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.
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.
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.