The last two weekends, I’ve wanted to do some mini trips to comic shops, etc. And, the last two weekends, the weather has decided to snow a ton and keep me cooped up in the house.
The last two weekends, I’ve wanted to do some mini trips to comic shops, etc. And, the last two weekends, the weather has decided to snow a ton and keep me cooped up in the house.
Universal Studios does something at their theme parks on select nights in September and October called Halloween Horror Nights. I had never attended this event before until 2014, their 24th year doing the event. It’s basically where they set up eight houses and, last year, four scare zones. The houses last year were Halloween, Alien vs Predator, The Walking Dead: End of the Line, Dracula Untold, and From Dusk Till Dawn. There were also three houses that were not based on a movie or television series: Dollhouse of the Damned, Giggles & Gore Inc., and Roanoke Cannibal Colony. The scare zones included Bayou of Blood, MASKerade: Unstitched, Face Off: In the Flesh, and The Purge: Anarchy. They also have a few shows special for the night: Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.
I was lucky enough to have a VIP pass to get into three of last years houses before the event itself for photos. The houses I visited: Halloween, Dollhouse of the Damned, and From Dusk Till Dawn.
Halloween: This is, indeed, based off oh John Carpenter’s horror movie, Halloween, about Michael Myers. It’s specifically focused on the first film, though there are nods to the other movies in the series – including Halloween 3, surprisingly enough.
I was having a horror-movie-junkie fan girl moment in the entire Halloween house, but the next house – Dollhouse of the Damned – was probably my favorite house, because it was so visually stimulating. This house was a concept house rather than a house based off of a film.
The last house we visited behind-the-scenes that day was From Dusk Till Dawn, based off of both the original movie, but also very heavily inspired by the newer TV series. While it was a very cool house, it was probably my least favorite of the three.
So, that night, after all the house photo-taking goodness, my mother and I got to attend Halloween Horror Nights 24. There are two shows, one is a Bill & Ted Halloween show, which we didn’t attend. But I did go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show live, and it was AMAZING. I love RHPS and the show was incredible. Probably one of my all time favorites I’ve seen.
There were also the four scare zones set up in the streets:
The Purge: Anarchy
The Bayou of Blood:
FACE OFF: In The Flesh (Make-up looks from the show, recreated by some of the artists from the show!)
One of my favorite parts of Halloween Horror Nights was the MASKerade: Unstitched zone.
I think it’s super underrated, because a lot of people were claiming it was boring. But I loved it. Yeah, I wasn’t shaking in my Stormtrooper Vans over people in gowns, on stilts, wearing masks. BUT it was so beautiful and eerie at night in such a fantastic way. It sent my artsy brain into overdrive. I was sketching a day or two later when I was doing laundry:
I’ll have more pictures up on my Flikr account eventually if you want to check them out! I can’t WAIT to attend this year, if everything aligns just right. Have you ever been to Halloween Horror Nights?
Within the span of one year’s time, I have went to FIVE Wizard World conventions. Yes, FIVE. Good thing I’m a Con Addict that adores traveling, haha.
During this time, and these many experiences, I’ve learned a few things to make my con adventures A LOT easier. Here’s some tips and answers to questions I get quite a lot:
1.) If you buy some art or a print, and it comes with a free plastic sleeve – KEEP IT! I know this sounds like a weird thing to some people, but you wouldn’t believe how many people end up buying plastic sleeves to hold art/prints/autographs/photo ops. I learned at my first con, when one of the first prints I bought came with a sleeve, that this was a handy thing to have. I could easily fit any 11×17 sized prints (very, very common at conventions, from what I’ve noticed) as well as anything smaller – such as the 8×10 from photo ops, autographs, etc. So, SO helpful. And a lot of people kept asking me where I found them, so I wasn’t alone in thinking they were pretty handy.
2.) Celebrities – are they worth it? Excellent question I receive a lot. People seem to be very split down the middle about this. Some people like to argue cons that are celebrity focused are a waste and trying to drain fans of their money, perpetuate the ‘celebrity worship’ mentality, and that they’re missing the point of the con entirely. Some people think the celebrity guests are a great way for fans to get to meet and connect with some of their idols, especially in cases where the celebrity has made a huge difference in their life somehow. Where do I stand on the subject? I walk the line, really. I think that con can be about BOTH things – meeting heroes, and being surrounded by your fellow geeks. I partake in both the geek community aspect as well as the celebrity stuff. I browse the vendors and artists, geek-out with others that enjoy my fandoms, and check out the awesome cosplays. But I can’t deny I’ve met some heroes via con and made connections that I never could have had otherwise. In my opinion – if you can meet your hero, do it. Not everyone will have time to spend forever talking to you, but the ones that can will make the entire experience worthwhile. Trust me.
3.) Don’t be defeated by your own thirst and hunger. I deal with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks my moisture producing glands, so I have to have some means of drinking water throughout the day. I try to remember a water bottle or keep track of every single water fountain in the convention center. Keep a water bottle handy, and a few light snacks in case you get hungry. While every con I’ve been to has had concession stands of some form to eat at, I usually only tried to do that once a day, if I needed to. Why spend extra money on corndogs that you could spend on sweet nerd stuff?
