Toy Story Land grand opening!

I’m back from another trip to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida! I visited at the end of June to celebrate and enjoy the grand opening of Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What a fun new land and great addition to the park… if Disney would just add a little shade there though…

First up, lodging. I stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort to see how the construction there was coming along. In a word… slowly. I haven’t been recommending this moderate level resort to my clients for some time and it looks like that’s not going to be changing. With the construction of the new Riviera Beach resort adjacent to Caribbean Beach, the Skyliner station, the complete renovation of the Old Port Royale section of the resort, and the always clunky Custom House check-in area, this one just can’t be on my list right now. Once the Custom House/check-in moves over to the centrally located (and eventually re-opened) Old Port Royale and the Skyliner system is up and running, this resort will be hugely improved. Until then, no-go.

Caribbean Beach food court in a tent

Current food court option at Caribbean Beach resort

No exaggeration, the ‘food court’ is currently a buffet breakfast and dinner, some type of grab and go for lunch. Granted, the buffet is pretty cheap as far as Disney pricing goes, but eating in a tent on paper plates with tiny little plastic cups is just weird.

On to the good stuff. Toy Story Land! First, grand opening days/weekends are NOT for the faint of heart. It was a mob scene on 6/30 when the land opened. We’re talking hours and hours in line just to be allowed into the land itself because it hit capacity very early on. Not to mention the hours in line for the two new rides: Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash Coaster. Swirling Saucers is very similar to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Cars Land in California Adventure, with different ride vehicles, a ceiling, and fun ride music. Great for families and little ones, which is what Hollywood Studios really needed. Toy Story Mania’s entrance moved from the Pixar Place side into Toy Story Land itself but the ride remains the same (always fun for everyone!)

The highlight attraction is the Slinky Dog Dash coaster. This ride is a family-oriented coaster with a 38″ height requirement, just like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom. I like Slinky a lot better though, for several reasons. First, the ride is so much smoother. This is one of the smoothest coasters I’ve ever ridden. The theme too is just so cute and the way you come down the first big hill into Andy’s backyard really makes you feel like you’re about to re-enter the crowd! The ride stops midway to rev up and take off again across Slinky’s mini-hills, making you really get the ‘walks down stairs’ effect of a slinky toy. Big bonus! You can see into what will be Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge while on Slinky Dog so take a glance to your right!

I also love the ride vehicle! Slinky is so cute and the ride cars are so much more comfortable than Mine Train’s. They are more spacious inside and they have a split pull-down lap bar. That means each guest can pull the lap bar down to the desired height on their waist and there is no bar system that your legs must fit into. For those who are familiar with Mine Train, the lap bars are individual there as well but they are in sort of a frame where your legs/knees must squish between them. Since I’m Pooh-sized and not short, riding Mine Train can be extremely uncomfortable. Not so with Slinky Dog! I actually wish they’d close Mine Train for awhile and replace those ride vehicles with some like they’re using for Slinky. Gigantic improvement!

Slinky getting ready to 'go, go, go!'

Slinky getting ready to ‘go, go, go!’

Alien Swirling Saucers

Slipping and sliding in your saucer!

I can’t wait to go back later this month and visit the land at night. All the lights and effects look amazing! One huge negative is the shade. This new space has virtually no shade, no indoor stores/spaces, very small bathroom area, and no indoor restaurants. There is a quick service food option called ‘Woody’s Lunch Box’ that I’ll be trying on my next visit — this visit was just too hot and packed to even consider a stop. One good piece of advice is regarding merchandise. You can get merch for the land where Sweet Spells used to be, on Sunset around the corner from the Hollywood Brown Derby. This is a new merch location and much easier to navigate than trying to get to the carts in the land itself. Another tip, head to the land early in the morning or late at night (or both.) Trying to do Toy Story Land midday (unless you have a FastPass) is going to be a hot mess for awhile.

