Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

October 13, 2019

REVIEW - Dark Horizon: Point Of No Return


I've always felt a lure to the west coast, and of course - I've always had an interest in all things spooky. So, it should come as no surprise that I've been long familiar with Dark Harbor - California's premier annual haunt, taking place aboard the RMS Queen Mary at Long Beach. My little black heart skipped a beat when I heard that the folks behind Dark Harbor were making their way to Orlando to bring forth Central Florida's newest haunt - Dark Horizon. Every year we make sure to locate one new haunt for spooky season, and I just knew this one would be a doozy!

So... was it?

October 6, 2019

REVIEW: UNDead in the Water Returns For 2019!


Once again, UNDead in the Water is ready to serve as Tampa’s "only authentic nautical haunted attraction" for another fright-filled horror season. This clever haunt takes place aboard the historic American Victory WWII cargo ship, and you will be tasked with navigating multiple levels of the ship as you avoid the undead legion you'll find inside, outside, and all-around with only a blacklight flashlight to defend yourself. Lucky for you, the zombies hate blacklights, so those brief moments of "stun" they receive when you light 'em up may just be the thing to save you in the end. Members of the Ripper Squad (an elite zombie eradication team) are on-hand to help usher survivors from the apocalypse to remote islands that offer safe harbor, but there may be a snag or two in the plans now that zombies are on-board... and that captain isn't looking so well now either, is he?

REVIEW: Scream-A-Geddon Is Back For 2019!


I've been going to haunted houses since long before most people would feel it to be appropriate. I was only in first or maybe second grade when I recall running from a very bad Leatherface knock-off at a cheesy community haunted house, and running straight out of the tent, not stopping until I hit the parking lot. When my mom caught up with me, I begged to do it again. I've never been okay with chainsaws since then, but I have always loved a good scare. My standards and expectations have raised quite a bit since my childhood, but thankfully - so has the quality of the typical haunt (at least in Central Florida)!

I love Scream-A-Geddon because it has the vibe of a traditional, old school haunted house, combined with the quality and imagination we expect from a modern-day horror attraction. It doesn't rely on trademarked brands or gimmicks. There are not hours of lines to wait in. AND... you don't have to pay an arm and a leg to get in... though you may run into some folks who will request these things from you anyway. Muahaha!

September 2, 2019

GUIDE - Celebrating National Beer Lovers Day in Orlando


Beer and the process of brewing it are rich in history, tradition, and evolution. National Beer Lover’s Day is observed annually on September 7th, paying tribute to the tradition, and to cerevisaphiles - those who love one of the world's most popular alcoholic drinks!

BEER FACTS


  • The first President of the United States recorded a recipe for brewing beer in his notes. 
  • Many early recipes and origins of brewing in America stemmed from German immigrants.
  • Beer has been around for centuries dating as far back as the Egyptians and Romans. 
  • Women did the majority of beer brewing in ancient Egypt.
  • An ancient Egyptian document lists 17 types of beer, with names like joy-bringer and heavenly.
  • Nowadays, Craft beer is a thriving business and breweries are becoming wildly popular.
  • The beer industry in the United States turns annual profits of over 100 billion dollars.
  • In 1983, there were 49 licensed breweries in the U.S.; by the end of 2017, there were 8,863.
  • The largest brewery in the world is Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser and Corona.
  • Germany serves beer ice cream in popsicle form.
  • The strongest beer in the world is Snake Venom, by Scottish brewery Brewmeister. 67.5% abv
  • Odd ingredients used by modern brewers include coffee, oatmeal, avocado, cookie dough, chipotle peppers, seaweed, oysters, candy corn, squid ink, blue cheese, pastrami, and pig brain.
  • Cenosillicaphobia is the fear of an empty beer glass.
  • At the end of Prohibition, FDR said, "What America needs now is a drink."

August 11, 2019

GUIDE - Our Favorite Orlando Area Burgers


Now more than ever, people are getting passionate about their hamburgers. Craft burgers, impossible burgers... who knew this traditional favorite would spark such epic innovation - or that there really could be so many ways to make a burger? The Orlando-area is fast becoming a haven for burger joints, and Ronald McDonald is simply not ruling the roost as he once did.

While checking out our list of favorite burgers, there are a couple things to keep in mind. For starters - I'm a Texan's Texan in the stereotypical sense. In other words, I love beef. I don't do vegan or vegetarian burgers, so this list isn't covering that option. It's just not something I am an authority on. Secondly, I won't try to claim that we've tried every burger in the area. Have we missed a few? I'm sure we have! Feel free to share your recommendations with us. More to come as we discover them!

July 27, 2019

GUIDE - Celebrating National Chicken Wing Day in Orlando

National Chicken Wing Day was proclaimed on July 29, 1977 by the Mayor of Buffalo, New York, Stan Makowski. As the story goes, Teressa Bellissimo (co-owner of the Anchor Bar) created chicken wings when trying to come up with a quick and easy late-night snack for her son and his college pals in 1964. At the time, chicken wings were typically reserved for soup stock, but Teressa tossed them in butter and hot sauce before frying them up... an instant hit! After catching on locally and popping up to rave reviews in other local eateries beyond the Anchor Bar, the Mayor had to acknowledge the tasty morsels, declaring “thousands of pounds of chicken wings are consumed by Buffalonians in restaurants and taverns throughout the city each week”... and National Chicken Wing Day was born.

This July 29, you don't have to wing it on your quest to find your National Chicken Wing Day celebration spot. We're here to help point you in a few right directionS where you can properly pay tribute to one of America's best edible innovations. With options like these, you may want to plan lunch and dinner stops!

