian, what the hell is with that hyper-intense queue? It's dark as all hell in there, plus there are the flayed people and the creep-tastic audio-animatronic shamaness? I read there are even scare actors on busier days. Yikes. We saw one little kid walk into the main holding room, take one look, and turn around. I don't blame ya, kid.

And then the ride is... fine? I haven't seen the Kong movies but I understand the basic concept. Maybe if I knew more backstory I would find this ride more interesting but is was just kind of a lot happening to no clear purpose. Why are we here? Why are they here? What's the point, exactly? You know that I know that this is just a motion simulator with a wraparound screen, right? Can we backtrack to the room with the actual set pieces?

Maybe we didn't have the strongest driver - our audio-animatronic truck driver was Becky the cowgirl, but later research informed me that there are 5 different drivers with 5 different dialogue sets. Perhaps a different one would create a stronger narrative? All I can say for sure is that nothing about this ride suggests that the queue theming should be half as bonkers as it is. Restraint, Universal. Or go balls to the wall. Pick one. But the queue should not be crazier than the ride, y'know?

One final note about Kong: the worm thingee in the final portion of the queue looks like a Graboid. Anyone? Anyone?

Anyway. We left Kong behind and briefly popped into the line for Hulk, but it was pretty long and we were getting tired so we bailed. Instead we left the park and grabbed dinner at Antojito's; review to follow.

Then it was back to the hotel for some much-needed shuteye. Gotta be rested for those Horror Nights!

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

In Which Jenn Puts Together A Universal Wardrobe

So you know how I make you look at my planned outfits every time I go on a WDW trip because I'm a Disney dandy? An investigation has yielded that I can do it for a Universal Studios trip too. And so I shall!

I know what you're thinking: you own Universal-themed clothing? Well, as it turns out, I own juuuust enough for this trip. Behold!

I know, I know, it's cheating to double up on Jurassic Park. But, um, Jurassic Park is awesome, so. I mean, the original is. The Jurassic World movies so far have been the original plot more or less only worse, but Jeff Goldblum IS in the next one so I guess things are looking up?

Anyway. The woman-inherits-the-earth t-shirt was a gift for my bridesmaids (because I got married in a museum amongst dinosaurs!). They were BOGO free and I had an uneven number so I added an extra for me. And it's paying off handsomely.

The JP dress came during that same purchase. Who doesn't love Mr. DNA? The only thing that would make this better is if B.D. Wong's face were part of the pattern, but I suppose one can't have everything.

And finally... TWIST! Yes, that's Mickey Mouse on that dress... but the text advertises an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon. Presented by - you guessed  it - UNIVERSAL STUDIOS! Take that, punks!

After all, you can take the girl out of Disney, but you can't take the Disney out of the girl.

Unfortunately none of these pieces are available for purchase anymore, but I got the JP stuff at Hot Topic and the Oswald dress from Wish if you want to dig around there.

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In Which There's Something Strange In The Neighborhood

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

And so I shall! Ladies and gentlemen, a SURPRISE LAST-MINUTE ORLANDO TRIP has fallen into my lap. I've always wanted to take a surprise last-minute Orlando trip!

Alas, no Disney this time around, but our impetus is no slouch - we're off to Universal Studios Florida this weekend. Why? Well, Pat is interested in the Harry Potter stuff, sure. But the reason we're taking this trip now boils down to one word: GHOSTBUSTERS!

This year's Halloween Horror Nights event features a Ghostbusters-themed haunted ("haunted") house. Pat freaking LOOOOOVES Ghostbusters. Loves! Ingrained childhood love! He had a backpack as a kid!

I'd never seen it before we met and he made me watch it within, like, two weeks of dating. I like it! I like that one bit about the slinky especially!

But, to review: Pat LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVES Ghostbusters.

He loves it SO MUCH that I was able to fiendishly leverage his affection into this quick USF jaunt. I found some v. cheap flights through Frontier and snagged a solid discount for a nearby hotel on Hotwire, and we were go.

I haven't been since 2015, so I'm pumped! And while historically I'm not so big on haunted houses, I hear the Ghostbusters one is much more fun than scary. Makes sense! But then we ain't afraid of no ghosts anyway, sooo...

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Q. Who has the most KT Tape?

A. I do! I have the most KT Tape!

A couple weeks ago I got an email from KT Tape asking me to fill out a survey, the reward for which would be a 50% discount code. Sold! I knocked that survey out and, the moment my code arrived, I pounced.

But there was one conundrum: how much KT Tape should I get? It can be so hard to tell, pains and injuries being the fickle unwanted guests they are. I've had some hip muscle pain (possibly IT band related? Oh no, not again*) lately, so I knew I'd be using tape for the foreseeable future, but I wasn't sure how much tape that required. What if I bought too much and it went bad?

Wait, does KT Tape go bad? I went straight to the experts.

So there you have it. I bought 6 rolls in a rainbow of colors and it felt good. Not as good as, say, not having an injury in the first place, but I guess pretty colors are the next best thing?

P.S. Not sure if the 50% code is technically shareable, but I bet with some internet sleuthing you can find it for yourself...

* Scientists theorize that if we knew why the petunias thought this, we would understand a lot more about the universe as a whole.

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

Friday, October 4, 2019

In Which Jenn Will Find Any Excuse For More WDW Time

Thought I'm now a Puerto Rico resident, I'll be spending the holidays with family on the mainland. This being so close to WDW Marathon Weekend, I thought, why not stay an extra week with my parents in North Carolina and then fly direct to WDW? Brilliant!

And it is brilliant. Time- and money-saving! Of course, there is one hiccup: there are, like, 3 flights a day out of Wilmington International Airport.

This is an exaggeration... if you're talking about flights. It is true that ILM* services only 3 airlines. I don't know how you can very well get off calling yourself an international airport with a scant 3 available airlines, but there you are. And of course none of these airlines are my beloved Southwest. Harrumph.

* Those of you familiar with the area may say: did you check the Myrtle Beach airport? I did; none of the flight options were sufficiently superior to add an hour-and-change drive to my morning. But I like your thoroughness. Good show, good show!

But then, of 3 airlines, 1 must be capable of jetting me down to Orlando, yes? Sure - if I want take accept a either slightly time-consuming layover that requires a heart-poundingly short turnaround between flights OR a very time-consuming layover with a helluva lot of downtime between flights. I mean, yes, there were a handful of options that would get me down to Orlando in time... provided nothing went wrong.

Did I say "in time"? I did, because generally speaking I fly down the day before my races. I've found it gives me less time to build my anxiety (that's right, kids, I'm high-functioning high-anxiety!). This does of course mean that I have only one day to get to the expo and pick up my bib before closing, but historically I've come from BWI. This major Southwest hub has, like, 87 direct flights to Orlando per day starting at around 6am. Worst case scenario, I hop the next one I can squeeze onto. You can even read this personal case in point if you don't believe me.

Not so coming from Wilmington. My best bet would get me to Orlando around 11:30am. Not bad, right? Not bad at all, except that it involved a layover in Atlanta. If I missed my intended flight, the next one didn't get me to MCO until 2pm, assuming there was even room for me on it, and if that didn't work out...

High-anxiety people, I think you see where I'm going with this. Yes! I threw money at the problem!

That's right, I secured a second night at Pop and am now flying down to Orlando on Thursday. I won't arrive in Orlando until early afternoon, but it's cool! I've got time! I'll go to the expo tomorrow!

And, ooh, maybe buy an Annual Pass...?

Don't forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!