How did I get so lucky to be in Toy Story Land on grand opening day? Not to mention that I didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes (except for a backup on Alien Swirling Saucers that kept us in line for probably 15 minutes)? VIP Tour, that’s how. Was it free? Heck no! I get a lot of comments about how it must be nice to be a travel agent and travel for free but I can assure you, that’s not the case. We pay for everything, just like a regular consumer and VIP tours are an expensive experience. A small group of agents and their families got together and booked our own VIP guide to experience Toy Story Land on opening day as well as hit the most popular rides in the other parks in the seven hours we had the guide. The result?

  1. Hollywood Studios for Alien Swirling Saucers then Slinky Dog Dash
  2. Animal Kingdom for Na’vi River Journey, lunch at Satu’li Canteen, Avatar: Flight of Passage
  3. Epcot for Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After
  4. Back to Hollywood Studios for another go on Slinky Dog Dash and then some of the group wrapped on Rock n’ Roller Coaster. The plan was to go to Magic Kingdom but Slinky Dog was calling for a repeat!

The benefits, other than having a guide to take you into the FastPass lines of these insanely popular rides without having a FastPass? Private transportation backstage to each park, no bag check every time you needed to go into a new park, no turnstiles, drop off right at or very close to the ride entrance backstage, snacks/water/ponchos, etc. It was amazing! These tours are for up to 10 guests, minimum of 7 hours, theme park admission is required (including hoppers if you’re doing more than one park) and the per hour rate varies from $425 to $625/hour. You also tip the guide after the tour is complete. So yes, that’s about $3k-$4,500 for the tour. (I can set these up for my clients as well, just ask if you’re interested and we’ll come up with a fantastic tour plan for you!) These are completely custom and the guide will take you to do literally whatever attractions you want, based on their availability. We were going to ride Test Track in Epcot as well but a thunderstorm shut the ride down. You’ll want to allot very little time to eating and shopping during your tour because, let’s face it, you’re paying a premium to have the guide act as your personal FastPass and who wants to waste that shopping?!?

After the tour was over, we went to Magic Kingdom for dinner and were able to get in a few more attractions before the park closed. Four parks in one day! 14 attractions! Super exciting!

Whew, what a busy few days! We’re headed back later this month to do “Toy Story Land — the sequel” where we’ll play a little more in the evening, see what has changed since it first opened (hopefully there’s some shade!), and then check out a few new offerings. We’ll be at a different resort for that trip so stay tuned to see what resort I visited and thoughts on that one.

Happy July!

Advertisements

One birthday, seven guests, some tigers, and 100 degrees! Back to Disney!

We hopped in the van and hit the road to the Sunshine State… me, the hubs, the kid, my mom, stepdad, and two nieces. You would think that seven people in a mini-van (love our Toyota Sienna!) for 12.5 hours would be a rough start to a trip but I think all the conversation made the ride seem quicker. The feet in the face, not so much (Skylar!) but otherwise the ride was smooth and our quick overnight in Georgia helped break up the drive.

Arriving in Orlando, we went first to SeaWorld, a first trip for the kids and the hubs. I hadn’t visited since I was a teenager years ago. The best part was the dolphin show, which I think most guests remember from trips as a child, but otherwise the park felt lacking. Too hot, too crowded, lacking enough signage, etc. I still have a hard time with some of their animal practices so that didn’t help my overall impression but I went in with an open mind on that front. There were way more rides than the last time I visited and those seemed to be the draw — in this seemingly animal-focused park. Weird.

Dolphin show at SeaWorld

Dolphin show at SeaWorld… such brilliant mammals!

At Disney, in all fairness, it was hot too but their parks seem to have more airflow and shady spots to take a break, sorely needed in the summer. We spent the next few days zipping from park to park, cramming in as much as possible so the nieces could hit the highlights in all four parks. Mine Train, Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain, Soarin’, Frozen Ever After, Rock n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Avatar: Flight of Passage… even time for a spin on the Carousel of Progress. So much accomplished in a short three park days.

Eeyore

We even made time for this guy!

Everyone enjoyed the Happily Ever After fireworks dessert party in Magic Kingdom, despite Mother Nature’s attempt to rain us out. Big negative this time around was the dessert party crowd in the viewing area. Disney recently started offering a post-fireworks dessert party in addition to the pre-fireworks party. Those post-fireworks guests share the same viewing area with the pre-fireworks guests and that stinks. It was much more crowded than we experienced in March – during spring break. Hopefully this changes.

