Category Archives: Travel

Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 6, Universal studio

To go or not to go…

When you have only 2 days to spend in Orlando with mind-numbing options to choose from, “to be or not to be” became stale and all you want your Shakespearean mind to ponder on “where to go and where not to go” with ease and also without soliloquy.

In short, I had to choose from 2 amusement theme parks of Universal ( Island of adventure and Universal studio), 1 water park of Universal (Volcano Bay), 4 theme parks of Disney (Magical kingdom, Animal kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood studios), 2 water parks of Disney world ( Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard beach) along with sea world, Discovery cove, LEGOLand and much much more.

It was obvious I had to plan again if I want to cover everything what Orlando, FL had on offer. Major dilemma was which park to visit; either Universal or Disney world. And again which among them. I choose to ride on both camels; against advisory, however uncomfortable it sounds.

Things to do (mandatory): Check your interest. All the details of the rides along with you-tube videos available on web. Most types of good rides are split in terms of Universal studio and Island of adventure. You can also do both in one day with single-minded obsession, if you can conjure up enough energy and stamina.

I choose to do only one park per day. First was Island of adventure from Universal. In terms of theme of rides, Universal studio and Island of adventure has some differences but core mechanics are almost same e.g. Spider man and MIB ride are different but both share same digital core “fun”.

Monetary note: Based on day of visit, daily ticket fare can vary buy still expect around $130-150 per park per person.
Things to remember: Most hotels nearby provides shuttle services to both Universal studio and Disney world. It is advisable to utilize them. Traffic could become one of the energy draining factor.

As shown in below map, Island of adventure divided into various sections, each having unique theme. Let’s see what was hit and what missed section-wise.

Entrance

Island of adventure is adorned with peppy and colorful adventure theme such as 80’s and 90’s Spielberg movies. Most of them also had in-built shops and restaurants apart from beautifully decorated facade.

Marvel Super Hero Island

It boasts few of the good scary rides. Superhero fans are in for a treat considering beautifully designed streets. It gave impression of being amidst fight between various marvel heroes and villains. Rides also corroborate the theme by putting g force as core entertaining mechanic. Following were major highlights….

The Incredible Hulk coaster: before you prepare yourself mentally, you are forced out at high speed, “twisted”, turned upside down, fogged and mist-sprayed without any notion of how many times.

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall: Another adult addition which can make you scream out your guts.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man: most unexpectedly amazing digital ride. Effects were cool and immersion was fantastic.

Things to consider: Most adult ride has conveniently placed locker system. Small lockers are free but can not hold backpacks. Big locker can cost you $2.

Toon Lagoon

Another visually arresting theme where streets are peppered with everything cartoon themed. Loved the idea of floating speech bubbles conveniently scattered for in cartoon world. Following were major highlights….

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls: Best water based ride of the park. Period.

Comic Strip Cafe: If you are into comics and also into coffee (which I think is serene combination), it’s always treat to spend sometime, observing passers-by in the cartoon land sipping caffeine to prepare for further sections of the park.

Skull Island: Region of Kong

Only ride in the section based on digital effects has exquisite production value but not enough “wow” factor. BTW those dimly lit Kong cave and corridor where you had to spend more time waiting than been in the ride was peculiar visage in itself. This Kong is based on Peter Jackson’ King Kong.

Jurassic Park

It never gets old to be in Spielberg’s Jurassic “era”. Core element is animatronics and it pays off in more “believing” effects than its digital counterpart. Following were major highlights….

Jurassic Park River Adventure: is water based short but major ride of this section. Story telling is nicely accomplished and also had one hell of a satisfying “climax”.

Jurassic Park Discovery Center: This is more appealing to those who has Jurassic Park (1993) in their all time favorite movie list (like me). You can chomp off your food observing T-Rex skeleton replica similarly poised as was in the movie.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade

Dreams come true for Potter fans. Excellently “production designed” Potter town is clad in “snow” (even in Florida April heat) along with famous wand shop and lot many Potter tidbits.