July 21, 2019

GUIDE - Celebrating National Tequila Day in Orlando


Tequila is an alcoholic beverage made from the blue agave plant, originating in either the 14th or 16th century, depending on which source you refer to. Today, there are well over 1,000 registered tequila brands from more than 150 producers worldwide, with the Jaliscan Highlands of Mexico generally considered to be the point of origin.

In Mexico, the tradition is to drink tequila "neat", while many of us Gringos are known to slam back a shot with salt and lime. With craft cocktails becoming such the in thing, it seems that our boozy innovations have caught flight, and tequila is no stranger to the creative party. From clever cocktails and classic margs to tasteful flights and traditional shots - here's your guide to celebrating National Tequila Day in Orlando on July 24th.

July 15, 2019

GUIDE: Reaching New Heights In Orlando

Photo: Unicorp

If you're a fan of heights, or you're trying to conquer the fear of them, you'll find plenty of high-flying adventures in the Orlando area. There are many attractions that reach new heights, and they just keep topping each other. Some of the tallest and craziest attractions you'll discover in Orlando aren't even in our theme parks! So, sit back and relax with your feet on the ground (for now), and let's take a peek at where to get high in Orlando!


June 21, 2019

People Of Orlando - Q&A With Dakota Myers of Arcanic Artisty

All Photos:Arcanic Artistry

One of our favorite vendor discoveries at MegaCon this year was Arcanic Artistry. We connected with the creative mind behind Arcanic Artistry, Dakota Myers, to discuss his unique creations, and get to know an authentic Orlando creator. Enjoy this Q&A and find out more about Dakota and Arcanic Artistry here.

Q:  What you do, described on your website as "custom laser cut artwork", is not quite the same as the traditional craft of woodworking, is it? What's unique about your process?

A:  I used custom laser cut artwork as a catch-all term for how I began making designs. Laser cutting is an interesting branch of woodworking/burning because once a design is created it’s easily replicated to perfection through the engraving process. Instead of days to have one piece I’m able to quickly create intricate designs once the initial plan is created over the course of minutes to an hour.

Q:  When and how did you start doing this? What was the very first thing you created?

A:  Just over a year and a half ago I made my first coaster of Tachanka from Rainbow Six Siege using UCF’s engineering lab. I posted it to Reddit, people said they would buy it, and eventually, I invested in my own laser to begin making more! Coasters from other series, wall art from my favorite games and shows, then a heavy emphasis on creating anything custom somebody would want.

Q:  How far has your business come? In other words... I see you have an Etsy shop and website, and obviously, we saw you at MegaCon. Are conventions part of your normal routine? Where else do you sell, and as a maker/creator, what websites or venues have you found the most success - either in sales or just in engagement and recognition?

A:  We’ve just begun entering the convention circuit as a major business venture. Megacon Orlando was our 8th show overall and it was a massive success with the crowds of people. I’ve found the most success so far sharing artwork to Reddit as people are open and receptive when you can target a specific demographic via subreddits. When it comes to promoting, it’s important to share not just as an advertisement – starting a conversation and interacting with people. Knowing the audience you’re aiming for and not just creating for the sake of profit I feel have been key factors to success.

Q:  Are you doing this on your own, or are others involved?

A:  For everything regarding product from draft to shipping out creations, I am the main person. However, my girlfriend Leili has been the biggest cheerleader and manager to Arcanic. She’s helped in keeping me organized with promotional banners, business cards, and general cleanup of my widespread creation process.



Q:  You mentioned being a UCF student... what are the challenges of trying to tackle your studies and running a creative business at the same time?

A:  The way I organize files and the size of my laser means it needs to switch pieces of wood to engrave roughly every 1-2 hours. It works out nicely with a college schedule with ample time between classes, but that can also mean long downtimes without something being made for heavier class schedules. For conventions, this often means I’m taking a lot of orders instead of directly selling product, which adds another layer of needed work in the downtime between my studies.

Q:  What are you studying - does it tie-in to any future plans you may have for Arcanic Artisty?

A:  I’m currently studying Game Design and Marketing, with the latter being much more prevalent to be a salesperson and greatly helping in public speaking. For the future, I hope to have some form of job creating or selling video games that also gives the flexibility to continue keeping the laser running as much as possible. Finding the balance between the two will help me be successful in both aspects of life.

Q:  Speaking of Arcanic Artistry... where did you come up with the name?

A:  Originally there were a lot of drafts for names. But since I did a lot with dungeons and dragons I knew it had to be something magical related. I didn’t want to go with my gamertag or just my name, the business had to stand out on its own merit. So first the name was Arcane Artist, but a Googling showed a fantastic painter already took the name. The sound of the double A’s kept resonating with me, and eventually, I added other bits to make it Arcanic Artistry. At the time none of my friends liked it but I was set on it.

Q:  Most Orlando residents are not originally from here... are you? What do you think makes Orlando special?

A:  I’m from Clearwater so the metropolis life has always been around for me. I didn’t know where I wanted to go to school exactly but UCF was close enough to be near home, but not too close. I believe Orlando is special in that it has so many options available for every kind of lifestyle. There’s something for everyone all within an hour’s drive: Disney/Universal, downtown, UCF, the natural world just outside downtown, and so much to look forward to exploring.

Q:  What is your personal favorite piece you've ever made, and what was the most difficult or strangest custom request you've received?

