All the Small Things: Orlando Edition

I’m wrapping up my Orlando posts for a while, but before I go, I wanted to share a few more details from my little brother’s visit back in September. I’ve already written quite a bit about our visits to Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, but what about everything in between?

When Jared first booked his flight to Orlando, I asked him what one thing he wanted to do or see, aside from the obvious, “Go to Disney World.” His answer?

“I want to see some gators.” That made me laugh, and while we didn’t actually spot any of the native Florida creatures during his trip, it wasn’t for lack of trying! I should mention here that I once witnessed the capture of an enormous gator right on my apartment grounds, and I’m told it’s not that uncommon to spot them on the roadsides. My boyfriend’s mother nearly hit one that was just lounging in the middle of a freeway off-ramp a few years back! So for a little gator-spotting action, we just went for a walk alongside nearby Shingle Creek. No gators. We could also have visited the Orlando Science Center to see smaller gators in a simulation of their natural habitat, or taken an airboat ride to see gators and several other Florida critters in the wild. The airboat tours were a little pricey, and the Science Center too much of a time investment, so we skipped the gator option and moved on with our planning.

Gator at the Front Door of a Home
Welcome to Florida!

I mentioned in earlier posts that Jared timed his visit to coincide with Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, but he was also careful to include at least one night at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. In other words, he saw two of my favorite events of the year in one brief Orlando visit! Not bad for a first-timer.

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event that typically takes place at Universal Studios Florida from mid-September to early November. On weekends, the park transforms into your worst nightmare, with  multiple haunted houses and spooks around every street corner. It’s a separately-ticketed event, and the best deal for us was the Rush of Fear Annual Pass. It actually cost almost $20 less than a one-night ticket, and since it included admission to the first ten event nights, it gave Jared and I the flexibility to go once, twice, or even three times if the first visit wasn’t enough. My advice? Definitely spend some time comparing ticket and annual pass options on the Halloween Horror Nights website before purchasing any event tickets!

Front Gate of Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

Onto the event itself! The park typically opens around 6PM, depending on the day, and even for those who arrive early, there is almost always a large crowd pushing to be let into the front gates. Don’t fall in with the crowd. If you have a regular park ticket, enter the park before it closes for the day. Guests already in the park do not need to exit if they have a Horror Nights ticket.

Hang Out in Diagon Alley Before HHN
Waiting at the front gate vs. relaxing in Diagon Alley. I mean…whatever works for you!

Instead, they are directed to a holding area, in this case. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley. So instead of elbowing for space at the park entrance with a thousand other tourists, you could be drinking Butterbeer and riding the new(ish) Escape From Gringotts ride. I mean…it’s your choice…

Anyway, Jared and I opted to arrive at Universal around 3 PM. This gave us more than enough time to hit a couple of rides and see the Horror Makeup show, a “behind the scenes” kind of show that delves into the makeup and special effects used in horror movies. It was a great way to kick off the rest of the night, and Jared and I probably laughed harder than we should have at some of the gags. Then it was off to Diagon Alley, where we had an Instagram-worthy dinner at The Leaky Cauldron and of course paid a visit to Gringotts!

The Leaky Cauldron at Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley
The Leaky Cauldron
Diagon Alley Chandeliers in the Gringotts Lobby
Shimmering chandeliers in the lobby of Gringotts Bank
Gringotts Goblins Hard at Work
Gringotts goblins hard at work

Side note: I took photos for a Diagon Alley post over the summer, and just realized that I still haven’t written one! So there’s at least one more theme park post coming your way in the near future!

We were set loose in the park around 6PM, and managed to visit four out of nine haunted houses within the first hour and a half. There is something to be said for arriving early! We also managed to squeeze in viewings of both Halloween shows, The Carnage Returns and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.

Maniacs Roam Free at the Shadybrook Halloween Block Party
Hanging out with escaped psych ward patients at the Shadybrook Block Party!
HHN 25 All Nite Die-In
All Nite Die-In, an homage to classic horror movies and iconic monsters of film.
The Director at HHN 25 Icons Scare Zone
The Director, an icon of event past
Body Collectors Recollections House Entrance
Entrance to the Body Collectors haunted house

My favorite part of the night, however, was sharing dinner at Finnegan’s Bar & Grill, an Irish-themed restaurant in the New York area of the park. We each bought a specialty drink, stole bites off of each other’s plates, and of course, asked for more apple butter and soda bread with our meals! Jared and I have a six-year age difference, which means we weren’t close until very recently. It was nice to just sit and talk over dinner, while monsters roamed the streets just outside the frosted windows.

Shadybrook Patients in the Streets of New YorkMonsters and Mayhem Haunted House Entrance at Halloween Horror NightsHHN 25 The Caretaker

In the end, we didn’t see everything, nor did we return for a second go. But we had a lot of fun just roaming around, exchanging thoughts on the most recent haunted house and the actors who fill them. It wasn’t the best day of the trip (that honor goes to the afternoon spent at the Food & Wine Festival!), but it was fun nonetheless. Jared is actually hoping to give Halloween Horror Nights another chance if (I should say, when), he returns to Orlando this fall.

Overall, our stay was centered around theme parks, food, and just hanging out together. I think it was a good first-time visit, and I loved showing my little bro around the city I now call home. Best of all, it was a trip flavored by his interests, and it encouraged me to try a couple new places in my own backyard. Looking at you, Nara Dev!

Thai Lunch at Nara Deva Millenia

My brother is a Thai food addict, and thanks to him, I now have a favorite Thai restaurant. That’s my favorite part about travel. Even when I’m exploring my own neighborhood, there is always something new to be found, and with the right people in tow, it’s bound to be a good time!

Jared, I’ll see you soon!

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