Things to consider: Die-hard fans of Harry Potter has no other option but to buy tickets of both parks as very famous Hogwarts Express experience needs tickets of both park.

The Lost Continent

Hues of yellow dominating this more of middle-east fairy adventure styled section hosting very impressive Poseidon statue. Interactive theater style show “Poseidon’s Fury” has some good live effects (especially water tunnel) but otherwise no other special mention.

Seuss Landing

If you know Seuss, you know how pink, purple, orange, yellow and other similar kid attention grabbing colors and its various shades the section dipped in. It’s the most “sugar sweet” , candy-coated part for your child.

All in all, visiting Island of Adventure over Universal studio had never left us with feeling of “missing out” too much or kind of big mistake. It was fun and day well spent.

Date of Visit: 12-Apr-2019

Previously on Carnival cruise and Bahamas: Day 1Day 2Day 3, Day 4, Day 5

Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 5, Kennedy Space Center

“Farewell to Space”

After leisurely “bobbing” on serene Atlantic for 3 days and 4 nights on cruise Carnival, occasionally heading off to islands of Nassau and Freeport, it was time to disembark. Early morning on the last day brought not so surprising drizzle which was very much welcome anticipating hot and humid Orlando weather, and surprise in form of origami out of beach towel on Carnival deck while going for breakfast. Whole top deck benches around pool and bars were occupied with curious little “audiences”.

Things to do: Pack your belongings very much in advance and be ready for your time slot. Each deck has allotted time slot which will be announced on PA. Moving out during your time slot will reduce hustle and bustle considerably. And it is quick.
Things to remember: Double check your stateroom for any "miss-outs". Have your passport and other identity documents handy. H1B work permit visa holders must have valid stamping. Seek out any further instructions on products which needs to be declared for custom.

Once successfully re-entered on US turf, we had almost whole day ahead of us to acclimatise Orlando after sunny, sandy beaches. After nature, we decided to take it up one notch up to science and technology and space mimicking humankind history in short span by visiting Kennedy space center.

Things to do: Kennedy space center is nearby cape Canaveral port; almost 24-25 miles. Easy to pay visit before going to proper Orlando nearby all amusement parks. There are many rental car options available at port itself. Also there are shuttle services provided by nearby hotels if you have reservations. Cab options are rare and expensive.

Kennedy space center is evidently something out of some Hollywood set on space opera. Replicas of various launch rockets adorning the horizon, it also adorned various space age symbolism almost conveniently placed for photo lovers.

Monetary note: Kennedy space center will cost you around $57 per person excluding any live launch observation.
Things to do: Check out any planned launch of space X or others. It will cost extra to be spectator of such event but might worth to see the launch (and land when it's spaceX vehicle) .

Apart from various 3D shows, plethora of space vehicle replicas scattered all over, future Mars program related info-games and other paraphernalia , best part of the visit was to witness Saturn V in its original size and capacity along with its science and intricacies on display at Apollo Saturn V center. NASA’s rocket assembly building was also one of the unique attraction during the included space center bus ride.

All in all it was something which we might not see in our lifetime. And hence worth to see.

We drove through congealing traffic towards our hotel in heart of Orlando from where we planned to “launch” our next 2 day trip towards Universal studio as well as Disney.

Previously on Carnival cruise and Bahamas: Day 1Day 2Day 3, Day 4

Travelog: Orlando & Bahamas, Day 4, Freeport

Freeport island of Bahamas represents the unlikable side of otherwise dreamy summer vacation spot; industrialization. It has more of “official” feel to it. Apart from rundown hotel buildings which went bankrupt, this second largest populated island of Bahamas houses factories of oil refining, cement, salt, pharmaceutical and steel pipe manufacturing.

We have pre-booked excursion; close encounter with dolphins. Bottle-nos dolphins are very playful mammals. Though transport to the dolphin pens took almost more then an hour which consisted of first half-n-hour drive in van to designated port and then more 20-30 minutes by small motor boat, all transport paid off with ample amount of close interaction time with dolphins.

