Attention all witches and wizards, and even you muggles and squibs! Did you know there’s a weekend long HARRY POTTER PARTY in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States next month? Everyone’s invited! And, get this…it’s FREE! Well, maybe not 100% free…you may need to shell out a few Knuts, Sickles and Galleons for stuff here or there. But it’s free to walk around and see the sights and a little money here and there to buy some ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s or to buy a House Sword is a small price to pay for an event like this!
Walt Disney World has run a series of “Moonlight Madness” events for Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members for a while now. Joe has been a DVC member since the early 90s (the running joke was that I married him for his points) and after going to and enjoying our time at the Magic Kingdom event in February 2017 (click here for that trip report, as well as a brief history of DVC and how it works), we decided to go to the Typhoon Lagoon event on July 5th. We had gone to a similar event last summer, so we figured it would be a good way to compare last year’s event to this one.
Continue reading “Trip Report: Disney Vacation Club exclusive Moonlight Magic event at Typhoon Lagoon”
One really cool, albeit obvious thing about living in Central Florida is that you can sometimes take advantage of what Orlando-area theme parks have to offer. Case in point: Joe and I have been Universal Orlando annual passholders since around 2009 or so. Besides the fact that we can go to the parks pretty much whenever we want (which was particularly WONDERFUL when each of the two Harry Potter lands were in previews and then opened), we also occasionally have some access to some benefits and experiences that people who are “just visiting” might not get. Case in point: being able to throw beads from one of the floats at Universal Studios Florida’s (USF) Mardi Gras parade.
USF has been hosting an evening Mardi Gras since 1994. The number of nights they host it has changed over time, as has the amount of floats (they have added 6 more floats this year, all designed by Kern Studios in Louisiana, and all based on mythical creatures, which brings the total up to 12) and, of course, the exact dates of their Mardi Gras celebration varies from year to year (this year it’s running from February 4 through March 25. And yes, they know Mardi Gras officially ends on Fat Tuesday, which this year was February 28, but I guess it’s a good way to get people to come to the theme park, so they extend the celebration a few weeks). One of the current perks of being an Annual or Seasonal Passholder at USF is the ability to sign up to try to be on a float and throw beads. All of the rules and regulations are spelled out on this page of Universal’s website (the webpage was up-to-date as of the posting of this article. If the link no longer works, please let us know and we’ll update as possible). For the past 2 or 3 years, I have applied both Joe and I for every day that Joe is off but we had never been picked before. So, of course, when it rains it pours – the day after Annual Passholder friends of ours invited us to be their guests to throw beads, Joe got an email from Universal, inviting him and a guest to ride a float and throw them.
We arrived at our designated meeting place around 5:30pm, near the entry to the Barney show, but were told the person with the wristbands that would identify us as float riders wasn’t there yet. However the guy arrived a few minutes later and once he got there, we were able to check in. With hot pink wristbands in hand and then on wrists, our next step was to fill out waivers that said we wouldn’t hold USF responsible if we were hurt while throwing beads, they had the right to photograph us without compensation, etc. From there we had about 45-60 minutes until they would need us.
We spent a few minutes just taking it all in – we saw there were 12 different signs attached to poles, fences, etc., with words like Sold Green, Multicolor, Solid Yellow, etc. These corresponded with the color of wristband people were wearing and would eventually identify which float we were to board. There were people from all different demographics in terms of age, gender, race, etc. And although most people were dressed for a day at the parks, at least one appeared to be dressed specifically for Mardi Gras.
Joe and I came back at our designated time of 6:30pm and after we were all asked to stand by the sign that had the color of our wristband, one of the Team Members went over the Official Rules of Throwing Beads At Universal Studios:
- Only throw 1 necklace at a time
- Throw them high and far
- Only throw them underhand or like the beads were a frisbee – NOT overhand
- We would have about 30 minutes to throw as many beads as we could on the parade route, so it was suggested we pace ourselves
- Make eye contact with who you planned to throw to, so they would know to expect the beads coming and not get bonked in the head/eye/camera, etc.
- We could take as many photos and as much video as we wanted once we were on stage, but there was to be absolutely no camera (still or video) use backstage
It was then time to be led backstage to our respective floats. With our solid hot pink wristbands, we were scheduled to be on the “Riverboat” float, which is the very first float in the parade (I’m told from a friend that the front (Riverboat) and rear (Alligator) floats are the ones reserved for Annual Passholders. They’re also the two largest floats in the parade). Other wristband color designations included Purple = Garuba, Solid Red = Gator, Blue Pattern = Pegasus, etc.
