Friday, November 18, 2011

But Does Sauza Tequila Make Regis' Clothes Come Off?


I've watched Regis Philbin for years, ever since my oldest son was growing up with ex co-host Kathy Gifford's son, Cody. And now Regis is signing off from morning television.

He will be missed.

~Viv

Our friends from Sauza Tequila invite you all to raise a glass to the longest running broadcaster, Regis Philbin, with Sauza Tequila’s Marga-Regis! as he signs off from over 28 years on-air today.   

Yu can order this sparkling kiwi margarita, a “girly” cocktail that “Reeg” would order,  just steps away from ABC studios at one of his favorite NYC hot spots, The Atlantic Grill.

This delicious Marga-Regis! features kiwi as a key ingredient for a little touch of green in honor of the beloved host’s extreme Irish pride for alma mater Notre Dame. It is the perfect easy-to-make addition to at-home celebrations for the final episode of “Live! With Regis and Kelly”.

Marga-Regis!

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Kiwi, peeled and sliced, estimating three ¼ inch slices per cocktail, reserving 1 for garnish
4 parts Sauza® Tequila
1 part simple syrup
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part sparkling wine

In a shaker, muddle kiwi (note: I asked, and this seems pretty much like just squishing the kiwi up! If you don't have a shaker, you can "muddle" your kiwi with the back of a spoon--Viv). 
Add next three ingredients. Shake and pour over fresh ice. 
Top with sparkling wine and garnish with a slice of kiwi.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

By Popular Request!

You asked for it, you got it! Part III of the Most Critical Review I've EVER written! Before you check the next post, though...

Did you miss Part I? Part II?

~Viv

EDIT: Ack! Link for Part II is fixed! Thanks for the heads-up.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Howl-O-Scream Part III: The Reckoning

You've been waiting for this (thanks for the supportive comments and emails!), so here it is, the final installment in my most critical review ever. I think I took so long getting to it because I honestly dislike having to give negative feedback. I prefer working through the issues; almost all the people I deal with are responsive; they make it clear that their top priority is customer satisfaction.

*sigh*

Almost.

~Viv


Our team divided into two groups--the disappointed, exhausted and totally fed-up segment, and the other made up of college/high-school kids young enough to still be energetic after a 2.5-hour drive over and 5 hours of waiting in line for sub-par entertainment. Obviously, I was not in the bright-eyed, optimistic, we're-going-to-keep-trying-because-things-can-only-get-better-right?! group.

So!

I headed to the front of the park with my team, to speak with Guest Services.

I am, as I've said, very familiar with the park. I know what guest services does, I've known people that have worked there in the past, and I know the kind of people companies look for when they hire "guest relations" specialists: professional, enthusiastic about the company, terminally cheerful and perpetually helpful types.

And this makes sense, because guest services is usually the last place a customer goes before leaving the park, the place you go to when you have a problem. No business--especially no entertainment-themed business!--wants the last person their customer is going to speak with leaving them with a bad impression of that business.

And as we've learned from the power of positive public relations and social media, word-of-mouth counts for a lot. A good reputation is imperative to be successful in this economy. So, by necessity, these, the guest service representatives, are there to try to de-escalate conflict, calm down angry patrons, soothe ruffled feathers and resolve problems.

If you are a guest, then, you should leave Busch Gardens, and in this case Howl-O-Scream, feeling like someone heard what you said, listened and responded to your complaints, and cared about setting things right. And that, by extension, the business is a caring, customer-service oriented company.

But someone completely screwed THAT up during the last hiring phase, because the women working guest relations for Howl-O-Scream that night? They could not have cared less about their job and their customers, and it showed.

They were talking to each other when I came up, and both looked like they could not be more bored without actually sticking earplugs in their ears and texting on their smart phones. I felt like I was intruding on their space just by addressing them.

I later determined their names were Jonell, who I spoke with directly and Sandra, who sat to Jonelle's right.

try to be professional and not resort to general whining or bitching when I do have complaints, and since I had plenty of time while waiting at the Gwazi ride, I'd taken very specific notes.

I started off by saying that I had some complaints about HOS, and asked if they were the appropriate people to speak to about this, and they indicated that yes, they were.

I explained that I had been to HOS before, always had a great time, came back this year to find it had not lived up to past standards in many ways, and I was very disappointed with my experience.

No response.

Okay, then!

I jumped into my narrative, and brought out my extremely specific complaints.

First, the wait times were outrageous.

They interrupted me to point out that I could have bought a VIP, front-of-the-line ticket, which was true. I indicated that this had never been an issue before--wait times might be long but we'd always been able to go to all the houses in the allotted time.

They said that tonight was a busy night. Dryly, I agreed that it was incredibly busy, and I'd never had to park so far before during HOS. Still, shouldn't attendees have the expectation that the basic ticket would let us do the basic offerings of HOS? Just the haunted houses, if not the Club Zero nightclub or the rides? Or did you have to buy the VIP ticket to see everything?

They said no, but it was a good idea if you wanted to get through everything. Jonell also volunteered that next weekend was supposed to be even busier than this weekend, and everyone better'd get a front-of-the-line pass then.

That attitude, by the way, bothers me. Why even SELL a basic ticket if you have to upgrade to see everything?!

I was struck that neither one still had not asked for any information from me like my name, offered me a complaint form to fill out, asked for a phone number or contact information. Nothing. I asked them if they would like this information from me, and they said no. I mentioned that I thought this was unusual, and if maybe there was a form they could give me to write down my complaints? No, no need. They assured me that they were the people I needed to speak to.

So I went on, sure that as I kept going they'd see there were many reasons why I was so disappointed.

I explained that Nevermore was CLOSED (no explanation or estimated opening time given, vague "come back later"), with no warning, and we'd really wanted to see that one.

We went into Vampire Casino, and had an 1 hour 28 minute wait (I had the specific times to verify this), but we had no idea the line was that long going in, because it snaked around so much and the whole thing wasn't visible from the sign, and anyway there was no indication of the wait time on the sign in the first place--

At this point, I was interrupted, and Jonell said that I was wrong. Not, "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but are you aware...."

But, "Yes, the wait time is posted on all the Haunted House signs." Period.

No, I reiterated, it isn't. I went back and checked after Vampire Casino especially, because the wait was so long.

No. Wait Time. Posted. Period.

At this point, Jonell changed position. Not to, "I'm sorry, they should be posted," though!

No, now she went from saying the wait time was on the sign to, "Well, there is an app for your phone that tells you the wait times. And it is updated in real time! So then you would know." And Sandra backed her up on this.

Well, that MIGHT have made me feel sheepish, if I was just a non-tech-savvy parent. And I'm pretty sure that was the intention, to put me on the defensive. Which is NOT how this is supposed to work. I'm a "guest", remember?

But I'm just savvy enough that I had actually checked into that, and I wasn't sheepish at all, because I KNEW there was no such app linked on the HOS website.

Also, I was getting pissed at the attitude. 'Argumentative' is the word I would use to describe their response.

Just in case there was some misunderstanding, though, I politely inquired how one would get this app with the line wait times? They said it was on the HOS site.

I had ALSO checked the HOS mobile site on my iPhone (while waiting in that 1 1/2 hour line!), so I asked if they could show me where the link was, because I sure didn't see it anywhere when I looked on my phone.

Jonell and Sandra let me know that they weren't really into all that technology themselves, but they knew there was an app for that. It must be on the HOS main site, not the mobile one, they said.

While noting that it was not very practical to have a phone app that you couldn't get to with your phone, I was also able to tell them confidently that NO, there was no app linked to on the HOS main site. I knew, you see, because I had checked out the website thoroughly the day before when I purchased our tickets online. No app. Oh, and I follow the HOS Insider Twitter feed, I've been to the HOS Facebook page. No app there.

