Photos from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida and Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld Orlando will be added to the gallery in coming weeks. We were able to visit all ten haunted houses, the scare zones, and the one (!) show at Universal, and also all five haunted houses, the scare zones and three (!) of the four shows at SeaWorld Orlando.
While Universal’s offerings had zero scares (the only time we heard anyone scream all night was from a chainsaw in a scare zone), they sure were amazing walk through theatrical experiences.
SeaWorld, however, actually had real haunted houses — letting in groups rather than a large conga line. The groups were too big so most scares were spoiled, but we were certainly startled many times during that four hour event (mostly in the scare zones).
Over at my Des Moines Haunted Houses website project, folks there know I scream like a little girl and am a pretty easy target. Seeing these two big theme park haunts be so tame was a surprise — especially with the reputation of HHN being one of the biggest haunt events in the nation.
Tracks from the official Universal Studios Escape (as it was known back then) Islands of Adventure theme park have been posted to the official Universal Orlando Resort (as it is known today) YouTube channel:
The soundtrack was released for the 1999 opening, I believe, but these tracks are listed as being from a “2000 reissue” version. I may have the original disc somewhere, and I know it had many more tracks than what have been shared so far.
I am just hoping the crazy track from Toon Lagoon makes it. The custom soundtracks were one of the best things about Islands of Adventure. Toon Lagoon especially stood out with its massive multi-track arrangement with speakers all over the land playing parts of the looping soundtrack. (This would be done two years later with the opening of Disney’s California Adventure when it had something similar for the Paradise Pier section of the park.)
I have seen so many videos taken at Universal Orlando Resort on attractions that specifically forbid photos or video recording. I wondered if there was some kind of exception for video bloggers, so I asked…
Please know that Universal Orlando Resort does not condone the behavior you described of these YouTube vloggers. For the safety of our Guests, as well as show quality when applicable, we do not allow filming, flash photography, or Go-Pro style mounted cameras on our attractions.
Universal Orlando Resort Guest Communications
So, yeah. I guess all the signs that say don’t do it actually are there because you aren’t supposed to do it.
I created some Google Maps layers that show the walking path (called “Garden Walk”) between the on-site hotels and the park entrances. It includes markers for the boat docks, bus dropoffs and security checkpoints, as well. You can enable just the items you want to see. (For example, you only care about the walking route from Aventura to Universal Studios Florida.)
West Side – Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, Royal Pacific
When I got my first digital camera in 1996, I never could have imagined there would be a time when I’d be updating photo galleries with over 150,000 photos in them. Initially, all my theme park photos were able to fit in one master “DisneyFans Photos” gallery. Today, the number of files in that gallery far exceed what my web host account can allow. Because of that, I had to split the gallery up in to multiple accounts – Disneyland, Disney World and non-Disney Theme Parks.
Due to how much time it takes to update the non-Disney gallery each time I return from Universal and SeaWorld (due to having to go through all the other theme park photos), I am finally going to split off Universal Studios (Hollywood and Orlando) and SeaWorld in to their own sub-gallery.
This will group photos as follows:
Walt Disney World
Universal Studios & SeaWorld
…other Theme Parks
I am in the process up creating the new US/SW gallery (over 31,000 photos just from those parks) and will begin uploading it later tonight. I will then redo the Theme Parks gallery to remove Universal and SeaWorld. Hopefully folks will find them at their new location.
As one of the longest running theme park sites on the Internet (from my pre-domain days back in 1996, to the DisneyFans.com days and now this site), I hate to make big changes like this. Apologies in advance for the links that will be broken…
Over 4200 new photos will be added to the gallery in coming weeks. They include photos along the Disney World Skyliner route (the resorts and area with stations), a half day visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and a trip to Universal Orlando for this year’s Mardi Gras event.
We also visited the Universal Great Escape Back to the Future experience, which was a cool technical achievement. Actually, the higher end bar there is worth a look if you partake in adult beverages.
Blog posts coming, as soon as things are caught up…
NOTE: I believe I may be incorrect about the dates here. I think these photos are actually from 1999. I am not sure why I have a bunch of Universal Studios photos that are off by one year, but from looking at my Disney trips, I see I visited in November 1999. With that in mind, assume that “1998” below is probably actually be “1999.”