As each group went towards backstage, they went in different directions, based on where in the parade their float was (read: if their designated float was towards the back of the parade, they entered backstage by the Curious George water play area). Since we were in the very front, we entered backstage just to the right of the KidZone Pizza Company. But before we went backstage, our leader, Scott, said he needed some volunteers – first 6 adults, then 9 people of any age, then 6 more adults. Joe and I managed to get into the group of 9 and as it turned out, that meant we got to be on the top tier of our float! COOL!!!
So we went backstage and we had only a short walk to the Riverboat float. Our group was introduced to the people who would be helping us, as well as some of the drivers. They once again reiterated NO PHOTOGRAPHY BACKSTAGE (as in, “Sir, we said there is to be no photography or video backstage. Please put your phone away.”) and then we were fitted for our costumes (each Krewe member wears what is essentially a tunic, which ties behind him/her at the neck and small of the back, over his/her clothes. Each tunic, which appears to be color chosen for its respective float, has a differently color sequined Fleur De Lis emblem which is Velcroed onto the tunic). The tunics were thick polyester and HOT after more than a few minutes on what was that warm evening.
Once everyone had their tunic on, we were instructed to climb aboard our float, based on where we were going to be placed. The bottom row had to just go up a few stairs on either side of the float but those of us in the top row had to go up the same stairs, then climb an 8-step ladder that was securely attached to the float (no worries about falling – we had already signed Universal’s “We won’t sue you if we get hurt” liability form).
Once up on top, we still had about 30 minutes until the parade started. Our allotment of beads was already hung on the float, ready for us. Our leader, Scott, went over all the Official Rules of Throwing Beads at Universal Studios again, this time with some anecdotes (i.e. Jimmy Fallon is the halfway point so you can use that to help judge if you need to start throwing beads slower or faster; throw far because it gives people more of a chance to realize some beads are coming at them – especially the darker-colored green and purple ones; they used to throw plastic coins as well but they stopped that a few years ago because getting bonked in the head with a plastic coin hurts; you get 10 points if you ring beads onto a selfie stick [just kidding], etc.). The 9 of us were a quick study and still had plenty of time so we started asking Scott about what else he did at Universal (it sounded like he only works special events. Oh, and his wife was the leader directly below us on the Riverboat float!), who cleans up after us when everything is done (he did, so make sure to throw as many beads as possible!), etc.
It was finally 7:45pm and the parade started! And oh, what fun it was! I mean, I’ve been a spectator at Universal’s Mardi Gras parade lots of times (and have LOTS of beads to prove it) but that is NOTHING compared to being a Krewe member and throwing them! I didn’t ring any selfie sticks but I wound up with more than a few beads in trees, and I think a few landed on some awnings, too (my aim really sucks). Most got into peoples’ hands, thankfully. And every once in a while I established eye contact with whoever had caught my beads – I could see how happy they were, which made me feel happier. It was very, VERY cool.
Here’s a quick, 30-second video of what it’s like to throw beads on the float. I took it just as we were approaching The Mummy ride:
And here are the floats, as seen from the ground:
All too soon, we were backstage again. We were encouraged to take some of the beads that had fallen onto the floor as a souvenir (yay, Scott would have less to clean up!) and once we were back to our spot, we were instructed to remove the Velcroed “bib” from our costumes and hand the costume and bib to Scott (I’m guessing the tunics get washed but the bibs, which have the sequin decoration but never touches skin, do not – or at least get washed separately or a different way). We climbed down the ladder and once we got the all clear, we were allowed to exit the float and go back into the park – we wound up next to Monster Sound Show.
As an Annual or Seasonal Passholder, getting picked to throw beads at Mardi Gras is really just the luck of the draw. I hope either my or Joe’s name is picked again one of these days – it was LOADS of fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
By the way, if you’re at Universal Orlando Resort through the end of March and have an extra set of beads, make sure to add to the “Mardi Gras tree” – it’s on the right, right after the first set of moving walkways when you’re on the way back to the parking garages.
In 1991, the Walt Disney Company launched their own version of a timeshare, called Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Their membership is based on a points system that can be used for a variety of Disney properties and entities, and the number of points for stay at a Disney hotel (or on a Disney Cruise ship, or an Adventures by Disney vacation) is based on, among other things, time of year, and size and popularity of location. DVC points can also be used at non-Disney properties thanks to their relationship with RCI (a division of Wyndham Worldwide). Joe and his parents were huge Disney fans and vacationers throughout the 1970s and 1980s and when DVC became available, they were among the first to buy in (it’s a running joke that I married Joe for his DVC points).
