Halloween in Orlando
Florida, and particularly Orlando, is always a fun trip and our 2017 version was no different…well, unless you were those unfortunates at a Kissimmee bus stop, but more on that later! Amanda and I were joined on this trip by the wider family; Andy, Harry, Chloe and Ryan. This meant renting a Ford Grand Caravan minivan for the week to ferry us all around. These minivans have automation galore and a big powerful engine that allows you to pull off some great wheel spins. Our base of operations this time was at the second Club La Costa resort to open in Kissimmee, called Regal Oaks. It was pretty much the same as the Encantada resort, with the same three-bedroom town houses, but with a better bar/restaurant in the clubhouse.
The focus of this trip was to ‘enjoy’ the American theme park Halloween experiences. We all had unlimited Universal park passes, but had to pay extra for one of their special Halloween Horror Nights. Plus, as Chloe isn’t the biggest fan of scary things, we also bought tickets for Disney’s version called Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Apart from these two planned nights, we wanted to visit Universal’s new waterpark called Volcano Bay and introduce Ryan to the two Universal theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure).
I last visited one of the Disney theme parks many moons ago and was quite cynical about going back on the basis that “it’s only for young kids”. I admit it here for the entire world to read…I was wrong! Chloe had made us all a custom set of Mickey Mouse ears, each with a different Halloween theme. We wore these with pride as we boarded the ferry that transports you from the huge car park to the entrance gates of the park proper. Once in the park, we took in a few rides before the Halloween events started properly at 7pm. There were ‘Trick or Treat’ stations dotted around the park that gave out free sweets to anyone, no matter your age. So the six of us embraced the challenge and bagged as many sweets as possible. The other notable experience of the night was the most amazing firework display you will ever see. Located over Cinderella’s Castle, the combination of fireworks, music and lightshow was truly jaw dropping. The biggest disappointment was the complete lack of alcohol in the park…Disney needs to sort its act out! It was late by the time we all got back to the resort, but at least we’d each acquired our own bodyweight in sweets!
By contrast, the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Night cranked up the scary factor and the alcohol intake, but there were no sweet stations to raid. From early evening the park had designated areas called scare zones, which included performers dressed in fantastic Halloween costumes chasing and scaring punters as mutants, monsters and maniacs, with a variety of weapons such as chainsaws. In ‘The Purge’ scare zone a guy would circle people on a motorbike, revving his engine and generally acting in a menacing fashion. Dotted around the perimeter of the park were nine soundstage buildings set up as themed Haunted Houses such as The Shining and Saw. Finally, apart from the usual theme park rides, there were two shows to watch; Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and Academy of Villains: Afterlife. It was a great experience overall, but the standout moments for me were seeing the reactions of those people that were not 100% comfortable with the event or those caught unawares. Chloe was chased screaming from The Purge, seeking refuge in an amusement arcade. Andy was made to jump by a huge guy dressed as a scary clown with a chainsaw. It was such a fun night.
Volcano Bay was good, but it took some getting used to the queuing process. They have introduced technology in the form of a smart device worn on the wrist, called a TapuTapu. It allows you to ‘tap’ onto a ride and join a ‘virtual’ queue, giving you a return time which allows almost instant access to the ride. The problem is that the duration between tapping on and getting to ride is typically over an hour, so what do you do until it’s your turn? Well, this is where you need to be clever. Some rides are queue only, there are also two lazy rivers and the wave pool to use whilst you are in a virtual queue, plus there is always a restaurant or a bar to use until it’s your turn. There were a lot of people complaining about the process. It could be improved in my opinion by allowing you to virtually queue for more than one ride at a time. However, if you managed your day properly, it wasn’t too bad once you figured it out. The rides were very good and the lazy rivers were excellent. Being weighed before getting on a family raft ride was a little weird though, but made for some laughter amongst our group at least…“Ryan, get off the scales as it’s clearly you that has tipped us over the maximum limit”!
The weather during the week was a lot wetter than normal, with rain most days, even if it was only for short periods. We left the Islands of Adventure theme park early one day due to heavy rain and the threat of electrical storms closing the rides. The rain was horrendous on the freeway and huge puddles formed when drains reached saturation. It was dark by the time we reached Kissimmee. Amanda was driving in the inside lane as we approached our turn-off when we spotted one such puddle, or should I say mini lake. There was traffic preventing a swift lane switch and we were too close to the puddle to slow down by any significant amount, so the only option was to plough on through it. This was unfortunate for the people stood at a bus stop adjacent to the puddle as they were covered from head to toe by the tsunami that the minivan created! There was little we could do but continue our journey whilst thinking about the scene behind us and having a cheeky little laugh to ourselves…sorry people.
As usual, Orlando provided us with a great week, fabulous food, excellent activities and, most importantly, some amazing memories. The food is so amazingly good everywhere. The top three highlights on this trip were Giordano’s for its Stuffed Deep Dish Pizza, Miller’s Ale House and its superb Filet Mignon, plus the totally unbelievable Red Lobster Endless Shrimp for $18 each! This was the recommendation of the waitress, with Andy, Amanda and I all ordering it. There were 10 different shrimp flavours to select from and our waitress took it upon herself to bring us multiple portions of everything. They were all beautiful, but there was far too much. Incredibly, our waitress boxed everything up and we ate shrimp for days afterwards.
Florida never gets old and we will be back I’m confident of that.