A super fun time was had by all at Typhoon Lagoon, with a Beachcomber Shack (private cabana) rental to enjoy all day long. We also visited Typhoon Lagoon one evening during a private Disney Vacation Club event but that was PACKED! Hard to find an empty chair anywhere and the lines were long throughout. So much for a limited admission event…

 

Typhoon Lagoon

An empty wave pool awaits at Typhoon Lagoon!

When we drive to Florida, I like to try to find fun things to do on the way home, if we have time. This trip had a planned activity on the way home that was thwarted by crazy hot/humid temperatures and rainstorms. I changed my plans on the fly to include a visit to the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida. This is a non-profit, forever home for wild cats that have been abandoned, neglected, or given up for various reasons by private owners and zoos. If you’re ever in Jacksonville, I highly recommend checking their calendar to see if they’re open to the public for a night feeding that day. Super fun time for everyone, reasonably priced, and a great cause. You can even adopt one of the cats and help support their mission to build new enclosures. For local folks, this reminded me a lot of the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s origins with wild cats instead of native Virginia wildlife. Seeing tigers and lions frolicking with the Executive Director and volunteer staff was truly a memorable experience!

Catty Shack Ranch

Just chilling after a huge rainstorm, waiting on my dinner to be delivered!

Until next time… which happens to be very soon! Toy Story Land grand opening, here I come!

 

 

 

New places and lots of faces… Disney World at Spring Break

A couple of weeks ago, I packed up the fam and hopped on a plane to Orlando. It was Spring Break which meant it was time to go back to Disney! Now, don’t think Spring Break is the perfect time to visit the parks. It is far from perfect with the large crowds and unpredictable weather but sometimes life and responsibilities dictate when we can and can’t vacation. And yes, second most crowded time period to visit Disney — Christmas through New Year’s wins that honor — but fun can still be had by all.

I split my stay with several nights at the newest villa section of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort, Copper Creek Villas and Cabins. It was a beautiful studio room with a walk-in shower and great views of the main feature pool at the resort including the Fire Rock Geyser area.

Wilderness Lodge pool and Fire Rock Geyser

Fire Rock is erupting just past the pool

I loved these new rooms and can’t wait to stay there again in the future. The last few nights of my visit were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas- Jambo House. These are rooms that were converted from original ‘regular’ rooms into villas and I enjoyed a studio there as well with a savanna view. Waking up and seeing the animals was such fun!

Good morning from the savanna!

Do you see the giraffe hiding in the trees?

While the rooms and resorts were fantastic, I had to get into the parks! Let’s see, two rounds of Avatar: Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom (OMG, love it!), a trip down a mystical river on the Na’vi River Journey, a beautiful nighttime spiritual journey with Rivers of Light, and a Yeti trying to chase me down a mountain (wait… what?) Animal Kingdom park is always filled with such interesting experiences. Kilimanjaro Safaris was amazing for one of our ‘two-week’ journeys. We saw so many animals and had giraffes coming up to our safari truck, I mean like right beside us! Our driver had to call for back up to ‘shoo’ the giraffes on their merry way.

Giraffes on safari

Wait… there’s a height requirement on this ride?

Epcot was lovely and filled with delightful scents throughout from the Flower and Garden Festival. I LOVE flowers so this is one of my favorite times to visit so I can look at all of the beautiful topiaries and plants around the park. The butterfly garden is a highlight for me as well. There were so many butterflies flitting about and many more emerging from their chrysalises!

Butterflies

Butterflies, butterflies, how many do you see?

Magic Kingdom was a magical kingdom, as always! Despite being soaked by one of those lovely Florida downpours on the way to dinner, Be Our Guest was still a delish meal. I’m super disappointed that the restaurant is changing to a two-credit meal in late July (and with a funky menu) so this is likely one of my last times there. Fall clients, don’t be surprised when it isn’t on your suggestion list from me as we prepare for dining reservations.

The grey stuff

The grey stuff was divine and so was dining in the spooky ‘West Wing’!

