The VIP upcharge was in my opinion completely worth the money. Mazes were OK to Awesome.
Detail:We rolled into the park around sixish and got in line for the VIP registration. We were within the first 30 or so in, and immediately registered for our VIP tour/ "Insidious Paranormal Experience" - even landed in the first tour of the night.
The lounge was nice. A monitor ran a continuous documentary on the early (mostly focused on Uni) years of horror movies, heavy on the James Whale. Complimentary waters, pleasant seating, a balcony to watch the growing crowds below waiting apprehensively for the beginning of the Purge...
I get ahead of myself.
THE VIP INSIDIOUS EXPERIENCE
As we'd landed in the first tour, we missed rope drop and the opening ceremonies - got to hear them at least. A few minutes before seven we were introduced to our tour guide (Napoleon - damned right I'm name checking him here, he was great and we made sure to leave feedback to that effect on the way out) and headed out to the VIP trolley.
This is where to my view the VIP price was worth it - not to dismiss the rest of the benefits, but the VIP tour was everything I'd hoped for.
We headed down into the backlot with Napoleon giving us a horror-slanted tour as we drove into the darkening evening. The "Experience" itself focuses around a paranormal 'investigation' occurring in the backlot by the Jaws lake - I won't spoil what happens, but will say that the drop off in Five Points with the walk through the unlit backlot is something I'm going to remember for a long time.
The group was 20-30 people, the mood lighthearted, and it was in general a lot of fun.
The "Experience" itself... hmm.There's promise. It's a lot of flash, a few talent here and there, a little campy humor and then back to the trams. It's not in and of itself a massive inducement to go VIP, but paired with getting that after dark walk through Five Points it was a nice capper to our time in the lot. My personal wish would be something a little more "mazey" or barring that a little more interactive, but I get the feeling that this is something they're considering expanding in any case.
We boarded our VIP tram and headed on to the next phase - the backlot "Walking Dead" invasion and the Backlot mazes. Keep in mind we hit this fairly early - checked the time heading into the Walking Dead queue and it was 8:00. The park had opened at 7:00, and the line for Walking Dead was already near two hours. Good for us we had Napoleon and our trusty wristbands...
The Metro sets were a thing of beauty. Walkers EVERYWHERE, working the crowd and shambling about as they should be. There were projections in many of the windows on the route in as well as in the central area of walkers chasing and occasionally catching victims, the area was a thing of beauty. My only complaint was the need to pack the lines in - I had been expecting a larger 'free roam' scare zone type area, but most of the real estate is taken up with the lines for Walking Dead and 13. Still, amazingly pretty.
THE WALKING DEAD: NO SAFE HAVEN
I'm going to start this with my disclaimer. I am not capable of giving this maze a completely objective review; last year's HHN Walking Dead maze made me want to watch the show, and I've since become a fairly devoted fan to the point of rewatching the entire series to date JUST FOR THIS MAZE. That being said I'm pretty sure this was one of the highlights of the event.
Some of the environments - Cell Block C stopped me in my tracks for a moment - are amazing and I dearly hope more mazes use the verticality of space to this kind of effect in the future. There's a Horde rush effect in the maze that was pretty devastatingly effective. There are even a few "theme" zombies hanging about (though Michonne's walkers appeared in two separate attractions... my, they get around...?). The talent was enthusiastic, the makeup was good, this was definitely my highlight maze of the night.
But I also care about the source material. Please view the above with that grain of salt. This matters later.
BLACK SABBATH - 13
Umm.I liked it. Don't get me wrong. I like Sabbath. Don't get me wrong.There's a reason WD:NSH had 100+ minute waits and 13 was perpetually under 20.
I can't quite explain what didn't gel for me here. Last year's Alice Cooper maze was one of my favorites, so I'm not against music mazes per se. I like the Knott's pioneered "prismatic as 3D" effects, so it's not that.I think it may be the lack of connectivity? It was a series of decent scenes with a few really pretty effects, one or two good scares, but it felt like a series of random 'classic horror' vignettes. Some of them were pretty cool in their own right - but there wasn't anything other than the general tenor of the music to hold it together.
I think Alice Cooper may have connected with me last year due to the theme carrying through the entire maze (seven deadly sins).
It wasn't a waste of time and I DEFINITELY would recommend a run through, but... meh?
TERROR TRAM: OMG MORE FREAKING ZOMBEHS
Back with Napoleon, back on the VIP bus, back on the road we go for a quick trip over to the Terror Tram.
First up we got a visit with my favorite silly moment, the precision Zombie Gardening Squad. I don't mean to dismiss the talent, they're doing a workman job out there. But there's just something about a lineup of guys in heavily padded outfits and faceshields all wielding saws that scans as "gardeners" more than "OMG ZOMBIES WITH CHAINSAWS". I just can't buy off on it.
Thankfully past that point things got MUCH better. Last year I was a little saddened by TT. Drop off, herd the crowd past a series of modest WD themed setpieces, dump them in WOTW, back on the trams we go. Oh, with gardening zombies. This year, Napoleon kept referring to the TT as a "maze" and I'm pretty sure that marks the attitude of HHN management. There were SEVERAL fully developed setpieces - the entry area was past a corner of the Prison, there's a cattle trough scenario of 'humans' taking swings at you and yelling at you to get outta Woodbury, the open area trail included not only a few fairly heavily developed setpieces but some of the most creative talent I saw all night (one pair was using a 'zombie' quietly infiltrating the group as a shill to physically attack - good job, guys). Lot of stuff that was VERY WD related. I deeply enjoyed the experience, but again, I'm a Walking Dead fan. I'd hope it translates to the non-initiates.
From there, we joined back with Napoleon and journeyed back to the main park.
