Saturday Six

SATURDAY SIX: Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on November 22, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort. The Universal theme parks are filled with extraordinary features, from the incredible dragon atop Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley, to the hilarious games of chance in front of The Simpsons Ride, but my favorite ones are the subtle – almost hidden -details that most guests don’t even notice while touring the park. I like to think of these details as Easter eggs, similar to the ones most of us are familiar with in movies (and, in Hollywood, no one is better than Disney Pixar.) Now, some of these details are almost impossible to find unless you know where to look for them, while others are hidden in plain sight, but all of them, whether consciously or subconsciously, add to the overall immersion at Universal.  Today we are going to look at six of these Easter eggs, several of which even longtime Universal fans may have not noticed before. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, keep your head on a swivel, and let’s start counting down…

# 6 – Mickey Ears in Twister… Ride It Out

Our first stop is at an attraction that may not be around for much longer, Twister… Ride It Out. Based around the movie Twister from 1996 (and one of your humble authors favorite guilty pleasures,) the attraction’s pre-show has guests walking through a house that has been ravaged by a tornado. One of the pieces of debris inside the house is a car coming through the roof. If you look closely at the passenger side front tire of the vehicle, you will see a pair of the iconic Mickey Ears.

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Twister… Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Contemporary Resort

by on November 15, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Contemporary Resort. After examining some of the value resorts on Disney property, including Pop Century and Art of Animation, it’s time to head straight to the top of the WDW resort food chain and see the benefits a deluxe resort brings to the table. First stop, The Contemporary. As a long time Disney fan, I have wanted to stay at The Contemporary since I was a little kid, but my parents always booked hotels off-site to save money. As an adult planning my own trips, I would often price out a stay at The Contemporary, only to end up choosing a cheaper alternative myself. I’m not a big fan of the cliche you only live once, but if there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s that the biggest regrets are not doing things when you have the chance, because those opportunities may not be around forever.  So whether it was philosophical reasons, or the fact that I felt the awesome Contemporary Resort Monorail Toy Accessory was taunting me, I decided to fulfill a near lifelong dream and book a stay at The Contemporary this year.

Now that it is crossed of the bucket list I can report back that…. I loved it. The stay confirmed several things I thought The Contemporary would be like, and opened my eyes to amenities I did not know much about before. Today we are going to countdown six takeaways from my experience, starting with…

# 6 – A Million Dollar View

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View from Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

 

The views from The Contemporary A-Frame building are spectacular. One side faces Bay Lake, the other faces the Magic Kingdom.  Waking up in the morning we could see Disney’s Polynesian Resort Village, the Grand Floridian, the monorail passing by, ferry boats in the lake, the Walt Disney World Railroad, and not to mention the Magic Kingdom itself, with icons such as Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain. I’ve stayed at on-site hotels at various theme park resorts, and hotels across the United States including Las Vegas, Boston, San Diego, Times Square, and Hawaii, but this was the most amazing view I have ever had. I was able to enjoy fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant, two of my favorite things at WDW, from the room. I was speechless. I knew it would be good. I didn’t know it would be this good.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line

by on November 8, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line. Several weeks ago we posted an article on Six Reasons To Go On a Disney Cruise, which covered the “big picture” of why you should consider setting sail with The Mouse, but this week we’ll take a look some of the smaller details that made a significant impact on my vacation. Leading up to the cruise, I had done a decent amount of research on TouringPlans, the Disney Cruise Line Blog, and reading Erin Foster’s numerous DCL posts on the blog, but once I stepped onto the deck of the Disney Wonder I still had one surprise after another.  Here are my six favorite surprises of the trip (remember, you can click on any picture to see it in full size)…

# 6 – DCL Beer Mug Card

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DCL Beer Mug.

 

I’m a big fan of souvenir glasses (and we covered several of options available in the photo reports of the DCL gift shops and Castaway Cay) so I was definitely drawn to the DCL Beer Mug. Aside from being a neat souvenir, the mug has two benefits that come along with it. The first benefit is the fact that each time you get a beer in the mug you are given a 22 oz serving, but only charged for 16 oz.  Secondly, the mug itself has a good amount of weight to it, so it was a nice surprise to find out you don’t have to carry it around with you during the cruise. When you are done drinking, you hand the mug back to your server/bartender, and they will give you a card which you can then exchange for another mug when you are ready to drink again. This option became so handy and convenient throughout the trip, that I began to wish there was some practical way the theme parks could incorporate it into their day-to-day operations.

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SATURDAY SIX Special Edition: A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights

by on November 1, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a special one as we present: A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights. Today is the last day of Halloween Horror Nights, the Universal Orlando Resort’s signature event, and one of the absolute best reasons to plan a vacation to Orlando this time of year. 2015′s HHN looks to be even better as it will be the 25th anniversary, and we already know that HHN icon Jack Schimdt will be returning. While many guests are used to the offerings of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, there are more than a few who are skittish about putting their foot into HHN to test the water. So I reached out to Joseph Matt of Parkscope.net, as he recently returned from his first ever HHN, and he is here to share six tips he learned from the experience. Take it away Joe….