They shrugged, said I must have missed it. They were firm.

No. I checked out ALL the links. I was firmer.

Again, the stance was that I was just plain WRONG. Sandra said that maybe the app was in the, the what-do-you-call-it, the place where you go to buy stuff for iphones? From the commercials?

iTunes, I said, or the App store?

Yes, that was it.

I pointed out that there was no sense having an app anywhere if no one knew of its existence. How would anyone know to go to the app store if it had never been advertised or linked from their site?

Again, Jonell and Sandra said they weren't responsible for updating the wait times, and that wasn't their department. But there was an app. They were adamant about that. And people used it, so it was available.

Still no apology. This was getting old. I was losing faith in the system. I AGAIN asked if they wanted my contact info or if there was, please, an official form I could fill out. They assured me, they were "taking notes".

But I went on, to talk about how there were no entertainers in the park from the Moroccan Theatre, in the left side entrance, through Timbuktu, Congo, Stanleyville, and the old Bird Gardens, all the way to the entrance of the Gwazi roller coaster--we had spent hours trudging through the park, seeing nothing. No werewolves, no zombies, no vampires.

They said that there were lots of entertainers in the park, and it was a shame, but I must have just missed them while they were on break or something.

I'm sure they could hear my incredulity in my voice when I asked if they were seriously suggesting that the entertainers were on break in the PERFECT SEQUENCE for us to keep JUST missing them for FOUR STRAIGHT HOURS?!

I had actual times on my phone to show them that yes, that was how long we had gone without seeing anyone: 7:30 pm until 11:26 pm.

Pretty much just shrugs from Jonell. Sandra looked like she would rather be somewhere else at this point.

I mentioned that in the past few years, they'd had both scare zones and wandering performers, and this year we'd only seen them in two locations in the park. Why was that? Jonell said that was a decision they'd made this year, to go in a different direction, but she didn't know why. Fair enough.

I kept going, mentioning that my party of 7 had been charged $3 for each bottle of water we bought, bottles that sold for $2.50 everywhere else, while we waited in that 1 1/2 hour line, and that I felt this was extortionate. They assured me this wasn't the policy and that someone would look into it.

I AGAIN asked if they wanted my contact info, and if they were actually going to do anything with the specific complaints I was giving them.

Sandra again assured me she was "taking notes".

ON HER ONE LITTLE YELLOW POST-IT!

You can see by the length of this post that I had given more information already than would fit on that thing.

No, they didn't. How I was supposed to know if anything was going to get resolved, I couldn't tell you. The .50 sense per bottle was a little thing, too, but obviously they weren't concerned with actually reimbursing me for those, as they still had no clue who I was.

Jonell, at this point obviously just wanting me gone, said, "So, what do you want, you want to come back another night?"

I want to be clear that it was phrased in a very dismissive way. This was not an apology at all. I would have said something like, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, and I can see your night didn't go at all the way you expected. I can assure you that what you experienced is NOT our typical guest's experience with HOS. How can we set this right? Would your party like to come back another night instead?"

But that's not how it was phrased. Plus, there was only weekend left of HOS. AND, the offer, such as it was, sure sounded like it only applied to me and not my whole party. Remember, they hadn't asked for any names at all.

So I said, honestly, "Well, if it is only going to be more crowded next week, I can't see why I would want to come back, can you?"

So now we are at an impasse. I then made the point that, although I was here just as a guest and not attending an official press function, I was actually a credentialed member of the press (I just got my press pass the other day, actually. Yay!), and I was going to write a review of HOS, which I had always recommended before, but was NOT going to this year, and did they have anything they would like to say to that? Any official statement?

No, they did not, that was "not our job." Fine, then who would I speak to?

Blank looks.

If I wanted to get an official statement from someone, I pushed on, how would I do that?

At this point, Jonelle pulled out an Incident Report form, and suggested that I fill it out. She said someone would get back to me if I did that.

WHOA!

Hey, look, a FORM FOR ME TO FILL OUT! To someone who would actually ADDRESS my concerns and GET BACK TO ME!

Like I had requested.

Which, naturally, I pointed out.

How come, I said, I asked, several times in fact, if they wanted my contact info and if there was a form I could fill out, and each time they'd said no, until NOW?

Jonelle said, "We don't usually give these out."

But...but it was an Incident Report! For official reporting of Incidents! Why didn't they give it to me before?

Because, and again she was clear on this, they don't give them out. We do not give out Incident Reports.

But..but now you are giving me one?

Yes, because you said you were from the press, and you made it "all official."

What? Does that make sense to any of you? It didn't to me.

But just to hammer it home, I said, "So, if I weren't asking you as a member of the press, you would not give this form to me?"

No.

"So you don't let guests fill out Incident Reports AT ALL?

No.

Okay, do I have to explain how disturbing this is? If you are a guest looking for some kind of recourse, you have to rely on people like Jonelle and Carla faithfully reporting your complaints. Even though they don't take down your name or contact information!

That bothers me on a couple levels, because I know that large amusement parks, like Universal and Disney and yes, Busch Gardens, are on an honor system of sorts. You see, they are required report, every quarter, injuries and problems with rides, for example, to state authorities. This is different from small, mobile carnival rides, which are subject to inspection. The big parks are expected to self-police.

I went searching through the archives of places like the Florida Bureau of Fair Safety, Theme Park Insider, past articles of the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Bay Online and found that for the last few quarters, Busch Gardens has reported no incidents at all. Since incidents that are required to be reported are serious injuries requiring at least an overnight hospital stay (though parks like Disney report even minor issues), this could just mean that Busch Gardens is a really safe park to visit. I just wish it wasn't so hard to find actual hard data to back that up!

I took the Incident Report form, and noted contact information on the top of the form for the VP of Operations, . I told Jonelle and Carla I planned to take the form with me, fill it out and send it to that person.

***

But of course that is not the end of it!

First off, I found out from the other half of our team that they stayed until ~1:30 in the morning, and in that time they were unable to ride a single ride or get into a single haunted house.

So, another hour plus more didn't do any good, either.

First thing Monday morning, which was the soonest I was told anyone would be there to man the phones, I called the number I'd been given.

No answer at that number; I tried twice. Interestingly enough, the name on the voicemail was not Sarah but Maggie. I left a voice mail at 11:32 a.m.

Then I found the number above 'Contact Us' form on the Busch Gardens Tampa website in the meantime, called it and was connected with Sue.

I asked Sue if she was the right person to speak to about complaints with HOS (I always like to start this way, so I don't waste anyone's time, mine OR theirs), was assured she was, and not to bore you with all the details, went over all the above issues, along with, Jonell's and Sandra's reactions to them.

Sue had these things to say:

Sue repeated that Saturday, the night we went to Howl-O-Scream, was a very busy one, and that the park was expecting even higher crowds next weekend.

Sue also said, though, that she had attended HOS and been able to visit every Haunted House.

I asked if she attended the night I did; nope, the very first Preview Thursday, back in September.

I asked if she had a front-of-the-line pass, and she said, well yes.

So, that's really comparing apples to oranges. I am really thinking that when I DO get invited, as I often do, to press-oriented events, I need to keep in mind that my experience there will be different than the average guest's.

If I went to the front of every line during the HOS Preview (or got free tickets; HOS in Williamsburg was giving them away on Twitter!) and breezed through all the Haunted Houses, like Sue did, I'd probably think HOS was fantastic.

I would have given you all a really positive review--and I'd feel really bad about that, in light of knowing what HOS actually was like on a typical, non-preview night.