4.) Consider investing in or designating a Con bag. This doesn’t have to be any particular sort of special brand, or even style, but this has become a must for me. I didn’t have a special awesome bag at my first con, but ended up buying my first con bag from an artist there. It was a small, rectangular bag with a Harley Quinn image from the artist on it. I wish I could remember the artists name! Anyway, I used this for my next few cons, and it was PERFECT, and then my friend Skylar bought me a slightly larger but same style bag with Batman and the Joker on it, and since it had an extra pocket or two the other didn’t have, it became my designated con bag. It can fit my iPad (if for some reason I need it), organization stuff with my tickets, maps, etc inside, my wallet, and any other little must-haves. It isn’t too big and clunky. It sits at my side with a flap over the top, so no one can easily slip their hand inside and take anything without me being VERY aware of it. It really is perfect for my con needs. But, figure out what suits YOU the best, and go from there. Maybe a mini backpack is more your style? I know my best friend managed just fine with hers.
5.) Pack appropriately. DO bring important papers – like tickets. Bring important things – ID, money, water bottle, bandaids, etc. Do not bring more than you are comfortable carrying around all day. While some things may seem like a wise choice to bring along at the time, they can get cumbersome after a few hours of hauling them around. Be kind to your body, and don’t bring too much extra.
6.) Bring cash. This is easy enough. You want an autograph? Cash. A lot of vendors? Cash only. Yes, there are ATMs, but trust me. Going in prepared with your cash is much, much simpler. Plus, you can avoid ATM fees.
7.) Stay organized. I have a map of the convention floor that I analyze strategically the week leading up to con. I go over the schedule of panel times, photo op times, costume contest, etc. I have a small accordion file that I use to keep things organized for myself and usually my group – a slot for my tickets, one for my photo ops separate, a slot for everyone else’s tickets, their photo ops, maps and schedules, etc. I’m VERY organized, and it’s something I’ve picked up after my first two cons were a tad chaotic. It’s much easier to know you have everything sorted and ready, so you can spend more time focused on all the fun your day entails.
8.) Dress comfortably, but embrace your fandom. This is really up to you, but I think if you’re going in casual attire instead of cosplaying at the con, then you should be embracing your fandom(s). You are among your nerdy brethren! I like to plan fandom shirts based on what I’m doing for the day, but you can wear what you see fit. Another tip, also if you aren’t cosplaying – wear comfy shoes. Seriously. I know your super awesome heels SEEM like a good idea, but they won’t be an hour or so in. For me? Converse all the way. Usually Batman Converse. Ooooh yeeeah.
Alright, that’s it for today! I’ll have more con tips and advice for you in coming posts, since I have another con to attend next month! Comment below if you found any of this info useful, if you have questions, or you have your own con tips to share!
I have been to Universal Studios twice since the opening of Diagon Alley, and this post is reflective of my first trip, which was in 2014. I want to give you an idea of my initial impressions, and possibly later, once they crowds die down some and I can explore further, give you guys some more info about more of this section of the park.
Onward to the nerdy delight!
So, let’s start with this little guy. When you go to Diagon Alley, you first enter the London section of Universal Studios. (The Universal Studios park is sectioned off into cities – London, New York, etc) So what you see initially is just a London façade. There are red telephone booths, a double decker bus, and London inspired scenery. But, if you look a little closer, there are wizarding things in the muggle world. That bus? It’s the Knight Bus, complete with magical bus driver and shrunken head that will talk with people passing by. The red phone booth? If you take a step inside for a fun picture, try something: dial M-A-G-I-C and you’ll hear a pre-recorded message from the Ministry of Magic. But what about the building fronts? Those are just sets, right? Well, if you wander not too far from the Knight Bus, on the other side of the Eros Fountain, you’ll notice a familiar grumpy house elf peaking out of a window. To be more specific: peaking out of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
King’s Cross Station, which is where you could board the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. This was actually pretty amazing to me, and since it was one of the very first things I saw when I entered the London area, it left an impression on me. It looks absolutely beautiful in person.
I’m not even going to pretend that I wasn’t a little teary-eyed during the process of walking through the station and then boarding the train. The station itself is wonderful and feels both like a train station, and – for us non-muggle folk – you can sense the bit of magic in the air the closer you get to Platform 9 3/4 – including very subtle nods to a few scenes in the movie. And for anyone worrying that you wouldn’t get the magical experience that Harry has when entering the platform… well, you’ll just have to see what happens for yourself. 😉
The ride from London to Hogsmeade is probably my favorite, though both were enjoyable. But 1.) I really like the scenes in the ride from London to Hogsmeade, and 2.) All your nerd Harry Potter nerd fantasies are coming to life when you board the Hogwarts Express from London to Hogsmeade, and then see that castle coming closer in the distance. I remember telling my mom that I felt like I finally got my Hogwarts letter… 13 years late. But whatever. Better late than never, right?
Now, Diagon Alley obviously just can’t be hanging out in the front of London, where all those Muggles are. That would just be silly. That’s where another little detail I adored came in: You sort of have to find the entrance to Diagon Alley. It’s isn’t difficult at all to do, and it sort of makes the feeling more authentic (like what they do for Platform 9 3/4). But once you find it, oh boy… You’ve hit the fandom jackpot.