Today I am quite familiar with Halloween and Christmas events at Disney, but there was a time “not too long ago” (but longer than many of you reading this have even existed) when Halloween wasn’t really much of a thing in the parks.
Back then, there was a small Fall transition where you’d start to see some pumpkins or Fall decorations before Christmas would take over later. I went through my photo gallery trying to see if I captured any of this “before Halloween” stuff, but I find that the first trip I made in November with a digital camera was in 1998.
I found some photos from Universal Studios Florida, back when it was just Universal Studios (long before Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and before Islands of Adventure opened).
Universal was already in Christmas mode by November at that time. Let’s take a look.
The original movie-themed park had different areas representing different big cities. As such, they put up traditional city-style decorations.
As a kid in the 1970s, I have fond memories of seeing the Christmas decorations like these candy-stuffed stockings on light posts.
I don’t recall seeing any of these “across the street” decorations, though. I suppose it’s easier to decorate fake streets that don’t have actual traffic (other than parades).
I *think* these “shooting star” decorations may have been from the Hollywood Boulevard area of the park.
Since Universal Studios was based on a movie backlot, its “lands” were supposed to be backlot filming sets based on different cities and such. Thus, the attractions were often placed in buildings that usually didn’t make sense. King Kong was an exception, since it was a public transportation ride located in a public transportation station building. It was decorated for happy holidays, in spite of giant gorilla inside…
As I keep digging through my archives, I expect I may locate some photos of the in-between decorations the Disney parks had (Main Street and Frontierland, I think). Today, though, I think they go straight from Halloween to Christmas, with no room for anything in between like Thanksgiving or Fall.
As I go through my galleries, sometimes I find surprising things. For instance, I have evidence that I visited Universal Studios Florida in January 1999. I then have evidence that I returned in November to visit the newly-opened Islands of Adventure. Oddly, I didn’t go to the Universal Studios side during that trip. I just wasn’t that much into Universal Studios much back then. Today, with both sides having so many new attractions (and cool Harry Potter areas), I can’t imaging not visiting both!
But I digress.
After touring the preview center earlier in the year, I returned on November 16, 1999 to experience this new theme park. Unfortunately, my digital photos from that trip lost all date code information, so I can’t tell you the time in these photos, only the day.
There were no crowds. It was very different than showing up to a Disney park early in the morning where people are lined up for rope drop.
And no waits at any of the rides either!
The lack of crowds continued as I walked through the park. The frustrating thing was that many of the rides were down during that morning, and it was actually a challenge to find something to do! Eventually they got them all running, but I was still able to ride everything in the park by the afternoon.
I remember being very impressed with how the park looked. So many details! It sure had that “Disney quality” look to it.
Even the carnival games section in Lost Continent was highly detailed, even if I thought these high end parks shouldn’t have carnival games sections. (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Animal Kingom’s DinolandUSA and California Adventure’s Pixar Pier!)
And I was blown away by this restaurant! It was absolutely amazing inside and almost perfect. Almost.
That restaurant was one of my all-time favorite spots in any theme park. But, inside, there were rough edges that kept it from being 100%. For example, their menu boards, while nice, were illuminated by clamp-on lights like you’d find at a local hardware store! There were actually a number of “rough edges” throughout the park where it seems like they just didn’t bother going all the way.
Still, the Dueling Dragons coaster was nice and had a great queue leading in…
…but, as you were walking out, there were some nicely detailed towers with wooden “shutters” on the windows. They didn’t paint the edges of the wood, leaving bare wood exposed and clashing with the rest of the theme. Details, guys, details. I wasn’t much of an “observer” back then, so I only noticed the things that really jumped out at me. And there were a lot.
And perhaps a bunch of these little things kept it from dominating over Disney from day one (though not having Mickey and all those Disney characters will always be a challenge). Still, it was better than any non-Disney thing I’d ever seen! I knew I’d be back.