A thought occurred to me, and I asked Sue if they were worried that the park would reach capacity during HOS and they would actually have to turn guests away, due to fire safety regulations?

Sue said she was sure the park was nowhere near capacity for HOS and would not be next weekend--however, park capacity is NOT given out to the public.

This is just "Park Policy".

Although actually it appears to be just a Busch Gardens, Tampa park policy.

The Busch Gardens in Williamsburg is MUCH more open, with a constantly updating Twitter stream that not only reports attendance at their HOS events on Twitter stream, but also when the park closed down due to reaching park capacity because of the HOS attendance.

Just like I said they should! Seriously, this is simple stuff. I am starting to think maybe the Tampa park just needs to hire more people who know what they are doing.

Be responsive to your guests. Doh. Social Media 101, just posting updates to Twitter. I could do that. Maybe I should apply? ; )

So, did they even know how many people were in the Tampa park for HOS? I asked Sue, and she explained that every ticket has a bar code and every attendee goes through the turnstile, where that barcode is read, so yes, they know exactly how many people attended HOS!

So obviously I asked what the attendance was for the night I was there, and Sue didn't know. Someone tracked that, but it wasn't her. But again, she stressed, she was sure they did not reach park capacity or the park would be closed.

What were the procedures for closing the park? She didn't know that either.

I asked if there was a limit for the front-of-the-line or VIP options, because the wait times were so long. If nearly everyone had front-of-the-line, that defeated the purpose, really. It would slow the lines down for everyone, right? Sue felt that the front line privileges might be limited to 500? Again, she didn't know. She did know the Fright Feast attendance was limited, though. But no, she didn't know the limit for that, either.

Sue said I should talk to Maggie (who I had tried to call, and she got the name right, too), and that Guest Relations in the park is not staffed all the time (she spun this like they were walking around the park, helping people, handing lollipops to toddlers and helping little old ladies navigate the traffic), and that might be why I hadn't reached Sarah yet.

But she didn't know if they were there right now because (you won't believe what she said next): She was not even located in park.

Sue said, after I had talked to her for 40 minutes, that she could not help me with the complaints I was making or some of the information I was requested, because she wasn't at the park, so maybe I needed to speak to someone who was.

I was gobsmacked. Not in the park? Where was she, then?

And not only was Sue not in Busch Gardens, she was not even in Tampa.

But if you are thinking I had screwed up (which happens sometimes, I admit) and somehow reached the Williamsburg park by mistake, nope, think again.

Remember when I asked, way back at the beginning of the phone call, if she was the one I should talk to and she said yes? Yeah. I had dialed the right number.

But Sue told me she was talking to me from the Cole Center, in Orlando.

So, okay, why was someone in Orlando answering the phone for the Busch Gardens, Tampa "Contact Us" number?

You can probably guess the answer. Say it along with me: Park Policy.

Sue said that when anyone called the "Contact Us" number, that's who we got. Someone in Orlando, at the Cole Center, over an hour away from Busch Gardens.

Great policy.

BUT! Sue did manage to get in touch with Maggie and tell her I needed to speak with her, and she gave me a direct line to Maggie at Public Relations instead.

I would love to give you that number but it is the number for Public Relations and--this is straight from the horse's mouth, folks!--That number is not given out to the public.

Yeah, I said it. Public Relations does not want its number given to the Public, okay? I guess you guys don't rate.

Why not?

Say it with me: Park Policy.

***
Okay, I want to now give some (thank goodness!) positive feedback and a big heads-up to the Big Heads (heh) over at Busch Gardens, Tampa: Promote Maggie right now.

Maggie rocks, okay? Maggie is the only one I'd spoken to at this point who either knew the answers or actively tried to find them out for me, was bright, cheerful, and she was just filling in for someone else while there was an opening; this wasn't even her regular job!

Seriously: Maggie is an asset. Make use of her, because she actually appreciates the meaning of the term "customer satisfaction".

Okay.

So, went over all my complaints AGAIN, blah blah blah, I'm sure you are all sick of this incredibly long post by now, right?

Here are the answers I got (which don't all make sense, okay, but at least I got some!):
They did away with scare zones this year in favor of roaming entertainers because they wanted to give the impression that the whole park was basically a scare zone this year, and nowhere was safe. This is why the site says the scare is "everywhere you turn".
Maggie apologized (wow!) that we didn't experience that, but that was the intention. Which made sense to me. I said that zombies were popular just now ("zombies are hot," Sarah agreed), and so I could see where the logic was in that approach.
Maggie said that they also do not like to use the incident reports because they prefer to handle a situation right then rather than let it develop into a major problem, and also to share information electronically if necessary, "save the trees and all that!"
Okay, I am not actually buying that's what they do in actual practice, but it is a good explanation for why they didn't give me that incident report right away. Although she did say that I should have filled out the top copy and left it. Like I said, and repeated to her: I didn't feel confident anything would come from it.

Finally, Maggie told me to call Jill (yes, I know, ANOTHER person to talk to!).

Jill is the Senior Manager of the Communications Department, and she really had her act together, too. Jill is good at her job. Thankfully, because I was exhausted by this point (we'd gone from Saturday to Wednesday in my timeline at this point).

Jill got down to the business on that App I'd been told about, and it wasn't on the website or anything. Which surprised her, as Jill was apparently the one who was charged with updating the app with the real-time wait estimates for the lines. But she said they were trying to get a Blackberry and an iPhone version up, and that's why it wasn't on the site, and she thought maybe it was on the HOS maps.
Since I didn't have a map (because I was familiar with the park, I hadn't grabbed one), I will take her word that MAYBE an app was listed there, although one in our party did get a map, and she said she did NOT see it on there. So, again, people were not getting this app at the website and using it.

I did suggest to Jill that if they KNEW the wait times, at the very least they should be sending entertainers over to the longest lines, werewolves and vampires and zombies, to help entertain the very disgruntled guests waiting to get into the Haunted Houses, and she said she would pass that along. I DID get the impression that she meant this, too, as she was also checking into things and getting answers from other people while we were on the phone together.

About attendance and park capacity:
Jill, for the first time, also told me that they were expecting LESS PEOPLE to attend the following week. This was in direct contradiction to what everyone else had already told me. She also said that a Fire Marshal was on hand for every major event, including HOS, so she knew they did not exceed park capacity for fire safety regulations. If parking lots are full, they do issue alert bulletins. And yes, that information on attendance and capacity was proprietary "for competitive reasons."
Okay, so that sounds good. Actually, the following Thursday and Saturday WERE more crowded, but for some strange reason, Friday wasn't at all. So, basically, it varied, and I can't blame anyone for not knowing that. And they had somebody on hand to make sure it was safe, even with the heavy attendance, which is all I could ask for.

Jill said they actually conducted surveys of people coming out of the park during HOS and the feedback was "very positive" for this year's HOS, especially for zombie mortuary (which we were unable to see), and that she felt she could say that it was a "great event this year" which was only "born out in attendance...one of the most successful in terms of attendance" they had ever had.

While I am not denying that they had a LOT of people there, I know a lot were excited by HOS initially, as I was, but were later disappointed. I'm a little surprised by the positive feedback reports.

I checked Facebook, and found that there was actually a lot of positive feedback, but it was mostly from employees and people who didn't go on the night I went, or any of the typically busy, Friday and Saturday nights.