Hollywood Studios is well… in the middle of a transformation. With Toy Story Land opening on June 30th and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge coming sometime in 2019 (no, there is no date that has been announced), the park has a lot of construction going on. I will say that as they work toward wrapping these projects, there are some new spaces showing up in the park that are welcome additions. Baseline Tap House is a fab place for a quick drink, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and a snack before dinner. The outdoor seating is a great place to relax and people watch while you enjoy a nice craft beer or cider. I loved finally meeting Star-Lord and Groot, a must-do for fans of Guardians of the Galaxy!

Star-Lord and Groot

Yes, you are Groot. And a cute little Groot too!

I also stopped by Typhoon Lagoon for some laps around the lazy river and a nice relaxing day in a comfy lounge chair. No wave pool for me this time but I’ve got some time coming up this summer to brave the waves! Disney Springs was quite busy with holiday weekend visitors but we managed to have a blast (literally) going to Mustafar on a secret mission as a Rebel in disguise as a Stormtrooper at The Void. Battling Darth Vader was a bit intense, just like the heat from the lava. Craziness and definitely on my list for next time too. After that battle, we needed a sweet treat to bring us back to Earth and put the finishing touch on our trip. So I leave this beautiful little bunny cake for you, as the end to my blog post. Happy Spring!

Amorette's bunny cake

Amorette’s Patisserie went above and beyond on this precious little bunny cake! These are only about three inches tall!

A WONDERful cruise to the Southern Caribbean

Disney Cruises are one of my favorite things and my recent Southern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Wonder certainly didn’t disappoint! Seven nights sailing the Caribbean from San Juan, Puerto Rico with stops at the islands of Antigua, Saint Lucia, Curacao, and Aruba resulted in my best cruise experience yet and will be hard to beat. White sand beaches, seashells galore, crystal blue waters, a lush rain forest, even cacti! I’ll hit the highlights as I fondly look back on the new memories I made during this trip.

The cruise began in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Puerto Rico? Wasn’t the country demolished by Hurricane Maria? Yes, they definitely have had an unfair share of destruction and hardship as a result of Maria last fall. Yes, there is a large portion of the country that is still reeling from the affects of the storm. San Juan itself is recovering and open for business. We had zero power, water, communications, comfort issues, etc. during our stay. Taxis were running, restaurants and hotels open, airport operational, you name it. The countries that were devastated by the hurricanes last fall need tourism to return to sustain their livelihoods so it is important for all of us to get down there and help the residents rebuild their lives.

Back to San Juan. Lovely place. Lots of beautiful architecture, sunshine, and smiling people. I would gladly return to explore more of the city and outlying areas in the future. But alas, the Disney Wonder was calling. The ship set sail late into the evening and we were on our way to Antigua. My oh my, Antigua. That’s somewhere else I’d happily return. My activity for the day was an excursion to the western coast of the island to Castaway’s Beach Restaurant. The restaurant fronted an amazing beach where we were able to relax and play, only breaking for lunch, until time to return to the ship. So, this beach. Wow. Crystal blue water, white sand, more seashells than you could ever dream of collecting… pure beach fantasy. I thought the beaches in the Turks and Caicos were pretty but man, they have a definite contender in Antigua.

Antigua

It was almost painful to pack up and leave that beach but we had to keep moving. The next port was Saint Lucia. Saint Lucia is shockingly green. We’re talking lush, green rain forest as far as the eye could see. I was set to venture into a rain forest to enjoy an aerial tram tour up to the top of the forest. Not sure what to expect, I was overwhelmed by the peacefulness of the forest ride. The cool air with a light breeze, soft sounds of the trees, and occasional squeal of a zip-liner, made for a delightful journey. The height we achieved on the tram was astounding and being able to look out across the forest to the gigantic ferns and strangler ficus trees, waterfalls, and streams blew my mind. It felt like we were at the top of the world, and what a beautiful world that was.

