Orlando Holiday Letdowns

As we are all well aware, Orlando is heaven for any theme park fan. The snacks are out of the world Instagrammable and delicious, the service is second to none and the parks boast some of the best rides and attractions on the planet. So it's fair enough that when you book a trip to Orlando your expectations are through the roof and I think it's only fair to assume, based on evidence, that every single thing you do is going to be the best thing in the world. Because hey, it's Orlando, isn't that the entire point of the place?

So it makes sense then, when we boldly burst through the gates and run over to get in line for the latest attraction with our expectations sky high and our excitement levels peaked to match, that sometimes things just don't live up to what we dreamed them to be. And that's what I'm chatting about today. Now, I just want to make it clear that a lot of the things I'm about to chat about aren't BAD per se (although there are some stinkers!) but for me, they just didn't hit the mark and left me feeling cold. I know it's weird that something could still be the best in the world but still be disappointing but I guess my job today is to try and reason that with y'all!

OK let's start with the controversial one and get it out of the way shall we. Halloween Horror Nights. This is an event I've been dreaming of visiting...well pretty much since I was born. I'd never been able to visit with my family before due to my dad's work schedule so our most recent visit was the first time I'd ever had the opportunity to go, and damn if excited wasn't an understatement. This was life-goals achieved territory for me. As we walked through the gates and into the fog filled main street of the event I was so overcome with emotion that I was actually here that I almost cried. Almost.

But then...I don't know? Something just didn't click for me. On paper it has all of the ingredients for excellence - the IPs, the theming, SO MUCH FOG, the music, etc. It was all absolute perfection. So what the hell was my beef? I think ultimately it came down to two things. Firstly, it just wasn't scary. Look, I know I've done my fair share of horror things and have therefore built up a layer of immunity to this kind of stuff but ask anybody who rode that ghost train with me at Liseberg - I'm still able to be scared and I relish it. The HHN mazes felt too formulaic and 'safe' for me to be scary so whilst they were absolutely very cool, none of them delivered that raw fear.

Secondly, and this is totally pedantic so you'll have to forgive me, but the whole thing is almost too perfect. And it really is, every jagged tooth, every blood spatter, every axe-wielding maniac is finessed to the point where you can't imagine a world where you're really going to die a gruesome horrible death, and honestly that took a little of the fun away for me. Something I love about the more low budget Halloween events is how rustic and rough everything feels - to me that's truly autumnal and there's nothing better to me than spooky fun on a muddy farm setting with the smell of bonfires in the air, and that's obviously not how Universal do things!

I remember squealing out loud when I saw the plans for this thing. Giant steampunk inspired Willy Wonka looking chocolate factory restaurant with robot waiters?! Erm, yes sign me up a thousand times over, thanks. The whole thing looks like something Tony Baxter drew up for Disney as part of the Paris project that never quite came to fruition and anything like that is right up my street. I was as excited for this as I was for any new big attraction we'd be visiting on the trip and I made sure it was top of our to do list on our first visit to Universal of the holiday.

Man...I was so bummed out by this place. How can something look so huge from the outside but be so tiny on the inside? And I know this was my imagination running wild, but I expected a little more 'madness' from the interior. Why make something so extravagant on the outside then just have a bunch of crap screens with naff CGI playing on the inside. The two didn't marry up for me and I felt cheated. And then the food. OK so I got overexcited about the prospect of having bacon covered in chocolate as an actual meal, but it was really not very nice at all - not because of being over-indulgent or whatever, it just tasted cheap and nasty. The freakshake I had as dessert was indeed fab but I was quite deflated by the whole experience by that point and it wasn't enough to make up for it.

Oh Toy Story Land, how I loathe thee. Look - I'll start this off by saying I'm not a huge Toy Story fan anyway, but I actually quite liked the studio style brick avenue they used to have at Disney's Hollwood Studios. Just felt like it had a bit more class compared to you average cold, shiny hard plastic Toy Story Lands found elsewhere around the globe. So when they announced that they were scrapping that for yet more cold, shiny hard plastic I wasn't enthralled. For me there's just no charm with this style - it's as garish as Dinoland USA over at Animal Kingdom and somehow doesn't receive half the bashing.

I actually quite liked Slinky Dog Dash - it was loads better than I thought it was going to be! But the rest of the land. Well, it was hot and there wasn't exactly much shade to speak of, even with the emergency parasols everywhere. My main beef was with the character meet and greet locations. Back in the Pixar street thing with the brick walls the characters had a dedicated themed room with a lovely backdrop to stand in front of. Now they just kind of...hang around in front of a fence? Like yes it's cool in theory to have Woody and the gang just hanging out in Andy's back yard but in practice all it means is you end up with a pretty naff looking photo. Not a fan!

