Friday, July 11, 2008

Universal Takes Care of Their Passholders...Sort of

Ever since we got our Universal Premier Pass, we've swung over to the Darkside of the Other Orlando theme parks. It's hard to stand in long lines at Disney World or work to maximize the Fastpass system when we can just go to Universal after 4 p.m. and ride to our heart's content in the Express Lines after leaving our car in the valet lot for free.

Granted, Universal doesn't have Soarin', but I love the Mummy, Men in Black, and the Simpsons at the Studio, plus my boy Christopher Walken starts in Disaster now, and Terminator is still Orlando's best 3-D show. There is less at Islands of Adventure, but I do love Hulk and Spiderman.

How nice it would be for Disney to offer an equivalent pass with some sort of Fastpass premium. Since they don't, Universal gets a much bigger chunk of our discretionary entertainment dollars. When we go there, we almost always eat too and I drop a few bucks on the carnival games, so they're winning some dollars away from the Mouse.

Universal also has some nice passholder events. Granted, Disney usually has passholder previews of its new rides, but Universal goes beyond that. Last year they had an event for Halloween Horror Nights, and today they had a meet and greet with Brendan Fraser in conjunction with the new Mummy movie. Since my poor husband was in Chicago (well, not so "poor," since he was attending a NASCAR event), I went solo. It's a shame because I tend to hate crowded celebrity events. The excitement is lost on me; he would have enjoyed it so much more. But I went because they advertised a free t-shirt, and also because I could. At the very least, I figured it would make a good blog entry.

I dutifully signed up beforehand online and brought a printout of my reservation. I had some lunch, then headed over to Universal where sign-up was supposed to start at 3 p.m., with the event itself kicking off at 4. I figured it was going to be a major upchuck, since I was still having post-traumatic stress attacks from the HHN event. At that one, it was so disorganized that the team members sent a huge clot of passholders the wrong way to one of the haunted house entrances. That might not seem like a big deal unless you know that the correct entrance was far far far way. There was a lot of cursing and grumbling, but I also heard people saying that the previous year's event had been even more of a mess.

Still, it was worth it to get a head start on the houses, since the HHN crowds tend to be outrageous. There was a free gift, too, but that turned out to just be an advertising button.

Given the rampant disorganization at Halloween, I figured the same would hold true for Brendan. I arrived at 3 p.m. and discovered a never-ending line already snaking in an interesting pattern. I asked two team members whether it was the correct line for people who had RSVPed and was told that it was indeed. I asked the people at the end of the line, and they confirmed that they'd been told the same thing. Still, I had a hinky Universal, when you're told something at a passholders event, it only has a 50% chance of being true. I asked a third team member, who confirmed once again that I was in the right place, but my suspicions were still not tamed.

The line continued to grow like the giant snake firework on "South Park." Hoochie Mama and her troop tried to cut the line in front of the people in front of me. They just did under-the-breath mumbling, but my South Side Chicago brass cojones know no such restraint. I point out the end in no uncertain terms, and after protesting that she was just "looking for someone to ask a question," she removed her entourage and disappeared off in the crowd.

Other than that, the line was relatively peaceful, probably because everyone was ready to collapse from the heat. The people behind me kept complaining about how much they needed some water, but when a team member selling ice cold bottles came by they didn't take advantage. They just went on and on with the complaints...I think they enjoyed having something to yammer about. I had come prepared with my own supply of H20 because I knew it was going to be a vicious 90+ degree afternoon.

The line appeared to be moving sporadically towards the sound stage, but suddenly my worst fears were realized. A team member came through, telling us we were all in the wrong line because we should already have been checked in and gotten our hand stamps. Huh? Me and all the people around me started up with a "No freakin' way!" rumble. Another person came through and said the same thing, but we all stayed in the line as it continued to inch forward towards the Promised Land of Air Conditioning inside the sound stage.

There was a flurry of major confusion at the entrance; I'm still not sure what it was all about, but I thrust my email at someone, got my mark, and hustled inside. The free t-shirts were given out as you entered, and apparently there were also free drinks too, but I skipped the refreshments in favor of trying to get a spot close enough to the stage to snap a few photos. It was already a madhouse, but I managed to get a clean sightline. All around me, people packed in like cattle in a slaughter pen. I pitied anyone who might be claustrophobic, as once you had staked out your spot you were pretty much pinned in by a wall of humanity.

There were stilt walkers for pre-entertainment, as you can see in the photo below:

I'm not a big stiltwalker fan ever since once snuck up on me at the entrance to the Mummy ride and nearly made me wet my pants. Hubby still busts a gut about that one.

I briefly toyed with the idea of bailing out. Would it really be worth standing around for another half hour just to catch a glimpse of Brendan? If it were Johnny Depp, there would be no question! But I'd already braved the worst of it, so I decided to stick around.

There were big screens showing clips about the ride and movie to make the time go a little faster. At the very least, the air conditioning felt soooo good! Finally 4 p.m. rolled around, and was Brendan was introduced (see below):

We saw a clip of the new Mummy movie while he provided a hilarious commentary from the stage. Meanwhile, I snapped a slew of photos in the hopes that at least a few would come out. As you can see by the one below, some are pretty decent:

Others were in hyper photo mode, too. I'm surprised the poor man wasn't blinded by all the flashes. According to the pre-material, there was supposed to be a question and answer session and trivia contest. Neither of those things materialized, but they did award a trip to the movie premiere in California to one lucky attendee whose free t-shirt had a red tag.

Afterwards, Brendan went to pose by a car for more photos. I worked my way over, but it just didn't seem worth another crowd scene so I bailed out before I got close enough for a shot.

On the way out, I answered a brief survey about my experience, then hustled to get to the parking lot before the storm that was brewing had a chance to drench me. I watched the gray clouds and lightning move in, but I made it into Kitt and onto I-4 before the Heavens let loose.

All in all, it was a balls-up but I figured it would be so what the heck. It was kind of fun in a madhouse sort of way. I guess it would be better if I were a star-struck sort, but the celebrity worship gene is pretty much missing in me (Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford excepted). I would be way more excited to meet Ray Bradbury than most famous actors.

But it was fun to see Brendan and hear his humorous commentary, and I got a free shirt to boot...that's a lot better than the HHN button. Now, whenever I ride the Mummy and see him in that scene at the end, I can say, "Hey, I saw that guy!"


Matt said...

There was a trivia contest. It happened after Brendan posed for pics by the car. I'm not sure what happened after that because that's when I left.

plaidearthworm said...

I'm with you; the only person that excites my fangirl gene is Terry Pratchett. Wow, you lasted much longer than I would have--my patience wouldn't last through the line wait! But it still sounded like a cool event.