We have movie sign!!!!!!!
That’s right. For the first time since August 1999, there is a new episode of MST3K. Thanks to the largest campaign to fund a media project on Kickstarter, Mystery Science Theater is coming back to television on Netflix for 14 new episodes.
When I saw the Kickstarter campaign, I knew I had to give something to bring back this show. When looking through the incentives, I saw one that I really wanted.
EXPERIMENT 752: JUST LIKE IN NEW YORK!
Tired of watching *us* sit in a theater watching movies while *you* sit at home? We can fix that. Grab a guest, put on your tuxedo jumper and join us at the theatre with TWO TICKETS to MST3K’s NYC PREMIERE EVENT*. Watch the pilot of the new season with the cast and creative team. Throw us your toughest curveballs during the Q&A. We’ll even cover your overpriced popcorn and soda.
*Travel/accommodations not included. See FAQ for more details.
I know this is a miles and points blog, so stay with me here. Sharon and I have been living with the motto, “Experiences, not things” for a while now. If there is something that we want to do, we will try to make that happen however we can. For me, collecting miles and points allowed me to not worry about how I was going to get to New York or pay for my hotel. I knew that would take care of itself. I just had to swallow the price of the admission. With permission from Sharon (yes, it was that much that I needed to make sure she was OK with me spending that amount), I went ahead and made my pledge.
That was back in December 2015. Since then the whole MST3K team has done a wonderful job of sending out info to the backers to let us know how the project was going. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, I got the email on Dec 29th, 2016.
You and a guest
are formally invited
& Special Guests
“WE’VE GOT MOVIE SIGN”
FEBRUARY 14, 2017
NEW YORK CITY
(near Lincoln Square)
Now next to actually getting a letter telling me that they accidentally forgot to give me my letter to attend Hogwarts but could I still attend, this was most excited I could ever get over an email. I had a date to see the new episode. Since Sharon doesn’t really care for Mystery Science Theater, I asked my father to join me on the trip to New York. We were both fans of the original series on TV and I wanted to share this trip with him.
Shortly after that, I received another email to print my tickets to the event with an offer to upgrade to the VIP package including tickets to the afterparty. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay more to go to the afterparty. I mean, I’m generally an introvert. I don’t like large crowds of people I don’t know. However, I read one line and I was sold.
Get your photo taken with Joel, the cast and the bots, get a reserved VIP seat for the screening, and enjoy free food, beer and wine while getting to know your new cast.
I’ve never been one to fawn over celebrities. They are just people, like me, who happen to do something which I find really cool. However, this one was somehow different. I really wanted to meet Joel. Tell him how much MST3K meant to me. How it helped form my sense of humor for the rest of my life. How I still have a stack of videotapes in the closet even though I still have the DVD’s. Just a second would be worth the money, and picture would be nice too.
My dad and I headed to New York and prepared for the event. Not knowing what to wear to a fancy event, I packed 3 versions of my outfit. I tried all of them on and decided to go with the most dressed up variant I brought with me.
That’s all you’ll get from me about what was in the new episode. That’s because they asked us to keep it secret, as well as because I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before they would even let me into the movie theater. I can tell you it was a wonderful evening with plenty of laughter.
We arrived around 5:30 P.M., as was suggested in the email I received that morning. There was already a line forming but it wasn’t too long. We were only about 20-25 people from the front.
A little past the scheduled time, we were able to hand in our forms and hit the red carpet.
From there we went into the theater, where we were able to grab some pretty awesome seats. Before we knew it, the show was starting and Joel was introducing the new residents of the Satellite of Love, Jonah Ray (Jonah Heston), Baron Vaughn (Tom Servo) and Hampton Yount (Crow T. Robot).
They worked the crowd for a bit but insisted on answering only “non-important” questions until later because they did not want to upset anyone who arrived later. So we found out what they had for lunch, how they liked New York and things of that sort. It did show that the new cast had learned how to bounce off one another, as the banter was very funny even though they were essentially talking about nothing.
Eventually it came down to the time where Joel was ready to introduce the new movie. After telling us a little about the episode, he wanted to make sure the booth was ready because this was “a big deal” and if the movie didn’t start, it would look really stupid. Of course, there was a uncomfortable pause between the introduction and when it actually started to which Joel threw in the line “They told me it was ready, oh here it is.”