I remember when this was announced and, despite never having seen a Fast & Furious film (not my style), with the proposed size of the area being used for the ride and the development of recent technologies, I was pretty excited by the prospects of what this could be. The films are all about going fast so, foolishly, I expected that is what the ride would be able too. To get rid of two Universal Studios staples with Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue and Disaster was no small feat, so I figured Universal would have something pretty epic up their sleeves to replace these attractions.

On the whole I'm not someone who has a go at Universal for creating too many screen-based rides. In my opinion it makes sense when you consider that Universal is a movie themed park and movies are all about the big screen, but I didn't expect the bulk of the ride to just be an immersive tunnel situation. And the waste of space, my god it's criminal! Just metres and metres of queue through massive, mostly empty warehouses and two HUGE pre-show rooms. Universal really have no maximised the use of this space here and it's really frustrating to see when Diagon Alley is literally next door and you can see what they're capable of. I don't hate it because I'm not a fan of Fast & Furious, because I'm not a fan of screens or even that it booted out some of my Universal favourites. No, no. I hate it because it's such a colossal waste of premium real estate. Sigh.

Strange to me that Universal Studios, one of the biggest international theme park attractions in the world, would choose to go with a theme so dependent on a knowledge and familiarity with the in-jokes of a domestic TV show. Quite bizarre. So yh, when this was announced I really couldn't give a toss. I'm clearly not the target audience and honestly I was bitter that it was replacing Twister - an outdated, yes, but still fantastic and unique attraction that I always made a point of riding whenever I visited the park. But whatever, let's give it a go, how bad could it be?

The 'queue' system is actually really fab and easily the best part of the whole attraction and I'm sure it's ten times more enjoyable if you understand some of the jokes taking place (what's with the panda?) Truly innovative and technology I'd love to see used in one of their more internationally beloved attractions in the future. But urgh, the ride. This thing uses pretty similar tech to the bloody Hannah Barbera ride from the 90s! What the hell Universal? You're meant to be changing the game here, you've got a Disney down the road to contend with, and you're presenting us with a bloody motion simulator. Urgh. Again, I had no idea what was happening all the way through the thing because if you don't recognise the references then there's no saving you and frankly, Universal just don't give a shit. Embarrassment of an attraction and one of the park's worst offenders of recent years.

Rounding this vent-fest off with the one and only Flight of Passage, headline attraction at Animal Kingdom's ridiculously successful new land Pandora: World of Avatar. I've spoken at length my feelings towards the use of the Avatar IP on the blog before so I'll spare you that side of this, but urgh this thing! OK so, I bloody LOVE Soarin'. Like it DOES THINGS to me. I don't know why but I've always found it just endlessly magical and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (please don't tell anybody I have feelings). I'd heard Flight of Passage be described as Soarin' crossed with Tower of Terror for how the thing rides and read endless comments online of people saying how this ride changed their life and how they came away crying and god knows what else. Suffice to say I was going in with high hopes!

So obviously the queue is absolutely incredible - Disney immersive theming at it's very best and it definitely kept us entertained for the 70 mins we queued. Then the attraction proper kicked off with the pre-show and that's where things started to go downhill for me. The pre-show is incredibly faffy and took absolutely ages (I'm sure there was a technical issue but at no point were we informed of this). After waiting 70 mins we were already growing impatient and this didn't do much to help things. Then we went into the pod rooms which basically look like Star Tours that opened in the bloody 80s! Everything felt very cold and clinical and I didn't feel much like I was about to embark on an epic adventure.

I did enjoy the 'bike' seating position and the first time you feel the thing 'breathe' is quite cool but that quickly get's old. The weird 3D glasses blur the edge of your vision, I'm guessing to try and emulate how the actual human eye works, but what it actually resulted in was a frustratingly tiny slither of actually in focus content to immerse myself in. The water spray and wind felt very fake to me and kept snapping me out of the immersion and I don't really give a shit about the Na'vi so there was no burst of excitement when they rocked up. Overall the whole thing just left me feeling cold and also confused as to why so many people love this attraction? Where was the feeling of elation, the overwhelming emotion? I felt cheated - where was this incredible ride everybody bangs on about? Biggest let down of the holiday easily.

Thank you for joining me for this rant and letting me get this all off of my chest! It's hard to admit that the Orlando parks don't always do everything perfectly but I guess they can't expected to hit a home run every time!

Talk later xoxo,