A:  My current favorite piece is my Arcane Coffer. It’s used for dungeons and dragons to store dice and double as a rolling tray in the lid. Its creation is all thanks to Leili who told me to combine the dice box and tray from two separate designs into one single box. From there it’s been a great success at every show. I haven’t had too many outlandish requests but the most interesting so far was a suit of armor much like cosplayers would make out of EVA foam. The problem with that is wood is much heavier than foam and a lot less flexible for a human to easily walk around in.

Q:  Is there a specific creative/artistic skill or craft you would still like to learn?

A:  I really want to discover more with a CNC machine. It has the same characteristics as a laser but is much more focused on cutting away material with a drill bit instead of burning away a thin line. It would ideally save time over cutting multiple layers for the Arcane Coffer and enable the use of engraving with thicker material but until then it’s thin pieces of wood!

Q:  Bonus question! Considering that you were smart enough to have a space at MegaCon, one of Orlando's most prominent annual events, I have to ask... what are YOU a fan of?

A:  I really love a lot of nerdy things. There’s an endless list of TV, anime, and movies to watch that keeps growing with every new release. I’m a big fan of dungeons and dragons and play every week - mostly as a dungeon master and occasionally a player. And when playing video games I have a collection that’s grown ever since I could hold a controller and understand what was happening on a TV screen.

June 9, 2019

REVIEW: Revisiting Escape Game Orlando For Round 2

You know the drill - it's waiver time!

Four years ago, we visited Escape Game Orlando for the very first time - shortly after their opening. It feels like that was a lifetime ago, so it's a fine time to see what's new and how the missions have evolved. After all, there is a bit of brilliance behind any escape venue that proves itself enough to stick around, and Escape Game Orlando is doing it right in more ways than one. 

The game we initially played in 2015 ("Classified") is no longer part of the roster. When we played, "Classified" and "The Heist" were the only options at this fledgling location. Now, there are SIX, and they all appear to be leaps and bounds beyond the games that this location opened with. Escape Game Orlando has expanded its portfolio and they increased the originality of the games and the appeal and depth of the scenes in the process. 

Ironically, on our way to the location, we discussed the types of clues we knew to expect, wondering how they'd be used in the game we selected - The Playground. If you've done multiple escape rooms, you probably know what I mean. There are certain things you can expect to find in your missions regardless of where you choose to play. (Think blacklights, my escape room fans.) It's not that these are bad features... but you start to learn what types of things to look for as you become more familiar with escape room concepts and strategies. The Playground was a bit of a surprise in the sense that it was really very original. Many of the usual techniques you get used to in escape room play didn't present themselves in this one. It was an entirely new beast!

Details... All the way down to the classroom pet!

This time around, our team consisted of five hopeful escape artists - three of us who are somewhat escape-experienced, a first-timer, and a true pro who has 40 rooms under his belt (including all of the rooms at this location, except this one). 

The premise of The Playground is as follows... Your team has to complete the assignments on your report card to earn your "escape" from Mrs. Clayton's 4th-grade class and start your summer vacation. Your report card consists of ten tasks. The room is designed to accommodate up to 12 players, and we were urged to bring as many as we could find. Great advice, because 4th grade has gotten a bit tougher since I was there last!



Can I just say that it took us an embarrassing length of time to just tackle attendance? From there, we seemed to get our act together a bit. After a big flurry of chaotic, cooperative clue-gathering, everyone seemed to break off into sub-teams on different missions to divide and conquer. Every now and then, someone would abruptly shout something out causing everyone to ask what everyone was working on... but never really waiting for an answer before getting back to their own assignment. Not gonna lie - we happily accepted a few clues that helped us make sense of things that were pieced together, but not quite in place. Once something jiggled loose, that beautiful domino effect took over,  and we'd all take pause to wonder how we completed a burst of assignments in one sudden moment. And just when and how did the classroom door open into the next room?? We couldn't tell you - but it was open nevertheless. Not quite an escape just yet, but I think we were all rather happy to spend some time in the playground!


Need a clue?


Yes, you are supposed to climb it... and then some! As this is a spoiler-free zone, let me just say that I took the above photo well before anything was revealed in the room. Bring your inner child, and try your best to avoid the fun distractions that you have to address along the way. It is tempting to stop playing to... well, play... but keep your focus on that time clock. You still have about half of your report card to complete once you gain access to the land of temptations here! Again, I strongly advise that 'divide and conquer' approach, but keep close and in communication with your entire team because you'll need to come together along the way. (I hope you paid attention there, ahem!) The very last challenge is an incredibly appropriate and awesome way to end the game. We could barely stop giggling long enough to tackle it. We were having a ball leaping around in a hustle, and it really just capped off the whole experience in the best way.





Now, for the moment you've all been waiting for... Did we escape? YES! With ONE second left to go, we made it out! I tried to give our amazing Game Master, Mary, all the credit for that, but she minimized her clue contributions, reminding us that we were short seven players. So yes - we'll take that win and wear it proudly. It was not an easy game, but it was perhaps the most fun one I've faced thus far. As for the rest of the team - We have two that rank it as a favorite, the newbie is completely hooked now, and our seasoned pro loved it, but still prefers Escape Game Orlando's ever-popular Prison Break. We're somewhat divided, but all impressed, and we'd put this one as a must for any escape fan - and the escape-curious. As far as escape rooms go, Escape Game Orlando is certainly playing their A-game these days, and we can't wait to see what all the buzz is about with Prison Break next!

Have you played a room at Escape Game Orlando? Maybe you've played a few? We'd love to hear about your experiences and which rooms score highest with your team!  Check out all the current games and book your own experience (currently $34.99/person) at Escape Game Orlando.


