A Scaredy Cat’s Guide To Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event at Universal Studios theme parks in Florida, California, Singapore and Japan. It began as a 3-day event at Universal Studios Florida in 1991 and has slowly grown into a major nearly 2-month event in 4 parks around the world that includes multiple walk-through haunted houses themed after horror movies, scare zones, live entertainment, etc.

Some people ADORE Halloween Horror Nights. They might like horror movies and how the houses tie in with the films. Or they might just like getting scared – and between that sense of anticipation and how good HHN is at the element of surprise, it’s a perfect combination for “controlled” or “safe” fear. Jonna N., a huge fan of HHN, says, “I love the atmosphere. Especially the sets and the immersion. I also enjoy the science and the thrill of the scare factor.” Michael G., a photographer/writer for Inside The Magic and also a longtime HHN fan says, “I love the ambiance, especially in scare zones (it doesn’t hurt that they are perfect photo ops for me) and the original houses. The creativity and detail does not cease to amaze me, especially the movie quality sets/effects.

Then there are people like me – I don’t get scared and I don’t even like horror movies, but as someone who puts a lot of time and effort into our annual Halloween decorations for trick-or-treaters, I just geek out at how they do things.

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And then there are people like my husband Joe who just don’t like it. At all. Possibly on the border of hating it. But maybe would like to go because, for example, they like whatever movies the haunted houses are themed after. But their fear gets in the way.

This post is for you guys in the latter category …

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What To Do When Your Tray Table Is So Broken & Tilted That Stuff Slides Off It

This is what happened to me on my way home from meeting friends for a get-together in Rhode Island. We were all loaded onto the plane, I was settled into my seat and was up to the point where I could bring down the tray table in front of me so I could be served a Coke Pepsi (I was on JetBlue and they don’t serve Coke products anymore) product. I pulled the table down and, uh-oh, it was tilted towards me a little too much, which made everything slide towards me.

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So what do you do if this happens to you?

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How To Get Free Upgrades From Hotels

I’ve been able to score countless upgrades in hotels using this trick. It’s totally legal, amazingly easy to do and doesn’t throw off my moral compass. Even those who are timid about asking for upgrades can make this trick work for them. I’m not saying it’ll work 100% of the time but when it does, it’s nice to feel like you’re getting more than you paid for.

Of course, the easiest way to get a hassle-free upgrade is to have a high level of status with a company’s loyalty program. Now, I don’t travel enough to earn status and have no intention of chasing status and locking myself into one specific brand. I get some perks by strategically choosing certain credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum Card, which gives me certain perks and mid-level status in some programs. Hotels will often proactively upgrade members with status to a higher level or “executive” room before checking in.   Continue reading “How To Get Free Upgrades From Hotels”

How To Travel With A Medium Or Large Group And Not Go Insane

Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, Joe and I were both members of a theme parks-themed message group on the long-extinct online service called Prodigy (anybody? Beuller? Beuller?).

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There were several hundred of us, mostly Disney World fans, in the group and after a few years of writing back and forth, we decided to have a get together that we called “The Gathering” (for you Disney fans out there, it was YEARS before “Disney’s Magical Gatherings,” when they were promoting big groups, and it had nothing to do with “Magic: The Gathering,” either). About 100 of us came to Walt Disney World at the same time and finally got to meet each other in person. It’s also, BTW, when I first met Joe (who was nothing – and I mean NOTHING – like I expected. This was before you could really post photos on the internet and I was expecting some middle-aged dude with a wife, kids and a white picket fence around his house. He turned out to be an unattached college student. Go figure.).

Anyway, the 100 of us spent the week going on the attractions together, eating meals together, etc. And that Gathering, and the ones we went to afterward (we had about a half dozen over the course of almost 10 years), taught me a WHOLE LOT about traveling with medium and large-sized groups.

This has got to be the biggest waste of precious vacation time when you’re traveling with a group:

Person A: What do you want to do?
Person B: I dunno, what do you want to do?
Person A: Wanna do this?
Person C: OMG, I hate this! Let’s do that instead.
Person B: No, I don’t wanna do that.
Person D: Well, how about we do the other thing, instead?
Person E: I’m not in the mood for the other thing.
Person F: Well, we could always do such and such.
Persons A and C: No, I’m allergic to such and such.
Person B: Well then, how about this thing?
Person G: Ewwwww, no!
Person H: I’m with Person C – let’s do that!
Person I: Are you crazy? No, let’s just do that thing.
Person J: Noooooo!
Person K: Look, you guys just go figure something out. I’m gonna go sit on that bench over there. Let me know when you’ve made up your minds.
Person L: Oh, for crying out loud. Can’t anybody here make a decision? We’re doing such and such now.
Persons A and C: But we’re allergic to such and such!
Person L: Well, do you have a better idea? No. So we’re doing such and such.
Persons A, B, C and H: We’re not doing that. See you later.
Person F to Person K: Hey, do you want to do such and such?
Person K: Such and such? Really? REALLY?
Person L: We’re going to do such and such. NOW! End of discussion.
Person G to person J: I hate when he does that. Jerk.

Sound familiar? You can literally stand in one place for 30 minutes, with a bunch of people trying to figure out what you’re going to do next. And more often than not, the person with the biggest personality (or the biggest voice) makes the decision and at least one person in the group will have a chip in his/her shoulder for the rest of the trip because of it.

Here are some ways to avoid it:

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Going Out of Town? What to Bring, What Not to Bring & Tricks of the Trade

suitcaseJoe is definitely the points and miles person in our family. Me, I enjoy the benefits of his hobby but really don’t care about which plane is newer, bigger and better, how many cents a point is worth at any given moment, or what hotel gives you feather pillows and a personal concierge. As long as we get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time, and as long as our room is clean and relatively quiet, I’m good.

However if there’s one thing I’ve gotten really good at for all these trips to all these different places, it’s how and what to pack. For those of you who travel a lot, you probably already know all the ins and outs of this stuff. But for those of you who only go out of town here and there, here are some things to consider:
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