I only now have had the opportunity to read your fine tutorial...been a bit busy lately!
I am glad that you have been able to put my advice to good work...your images have come along nicely.
Tom has pointed out that he does not spend the time that most HDRs need in post processing because he has a large backlog of photos from his many Disney travels, and that in his opinion, your initial image right out of photomatix was a keeper, mentioning that the highlights left in the image were OK with him, and actually helps the image.
Tom's comment is of course a personal observation, but proves that everyone has a different agenda for their photos, and actually, each scene may have a different agenda when it comes to post processing.
For example, three different photographers beside myself recently took HDR brackets of a sunset and a harbor. We were all within three feet of the next tripod over, and took our shots at the same time. When it came to processing time, each and every one of us had a different result after post processing in the same room at the same time, following close instruction and guidance. Some were similar, but some were not...proving that each and every one of us has different ideas, tastes, and habits that make for an amazing differential in final output. One tiny incremental difference in a slider position can change the whole image.
One important difference I have in my PP routine that is different from yours is in the way you are blending the new layers created by Nik Color Efex (or Topaz Adjust, etc.). You are using the entire output layer from Nik, and blending it with the layer below using the opacity as a blending method.
I do it a little differently...
I look at the entire image, and decide what it needs, PRECISELY. For example, I might not want to add contrast everywhere, or warmth, or brilliance...Instead, I might want to add these adjustments Only IN CERTAIN SPOTS! To solve this, I will create the adjustment in Nik, and then add a LAYER MASK, followed by selectively choosing the EXACT parts of the adjustment layer I want to use and masking that in...followed by whatever adjustments I need, one after the other...Same goes for contrast and sharpening, adding these on to duplicated layers, then masking in only what I want. As a rule I patently AVOID global changes to the image...
Another thing I do is to take each and every one of the original source images into photoshop and copy them as layers into the photomatix image, one a time, looking for where that particular source file might add to the final image, masking it in as needed. Sometimes, nothing is needed form a particular source file, and that is fine of course...
And finally, I often produce multiple outputs from photomatix. Sometimes, I make an Enhancer version, along with a Fusion version and blend them together. Sometimes I make output for different specific areas of the photo, and blend them, sky and water for example...
Once again, well done!
You are doing a great job with this thread!