I can’t say anything about the movie but if you are reading this so far, I’m sure you are going to watch it when it premieres on Netflix. It’s worth it. A really solid first episode.
After it was finished, the cast returned for a Q&A session which ended with Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo showing up to field some questions (and Tom even did some singing).
From there, we left and headed to the after party, which was held about 10 minutes away at a club which was way fancier than I would ever go to. Flashing our special wristbands, we were granted admittance. While headed to the coat check, I passed Joel taking to several people. Wait…..what…..um….is that real? Looking around, the entire new cast was mulling around the club, talking to the guests. After taking a few deep breaths and checking my jacket, I found a corner of a table to calm myself. Remember I don’t do well with crowds or social situations.
Right around this time I lost my dad, who went in search of selfies. So I started to talk with the people around my table. Several of them were fans and one person with a lanyard indicating he worked with the show. We talked and I found out he was involved with new opening sequence, which was very cool. Turns our that the MST3K people went out and hired the company that does Robot Chicken to film the opening, which was who this guy worked for. So I was taking to someone involved with Robot Chicken at a MST3K party. I asked him if they could have possibly hired any more people from things I liked involved with this series. He laughed.
Dad returned with his selfies with Joel and Hampton and pushed me to go get some pictures. Some things never change; for my whole life he’s always been pushing me to be more social against my better judgement. Sometimes it pays off, like on this night.
It was at this time I decided that the one thing I really wanted was a picture with Joel. Just a second to tell him how much the series was a part of my life. Unfortunately he was no where to be found. Dad and I took few more pictures (he was jealous because I got one with Jonah and he didn’t) and settled in to the party. At this time they announced that Jonah and the bots were now in the photo booth (a green screen made to look like the set) and taking pictures. The line was 1/2 way around the room but what the heck, so we got in line.
Then I saw that Joel had reappeared in the crowd. I told Dad to stay in line and I was going on my quest. I followed the first group he was with until it disbanded and he headed to a different area. This was a much smaller group and Joel introduced one of the other people he was talking with. It was Paul (of Paul and Storm fame) who worked with Joel and others in writing some songs for the new series.
It just came over me. I told Paul that I saw him when he and Storm played in Orlando several years ago. He said, “No one was at that show.” I replied, ” Well, I was,” to which he gave a wry smile.
As I was talking to Paul, the people talking with Joel left. It was my time; I knew it.
I stepped in and introduced myself. I knew I had a bunch to say. But he’s been hearing stories from fans all night.
“I just wanted to tell you thanks. For everything.”
He was polite and thanked me for supporting the project.
Then I asked for my picture with him. He graciously agreed.
I had done it. I felt my Experience Points going up after completing my quest.
But wait, there was the bonus quest. I turned back to Paul and said “You know there will be some of my friends who will be totally freaked out I met you. Can I get a picture?”
“Well, lets freak them out!”
Bonus quest completed.
Wait, I remembered that my dad was still in line for a picture with the bots and Jonah. As I got back to him and he was three people from the front, I then decide to ask what seemed to be an insignificant question. “Dad, which robot do you want to stand behind?” He didn’t care, but I did; I just didn’t know it until the choice was necessary to make. Almost instantly I said. “Crow. I want to be by Crow.” As it happened, when we got to the front of the line, the techs said it would be a few minutes because they needed to change memory in the camera. So we ended up talking to the puppeteer for Crow. We had a really interesting conversation about how many mutual acquaintances we had (with me living in Orlando and knowing people who do puppetry, who would have thunk). It was finally time for our picture and I don’t think I could have stopped smiling even if I wanted to.
The party was wrapping up and we stayed around for a little while longer before heading back to our hotel trying to get over everything that had happened during the evening.
We went back in our hotel room, totally exhausted. We had to get up the next morning and fly back home. It was one of the most amazing days I’ve ever had.
So yeah – “experience, not things.” It works for Sharon and me. And this was definitely an experience! We’re supposed to get a souvenir of the event in the mail one of these days, which will be a nice memento. And each of us afterparty attendees did get one really cool thing while we were there – an event poster signed by Joel Hodgson, Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Grant Baciocco and Russ Walko (the latter two are the puppeteers for Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo). Since we have extra (my dad gave me his), we’re auctioning one on eBay, along with some other small things related to the event. Click here to see the listing. The auction ends during the evening of Sunday, 4/23/17 – please feel free to spread the word if you have any friends who you think might be interested. If you or your friends decide to bid, I wish you the best of luck!