Jurassic Park had an absolutely amazing Triceratops Encounter where you could get up close and personal with a “real” Triceratops as the park doctor examined it. I don’t think they allowed photos inside the attraction at first (they were far more restrictive back then), but I have a picture from the queue… (That’s me running video in the below image. I have a hours of video from that trip, somewhere.)
My favorite “attraction” of the entire visit was the talking Mystic Fountain. I probably spent more time watching it taunt visitors (and squirt them with water) than anything else in the park that day! It could do so much.
While the fountain remains in the park to this day, the version you see now is far more anemic than it was back then. Perhaps it’s because everyone is carrying expensive cell phones and they don’t want to ruin them. But, in 1999, it was all out water-war from this thing! I really need to dig out my 1999 video of the fountain to share sometime. Great stuff.
Skipping around a bit … An earlier version of Poseidon’s Fury was there, but it seems to look the same as today, as does Suess Landing. Funny enough, Green Eggs and Ham wasn’t open back then, either (and wasn’t on my last three visits to the park!). I don’t think I’ve ever gone when it was open.
But you could at least meet the Cat in the Hat!
But you could NOT ride this monorail thing! It sat dormant for years before finally turning in to the current trolley ride, using different racks. Back then, they at least had an animated vehicle slowly moving around the tracks. I wondered for years what it was going to be used for, and finally got to see it in 2019.
As far as characters, I saw Dudley Do Right, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Betty Boop and several others over in Toon Lagoon. And lots of parents explaining to their kids just who these characters were. (Really, Universal? Betty Boop? I’m old, and I only know of her because of syndicated programs on a local UHF station in Houston in the 1970s, before cable.)
Overall, it was a fun first visit, with so much potential, but there were just so many bits and pieces that didn’t feel completely done (and they remained that way for years). New pavement was already cracked. There was already mold growing around the bases of water rides. And just a general lack of spotlessness that Disney had conditioned us to.
But, it was clear Disney had it’s first real competitor and I was eager to see what would happen in coming years.
And since I recently bought my very first Universal Studios annual pass, I’d say they’ve done great work. And a huge portion of that work was ready to go back in 1999.
It’s not very often you get to visit a “new” theme park during it’s first season. I’m glad I was there.
Who would have thought that one day Harry Potter would come along and cause a large portion of this park to be ripped out and replaced with Hogwarts?
In 1999, Universal Studios was getting ready to open their new theme park, Islands of Adventure. This would be part of an expansion and renaming of the whole area to Universal Studios Escape.
That didn’t last too long. Today, it’s known as the Universal Orlando Resort.
But in 1999, you could visit Universal Studios Florida and get a sneak peak at the wonders that would await you when the new park opened later that year… Let’s take a look at their preview center.
I previously shared this photo, which shows that the preview center was there in 1998 as well…
Either I didn’t go in, it wasn’t open, they weren’t allowing photos, or I just ran out of camera memory. But in 1999, I did go through it. Here’s a better photo of the entrance:
Step inside, and you could see concept artwork and a map of the new theme park:
They had sections of the center dedicated to the different areas of the new park. Here is a look at the Dr. Suess-inspired Suess Landing:
Up next was a room dedicated to the Lost Continent section of the park:
And apparently there was some kind of passport book you could get, and get it stamped in each area. I had completely forgotten about this. I have no idea if I have one somewhere, but if I run across it, I’ll scan it and share it in a future article.
Up next would be Toon Lagoon, where all the leftover cartoon characters that weren’t tied up by Disney, Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farms would live:
After this, we got to see what Marvel Super-Hero Island would have in store for us.
And, because I am old and don’t mine humiliating myself, I’ll share this never-before-seen photo of me meeting one of my all-time heroes: Spider-Man!
I remember saying to him, “You’re my favorite!” And he replied, “Yes, I know…” How can you not love that guy? Who would have thought that, two decades later, he’d be “harassing” me on the streets of Disney’s California Adventure 😉
Next we came to Jurassic Park. I must have been really excited about this land, based on the then-six-year-old movie, because I took more photos here than any of the other areas.