THE VIP LOUNGE - OH, THE LUXURY
We were dropped off at the normal Studio Tour offloading point - the boarding for the regular Backlot and Terror Trams was... interesting... and I didn't really have need to pay attention. Sorry if you were hoping for that.
We headed up to the VIP lounge for dinner. The buffet was definitely satisfactory - the food was varied, fresh, and enjoyable. My stepson attacked the prime rib table repeatedly and proclaimed it excellent, my SO was fond of the keylime desserts (mine was the dulce de leche and macadamia cups), it was a lovely moment to recuperate before heading out. I have a suspicion the bar may be using the lower alcohol 'festival' brews but that's a minor complain compared next to the price of 'two drinks included with your ticket'.
I really wanted to love this maze. I really liked La Llorana last year. The opening half of the maze was pretty good, and some of the mechanical effects were decent.My problems were two. First, past a certain point the maze was essentially La Llorana. Second, the masks they gave the talent portraying the titular character were for all intents and purposes horror versions of the Warner Brothers airplane gremlin from old Golden Era Bugs Bunny. I just couldn't take it seriously.
The problems I read about previously - not being able to hear the narration - seem to have been solved. He's WAY the heck up in the mix now. It doesn't solve a major issue in the maze, though... when talent's jumping you and the teenage chorus is in full scream behind you, I don't think you'd *want* the soundtrack loud enough to drown them out.
So, exiting the latter deja-vu-filled half of El Cucuy, we headed to the lower lot.
EVIL DEAD - I FORGET THE SUBTITLE
Also didn't have anything really funny to write about the maze. This was my second favorite maze of the night. I'm more a Raimi/Campbell ED fan and there wasn't a huge amount of silly to this maze, but it was effective. Some of the scenes - walking up to the full front facade of the cabin for instance - were breathtakingly well done. The talent were also working things well, though to be honest there's a scene or two that really just don't work and might not be saveable (when your victim is a motionless dummy in full view for far too long and from too far off for your talent to distract from this, you're probably not going to fix that). Overall this was an excellent maze though, and highly enjoyable.
Enough that we looped around and did it twice in a row
INSIDIOUS 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO
Remember back where I said that the entire thing about being a fan of the IP meant likely appreciating the Walking Dead maze more? This is where that comes back into play.
I don't know Insidious. Just don't. Never saw it, wasn't really interested. My total concrete knowledge of what is involved in "Insidious" came from the VIP experience earlier, which for whatever faults it had was incredibly broad and did not require having seen the movie to follow what happened.
This maze... *sigh*
From my outsider's point of view it was a really awesome old-school haunted house maze with some decidedly odd random moments.
Here's a seance in a demonic atmosphere!
Wait, why is one of them wearing... a gas mask?
Here's a demon lunging out from behind a portrait!
Wait - Darth Maul? WTF?!?!?
And then... and then you left the "house". And any possible effort a non-initiate could make to understand the maze become futile. Here's a dark corridor FILLED with Darth Maul! Here'e a wall of corpses! Here's a sewing room! Here's a bloody...
Wait, why was there a sewing room?
Last year's Silent Hill maze was a strong example of this kind of issue. The maze stayed fairly standard issue but SH themed "horror" until the very end when it visited the Silent Hill theme park. For me, this was an amazing callback to the original games and thrilled my gamery little heart to it's binary core. The guy behind me just wanted to know what the heck was up with the bunny costumes and why was this supposed to be scary.
This one... I can't even really judge how it fit in to the overall arc of the event. I just don't have the knowledge. It was cool, but a bit confusing. Then it was a little bit dull but VERY confusing. The end.
We hit a run through Transformers at this point and started thinking about heading out. We escalated our way on up to the upper lot and after a bit of discussion decided to grit our teeth for
I don't know what they were thinking. This maze left me DEEPLY confused. Is it a rave where monsters broke out? A random Halloween maze that someone thew a rave in and didn't bother to inform the talent? Some other bizarre mashup of monster and rave?I get that there's not much they CAN do in here. They're limited by the setpieces that need to be left intact for the rest of the year. There's already a limited amount of space they can stick talent into, and the talent locations and such are leftovers from a previous era of maze design philosophy. But this...
Sorry, just don't get it.
And with that, we left.
Top to bottom, here's my ranking of the mazes:
I'm not even going to try to rank Insidious for reasons above.
The VIP was worth every penny. I can't stress that enough - we hit the lounge twice, both times it was a blessing to be able to sit down, have a meal (or snack), a few cold drinks, then head out. The "Gate A" access was also an obvious benefit, but even moreso was the pairing of the Backlot mazes and Terror Tram on the VIP tour section - it meant we never used the main trams, meaning less stress for us and fewer people clogging up the very impacted tram system they'd set up.
GENERAL PARK OBSERVATIONS OF RELEVANCE TO MICEAGERS
First, Uni's DAS system. Using the Gate A lines means you get to see this in action. Wheelchair party rolls up, hands the line monitor a card, line monitor looks at the ride time posted on the board in full view and says come back in x minutes. My favorite moment: "WHAT? We can't just go in? DISNEYLAND DOESN'T DO THIS CRAP!"
Oh, how little they know...
Construction... oh Lord, construction. HP's coming fast. Amphitheatre's gone, the entire complex surrounding Shrek is gone including the carnival games. Everything between the new Plaza and the Mexican restaurant that used to include perpetual rainfall dining is gone. Even in the dark there were a lot of glimpses on the road down and back of large project piles forming up - I'm planning on reupping my AP in the next month or two and am looking forward to seeing that happen. Despicable Me is plunging along as well - the outlines of Gru's mansion and surrounding buildings are pretty solid now.
It's a good time for Uni
So yeah. All in all an amazing night.