Here are what THOSE people (the ones who were there when it was most crowded) had to say:

Buddy Poston Went yesterday.. Lines were way to long. 6 1/2 hrs in lines. 2 houses and 1 ride, so 10 mins worth of attractions. but the 2 1/2 hr wait for cheetah run was worth it. Sunday, 11/23



Jacqueline Thats it Wasn't sht. Haunted houses were ridiculously long, and rides were long too. The least popular haunted house was an hour wait, in tht was when the event started. The rides lines were 30 minutes to 90 minutes wait. I got there at 8 and left when the park was closing. Only got to ride 3 RIDES, and waited in 2 that ended up shutting down. Didn't even think to touch a haunted house cuz time was fckin limited.
 Friday at 7:34pm



Patrick Hunt
 Just got back from HOS tonight. Was more crowded than any year I have been. Could you please start limiting tix sold for Thursday night events. People were smoking all over the park. Probably the worst trip I have ever made to HOS by no fault of the park itself. The production this year was outstanding, but when there are so many obnoxious people around, it takes a lot of the fun away from it. Friday

Finally, after Jill and I had talked for a while, she hooked me up with the pictures I posted on the very first installment of this review, and she also asked me how we could reach some kind of satisfactory resolution.

I thought about that, and how the kids I'd taken with me had been so disappointed. I'd really been excited to share HOS with them, and they'd been excited too, and we were all deflated now, and I felt responsible.

I really wasn't sure where to go from here. HOS was done for this year.

So, Jill, who as I said is really good at her job and has her act together, set us up so we could all go to HOS again for free one night next year.

Which worked for me. I personally couldn't have gone that last weekend, anyway, as it turns out, as Jonell had sorta kinda offered, because even if I'd wanted to drive across the state again the very next week, my husband's aunt passed away and sadly we had the funeral to attend.

So next year at HOS works.

But I did want to be fair, so No VIP or front-of-the-line access (unless we paid for them), because we didn't have that this time, and that wouldn't be right. I specified that.

And when we do go to HOS next year, I will report to you all what it is actually like, for the average guest, just like this year.

And if I DO think we need to purchase VIP upgrades, I will let you know, and I'll tell you much it all costs and what you can REALLY expect, okay?

Okay.





Revving Up the Cars 2 Coverage



Coloring Pages and More!
Download Printable Coloring Pages and Activity Games!

Updated: Recipes!

Download Printable Cars 2 Recipes!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cars 2: Pixar Not Running Out of Gas After All

I love Pixar.

I really do! I think they are the most creative animation studio out there today. I love their interesting stories, and ESPECIALLY love that they have strong characters that don't fit the typical mold.

The crochety old guy in Up, everyone's favorite enviro robot Wall-E, etc.

But I had heard that Cars 2 was not one of Pixar's best, and I am not much of a Nascar fan, and not particularly fond of the original Cars movie (it's the idea of Cars populating the whole world that bothers me a bit, rather than existing in ours like the toys from Toy Story. I don't know why, but it just feels...weird). 

I am also...not a huge fan of "Mater". I imagine a lot of adults view Mater, as voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, in the same way that I do: as the Jar Jar Binks of the Cars universe.

Kids love him. Adults? Not so much.

So I did not go into this review with high expectations as I sat down to watch Cars 2 on Bluray.

But I am so happy to say that I actually LIKED Cars 2 ! I really did.

It has all the components I've come to expect from a winning Pixar film:


AMAZING Animation--The artistry of the animators captured me from the very first scene in the movie. The turbulent, rolling sea, for instance, is just beautifully done. The animation reminded me of when I first saw Finding Nemo, actually, and how REAL the water looked there. Except this time, it was more like an ocean of the Perfect Storm variety, a dangerous, unfriendly ocean. 

Definitely up to Pixar's standards. Lighting, scenery--it's all spectacular. I could watch this movie for its artistic quality alone (which is kind of a good thing, as Mater, never been my favorite character, does have WAY too big a role in the film).

Voice Talent:

Owen Wilson is back reprising his role as race car Lightning McQueen.

Rod “Torque” Redline--voiced by Bruce Campbell. He's the "greatest American spy in the world", who Mater is confused for (his part in the movie is actually pretty small).

Finn McMissile--Michael Caine! The car even has a David Niven-style English gentleman mustache painted on. Nice touch. His character is like the cool car secret agent James Bond drives, with all the bells and whistles, except that the cool car IS the secret agent.

Holly Shiftwell--Emily Mortimer (she has a lovely voice, but I've found her pretty forgettable in other roles, sorry to say). Rookie British agent under the tutelage of Finn McMissile.

Tater--Larry the Cable Guy. *sigh*

Sir Miles Axelrod--voiced by comedian Eddie Izzard. This is one of those neat factoids that I, as a language nerd, like (discovered on Wikipedia): his last name, a portmanteau of "axle" and "rod", is a reference to Mr. Izzard's stand-up routine about the invention of the wheel and axle.

Francesco Bernoulli--John Turturro, a talented comedic and dramatic actor who also starred, God knows why, in the Transformers movies as a Sector 7 agent, clearly has a lot of fun with this role. He's a single-seater, Formula 1 style race car (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_One), with sexy "open wheels", whatever that means. These are much admired by the ladies.

Professor Zündapp--Respected German actor Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie, Eichmann), basically spoofing the villainous German role he has portrayed so well in the past.
Zündapp's henchman are Grem (voiced by Joe Mantegna) and Acer (voiced by Peter Jacobson), Gremlin and Pacer "Lemons"  that have a chip on their shoulder because the other cars never took them seriously. *sniffle*
I personally don't know a lot about various car makes, other than that Gremlins do indeed have a bad reputation as lemons (and that Italian cars are damned sexy).

Plot:

Okay, admittedly this is the weakest link in the big three. The plot for Cars 2 can best be summarized as what TV Tropes has dubbed "Mistaken for Spies". In this version, Mater plays the pivotal role of (I love this term) "Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass."

If you want the less abbreviated version, here it is:

Mater calls in to Sir Miles Axlerod's show to defend his friend, Lightning McQueen. Axlerod has supposedly created an alternative fuel that will make gasoline-powered cars obsolete, and when he and Bernoulli poke fun at gasoline-powered McQueen on-air, loyal Tater gets upset, and is in turn insulted. So Lightning McQueen takes up the challenge and agrees to join the Grand Prix (normally the purview of Formula 1 cars like Francesco Bernoulli) race, much to Tater's delight. 

At girlfriend Sally's request (I forgot to mention her in the voice talent, but her part in the movie is TINY), McQueen takes Mater along with him (and the gang from Radiator Springs, who serve as his race crew) to see the world on the Grand Prix racing circuit. 

After Mater embarrasses Lightning repeatedly in Japan and accidentally causes LIghtning to lose that leg of the race, Lightning McQueen lashes out against his best friend. Mater decides to quit the race and go home rather than cause any more trouble.

Instead, Mater is intercepted by experienced British agents Finn McMissile and his rookie field agent Holly Shiftwell, who enlist Mater's  help (though Mater at first thinks Sally wants to date him). The agents, due to a tracking device planted on Mater in a desperate situation (read: silly bathroom humor scene), mistakenly believe him to be Rod "Torque" Redline, the greatest spy in the world, and an American agent. Tater's "Aw, shucks," Average Joe routine and embarrassing antics are viewed as an ingenious disguise he chooses to assume in order to throw off enemy suspicion.

Spoilers (though you probably guessed this already): In the time-honored tradition, the rookie agent, Holly Shiftwell, and the Average Joe Mater, aided by a repentant Lightning McQueen, save the day after desperate circumstances bring out the best in them, earning them the respect they deserve as under-appreciated, diamond-in-the-rough good guys. 