June 2, 2019

GUIDE: Orlando For Gamers


You know about our theme parks, airboats, and access to Florida’s best beaches - but did you know that Orlando is a fabulous destination for gamers as well? According to a 2018 WalletHub study, The City Beautiful ranked as the second-best city in the country for gamers - coming in just behind Seattle. The study analyzed 20 key factors of gamer friendliness.

Some of Orlando’s top rankings included: video-game job openings per capita, arcades per capita, and electronics stores per capita, but that doesn’t begin to reveal the real appeal behind Orlando’s gaming culture. Today, “six-in-ten Americans ages 18 to 29 and 53 percent of those ages 30 to 49 say they play video games often or sometimes," said a Pew Research Survey… and every one of them can find a new gaming challenge here in Orlando. Check out some of our favorite locations that are sure to be a win with the gamer in your group. In fact, these venues are likely to score with everyone in your travel party!

May 26, 2019

GUIDE: MegaCon - Orlando's Premier Fan Event

As they say... "Your fan experience starts here". MegaCon is an annual fan convention embracing every type of fandom conceivable. As conventions go, this one may very well be the most inclusive - with more than 100,000 guests from every persuasion and interest descending upon Orlando's Orange County Convention Center each year for the four-day event.

There is no right or wrong way to do MegaCon. We've been attending for four years now. Each year is a little different, and each year we learn new things to make our experience a little more enjoyable and more rewarding. Each year, we like to share a bit about what we experienced, and what we learned, with you!

Accept That You Cannot Do It All

Right off the bat - accept the reality that you are only one person. You cannot be in more than one place at a time, and there are always multiple events going on at MegaCon. If you are interested in more than one fandom - or more than one thing in general - chances are that you will find yourself drawn to events that are overlapping. Well... life is full of tough choices, isn't it? As soon as MegaCon releases the event schedule, look it over and determine your "must-dos". On rare occasions, events may be canceled, so it doesn't hurt to save some back-ups that appeal to you - the second tier events in your interest ranking, if you will. This year, MegaCon released a rough draft of the schedule first, asking guests to check for any real and direct overlaps that may pose a problem within fandoms - followed by a finalized version after giving everyone a chance to chime in. Brilliant! 

When it comes to scheduling, it's also worth noting that you can't always push your schedule too tightly either! For example... if you want to attend the Central Florida Steampunk Association's workshop on Victorian undergarments at 11:00AM in room 302, followed by a celebrity Q&A in the main theater at noon, you're going to run into a problem. Most events run about an hour in length. The "main theater" events are expected to draw large crowds - usually lining up an hour or more in advance. You also have to consider your travel time from room to room - often through thick crowds. Again... this may be a matter of prioritization. Don't let a missed event (or a late arrival to an event) ruin your convention experience, and plan to go with the flow... at least a little bit. You don't want to leave yourself too strictly scheduled anyway, as some of the best experiences you'll have during MegaCon are the impromptu things you simply stumble upon.


One Day? All Four? Somewhere In-Between?

No one should try to tell you how many days (or which days) you have to attend. Prices vary by day, and by the number of days you attend. If you can only afford to attend Thursday - by all means, do it! If you can afford all four, and you want to, that's great, too. Here's the run-down on the day-by-day at MegaCon. 
  • Thursday - Short day, but all the vendors are fresh and excited. Many celebrity guests don't attend on Thursday, but it's a great day to get the lay of the land, so to speak - and to grab up any hot, rare merchandise that you don't want to lose to other guests. Attendance is lower, mobile service is fairly strong, and opening events are enthusiastic! Not a huge show of cosplayers in general, but it's easier to interact with other guests.
  • Friday - A full day, with increased attendance, more celebrity guests, and more events to check out. Now that you've scoped out the floor on Thursday, you can make a beeline pretty easily to whatever you want to buy, the workshops and shows you want to see, and the guests you want to meet.
  • Saturday - The IT day for everything! This is the day when you'll find the most celebrity guests, the most elaborate cosplays, the most popular panels and events, and a crowd level that may make some people cringe. It's not the easiest crowd to navigate, mobile service is pretty close to nonexistent, and it can be a real challenge to smoothly make purchases, meet guests, or interact with other attendees. Yes, it's a tough, grueling, challenging day... but it's also the most interesting and certainly worth it.
  • Sunday - a bit of a shorter day, but longer than Thursday. Lower attendance, fewer celebrities, less cosplays and events, BUT - people are really looking to blow it all out of the park now. Attendees want to let loose the last of the convention energy they have stored and vendors are looking to make deals on whatever they have left. It's a great time to tackle all that you missed or the things you want to experience once more. 


Budget Your Money As You Budgeted Your Time

If you happen to have Rockefeller money, your spending may not be a concern, but you could easily spend a small fortune in four days at MegaCon, so it's wise to preplan your spending to some extent... and it's not all about the collectibles, by the way. 

Whether you'll be attending one day or all four, you're going to need to eat and drink. Even if you live locally and don't have to consider things like hotels and transportation, you're probably going to be pulling long days at the convention center, and keeping fueled up and hydrated are important. There are lots of options for food and drink at the convention center, but their prices are on the extreme side. If you're looking to cut costs, here are a few things to keep in mind. Some vendors sell snacks and candies that will help for a simple recharge. Five Hour Energy is usually on-hand as well, with a fun vendor space, and a supply of go-go juice! There are also options just off-site like McDonald's and IHOP. It isn't a bad idea to step away for a quick lunch and walk back over afterward... re-entry is a breeze! Wild Bill's has become a fixture at conventions and events as of late, offering an intriguing deal on beverages. For $25-$35, attendees could purchase a mug with unlimited refills during the event. Not at all a bad deal - especially for those staying for the length of the event. 

