Posted November 13, 2014
By DONATELLA VACCA
ORLANDO, Fla. — At the busiest point of Halloween night, as I was desperately trying to survive the squeezing hordes of drunk, overexcited people and piercing electronic music, I received an unforeseen call. This call was from my mom and, surprisingly enough, I was happy to receive it.
Some Halloweeners believe The Grove in Coconut Grove is the best place to be during these festivities. But, for me, it was basically hell in a single block. Ear-piercing music, the unsettling smell of cheap alcohol and getting constantly nudged in my ribs by unaware teenagers was not the fun I expected to have. Besides, I was shamefully losing my battle against the unexpected low temperatures and my Hawaiian hula costume was definitely not helping.
“Hey, are you having fun?” my mom said.
“Define the meaning of fun,” I answered, utterly annoyed as my teeth literally chattered from the cold that had caught me off guard.
“Then it’s a good thing I called. Is it okay if I pick you up in a few minutes? There’s been a sudden change of plans and we’re driving up to Orlando in the morning,” she said.
And so, while half of Miami was still partying the night off (or the early morning) in freezing weather, my family embarked on what became an unplanned but very satisfying Halloweekend.
It was certainly an unscheduled trip, but it served as the perfect escape from one of Miami’s most wildest and sometimes unhealthiest nights.
As we headed north in the wee hours of Saturday morning and as the temperature kept decreasing, I asked where we were going exactly. There was no response. I tried asking if we had anything booked. Nothing. Complete silence. And that’s when I caught a smirk of accomplishment in both my parents’ faces.
Being avid Walt Disney World and Universal Studios visitors, it was hard to imagine something new and different to do. But, just as the sun started rising and Halloween night was coming to an end I realized that the night was over, but the weekend was not.
Orlando is known to be a fun host city for several Halloween-themed attractions that last the entire month and even run through the first days of November. Universal Studios offers Halloween Horror Nights, Disney performs several parades, Tampa has Howl-O-Scream and cheaper haunted houses and random concerts are spread throughout the city, making it hard to have a bad time.
Clearly, we couldn’t go to all of these attractions since most of them were ending the night of our arrival, but Universal’s Horror Nights was the most tempting one having more than seven haunted houses, select rides and scare zones.
Due to its high popularity, we thought tickets would be already sold-out and in the middle of our road trip we stopped at Cracker Barrel — a must during fall and winter seasons — in order to settle things.
To our surprise, we were told tickets were still available and since they weren’t expecting large crowds we could even buy them at the theme park’s entrance.
Getting the tickets was no hassle at all and getting to Orlando wasn’t either, since the drive barely took three and a half hours on the empty roads of the Saturday morning after Halloween. The problem was at the park itself.
Somehow tickets happened to still be available, but the crowds were huge and people were invading practically all corners of the park. Lucky for us, the Fast Lane tickets we had purchased allowed us to visit all haunted houses in no time.
The lines were longer than anything we had ever seen, being more than three or four blocks long with a pace as slow as three feet per 10 minutes.
Certain haunted houses were more popular than others like “The Walking Dead” and “Halloween” (the movie) so these had longer waits of approximately an hour and a half or two hours.
There was nothing to distract and amuse visitors waiting in line, so phones, patience and talking with each other was all they had to be entertained.
We used the remaining time to explore and get absorbed by the perfection of the Halloween setting. We were surrounded by spooky sound effects, flawless costumes, realistic replicas of classic horror movie backdrops like “The Purge,” “Friday the 13th” and “Psycho” and amazingly unsettling actors who would roam the park imitating zombies, killers or aliens.
Tired from a long drive, an almost sleepless night and an exceptionally cold Florida evening, we headed to my uncle’s place, excited for what the small town of Satellite Beach, Fla., located just 60 miles east of Orlando, had in store for the next day.
We woke up early Sunday morning to an even colder, 50 degrees day. Although the beach looked extremely tempting, the weather conditions were not. The sand felt like snow and the ocean was too rough, so we decided to explore the town until the afternoon when we would take a break and decide what else to do.
For some travelers, uncertainty and not having the day entirely planned is not a good thing. However for us, it was the perfect feeling of carelessness and relaxation. The only thing we had to worry about was layering hoodie over hoodie and finding a good spot to eat.
A delicious brunch at the local café sounded like a great way to start the day, so, recommended by my uncle, we headed to the Beachside Café, located just one block away from the main beach on 109 5th Ave.
Pancakes and French toast weren’t enough, so we ordered omelets, scrambled eggs, eggs Benedict and the house fries, specially cooked for us – the nice Miami people — since we were told Sundays are hash browns day, not fries day.