Rain forest in Saint Lucia

After leaving Saint Lucia, we had a day of rest as the ship traveled on to our next port. Days at sea on a cruise can be filled to the brim with activities or turn into days where you lazily hang out at the pool and watch movies on the funnel’s screen. Of course, we had to catch a few movies on the big screen in the Buena Vista Theater (Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi) plus Coco on the bigger screen in the Walt Disney Theater. There were many movies viewed on the pool deck’s funnel screen though, that’s for sure. While my family snacked on ice cream (ice cream is endless and so, so good on the Disney ships), I setup GototheMouse’s portable office on the pool deck and worked away into the evenings. It is super handy to be able to pack up and work from wherever I need to, although admittedly a little more movie time would have been fun.

The following day, we awoke in Curacao. Curacao is a Dutch Caribbean island and that was easy to detect based on the distinct building coloring and architecture. What a beautiful island! This was the first time Disney had ever sailed, on any ship, to Curacao and the local tourism officials were treated to a celebration onboard to commemorate the milestone. We spent the day at the Sunscape Curacao resort and, while I likely wouldn’t return there for a future stay, it was nice to enjoy their infinity pool and visit a new (to me) resort. The port in Curacao was very modern and many vendors selling non-“Made In China” wares, so that was refreshing. A short proximity from the pier was a Starbucks, so another ‘You are Here’ mug was added to my collection. (I love those things!)

Curacao

Next up was Aruba. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known as the ‘ABC Islands‘ and although we didn’t stop at Bonaire, I would love to visit that one too to see how different it is from Curacao and Aruba. Aruba is very ecologically interesting. It has natural bridges formed from pounding surf, cacti, Divi Divi trees, clear blue water, and white sand. The island group is very close to Venezuela in South America, for a point of geographic reference. Aruba is also a Dutch island and very modern. We spent the day at a private island on the West Coast of Aruba called De Palm Island.  This island is comprised of an all-inclusive day experience (no lodging) with water slides, snorkeling, beaches, banana boats, zip-lining, and so much more. I enjoyed snorkeling with huge schools of the most beautiful tropical fish, picking up even more seashells, watching a giant iguana and several smaller iguanas sun themselves, and had a tasty lunch. This was my favorite excursion with the beach in Antigua being a very close second. With a view like the one below, who would complain?

De Palm Island, Aruba

After a late departure from Aruba, we enjoyed another day at sea before returning to San Juan to fly home. Yes, more movies and ice cream plus some shopping and pin trading with the ship’s officers. Pin trading is huge on the Disney ships, just as it is in the theme parks — maybe even more so.

I can’t wait to be back onboard the Wonder and booked my next cruise for 2019. Where will I sail to next? Stay tuned and you’ll find out! In the meantime, there are plenty of other trips in the works for 2018 that I’ll be sharing throughout the year. Looking back at my blog, I missed posting about a wonderful getaway to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina over Thanksgiving and a quick trip to Washington DC to enjoy “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre. It looks like I’ve been slacking but I’ll do better in 2018. I keep my bags packed… do you?

 

 

 

Return to Punta Cana

I was invited to the Dominican Republic again this year for a Top Agent Retreat… who would decline a trip to an island paradise? The island had recently been hit by Hurricane Maria but the only visible damage to the area that we were in was some downed trees and stripped foliage. The ocean was glistening and the pools sparkling; it was time for some fun!

This year’s trip took the hubs and I to the Riu Palace Bavaro and I’m not going to lie, not a big Riu fan. The things we enjoyed most about this resort were the pool with its tile loungers and the Costa Caribe drinks. Gratefully, the Costa Caribe’s were plentiful and the pool was a delight.

Riu Palace Bavaro poolCosta Caribe drink

While in Punta Cana, we had the pleasure of touring other resorts. These are referred to as site inspections in travel agent lingo. What does that really mean? Up and at ’em early, zipping from resort to resort, viewing various room types, meeting the staff, checking out the restaurants, pools, and other amenities, etc. If anyone ever steals my phone, they’ll likely wonder why I have so many pictures of the inside of hotel rooms, bathrooms, and mini-fridges.