As far as merchandise goes... use your common sense. If you see a rare, unique, autographed item, this is obviously a bit different than a Walking Dead Funko Pop - which you may see 50 of across the vendor floor. If it's common - shop around. I saw the same t-shirt at three different booths for as much as $25. Ultimately, I bought it for $5... simply because I didn't buy the first one I saw. Don't let excitement get the better of you, and always remember - the vendors closest to the entrance are well aware that you will be seeing them before other vendors and your wallet will be ripe for the picking. Some of the best treasures and values are found in the understated small spaces buried in the center of the showroom floor. Don't be afraid to talk to the vendors, either. Aside from learning some very interesting things about some incredibly creative folks, you can also often haggle a bit! Keep in mind - you don't have to spend a fortune to leave MegaCon with cool stuff. There are always great deals to be had, and a wide assortment of items for all price ranges. Overall, just make sure you don't spend it all in one place on your first day! 



R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This should go without saying, but sadly... it needs to be said. Be respectful - of your fellow convention-goers, celebrity guests, vendors, artists, and MegaCon/convention center staff. This event, while fun, can also be quite chaotic. Exercise patience and courtesy at all times, and as the many signs remind us - remember that "cosplay is not consent". Prior to taking someone's photo (anyone's photo), simply ask their permission. For starters - you'll get better photos this way, and you may find that you meet some very awesome people when you take the time to say hello. Besides... it's just the right thing to do. No one wants to be a creeper, after all!

By the same token, be mindful of your own presence. If you are late to a workshop, panel, Q&A, etc., enter the room quietly, avoiding walking right in front of all the action or in front of people taking photos/video. If you see an incredible cosplayer who agrees to a photo, try to avoid setting up your photo session in a way that blocks a walkway or vendor space. When asked to move along, step aside, or refrain from photos - please adhere to the request. In the simplest and bluntest of terms... just don't be an ass. The "Golden Rule", and all that happy stuff - it's nothing new, folks!




Don't Limit Yourself - Try Something New

Each year, we branch out a little bit more, really trying to diversify our MegaCon experience. While there are many things to appeal to whatever fandoms and hobbies you already appreciate, there are also plenty of discoveries to be made. We all love the celebrities who bring our movies and shows to life, but some of the most enriching experiences are the panels and workshops constantly taking place in the concourse rooms. Each year, more and more worlds of knowledge and creativity open up to MegaCon attendees. 

We've explored the history of horror, Florida's greatest ghost stories, belly dancing, sword fighting, how to start a podcast, how to photograph cosplayers, teapot races, parasol duels, costume designing, recycling apparel, jewelry making, sketching, and how to speak Klingon... all at MegaCon. This is of course before all of the rooms that host gaming, interactive Nerf-style battles, speed dating, and family fun. Spread out... meet people... learn something... create!



General Tips

  • As I said before - there really is something for everyone at MegaCon: fantasy, horror, sci-fi, retro, anime, gaming, comics, art, tattoos, DIY, steampunk, literature, theatre... you name it!
  • Gamers - bring your portable game units and trading cards! Aside from organized gaming sessions, spontaneous games tend to break out amongst attendees randomly!
  • Make sure to bring your mobile device chargers! There are plenty of outlets for a quick power up throughout the convention center.
  • Cosplayers - don't miss your chance to shine on the NEW cosplay red carpet. Lucky for you, the cospital is a handy space for last-minute touch-ups before your photo moment.
  • I don't know how you cosplayers manage your day on stilts, heels, etc. For those of us mortals - wear comfortable shoes!

If you missed our various live broadcasts during MegaCon, never fear. We've saved some of our favorite highlights in videos on our YouTube Channel, and in posts on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also check out our entire raw collection of photos and videos from this year's event here.

May 6, 2019

GUIDE: Orlando-Area Attractions for Animal Lovers

If you're the type to include animal encounters on your vacation itinerary, you've probably already visited SeaWorld and Disney's Animal Kingdom. You've probably popped into Sea Life Aquarium at ICON Park, and maybe you've even made the trek out to Busch Gardens in Tampa (which is totally worth the trip, by the way). BUT did you know that there are many other animal-oriented attractions and refuges that may offer a more intimate experience at a fraction of the cost? We've lined up a handy list of the best animal-centric adventures within one hour of Orlando that you should keep in mind when planning your next visit.