I *think* this was the wall that would “bang” and show the impact of a dinosaur (probably a raptor) crashing into it:
And I guess there must have been some kind of effect here, but I don’t recall what it was. (Honestly, I just remember meeting Spider-Man, and the impact wall at Jurassic Park.)
And lastly, a nice map showing the overview of the entire Universal Studios Escape resort expansion:
We had no idea at the time that Spider-Man would be such a smash hit. We still thought that this, of all parks, might be the one park to dethrone Disney World. But, as we found out, ultimately that didn’t happen and, if anything, it just brought more people to Orlando and increased Disney attendance.
At some point, I will share my thoughts on my first-time visit to Islands of Adventure, but for now…
Today let’s park hop over to another company: Universal Studios.
I visited the original Universal Studios Florida park as a teenager in the early 1990s. I remember quite a few of the former Universal Studios attractions such as the Alfred Hitchcock exhibit/show and Ghostbusters. I don’t remember when my first visit was, but I’m pretty sure I also went in 1994 and 1995. Oddly, there was apparently a tram tour there until 1995 and I don’t remember that at all. Either it was completely forgettable, or for some reason we chose to never go on it. (Honestly, I had no idea there was ever a tram tour there until a few months ago!)
But I digress…
When I started my “traveling job” in 1995, I found myself in Orlando several times a year. While I had an annual pass to Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) for many years, I rarely visited Universal Studios. The first time I went outside of a few earlier family vacations was in 1998.
In my earlier visits, Universal had a large parking lot out front. By 1998, everything had changed as they prepared to open the new Islands of Adventure park. This was a bit similar to what was starting to happen at the Disneyland Resortaround the same time for their upcoming Disney’s California Adventure park.
Since my camera could only hold 99 photos, I don’t have many to share from this one day visit. But, some things I found are a bit interesting.
Before there was a Mummy rollercoaster, there was a Mummy movie exhibit:
The Boneyard was still there, which featured various props from movies. Including literal bones (from the Flintstones movie, I think?).
I don’t remember where that was. Is this where the big stage area is now? Now neither Disney or Universal have a place with us to look at old movie vehicles. Oh well.
At the original Universal Studios Hollywood, there is a Waterworld stunt show. But at Universal in Florida, you could only see a prop from the movie:
Behind it you can see the stage for the Wild Wild West Stunt Show. I don’t think I ever saw that.
Something that I miss were these unique photo spots. They had a place where you could place your camera and line up a shot. Then, they would have matte paintings or miniatures that you camera could see as well as a real background. This one was supposed to make it look like the Back to the Future building was part of a launch site for the Space Shuttle.
Unfortunately, my camera had no view screen (the optical “look through here” lens was in the corner, and the camera lens was in the center) so I couldn’t properly line up the shot. But you get the idea.
There was also a preview center for the upcoming Islands of Adventure theme park. I have one picture that kind of shows it:
Oddly, I have no photos inside of it. Either it wasn’t open yet (it looks like it was?), or it was and I was out of camera memory, or perhaps photos were not being allowed. Does anyone remember? I visited again in 1999 and have photos inside. I’ll do an update on “Before Islands of Adventure” soon.
There was a Nickelodeon section! I remember that channel for the early years of cable TV.
Also, the Hard Rock Cafe was different. For some reason, I thought that it had been moved. I recall you could get into it from the park — is that still the case? They had the bus (was it the real one, or a replica?) from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
Men in Black was under construction in 1998…
And of course, we had Twister! That hasn’t been gone too long, so I’ll just share one thing I found interesting:
See that red cup? That’s an Eskimo Joe’s cup from Stillwater, Oklahoma. I had a friend who was going to school in Stillwater, and when I passed through on my way home from Texas to Iowa, she took me there. I had several cups from the place, and was surprised to see on here. Universal Studios did their research! (Though, it’s worth noting that, while the movie was set in Oklahoma, a lot of it was filmed in Iowa. In 1995 when I moved to Iowa, I heard on the radio about them filming some tornado movie there. “Oh, great, I’ve moved to a place so famous for tornados that they film movies about them here!”)
That will do it for now, but I’ll have another Universal photo essay soon showing off the Island of Adventure preview center, as well as some other long-gone things.