A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights

[Horror] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” -Clive Barker

Halloween Horror Nights is intimidating. For my first year to HHN I was a little nervous, and it didn’t help that several Orlando blogs, Orlando United, and my friends had hyped up the event to a point where #OperationScareJoe became a ‘thing.’ However, my anxieties and worries were largely unfounded. I had a blast, and cannot wait to go back for more HHN. As this year’s event closes this weekend, I will cover my top tips to surviving the event next year.

1.) Pick Several Nights and Split Them With a Day in the Parks

Eight houses, four scare zones, several open attractions, and two shows. Easy as pie, right? Wrong. During my trip The Walking Dead never dipped below 90 minutes and John Carpenter’s Halloween hovered at 60 minutes. How does one beat this? Pick multiple nights to attend and split that with a day visit to the parks.

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Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. (photo by Hate to Fly)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons To Go On a Disney Cruise

by on October 25, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons To Go On a Disney Cruise. Earlier this month I was fortunate to be able to take my first ever Disney Cruise aboard the Disney Wonder as part of TouringPlans #Everywhere promotion. The experience was pretty amazing overall, and while before the trip I had a hard time understanding why people would pay so much for a Disney Cruise when there are some great alternatives (such as Royal Caribbean) for a fraction of the price, I now see exactly what draws people back again and again to DCL. In fact, I think for many Disney fans a sailing on the DCL is a must-do, as it provides an overall immersion in the Disney brand that even many on-site WDW vacations can’t compete with. Today we are going to look at six of the reasons you should consider popping a Dramamine and sailing the high seas with Mickey and the gang. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, so grab that life jacket and let’s start counting down…

# 6 – The Characters

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Donald Duck on the DCL Wonder.

 

We knew that there were going to be characters on board the Disney ships that you could meet, but we were not prepared for how many. There were the Fab 5 of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. The ubiquitous Chip and Dale. Daisy Duck. Frozen‘s Anna and Elsa. Disney Jr. characters such as Sofia the First and Jake. Disney princesses including Ariel, Tiana, Rapunzel, Snow White, Aurora, Belle, and Cinderella. Lastly, there were miscellaneous characters such as Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Stitch. These were just the ones that I personally saw throughout the cruise, as we never looked to see where the characters would be, or at what time, which leads me to believe that there are even more that I didn’t see.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Things To Do On Your Next Orlando Trip (Outside of Disney and Universal)

by on October 18, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things To Do On Your Next Orlando Trip (Outside of Disney and Universal). When I was growing up, our family trips to Orlando never meant just going to Disney. Sure, we would spend time at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, but we always built time in our vacation to travel outside of Walt Disney World and visit attractions like Cypress Gardens, the Kennedy Space Center, and SeaWorld. Now it seems many guests lock themselves into a vacation at WDW and – thanks in part to Magical Express - never leave property. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has convinced some to venture over to the dark side of the Universal Orlando Resort, and today we are going to look at six other things to do on your next Orlando trip that are worth checking out. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, and let’s count down the fun….

 

# 6 – Fun Spot America

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Fun Spot America. (Photo by Mike Sperduto)

 

Located near Universal off of I-Drive, Fun Spot America doesn’t away the immersive theming you will see at Universal and Disney, but still has the fun rides and at a very reasonable price. One unique feature is that admission to the park is free, so that if you have family members who don’t enjoy going on rides, they can still be with everyone without having to pay the full cost of a ticket like you do at the theme parks. For my family this is a great option because my grandmother loves coming with us to the parks but has zero interest in riding anything. She does enjoy watching the kids have fun, and at Fun Spot this entertainment costs her $0 where at Disney it’s $100. Another ticket option Fun Spot has that I wish the bigger parks would adopt is pricing of rides based on height rather than age. I’ll never understand why both Disney and Universal for all intents and purposes charge a full price ticket to kids whose height prevents them from going on many of the park’s rides.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons Halloween Horror Nights is Better than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

by on October 11, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons Halloween Horror Nights is Better than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Now, before we start, this is not an article that’s trying to sell you on the idea that MNSSHP is not good, as we wrote several weeks ago that we love it, and it’s definitely the best Halloween event in town that you can bring the whole family to. That said, Halloween Horror Nights brings some elements to the table, which Disney could learn from in terms of over delivering to its guests. While HHN may not be for everyone, if you are a regular reader of the Saturday Six it’s probably for you and today we’ll look at the reasons why. Please remember that clicking on any picture will open it up in full size, and let’s count ‘em down…

# 6 –  A night at HHN is completely different than any other experience you’ve had at Universal Studios Florida

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Mel’s Drive-In becomes Mel’s DIE-In for HHN. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

For anyone who has gone to MNSSHP you know that the one of the bigger differences between a party night and any other night is how well Main Street, U.S.A. is decorated. Unfortunately, outside of The Haunted Mansion, that’s where the level of theming stops. All the lands of the park are the same (albeit with wonderful candy stations) and all of the attractions are the same, just with less people going on them. That’s where I find the value in a MNSSHP ticket. You can do all the E-Ticket rides like Space Mountain and Big Thunder without having to worry about FP+ or standby lines as almost everything is a walk-on. Halloween Horror Nights on the other hand completely changes the dynamic of Universal Studios Florida. There are scare zones and seemingly hundreds of scare actors thoughout the entire park along with 8 haunted houses, none of which are available to non-party going guests.