Oh, and Mater gets the girl. ; )

Viv's take: I liked Cars 2, and I'm thrilled, because Pixar deserves the accolades. The movie is predictable, but the voice talent and animation more than make up for a rather tired plot. And, in the Cars 2 Bluray combo pack ($39.99), you get a digital copy for your computer AND the HD DVD as well!



Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Announcing Our Winners!


We have several contest winners we need to announce! 
I know it's taken a while to post the winners, so I won't leave you in suspense any 
longer:
First, the winner of the Real Steel Giveaway: 
Dane, from the Asylum over at USF! 

Here's what's unbelievable: Dane was the only entrant in that contest!

I don't know what happened, but it just goes to show that you need to keep an eye on these giveaways, because when we have low entries, you can sweep in at the last minute to win it all!

Next, the one you've all been waiting for (judging by Twitter and my emails!) our Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures Winners!


No problem with low entries on this one--we had 132! The winner was picked randomly through Rafflecopter.



The winning entries were:

#7: Kimberly!

Kimberly took advantage of our multiple optional entry method. 
The one that won for her? Subscribing to the Cool Moms Rule RSS feed!

and

#55: Michael!

Michael also entered multiple times, and 
his subscription put him over the top for the win as well! 

Congratulations to all our winners!

I also want to thank all of you who entered for commenting, tweeting, subscribing, and just generally making this contest such a success. 

And don't worry--we have more giveaways coming up soon!

Best Pitch I've seen in a while!

Maya Water sent me this cute Kim Kardashian and Kitten pic and tagged it with the Twitter trending topic #ThingsLongerThanKimsMarriage:



If you go like them on Facebook, please tell them @coolmomsrule sent you! I figure companies who skip the hard sell in favor of a sense of humor ought to be rewarded. ;)

Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Are you all set to hand out that Halloween booty? Want to add some pirate to your day like me?

Here's some tips for swashbuckling Halloween!

First, find a costume you like, adapt and accessorize to make it truly you. Thanks to a generous benefactor, I had a few pirate costumes for the family. We all meant to pose in them sooner, but sadly we had a death in the family and a funeral in Tampa to attend. 


When we got back, I realized the female pirate costume didn't work for me at all. I'd lost some weight, so it was too big, and the gold blousey top, brown vest and skirt just didn't say "pirate" to me. So I tried on this men's costume, switched out the fabric belt for one of my own, and added some shell necklaces and earrings to round out a Pirates of the Caribbean look.




The Engineer went for this cool Blackbeard costume. I know what you're thinking: where's the BEARD? Astoundingly, the costume comes with a jacket, jabot (in case, like me, you recognize the word jabot but can't remember what it is, it's like a neckerchief or cravat), tricorne hat, belt and boot covers--but NO beard! We would have preferred the beard to either the belt or jabot, but the coat is very nice, don't you think?
Carve a pirate pumpkin! 


Just go here and download this Jolly Roger pumpkin stencil and carving instructions! 


You can also check out this pumpkin carving time-lapse video below for more inspiration:




Host a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon!


The latest movie, On Stranger Tides, is available now on Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Hi-Def Combo Pack!







Fool around with some photo effects to capture the mood! Here, I used AppZilla 2 for the iPhone, and Photoshop on my laptop, to give our pirate photos a vintage look.




Finally, take the little swashbucklers out and pillage for your own pirate booty!


We received this pirate costumes to help promote the October 18th release of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides  Blu-ray 3D & Blu-Ray Hi-Def Combo Pack!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Howl-O-Lame

Part II: The Happening


We headed through the park from the first Haunted House, talking about how much we enjoyed it, still excited...but as we went, walking through the park, bunching close together as we'd reach the foggiest, darkest sections of the paths, anticipating the thrill of being startled in the dark...nothing happened.

Not a thing. No performers waited in the dark to scare us, no werewolves or zombies, no one.

It wasn't even one of those, "It's quiet--too quiet," nights, because of course we were surrounded by throngs of people, pressing in on us, so that I'd kept looking around, checking to make sure the seven of us stayed together in a group.

Mostly, it was just like a regular day in the Gardens, except for the fog, and that disturbed me, because when I attended HOS before, there were designated scare zones all around the Haunted Houses, and then there were guys in camouflage, and even a Carnival section with Dia de Las Muertas characters. This is right out of my previous (very favorable) review of HOS last year:

The fog effects and creatures walking around scaring you were *fantastic*. You couldn't see the characters until they were right up on you in most cases. The werewolves were are favorites, though the Owl tried to surprise a huge, hulking walking ghost by hiding behind it, figuring it would take a while to turn around--and ended up being startled himself by a scary clown with a chainsaw! I don't want to spoil any of the surprises for you, but they are really good at distracting half your group on one side while someone comes up on the other and scares the rest of you when you aren't expecting it at all!

But now, no chainsaw-wielding clowns or ghosts were to be found.

We passed rides with long lines, saw the Phoenix and made a decision to ride it because at least one of our party had never been on it before. The Phoenix (in case you haven't, either), is a big boat ride, not like an African Queen let's-go-down-the-Amazon boat ride, but a suspended one that swings like a pendulum. We wanted our group member to experience it because he didn't believe the ride actually completed at least one complete 360 revolution, holding you dangling upside-down in your seats.

So we waited in line for the Phoenix, pulled down our over-the-shoulder harnesses and carefully kept our arms out of the way for the waist one, which comes down on its own. The guys in our party told the newbie rider to brace his knees, because apparently once the waist restraint comes down, the pressure on *ahem* certain parts of the male anatomy is intense, and only worse once you hit that complete 360 and are fighting against gravity. Oh, and there is an added "click" which tightens it further when the ride attendants first start the ride, too.

This time, for the first time ever in all the years I have been riding it, the Phoenix swung back and forth, going ever higher, gaining momentum, holding us just barely upside-down at the peak of its swing--with an incredible view of the clouds and the stars beneath us--and then slowed down, the swings declining, until we were once again at the bottom, on the ride platform, and clambering out again.

No complete revolutions! I've never gone on the ride and had it not complete at least one 360 before. A couple of the guys in our group suggested it was because riders were maybe misbehaving, spitting on people or something (I later verified with operations that this ride, in an emergency situation, can be made to swing right down to the bottom to stop, but that "you'd know it if that happened, because it's fast. Like immediate." But, according to her, the ride cannot simply be cut short, just that emergency stop option. So this was, apparently, a fluke?).

We were disappointed, but that was just one thing, right? Well, that and no scary performers anywhere. But we still had a lot of the park to cover.

And then we went to the Haunted House in the Timbuktu theater,  Zombie Mortuary, which we'd been looking forward to, and the line was unbelievable. Up both the ramps to the stage, zigzagging all over the place. We were told by some attendees exiting that the wait was at least an hour and a half, and we had no reason to doubt them based on what we could see.

So we decided to come back around, and hit the HH at the very back of the park first, because we figured the wait times couldn't really get any longer than that. Some people were bound to leave early, right?

So we kept traversing the park--and cool, creepy, scary, startling performers with amazing makeup conspicuously failed to jump out at us from the depths of the darkness or the obscuring clouds of fog.

We deliberately chose the darkest parts of the paths, the roads-less-traveled. Still nothing; other than pretty lights on the bridge to Stanleyville and masses of attendees, we might as well have been walking down any road in the dark. Actually, any other road might have been scarier in the dark.

We rode Kumba, because it was there more than anything, and because the line was shorter than anything else--though normally, when the park is open, there's barely any line at all, so it was actually longer than typically.

Our spirits diminished, but still hopeful, we came to another new haunted house, Nevermore, only to be turned away. Nevermore was closed (no reason for why it was closed, no anticipated wait time. Just, "Come back later," we were told). So we continued on.