  • Gatorland (read our original review)
    A Kissimmee staple since 1949, Gatorland pre-dates the area's most notable draw - Walt Disney World. Gatorland is an affordable day of genuine Central Florida fun. "The alligator capital of the world", Gatorland is home to more than 2,000 American Alligators, including two rare leucistic gators. A wide array of birds, crocodiles, tortoises, wild cats, also reside in this 110-acre preserve, which features educational demonstrations and interactive experiences as well as the Screamin' Gator Zip Line and the Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure. This has always ranked as one of my family's unanimous favorites, and it's quite possibly the best value in the area. There are always specials, and easy add-ons to upgrade your experience. It's a very memorable, unpredictable day of learning, bonding, and pure unadulterated Florida! There's food on site and plenty of places to sit and just observe. Many extras and they just keep growing. Make sure to take your camera, because these may be some of the best photo ops of your visit!
  • Safari Wilderness (read our original review)
    Nestled within the wilderness surrounded by 870 acres of Florida's Green Swamp, Safari Wilderness is a family-owned, licensed working game ranch located between Orlando and Tampa. Safari Wilderness offers very limited, exclusive encounters with large herds of exotic game over 260 acres of pristine wilderness. Guests can choose from guided safari tours in covered vehicles, on camels, or in kayaks, as well as sunset safaris. Options upgrades allow you to add on feeding experiences for up-close-and-personal encounters. You can also check out their sister location - Giraffe Ranch, with additional tour options by Segway or llama, and even more personal interaction options with assorted species from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Safari Wilderness Ranch and Giraffe Ranch are Florida agritourism projects licensed by the USDA. 
  • Wild Florida (read our original review)
    Wild Florida is home to more than 200 animals and an assortment of "pure" Florida experiences. Incorporating an animal park with airboat rides, guests have the option of catching wildlife on land or in the water.... but of course, we recommend both! Choose from a half-hour, full-hour, or sunset airboat tours on Lake Cypress. The separately-priced animal park is only $10, and can be visited with or without the airboat tour inclusion. Add-on animal encounters include goat yoga, sloth experiences, gator training, dining with a gator, and the "keeper for a day" experience. Educational animal demonstrations go on all day long, and Wild Florida is set to open a drive-through safari experience soon (the first of its kind in Central Florida)!
  • Exotic Animal Experience
    Located on seven acres of land in East Orlando, Exotic Animal Experience is a privately-owned facility where an entirely diverse menagerie of animals cohabitate essentially as a blended-species family. More than 40 animals call E.A.E. home, including sloths, lemurs, kangaroos, muntjac deer and many more. Visits are scheduled in advance, from Thursdays through Sundays only, and groups are kept to a minimum.
  • Jungle Adventures
    Another location boasting a genuine "cracker" experience, Jungle Adventures is" the natural habitat jungle home" of a range of fascinating residents, such as Florida panthers, black bears, wolves, white-tailed deer, tropical birds, reptiles, and other critters. Enjoy hands-on animal experiences, gator feedings, a ride on the Jungle Swamp Queen Riverboat, and a re-created Native American village.
  • Brevard Zoo
    More than 900 animals call Brevard Zoo home. Attend daily "Keeper Chats" to learn all about the individual residents, and take advantage of personal encounter opportunities. There are lots of educational, hands-on possibilities... especially for children. For an additional fee, you can feed giraffe, kayak through Expedition Africa, mingle with lemurs, and more. Head over to Treetop Trek to soar through lush Florida landscapes and see the zoo from above!
  • Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
    The Central Florida Zoo is home to more than 350 animals, representing over 100 different species. Enhance your standard zoo experience with keeper chats, splash pad play, animal encounters, and a stroll through the vibrant botanical gardens. For a nominal fee, you can add-on train and carousel rides as well as a tour on the ZOOm Air aerial adventure course! Central Florida Zoo hosts many unique social and educational events throughout the year.
  • Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
    The Audubon Center works to protect land, water, and wildlife as Florida’s most influential conservation organization overseeing multiple sanctuaries and leading efforts to preserve the Everglades, coastal bird habitats, and more. Open year-round, Audubon Center for Birds of Prey offers educational opportunities for all ages. The Center provides an opportunity to view up close and personal Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Kites, Owls and Falcons, and many more of nature’s top predators.
Do you know of a worthwhile animal adventure in the Orlando-area that we have overlooked? We'd love to hear about it - drop us an email to share your suggestions!

April 28, 2019

GUIDE: Pet-Friendly Orlando Vacations


If you're an animal lover, the thought of going on vacation without the family pet can be a bit depressing - if not completely hindering. While I won't pretend to comprehend emotional support peacocks or similar, I certainly see the validity of Fido being a part of your vacation plan. Sure, you can kennel a dog, or hire a pet sitter from any number of services and apps, but not everyone wants to go that route. And the good news is... you don't have to!

A Central Florida vacation is one that offers a range of options and value for the whole family - including the furry ones. Even when an activity doesn't lend itself to bringing the pooch (such as the theme parks, for example), places like Best Friends Pet Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort offer Doggy Day Camps that rival the amusements in store for the humans elsewhere! In other words - no need to feel guilty, because your dog is going to have a magical day!

April 21, 2019

REVIEW: Game-Changing VR Experiences at Nomadic - Pointe Orlando


I confess - I'm not the biggest fan of virtual reality. My family collectively represents the scope of issues and gripes that people generally have with VR. It's either cheesy and not truly realistic, or it causes headaches or motion sickness. One way or another, it's just not quite THERE yet. It's not what we expect, or want, it to be. If you can relate to any of this, have we got something to share with you! Dare I say, this is the game-changer!

Nomadic is a location-based VR entertainment facility located at Pointe Orlando on I-Drive. Currently, they are beta-testing a new VR experience - Arizona Sunshine: Rampage. Rampage is a spin-off or "next-level" to Nomadic's original co-op multiplayer shooter, Arizona Sunshine: Contagion Z.  Both games are extensions of the Arizona Sunshine series by Vertigo Games for at-home play, and they are custom-built and designed specifically for Nomadic's 1,200 sqft game space.

Nomadic offers a mixed-reality experience, where players wear VR headsets and backpacks to transport them into digital worlds. You start your journey by gearing up after being introduced to your game guide. Though you only spend a few minutes with your guide, this is where you will receive all the vital details, tips, and encouragement for your mission - so be alert and pay attention! We were prepped for battle by our very capable and informative guide, J.C.