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SATURDAY SIX: The Disney Hipsters Examine Six of Their Assumptions After Visiting the Universal Orlando Resort

by on October 4, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a very special one. A little over a year ago I was introduced to the Disney Hipsters podcast via the TouringPlans Podcast Network and I became an immediate fan. They are refreshingly different from the seemingly hundreds of Disney podcasts out there that just recite Disney press releases and while they have a true passion for Walt Disney World they never shy away from pointing out the bad along with the good. When they announced their first ever trip to the Universal Orlando Resort earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get their unique perspective on the theme parks and staying onsite after years of being “Disney Only” fans. Today Disney Hipster Adam Ferretti is here to examine six of the assumptions they had about Universal before going on the trip and whether or not they held up after the vacation. As always, clicking on any picture will open up its full size version, so with that out of the way I will see you, Dear Reader, at the end of the article and hand the reigns over to Adam…

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The Disney Hipsters, Andrew and Adam, with Krusty the Clown.

As Disney nerds going into Universal, we had tons of preconceived notions on what to expect. We thought we would discuss six of those assumptions.

ASSUMPTION # 6 – Universal Team Members Would be Inferior to Disney Cast Members

This assumption was very wrong. As a rule, the team members were super friendly, helpful and amazing. We expected the customer service aspect and general employee/guest interactions at Universal to be less than great. We ended up being really surprised by the enthusiasm of the team members at both the parks and our resort (Royal Pacific.) This was especially true of performers inside both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

Universal pays their team members a bit better (we have heard) and gives them more freedom when doing their jobs. This results in guest interactions that come off as way more genuine along with performances that were truly engaging (check out the hosts of Disaster or the Horror Make Up show for great examples.) Disney is more controlling on Cast Member behavior, including what they can and cannot say. Sometimes this makes Cast Members seem like they’re faking it, resulting in their performances being generally stale and boring (see The Great Movie Ride).

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Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show. (photo by Trygve Nelson)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Loved the 2014 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

by on September 27, 2014

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Remember, click on any picture to see it in full size.

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Loved the 2014 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. A few weeks ago we covered Villains Unleashed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and came away with more questions than answers for the future of that party. Now we are in Halloween season, and that leads us to another hard ticket event focusing on Disney’s “bad guys,” Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) at the Magic Kingdom. Personally, I think this is the highlight of the Walt Disney World year with guests getting the best bang for their buck. The lines for attractions throughout the park are short or nonexistent, lesser seen characters are out for meet ‘n greets (such as Tarzan and Jane), the Dapper Dans get converted over to the Cadaver Dans, and you get to see a wide variety of costumes worn by guests (with several being almost Disney-level in terms of costuming).

The $64,000 question for most people is simple: is MNSSHP worth the price tag of $62-$71 per person? I think so, and here are six more reasons why….

 

# 6 – Unique Food and Snack Options Throughout the Park

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Poison Apple and Candy Corn soft serve ice cream from Storybook Treats.

 

MNSSHP has always had a couple interesting food and beverage items exclusive to the party, including the mouth watering pumpkin spiced waffle sundae that made its debut at last year’s party. This year Disney has gone all out with a whole bunch of new treats throughout the park that are available only during MNSSHP nights, including at sit down locations such as Be Our Guest and Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. We were looking forward to the candy corn soft serve ice cream available at Storybook Treats, and it did not disappoint, especially with a bunch of candy corn at the bottom of the cup. There was also candy corn cotton candy, which was not as successful. Almost everywhere you turned there was a new treat or drink, including ghost cupcakes at Gaston’s Tavern, candy corn cupcakes at the Main Street Bakery, and a “Buggy Brew” at the Friar’s Nook, which looked like someone went to Diagon Alley and brought back a bunch of Fishy Green Ales. A major thumbs up overall for the variety of items, and let’s hope this trend continues at the upcoming Christmas party in a few weeks.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six “Secrets” of the Universal Orlando Resort (MEN IN BLACK, Doc Brown’s Plans, USF’s 2nd Entrance)

by on September 20, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six “Secrets” of the Universal Orlando Resort. Here at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters we look at the “secrets” of the theme park universe we all love; such as Island of Adventure’s Port of Entry and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Today we are going to look at the Universal Orlando Resort itself and examine six things you may not have known you could do there, even if you have gone 100 times. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring up the full size version, and let’s get to counting down the secrets contained within Universal, starting with…

 

# 6 - Tour the “Immigration Room” of the MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack Queue

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MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

One of the areas at which Universal excels is attraction queues and one of our favorites is at MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack. One of the areas guests walk by overhead is the immigration room, which seems straight off the set of the first MIB film. What you may not know is that you can actually get a tour of this area. Talk to the Team Member outside of the attraction and ask if them if you can get a tour of the immigration room. If it is a slow time and they have someone available, another Team Member will come out and escort you into this incredible room.

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