The Vampire Casino Haunted House was next, and from what we could see of the line it was long, but at this point we were ready for some fright night, so by accord we joined the queue.

And so we waited--and as we came around the sign and slipped behind it, our spirits raised, thinking we were close. We zigged and we zagged, and kept on zigging and zagging, and as we turned a near 90 degree turn in the line, we realized that what had been visible to us before--what we had mistaken for THE line--was in fact only a very small portion, like the tip of the iceberg visible to the Titanic right before the crash that sunk it.

We were over 45 minutes in line, and damned if we weren't even halfway through this thing already. There was no way to go back--throngs of people waited patiently behind us--and certainly no way to go forward but to continue on. Later, we would see tour groups, with their telltale lighted necklaces, passing us by without a care in the world, enjoying their front-of-the-line privileges. Murmurs in the crowd grew ugly; I heard disgruntled  attendees all around me saying things like (actual quote) "Dude, this sucks, we should have gone to Halloween Horror Nights," and, repeatedly, "I've never seen the lines this long!"

An employee with a galvanized tub full of ice and cold drinks planted herself near the middle of the line. One of our party had a sore throat; all of us were thirsty, so I ponied up for bottled water for all, parched myself. The employee asked me how I was enjoying my night, and so I told her, honestly, that I was disappointed, but that there was nothing she could do about it; I explained the long lines and lack of performers.

She took her time getting me my change and the crowd moved up, taking my group with them, who hollered back to me. As I went up to join them--barely any distance at all, and passing only those people who had already seen me stop to get water--an inebriated guest tried to stop me, sure I was cutting in line. I hurriedly explained the situation, holding up the bottled water, pointing to my group who were waving at me just ahead, and continued on, though he continued to rail at me, proffering some choice expletives at my back. I couldn't blame him for being upset--I would have, too, if I thought someone was trying to cut in line.

Apparently, as others in the line shared with me, at some HH, employees were not just granting front-of-the-line privileges to the VIP and Tour guests, but "their friends" and, allegedly, one entire "group of school kids" (the "kids" might have been in their teens; I have no way of knowing, but HOS is definitely NOT intended for young kids!).

When I reached my group, I went to put my change in my pocket, only to find that the employee who taken so much time with it had over-charged me for every bottle of water, $3 instead of 2.50, while asking me why I was not enjoying my night.

Whatever. It was only a few dollars, right? But I was getting annoyed. And I had about 45 minutes to wait.

So I pulled out my iPhone and went to the HOS mobile site, trying to find wait times, contact info, someone I could call to find out why HOS was going to hell in a handbasket this year.

There's no contact info on the mobile HOS site, and the Busch Gardens one had only a form to submit which didn't render right on the iPhone, even if I could have typed well in the sized-down-for-the-phone textbox.

So, still with plenty of time to kill, I Googled until I found some phone numbers. Two turned out to be only-open-during-bankers'-hours useless. The third got me through to a real-life person who had no authority and didn't know what to do but did tell me that there were updated phone numbers and gave me two more. One of those was disconnected. The other was a voicemail.

Right, I said to myself, that's it, I'm going to talk to Guest Relations in person before we leave tonight.

Finally, after an hour and 28 minutes (I know because I checked my phone when we got in line, and I also put my timer on once we got halfway in, since, again, I had all that time to spare while I was waiting), we reached the entrance to Vampire Casino, where a performer at the door was doing a comedy skit in character. I didn't hear much of it, though, because there was so many people going in that he would get drowned out, and besides after waiting all that time no one spared an extra moment to engage with him, which took away from his schtick.

I have to say that I was not in the most receptive mood for the HH by this point. The Owl's girlfriend was worried she might get really scared (she didn't), so I placed myself in the middle of the group in front of the two of them (nothing scares the Owl. It's almost eerie).

So it was probably my annoyance that had me muttering, when the 'bartender' in not-at-all scary chalky white makeup thrust her face into mine,"Oh, don't even."

She took one look at my less-than-impressed face and turned away, murmuring, "Huh, you must have kids..."

And I had to smile.

This HH, the one we had waited in line for an hour and a half to get get into, was honestly very meh. It wasn't as good as the first one we went in, and it would have had to be much better to impress us at this point. Plus, although lots of characters tried to scare us, their preferred method was just popping out and yelling "HA!". I remember just once thinking, "Hmm, I didn't expect that one." I don't remember being scared even once.

90 minutes for a less than 10 minutes experience does not a happy group make. I think the Owl's girlfriend was the only one not miserable at this point, because she wasn't going to have nightmares when she went to sleep. The rest of us just felt we had spent half our night in line so far-- and seen only two haunted houses, rode only two rides.

We trudged on, and reached Gwazi, where half the party decided to give just one more ride a try. The rest of us, me included, sat down on a bench (Gwazi is a wooden roller-coaster that has a known bumpiness issue that leaves some of us with headaches afterward).

Now, at last, after more than four hours since we had seen some of the front of the park, we found entertainers in costume.

No one had shown up to entertain the crowds during the interminable lines. None in Timbuktu, Stanleyville, Congo or Nairobi. None, the full length of the park from just right of the Moroccan Village entrance area at around 7:30 until now, when we reached Gwazi, which is just to the left of the Moroccan Village, at 11:26.

Four hours with nothing.

But now, finally, at Gwazi we saw werewolves, scaring guests and posing with them, a zombie with a walker (scary makeup, although this zombie made no attempt to surprise or scare anyone), and a zombie groom who actually seemed enthusiastic about his job and had some talent at it. He snuck up on the people sitting at the caricature stands, alarmed others on the benches, and completely freaked out a number of unsuspecting people strolling along the path. Some of the Werewolves, howling, took off in a group, while a few remained behind. One even used our group as cover once our friends came out and we started talking about what to do, standing with us and nodding his head, his back turned to the crowds on the walkway, until he saw a likely target to scare.

We waited 50 minutes, all told, for our friends to get out of Gwazi, so we had plenty of time to observe the guests and entertainers (and for me to take notes). I think, if we'd seen more of this kind of stuff anywhere else in the park, we'd have had a better night in spite of the lines and not getting in most of the Haunted Houses.

But, of course, we didn't.

So, at just about midnight, half of our group, including me, decided we'd had enough, and would take that first car home.

After I had a little talk with the folks in Guest Relations.

Next in the series: Part III: The Reckoning









Friday, October 28, 2011

Howl-O-Frustration, Scream of Despair. A Farce in Three Parts.

This, as promised, is the most critical review I have ever writtenThank you for your patience; I know it is late in coming. In the interest of covering all the bases to figure out what the hell went so wrong, I spent the last several days on the phone playing phone tag, doing research on the internet, and venting to my family while trying to reach a resolution of some kind, even if it is less than ideal. You'll see what I mean soon.

So it's also a long review. I'm splitting the posts into parts to spare your weary eyes and also to retain my sanity while rehashing all the crap I went through during this debacle and have had to wade through in the days since, so this is the Part the First, which basically sets up all the afore-mentioned crap. We don't really wade in it until the next installment.

I also just received my review copy of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures, and I'll be announcing our giveaway winners in-between these posts, so those folks won't be kept waiting in suspense. 

And I (truly, honestly!), have some short, positive reviews coming up soon. Promise.

By the time this whole thing is done, hell, who knows, I might have to resort to posting rainbows, unicorns and kittens for a while just to reach blog equilibrium.