Once your guide gets the team settled into the briefing room and the door closes, you are left to your own collective efforts. Though the guide will be monitoring your mission, they're not actively involved with your game play. I'm not sure if I'm just easily amused, but I have to admit that watching the briefing room go through a digital transformation around us was really cool - and nothing was even really happening at this point! Your inner-Trekkie will go giddy over this little stage-setting, holodeck-esque moment. After our mission instructions were detailed, the briefing room melted away, revealing a train we were to board to find our weapons and begin our adventure.

All in-venue images and renderings: Nomadic VR

This is one of those experiences that doesn't lend itself to a play-by-play review. Much like an escape game, too many reveals and in-depth detail would ruin the mystique - and that is the last thing we want to do here, because you deserve this experience! Here's what we can tell you...

Nomadic's mixed-reality nature integrates physical objects with the VR environment. This means doors, drawers, levers and more that you see in the digitized world can really be interacted with in the physical world as well - and some even hold clues and bonuses to enhance your game!

Contagion Z and Rampage are basically "siblings" to each other. Both are about 15 minutes to complete, but they're essentially self-paced. In other words - much like a haunted house - if you freak out and run through, you may complete your experience quickly. If you linger around a bit and really take advantage of the experience, it can last longer.

Rampage is essentially a level-up version of Contagion Z. Much like Contagion, you are tasked with facing a refinery in the throes of a zombie takeover, but this time you're entering through the sewer system, at night. As J.C. warned us, this level was more intense and certainly more challenging.

Both games offer a summary of accuracy, kills, and rank as you return to the briefing room at the mission's end, so you just may walk away with bragging rights, and a certain spot as the leader of your own group in the event of a zombie apocalypse. What? It could happen... right?

Without delving into the "spoiler zone", there are a few standout details that warrant mention. After all, isn't it usually those little details that combine to make an experience something special? So, what makes Nomadic a venue that shattered our expectations?

The things you practically only realize on a subconscious level are the aspects that make Nomadic real. When you encounter certain scenes and situations, your brain expects certain elements to be present. When you're near an explosion - you should feel the heat. When approaching a helicopter - you should be met with strong wind. If you're walking across an unstable plank of wood, high in the air, you expect it to wobble. And THAT is where I realized that this was a convincing VR experience. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but when we came to said plank, I froze. As my husband and son stood in front of me on the other side, I simply said, "I CAN'T", with a nervous giggle - only making it across when my husband took my hand and I hugged the wall. Truth be told, I know this was just a little board on a flat floor in an open, empty room... but my brain didn't want to convince my feet of that fact because all of my senses were totally immersed in a reality-contradiction that worked as it should.... as we have always wanted it to.

I won't admit to the full extent of my hysteria when zombies started hopping fences and falling on us - but do be advised that smart teams will position themselves to keep watch on the entire perimeter - even above. These are not The Walking Dead zombies. Think more along the lines of Z Nation... they're eating their Wheaties and training for Iron Man out there! This becomes much more of a concern in Rampage, where players can actually "die" in game play.

Something else that is worthy to note, at the risk of upsetting our own I-Drive-loving apple cart, so to speak... This may be one of the greatest values on International Drive. We are big fans of the collection of unique attractions on I-Drive, but truth be told, you're generally paying $25+ for a 15-minute attraction anywhere you go for amusement on I-Drive, and this doesn't always sit well with guests who feel short-changed as a result. Making it worse, most of these attractions suffer from one-trick pony syndrome - once you've seen/done it, you have no real reason to go back. Nomadic not only offers a higher quality experience than some of the less-interactive, exhibit-style attractions onI-Drive (for the same price), but they have great return potential as game experiences vary. In fact, you certainly can't justify playing Contagion and not doubling-back for Rampage, and the more you play, the more you'll notice, and naturally - the better you'll get. Who only plays a game once, anyway?! When weighing your I-Drive options in that standard $20-$30 range, this one easily climbs the list to be your first choice. The Pointe Orlando location also affords the opportunity to make a day of it, with plenty of options to keep the fun, food, and drink going long into the evening!

Currently, Nomadic has one location here in Orlando, with plans in motion to open venues in California and Las Vegas soon, and additional locations to come. For more information on the Nomadic VR experience, or to book your visit, click here - or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

All Photos Courtesy Matthew Murphy, 2018

Not gonna lie - we've been thoroughly enjoying the entire Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series (as usual), but Dear Evan Hansen genuinely stands out as the most important show of the season. With a limited, seven day run in Orlando, this wasn't the most accessible show in this season's lineup. Unless you are a Dr. Phillips subscriber or a lucky lottery winner, you didn't get the chance to catch it while it was here (April 16-21), but it is one to chase down wherever the opportunity arises. Make it happen! Dear Evan Hansen is valid and relevant enough to practically be a necessity - for parents, for teens, for anyone who has ever felt awkward or alone, for anyone who's lost someone... or lost themselves... in a hyper-connected world that hosts a remarkably disconnected society.



Dear Evan Hansen is one of the first theatrical shows that my daughter latched on to, and the first she brought to my attention, insisting that I just had to delve into it. I get it now. I felt it during the performance. Dr. Phillips Center is not a small venue, and it was packed, but that room was so captivated. I've attended so many types of shows at this location, and never have I been so intrigued by the audience. The applause was louder, the smiles were broader, the interest was heavier, and the emotions were "raw-er". I couldn't help but notice that the lady seated next to me cried many times throughout the evening. She was there alone, and I couldn't help but wonder - how did this story speak to her? Was it personal? This is the kind of show that IS personal, and it probably resonates deeply and intimately with well more than half of every audience it meets.