The other places we visited were the Nickelodeon Resort Punta Cana and I totally would’ve enjoyed spending the trip there. With a clean design and not an over-the-top kid feel, I would definitely stay here on a future trip. Their waterpark area was such a fun amenity for resort guests! For a mere $4k/night, you could even stay in Spongebob’s house!Spongebob's House

Aqua Nick waterpark

Next up was Chic Punta Cana, an adults only resort. Here you can stay in a six-bedroom Mansion villa for about that same $4k/night if a pineapple under the sea wasn’t your cup of tea. Not looking to blow the budget? The other room categories are much more affordable and some even feature the swim-out rooms with infinity pools!

Chic Punta Cana

Next up was Royalton Punta Cana, which we visited last year, but is always a beauty. As far as impressive views from the lobby, this one is right up there.

Royalton Punta Cana

There were two other Riu resorts on our list to tour, Riu Bambu for families and Riu Republica for adults only. Riu Bambu is one of the five resorts that was in our resort’s overall complex – with Riu Naioba, Riu Macao, and Riu Palace Punta Cana. Riu Bambu is a very pretty resort and I’d have preferred to stay there over ours. The layout and vibe here was better, newer decor, nice central restaurant area, and a cluster of pools close by.

Riu Bambu

Riu Republica had a nice clean look but definitely not my taste. There was more of a party vibe here, especially at the pools, and this resort will cater to spring breakers in 2018. Great for that age group, not so much for mine. 🙂

Riu Republica

Last up for this trip was Excellence El Carmen. This is also an adult only property and you could feel the step up in quality here. The rooms were much bigger and OMG, this honeymoon room had a private balcony with a swim-up, its own small pool, and jacuzzi tub.

Beachfront room view

Private balcony with swim-up

2017-10-06 15.46.12

Private pool, jacuzzi tub, and lounge bed

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

I’ll leave you with the recipe for the Costa Caribe, in case you’re interested. I highly recommend these and can’t wait for a return to the DR to try them again!

Until next time!

Amber

Costa Caribe

Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights #27 (#hhn27)

Howdy!  It’s time for another guest blog post — this time from the Hubs.  Enjoy!

Being a lifelong lover of the macabre, I’ve always wanted to take Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights for a spin, but it’s never been in the cards. That changed this year, when a surprise birthday trip included not only our daughter, but our teenage niece — who, as it so happens, is a big fan of horror movies. (By her own admission, the only things she can’t handle are creepy twins and scary clowns. That’s called “foreshadowing.”) So, as the rest of the group headed to Disney Springs for some restaurants and shopping, Niece (not her actual name) and I headed to #HHN27 for some pants-ruining fun.

First off, the map:

#hhn27 map

The map for Halloween Horror Nights #27

The little red letters are the haunted houses (there were nine altogether: American Horror Story, The Shining, The Fallen, Dead Waters, The Horrors of Blumhouse, Hive, Scarecrow: The Reaping, Ash vs Evil Dead, and Saw), while the yellow sections are Scare Zones — themed areas where performers roam free to pounce on you as you walk by. Upon entering the park, the very first thing we saw in the very first Scare Zone was the creepy ghost twins from The Shining, standing there being all creepy. As a direct result, we decided to start with some rides. So, proceeding through the nonexistent line, we hopped straight onto Transformers. Personally, I find Universal’s rides repetitive — it’s like the pitch for every ride since The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man has consisted of, “Hey, remember Spider-Man? It’s like that, except with {insert hot intellectual property here}!”

But I digress. Halloween Horror Nights isn’t about the rides; it’s about the scares. (As a matter of fact, several attractions are closed during the event since their queues are repurposed for the haunted houses.) It was well time for a haunted house, and, with me being a huge Evil Dead devotee for more years than I care to admit, Ash vs Evil Dead was the logical place to start. And since it’s horrific in a haha sort of way, it couldn’t be so bad for Niece, right?

It scared the absolute bejeezus out of her.

To calm her still-pounding heart, I decided it was Harry Potter time. Now, referring back to the map above, Ash vs Evil Dead is at the bottom center, while Harry Potter is at the top right. If you’ll notice, the walkway between the two is in no way, shape, or form yellow. (This will be a very important factor in my upcoming defense trial.) As we headed that way, however, Niece froze in her tracks. When I asked what was wrong, she said simply, “That’s a clown.”