Thanks for your support,

~Viv


Part I: It Begins

Last weekend, on Saturday, October 22nd, I took a van loaded with excited teenagers across the state to attend Howl-O-Scream. I was on my own; The Engineer was away globe-trotting for two weeks to exciting places like Kuala Lampur and Bangalore, doing thrilling things like flying for 24 hours straight into a 12-hour time difference and falling, exhausted, into a hotel bed every night after working 11 hour days! I had decided, after very little internal debate, not to join him on that adventure.

To those of you wondering just how much of a masochist I am, juggling everything on my own with the 16 year-old Rhino for two weeks (during soccer tryouts! While on medication!) and then choosing to add to the stress by chauffeuring an entire group of teens across the state on a beautiful Saturday afternoon--these are all great guys, and honestly it's no trouble.

Friends of our sons, they're cool, smart kids, and if I could adopt them all, I would, because they are already our second family anyway. But  their parents, who are also good people, would object to that, so we just do stuff like have movie nights, sleepovers and outings like these instead.

So! Four of us tumbled into the van and headed for Tampa, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. Once there, we'd pick up The Owl, his girlfriend and his best friend at USF (go Bulls!), and divide up into two different vehicles (because some of us might not last the whole night and want to leave early, and once you leave Howl-O-Scream, there is no re-entry).

How did we choose Howl-O-Scream? Halloween Horror Nights, at Universal, is actually closer, by a good hour, to where we live. The Engineer and I had been to both Busch Garden's Howl-O-Scream and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights before.

We liked HOS better. In past experiences, the Haunted Houses were just as good as HHN and the lines were not too long (about 30-45 minutes each), there were roaming performers all over the place (not just in scare zones), some of them wearing ghilie suits or shrouded in simulated fog that hid them completely until they jumped out and scared you. As an added bonus, the rides were open, too. We'd taken the Rhino and the Owl to HOS last year and we all enjoyed it.

In fact, we grew up, the Engineer and I, only a few miles from Busch Gardens, and we both had strong ties to the park, especially me. We had both worked there as teens, as had our siblings. The Engineer worked on the now defunct boat ride during the summer season, and I worked in the games area in Timbuktu, smiling and sweating and handing out big stuffed animals. I chose to stay on and continue working after the season while I attended USF like the Owl is now. My Mom, a skilled Administrative Assistant, also spent years working in the zoo department for the Busch Gardens veterinarian.

But this was all back when the park was owned by Busch Entertainment Corporation, a subsidiary of Anheuser Busch. Back then there was a working brewery at the park, and if you were legal you could stop by the Hospitality House for a few free samples of their beer. Today, the park is owned by Sea World Parks & Entertainment, which is in turn owned by the Blackstone Group.

If you aren't familiar with the Blackstone Group (which I wasn't, before I looked them up), they are an investment firm whose CEO is Steven Schwarzman, a name you might know.

Remember him? He's the guy who, as reported by the New York Times, "referred to President Obama’s plans to raise taxes on the private equity industry in the following manner: “It’s war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” Mr. Schwarzman did not explain how the genocide of 3 million Polish Jews was comparable to large companies having to pay higher taxes."

So, yeah, BG has changed quite a bit since Blackstone took over. More on that later.

HOS is held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from late September until the weekend before Halloween. Thursdays, HOS goes until 1:00 in the morning, Friday and Saturday nights it lasts until 2:00 am.

And HOS costs--well, that depends. The price for you to attend HOS for could range anywhere from $24.99 all the way to $179.99. For one night.

For instance, on Thursdays, you can buy a four-pack (online and advance purchase only) and attend for only 24.99 each. This is a great option for starving college students, or anyone on a budget, if you live in Tampa. You can also get promo codes from local businesses if you live in Tampa, to bring the price down. Naturally, you pay more for front-of-the-line access, VIP tours, and private tours. You pay less than full (or promo, or passholder) price per night if you go for the whole weekend, BUT more than the Thursday night package rate. More for Fright Feast. Less if you buy tickets online in advance. I'm not sure how they came up with all these pricing packages; figuring it out is like playing a game of Fizbin.

Why, for example, are advance ticket purchases less when there are no limits on attendance and no HOS benefit to having your tickets ahead of time?

Anyway! When you buy the basic HOS admission ticket (77.99 at the gate, 52.99 advanced online purchase! 42.99 with the promo codes! 32.99 with passholder discount!), HOS begins at 7:30 pm.

This is important because, although an HOS ticket says you can use it to get into the park at 5:00, the early admission is not actually valid for any HOS stuff. While you can get in line for the regular Busch Gardens attractions and rides, none of the Haunted Houses are available until you hit that 7:30 mark.

Even with the premium packages that give you front-of-the-line access, you can't get into the Haunted Houses early. The ONLY option for getting into any of the Haunted Houses before 7:30 is the Fright Feast (add $25 onto your purchase price! Add $22.50 if you are a pass holder!) dinner option, and even then you only get a half-hour head start into them.

So HOS  lasts from 7:30 until 2:00 on Saturdays, when we went. That will be important later. We all had basic tickets (with the passholder discount! bought in advance online!).

Our group left USF in its little two-car convey in plenty of time to get to HOS before 7:30, which is a good thing, because although BG is less than 3 miles away from USF, we waited in twenty minutes of traffic just to get into the park. That was no one's fault, of course, although, as it was the 2nd to last weekend of HOS, I'm surprised there were no police directing traffic. We were excited and in high spirits as we drove in...and in...and in, to park in an Adventure Island remote parking lot (1.4 miles away from Busch Gardens).

Which astonished me. Here HOS was just starting, and we were parked waaaaaaay far away. I've never parked that far away, even attending BG all day, even on their most crowded days. When I worked there, they had remote parking lots, for when crowds were highest, like 4th of July weekend. But even then it was common knowledge that the park capacity for safety was, if I remember correctly, ~23,000(?), and the park wouldn't let anyone else in if they reached that level of attendance, for fire safety reasons, so that's as far away as it got.* Busch Gardens has added rides since then, of course, but not much acreage to the park, so I was amazed they were expecting this many people just for tonight's HOS.

After all, we'd chosen this Saturday deliberately. Most locals and college students went on Thursdays because it cost less. We couldn't go on Thursday, because the kids had school the next day. We couldn't go Friday, because leaving after school would have gotten us there too late for the start of HOS. So that left Saturdays, and since USF was having its homecoming game this weekend, we figured that would draw people away from HOS this Saturday. Where were all these crowds coming from?

The line for a tram was long (walking would make us late to get into the park, and we'd also gotten separated in traffic and didn't want to take off walking before the rest of the group caught up to us). It went quickly in the beginning, as several trams were running and lined up waiting for us, but then the line would stop, because each tram had a long way to go, and they hadn't staggered their departures. So between the traffic and the parking situation, our reunited group of seven ended up on two different trams anyway.

We meandered through several parking lots and across various roads to the park. In the last parking lot before we got off the tram, as we waited for those ahead of us to clear out, 'zombies' attempted to push through barriers to get to us, which helped set the mood for the night.

Our party met up again just inside the entrance to Busch Gardens (Cell phones are a MUST for coordinating at times like these), excited to (finally!) head off and experience Howl-O-Scream for ourselves.

NightShade Toy Company 

When we got inside, it was wall-to-wall people already, carrying us along in a river of bodies past zombies and set pieces--we saw one wall where bushes were creatively co-mingled with a hidden zombie covered in foliage--until we got to a bottleneck in front of the Nightshade Toy Company. Since we'd seen it last year and the line was long already, which we put down to it being close to the entrance of the park, we headed to the next house to begin our night of horrors.

At this point, we are still in great humor, and we even saw some zombies as we passed the building that will be holding the ice show by the front of the park.