In tiny little sprinklings of ways, Dear Evan Hansen has elements of a 1980s/1990s teen dramedy, along the lines of Better Off Dead, Can't Buy Me Love, or Pretty in Pink. Add in the aspect of coming-of-age in today's globally digitized society, and a whole lot of relatable, harsh reality - and you have a multi-generational story with significant, real impact. It's the kind of story that you'll feel the need to discuss and analyze - and you should!

Dear Evan Hansen is currently in the midst of a 50-city North American tour, with productions opening soon in Toronto and London. Winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, the show features an impressively passionate cast and an immeasurably powerful soundtrack. Although I tend to always be impressed with the smooth quick-change of live stage sets and scenes, I have to say that this one really dazzled me. The elaborate series of digital screens that cascaded around the stage was not only a very vital and smart feature but a tool that helped to allow for uniquely seamless and rapid scene transitions. Just a very interesting set, even though it seemed basic in many ways.

This is not the kind of musical with elaborate costumes and chorus lines. It's so much deeper than that and much more engaging. Dear Evan Hansen is musical theater that feels like it could be a movie - and it's the kind you'd let your kids stay up late for. At the risk of redundancy... it's important.

Follow along with Dear Evan Hansen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Tumblr.

April 14, 2019

APRIL CONTESTS! WIN FUN FAMILY EXPERIENCES IN ORLANDO!


This month, we are thrilled to host TWO fabulous contests for our readers. Please see below for contest details and then feel free to enter one or both giveaways. No strings attached - and we will NOT be retaining email addresses for newsletter subscription or any additional marketing purposes. Thanks for being a CSO reader, and best of luck!

We are proud to partner with Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to offer a family four-pack of tickets to see Nickelodeon's Double Dare Live! hosted by Mr. Double Dare himself - Marc Summers. The event takes place May 10th at Orlando's Bob Carr Theater. To enter, simply share the link to our recent review of The Price is Right Live! http://ow.ly/Rzz730oqzfv to your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter account. Make sure that the post is PUBLIC and tag @ComeSeeOrlando (FB, Twitter) or @OrlandoDawn2015 (IG). You receive ONE entry for each post. Tag friends who may be interested in the contest as well! For each person tagged, you receive one additional entry. Entries accepted until 11:59PM April 29. Winner will be announced on our above-referenced social channels April 30 at 10AM. Winner must contact us to claim tickets, and to receive their arrival instructions.



We are proud to partner with Press PR and Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition to offer TWO free general admission passes to visit the Titanic exhibit on Orlando's International Drive. To enter, simply share the link to our recent blog post review of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit here to your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter account. In your original post, name one Titanic survivor. Make sure that the post is PUBLIC and tag @ComeSeeOrlando (FB, Twitter) or @OrlandoDawn2015 (IG). You receive ONE entry for each post. Tag friends who may be interested in the contest as well! For each person tagged, you receive one additional entry. Entries accepted until 11:59PM April 29. Winner will be announced on our above-referenced social channels April 30 at 10AM. Winner must contact us to claim tickets, and to receive their arrival instructions.


REVIEW - Live the History of Titanic on International Drive

Click any image to see full-size

It's one thing to read about history - it's a whole other thing to live it! I have never really considered myself a history buff, but a few tales from the annals of time have managed to pique my interest and linger on my mind. One of those is the fateful story of the Titanic's maiden voyage. April 10th marked the 107th anniversary of the day the massive ship set sail from England, bound for New York, and we were fortunate enough to be invited to observe the occasion with the cast and crew of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition on International Drive. 



Although the venue is home to more than 300 artifacts, historical pieces, and film memorabilia, it is not adequately described as a "museum". Recovered treasures and carefully preserved documents are presented in multiple galleries situated in a layout designed to represent the rooms and decks of the Titanic. Guests are issued replica boarding passes that individually assign them the identity and class of an actual passenger of the ship, and they are led through the galleries by guides in period attire assuming the roles of other Titanic notables like Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews, and "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown. All of these elements combine to create an absence of the sterility that you may expect at a museum. 

Photo: Press PR

I've always felt that the biggest single aspect that sets the venue apart is the incorporation of the guided tour. The roles are not portrayed by "attractions attendants", but rather by seasoned local actors and actresses - many of whom hold various other performance roles in town - and they are put through a fairly rigorous audition process that includes mastery of dialects and factual historic presentation. At the risk of sounding lazy, there is something much more appealing to not having to read the whole story as you peruse the galleries. It's not an aversion to reading that makes this a nice touch... it's the depth, sincerity, and genuine emotion that this type of approach brings that makes it so greatly appreciated. The tales of the diverse passengers and crew and the events that led to their united place in history is brilliantly, honestly, and respectfully presented - and it hits home.




Among the highlights of the Titanic exhibition are "Little Big Piece" (a 3-ton section of Titanic's hull and the second largest piece of Titanic ever recovered), a replica iceberg, and full room re-creations from recognizable scenes like the Grand Staircase. Additionally, Titanic's Dinner Gala takes place every Friday and Saturday night. Enjoy the Captain's cocktail party welcome reception, a guided tour of the exhibition galleries, four-course meal, and re-enactments of the night of April 14, 1912.





For more information on Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, or the Titanic Dinner Gala, click here, or follow Titanic on Instagram. Catch a sneak peek of the Titanic experience in our preview video below!

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