To everyone’s relief, there is a soft sound of the bricks moving when you’re walking through, and it can send you into a geeky joy overload.
Now, the first time I saw the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, with the Hogwarts castle, in 2012, I wanted to cry. I was there finally. I was seeing my beloved books and movies alive in front of me. If you haven’t been, it really overwhelms you with the attention to detail. (More on this in a separate post about Hogsmeade.)
So, when I entered Diagon Alley for the first time, how did I react?
I nearly cried.
They didn’t skip details on Diagon Alley, and lived up to the expectations that Hogsmeade established when it opened – and possibly even surpassed it. They’ve added an additional cool wizard detail, where you can buy interactive wands character for around $40 (I believe, I didn’t have time to buy my own), and the different windows, statues, etc have spells you can cast using your wands. I watched several kids doing theirs, and it was actually really cool. But more that just nifty wand tricks: The stores are beautiful, the Leaky Cauldron is just as I’d imagined, and Gringotts… Oh, Gringotts.
In case you weren’t aware, there is a dragon on top of Gringotts Bank. And it isn’t a stupid crappy dragon that makes no sense or looks fake and dumb. This is a super realistic dragon, that breathes fire. Yes, you read that correctly. IT BREATHES FIRE. And guess what happened the moment I walked into Diagon Alley and looked up at that dragon? FIRE.
AND IT WAS AWESOME.
*ahem* But anyway…
This may have been my favorite big detail of the expansion: The Escape From Gringotts.
Not only was the outside of the bank/ride perfect, the queue (especially all those goblins! Spectacular!) fun and entertaining, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride itself. The first time I rode it, I was on my own because my mother is terrified of most rides that people could consider intense. For example, we’ve yet to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. But I knew I couldn’t come back and say I hadn’t ridden Escape from Gringotts. It just wasn’t happening. So, I braved it alone.
I won’t ruin the ride itself for you, but I did love the ride and how it was set up. It’s very similar to Universal’s Spiderman and Transformers rides, just slightly more intense and on rollercoaster tracks. Some people seemed to dislike this. I adored it (then again, Transformers is possibly my favorite ride.) But this aspect that it was intense, but not too intense was perfect in my mind. Because I could talk my mom into riding it. Other people that couldn’t ride the other Harry Potter rides could ride it. There was finally something for the fans that can’t quite do rollercoasters or the slightly more intense Forbidden Journey. And that really made my experience more enchanting this trip.
I plan to do a post on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade in the near future, but I also need to cover Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in general. 🙂
Any questions, feel free to leave me a comment!
Inspired by posts from Sky at Sky vs World:
Saving for Travel – April Spending Freeze
I get a lot of questions on how I manage all these trips I’ve been going on, and sometimes these are less intrigue than people trying to remind me I need to be saving for other things. But, more and more, I’m getting people genuinely interested in how I do it, because they want to embrace the idea of seeing more of the world. And when I was reading the new post on Sky vs World about saving, and it made me decide to post my own ways of saving for travel.
Now, the type of traveling that I am doing usually requires different types of saving methods.
When I’m preparing to travel for a Comic Con, I figure out the exact amount of money I need and keep that number in my head. Then, I will put away random amounts of money in a jar behind my computer that I regularly forget about, so unless some sort of emergency comes up – I don’t touch it. Then, the actual paycheck or two before I go, literally every cent aside from what’s needed for bills goes straight to that trip: Be it for the con itself, or for travel expenses, or whatever. Usually, I hit over my goal and have random spending money. Sometimes, I have a desperate scramble last minute because I’m a bit short. One time, I spent my taxes right after I got them back, and was both relieved and heartbroken that I did.
For other travels, I do a similar jar-behind-the-computer concept, and I have some sort of end goal amount in mind, and then write down every dollar I put in the jar and keep that log inside of it. Sometimes, I decide one month that every single $1 bill I have goes into that jar. I’ve had a lot of success with deciding to save every $5 bill that comes into my possession. I am a change hoarder, and separate dimes into one jar, quarters in one, and a huge jug for nickels and pennies (this particular jar I plan to leave alone until it’s absolutely full, then use it for whenever I move away from home for whatever expense I need.) And then, again, the paycheck or two before I leave becomes devoted to my trip aside from bills.
I also sell Scentsy products, which brings me a little extra cash I forget about every month and leave alone until I use it for trips. A few months ago, I started doing surveys on a site called InboxDollars, and was surprised it actually paid off when I made $30 from just doing surveys and random junk, and that went to my most recent Orlando trip. Plus, I’ll save any gift money, do some extra photo shoots, maybe sell some random junk I really don’t need, etc. I always find a way to make it work. (Currently, I’m saving for a con in Chicago in August.)
Of course, there will be setbacks. Birthdays, holidays, unforeseen expenses – car upkeep, medical bills, etc. But it’s still fathomable if you really focus on what you want. Travel isn’t just for millionaires – if you work hard, you can do anything you want. 🙂