Death Row Vengeance

The line for the next HH was long, too, but as we hadn't been in Death Row Zone (though it was a repeat house, too), we got in, figuring it must be good with all those people waiting already. We waited about 45 minutes or so, and it actually was a great haunted house, with a novel ending that scared us more than anything that had come before it.

And that's when things took a decided turn for the worse.

And this is where I stop, as it is 7 PM already!

*Note: All of the park officials I spoke to told me that it is now policy not to release what the capacity of the park is at all, or to release how many attendees are present during the day, or on any given night of HOS, although they do track all of them by the bar codes on their tickets. I was assured that if they had reached park capacity for HOS that night, the park would have closed down, though I was also told that procedures for doing so were proprietary information that they would not disclose, either. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

OH HAI COME SEE OUR MOVIE KTHXBYE! ALSO, SHAKESPEARE

Recently, I was sent this pitch (I am not going to include any links, and you'll see why in a minute):

Cambio, an interactive online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults, is now in the business of helping its readers do their homework with Mark Burnett’s “CliffsNotes Films.” The first 6 episodes, which are live now exclusively on Cambio, humorously bring the most trusted study guides to life.

The episodes are entertaining, modernized versions of Shakespeare’s classics: Romeo And Juliet, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth. Cambio also offers quizzes about each episode to help their young audience cram for the big test. There are also CliffsNotes points, badges, contests, social feeds and commenting available to Cambio members who want to discuss these fun, quirky shorts
(Note: highlighting is mine).

I anticipated recommending this site enthusiastically, because I do think that Cliff's notes and similar services can be valuable study aids for students.

Note that I said study aids. These products are meant to supplement, not supplant, the original material.

So, no, teens, you cannot get out of your assigned reading! And trust me, later in life, you'll thank whoever first exposed you to Shakespeare. Really.

So, back to the site in question. I'm stressing "site", because despite the pitch I was sent, the short films are not really what you are being sold on here, the website is.

The site hosting the films (which, as noted, is run by Cambio, that online entertainment experience aimed at teens and young adults) is incredibly ad-heavy. The whole set-up comes across as more of an ad campaign for the movie Anonymous than a helpful tool of any kind.

And the ads are intrusive. I have a free Adblock extension for my browser that I use when ads start to take over site content, and even my attempts to use scripts to block the ads did not work.

Not only is the left margin of the website taken up by a picture ad for the movie, anyone wanting to watch one of the short films summarizing the Shakespeare plays (I chose Othello) is first subjected to a trailer of Anonymous, too.  Then, the short film is again interrupted in the middle, in an inappropriate and completely out-from-left-field manner, by a character hawking Anonymous.

That's right, they use a character in their "study guide" film to hype another film coming out in theaters.

Which, okay, is a film at least superficially about Shakespeare. But, much as I would love for it to be an educational, historical film, Anonymous is riddled with historical inaccuracies. It has been derided as "inadvertently comic" and "a pompous, ignorant, ill-informed, and clumsy film." Even the premise (that Shakespeare's plays were actually the creation of a former English earl, Edward de Vere), is one that, among respected authorities in the field, has "roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts." (sources referenced via Wikipedia)

There's also an ad along the bottom of the website (which can at least be closed by clicking the x), AND an oversized box along the right side margin with links to Cambio entertainment "news".  This "news" section includes the latest on Kim Kardashian's acting career and a profile of Beyonce.

There's a small link to AOL in the top margin. There's another one to Cambio's home page right under that. At the bottom of the website, in small print, there is a note that Cambio is "part of the AOL network."

Scrolling down the page gets us to the Twitter feed (that's the "social feed and comments" part, not a social network designed for teens, but just plain old Twitter, which, by the way, does contain tweets about the Shakespeare films on the site, but not from other teens or educators, just PR reps tweeting the site to bloggers).

Finally, I reached the bottom of the webpage, with a grouping of links by, naturally, Cambio, not one of which references Cliff Notes or Shakespeare whatsoever.

Now, I have no problem with advertising or promoting a brand, please don't get me wrong! But Cambio, spawn of AOL, is pushing so many advertisements with this site that the content, such as it is, gets buried in them.

So, let's look at the content.

Eventually (after sitting through that trailer for Anonymous, a film I had originally thought of seeing but am thoroughly disenchanted with now), I was able to watch a film summarizing the plot of Othello. Now, the ads on the site are distracting enough to me, so if you have a teen who is having trouble understanding Shakespeare, I'd steer far clear of this site for that reason alone.

But in addition, the animated film I saw, while including some of the classical language and effectively summarizing the plot (which I do approve of, because mature students assigned the plays should be able to handle terms like, "the beast with two backs" and themes like jealousy, deception, adultery and murder), was unfortunately presented in a silly, caricatured format that seemed designed to appeal to young children. Or at least, certainly not designed to appeal to teens.

I can see teenagers just being annoyed by the childish characterizations, if they had the patience to wait out the ads in the first place to watch them, which I doubt. There's an implied condescension in the style, like obviously teens need to be talked down to, as they can't possibly understand the complexity of Shakespeare unless we talk down to them in the form of a cartoon. The silliness of the short films just reinforces the initial impression I had: that this website cannot be taken seriously.

So, rather than actually making a useful study tool--and generating positive feedback and word-of-mouth for Cambio from parents, educators, and students while they were at it--Cambio chose to take the low road and flood a website with advertising first, placing content a very distant second.

So that is why there are no links at all in this post, because not only do I NOT recommend this Cambio educational tool advertising portal, I cannot condone the way they are attempting to pass off very sparse content buried inside a myriad of advertising vehicles as "the business of helping" teenage "readers do their homework."

Just Ghastly

Dear Readers,

I have two posts coming up next that, I want to warn you, are not "glass is half full," enthusiastic endorsement posts in any way, shape or form. So be warned, all you cheerful optimists out there: you might want to have some cute pics of sleepy baby kittens basking in sun rays on the side, bookmarked and ready to go, just in case.

In my experience as editor of Cool Moms Rule!, I have found the vast majority of public relations and media contacts to be delightful people. Talented, enthusiastic professionals, they are passionate about their work. 

Because they are people of integrity as well, they graciously accept that, occasionally, some of us are less-than-enthusiastic about what they're pitching than they are. 

I would liken their reaction, 99 times out of a hundred, to a new Mom's first Girls Night Out with her old girlfriends after having the baby. 

There you are, a new Mom, lovingly sharing for only the second (okay, maybe third) time the miraculous story of the birth, including all 27 hours of excruciating labor and your mangled episiotomy--which, incidentally, you have thoughtfully detailed, complete with annotated flow charts and live video of the birth on your smartphone--when suddenly you find yourself realizing something is not quite right. 

Your friends' eyes have glazed over. Their smiles are stiff and forced. 

And they are guzzling down their drinks like a college student inhaling Red Bull during finals week. 

So you, with your uncanny powers of perception, decide it might be a good idea to talk about something else just now, and deftly shift the subject to Melissa's latest breakup or Megan's promotion.

The professionals I am fortunate to have worked with over the years are are just as expert at 'reading the room'. They have a sense of humor. They all understand that although they love what they do, Tab A doesn't always fit into Tab B. 

That said, I have a job to do, too, and part of that includes letting you all know when something I've been asked to review not only fails to live up to expectations, but fails spectacularly.

My next post is one such example.

And, on Monday, I'll be sharing with you my own personal Perfect Storm: an eagerly anticipated (and expensive) outing gone horribly wrong, and how the cavalier response of the event's staff to customer complaints made me see red.

Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

~Viv


Cool Moms Rule! is in full compliance of the new FTC rules concerning Bloggers. I disclose on all posts where a product was received for free and/or if there was any kind of financial compensation involved.