Bellies full and sun shinning bright, we took a walk around Melbourne’s historic downtown, a picturesque out-of-a-period-movie town center full of homey diners, coffee shops, crafts shops and all sorts of beach supply stores.
As noon got closer, we decided to take a look at the broader picture so we headed to the Melbourne Beach pier located at Ocean Avenue and Riverside Drive, just in front of the Indian River.
Although the pier looked plain and boring, it was nice to get that cold breeze of fresh ocean air that cleans up anyone’s mind. Walking several feet into the water in such a cold windy day felt like a good way of detaching ourselves from the rest of the world, or at least from the busy coast.
The pier was built in 1889 by The Melbourne and Atlantic Railroad Co., and it is still standing straight and strong. On April 12, 1984, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and has now become a town favorite for weekend picnics and fishing practice.
After exploring Melbourne, the neighboring city within Palm Bay, we headed back to the house in order to plan our next move. Although the couch was tempting and some clouds were rolling in, staying at home didn’t sound like a plan but visiting other towns wasn’t either since Sunday evenings are not good for small-town tourism.
So we took a chance and drove an hour and half back to Orlando and into Walt Disney World.
We had no specific plans or specific parks to visit, we just wanted to relax and enjoy a schedule-free day. But, as I was renewing my annual pass, we all found out that, to our utmost surprise, the Food and Wine Festival was still going on. As the food lovers that we are, we rushed to EPCOT immediately.
Being able to attend the Food and Wine Festival was the most satisfying part of the getaway since we honestly thought this event was long gone. Driving all the way back to Orlando without any expectations only to find out that one of the things we had been craving to do for the past few weeks was still available, was a sincere delight (pun intended).
With food, wine and beer from more than 10 countries like Scotland, Hawaii and South Korea, we welcomed an even colder evening of 47 degrees, something extremely rare and unseasonable considering it was barely the beginning of November in Florida.
Keeping ourselves warm was definitely not an issue. The mobs of tipsy people, layers of clothes, hot onion soup, chocolate volcanoes and Belgian beer kept us hot and running until the 10 p.m. Illuminations firework show lit the sky.
Amid a mass of hungry tourists, strollers and wheelchairs only one family stood out, and this was because they were dressed up in full pirate costume with make up, boots, scars and fake tattoos.
This innocently charming family brought me back to reality and I realized that this was still Halloween weekend, that we still had our right to celebrate (costume or not) and that all this was still part of our own Halloween getaway. Even though I hadn’t seen any outrageous costumes since Friday night.
Although tables and chairs were scarce, lines were long and low temperatures froze up our fingers, the exotic dishes we got to try were good enough to forget about the inconvenience of having to eat while standing or having to dodge euphoric adults with a waffle in one hand and a glass of German beer in the other.
Pineapple meat sliders, Greek chicken gyros, filet mignon, escargot soufflé, Japanese sake and sweet Moroccan Baklava pastries were just a tiny glimpse of the banquet in which we over-indulged, to the point of giving up and leaving three countries behind.
In what felt like a food-coma state, we drove back to Satellite Beach way past our bedtime. But, with the Daylight Savings Time ending at 2 a.m. that same Sunday, Nov. 2, we had one extra hour to pamper ourselves with sleep before the long drive back home the next morning.
On Monday, not even the sound of four angry phones and an annoying drilling machine upstairs succeeded in waking us up before noon, so we slept until the sun scorched the windows.
The short-lived winter was gone and temperatures were back to normal, so we decided to say goodbye to our speedy getaway by having yet another brunch at Blueberry Café, our favorite American diner right in front of the beach.
After two days, three cities, haunted houses, layers of unmatched clothes, frozen fingers, tons of food and extravagantly inappropriate costumes at The Grove, waffles and scrambled eggs sounded like a great goodbye.
A huge cup of pumpkin spice coffee and gas was all we needed to push ourselves from a refreshing, unexpected and innovative Halloween weekend back into our daily routine in Miami.
Besides, it was already time to confront the week that was to come. Two days, three cities and one hula costume had been enough.
If I was able to survive a two-day getaway with no preparation, no schedule and no reservations in the middle of one of Orlando’s highest peak seasons, an unscheduled weekend retreat is definitely worth a shot.
If You Go
For more information, head to the city’s website: www.melbournebeachfl.org, or to www.disneyparks.disney.go.com and www.halloweenhorrornights.com
- 109 5th Ave., Indialantic, Fla. 32937
- Open Mondays through Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Melbourne Beach Pier
- Ocean Avenue and Riverside Drive
- Melbourne, Fla. 32903
- Open daily
Blueberry Muffin Café
- 1130 Florida A1A, Indialantic, Fla. 32903
- Open Mondays through Saturdays from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.