As it turns out, that was a massive understatement. It was not a clown. It was a plethora of clowns. Scary ones. With chainsaws.

We ducked into a Simpsons-themed food court and made our way along its entire length to an exit at the opposite end. As we peeked out in an attempt to determine whether we’d managed to circumvent the murderous clowns, I noticed a teenage girl sitting at a nearby table. No food, just sitting. Eyes wide, she said, “You can’t go out there. THEY CHASE YOU.”

The long route to Harry Potter it was, then! Backtracking through the restaurant, we exited the door through which we’d entered, taking precisely zero notice of the support column right outside said door. Two steps later, a theretofore unseen clown lunged out from behind that column and brap-brapped his — quite realistic, I might add — chainsaw right in Niece’s face. Until that moment, I never knew it was possible to launch scream-powered tears out of one’s eyeballs with such astounding velocity.

 

We did eventually make it to Harry Potter via the long way around, but any further haunted houses were to be solo affairs while Niece waited it out in a no-scare zone (the performers don’t follow you into shops or restaurants). While, as I mentioned before, the size of my Evil Dead fandom is only surpassed by the ego of one Ashley J. Williams, if asked to pick a Best of Show I’d have a hard time choosing between that and The Shining — both were extremely well done experiences, and really managed to capture the essence of their respective properties.

So, would I do it again? In an elevated heartbeat I would! I’d just do so knowing that, when Universal says Halloween Horror Nights is too intense for most guests, they sort of mean it.

A conference in Virginia Beach…

My latest adventure took me to Virginia Beach, to accompany the hubs to a work conference.  I can only recall being in Virginia Beach twice in my life, once at least fifteen years ago for a concert that got cancelled (boo!) and then back in middle school on a field trip.  We don’t live terribly far from the area but it has never been on my short list to visit.

Arriving at the beach, it was what I was expecting but not what I’m used to for a beach vacation.  I prefer quiet, family-oriented beaches with sand dunes, seashells, and very little commercialism so I struck out on all counts here.  I won’t lie, I wouldn’t visit the area again to hang out at the ocean.  However, this trip wasn’t focused on the water so we entertained ourselves at the pool area of the hotel (Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront), at the always delicious Duck Donuts around the corner, and at the conference activities.  We had a free afternoon that we planned to spend at the nearby aquarium but, the rest of the greater Virginia Beach area got the the same idea, so we bailed.

A speaker at the conference had mentioned the Military Aviation Museum in nearby Pungo, so we changed course and headed there.  Luckily, the museum was a short drive past the aquarium, so we were already going in the right direction.  Bombing out on a place that looked appealing for lunch near the hotel, we stopped in at Firebrew Bar and Grill on the way to the museum.  How delish!  Being a Monday at lunchtime, we had the restaurant to ourselves and dined on yummy pierogies, ahi tuna tacos, flatbreads, and pizzas.  The day was looking up!

After stuffing ourselves at lunch, we continued on to Pungo.  The bucolic fields and controlled retail environments made for a great experience on the drive.  Arriving at the museum, we were pleased to find that it wasn’t crowded.  Entering the main exhibit building, the staff gave us a warm welcome and intro to the facility with an overview of the areas to visit.  We saw working aircraft from World War II from the Army and Navy, various German vehicles, an Amphicar, and a real German Enigma machine.  Had we a little more time, we would’ve gone on the tour to visit the additional hangars that featured World War I replica and German aircraft.  If you visit anywhere in the greater Virginia Beach area and are an aviation or history fan, you need to make time to stop here!

Another evening took us to One Fish, Two Fish for dinner and we enjoyed a fantastic meal.  The restaurant is situated in a marina and offers local ingredients and stellar service.  Another place to add to the list.

So, yeah, not a fan of Virginia Beach’s oceanfront but I think the surrounding area has potential for a future visit.  I hear Sandbridge Beach is nice so maybe that would be a good home base to stay and then pop in to some of the other places we enjoyed and find some new fun at First Landing State Park or the Cape Henry Lighthouses.

Where will I go next…?

Ahi tuna tacos at Firebrews Military Aviation MuseumMilitary Aviation Museum