There was nothing attractive apart from excursions and few local market places. Once returned back to our cruise Carnival, we had no other option but to leisurely participate as audience to last night’s various attractions. There was pleasing farewell surprise at our daily dinner restaurant when suddenly all catering cruise staff started singing and tapping to melodious songs.

Next day early morning we had to prepare for disembarking back to Orlando. And plan judiciously for three more days in Orlando, Florida.

Things-to-do: Get everything ready at night for next day landing. Do plan out early breakfast considering your time-slot. Pay attention to public announcement to know off-loading time slot for your deck well in advance.

Previously on Carnival cruise and Bahamas: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Plan for remaining 3 days: Day 0

Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 3, Nassau.

In to the blues…..

Third day port of call of my 4 night vigil over cruise Carnival was port Nassau of Bahamas. We had opted for excursion on Nassau which is nothing but close encounter with sea lions.

Things to do: If you really interested in excursions which are very many, try to buy from cruise site. It has advantage of less stressing time-keeping. They will definitely make you returned in time to your respective cruise before it lifts the anchor at early evening.
Monetary note: Mostly you can only opt for single excursion per day. Also they seems expensive enough not to try more then one. On an average it will cost you around $100 per person.

On Nassau, it was bright and sunny. Our mood was matching the bright colors of structures adorning the beautiful port of Nassau. Once our jovial guide has brought all excursionists to their ferry boat to get everyone on Blue lagoon island, we realized that Bahamas was more of water then land. Nassau is capital of Bahamas. It has one celebrity spot called Atlantis hotel cum water adventure land and visitor spots such as hey market, historical stairs and similar. Nothing is as engaging as crystal blue water and white sand dotted with palm trees.

I had a feeling that Blue lagoon island was specifically molded for travelers. It consisted of enticing beach with dreamy azure tinted water, multitudes of water activities, hammocks and lay-downs under snooze induced palm trees, wooden bridges connecting various spots and a few spots supplying margarita and tropical colorful drinks. All tick offs for dream island getaway.

Blue Lagoon island where our excursion was placed
Atlantis in Nassau

Our encounter with sea-lion was novel and fun. Californian sea lions are cute playful carnivores. They were trained well in their breeding pens. Other pens had other more playful mammal partner, bottle-nose dolphins.

Monetary note: All these close encounters are relatively expensive but unique. Following the tradition of any popular travel spot, all captures you need to buy from them which again burn extra hole in your pocket (starting from $20 to $80 or more based on number of digital copy you choose).

Once done with encounter, we kill our time on the beach and frolicking around in clear crystal water.

Brief visit to straw market is more then enough to fill your local merchandise shopping itch which comprises of colorful sea trinkets, conchs, shells, beads, sea faring antiquities and such.

Straw Market for local trinket delicacies.

Once back to Carnival ship, we prepared for scheduled mega deck party which was more of mid-sea dance party at night. After midnight, adults only area opened for late night party goers with more of night club feel.

We retired late night to our stateroom to get mandatory recuperating enough sleep and to be ready for next day port of call; Freeport island.

Previously on Carnival cruise and Bahamas: Day 1, Day 2

Plan for remaining 4 days: Day 0

Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 2 – On sea

Fun day at sea….

… is how day 2 defined by our choice of cruise, Carnival.

Fun schedule of all days on Carnival

Strikingly blue sky, dazzlingly reflected on deep blue to turquoise water, stretching beyond infinity was as meditative as sailing on ship could conjure up; until that serene experience interrupted by occasional materialistic on-board activities. You will realize the true power of sea as nature when pathetically labeled “best camera” digital devices failed to capture seamless transitions of all the shades of blue. Also when your eyes failed to make sense of the end of stretching sea while it trying to make sense of sliver of a line called horizon where two blues of sky and sea handshake. Moment like this where the definition of infinity might have created or better infinity itself is conceived.

Day 2 was started off with hefty breakfast. Frolicking on deck pools and slides while one of the cruise host conducting participatory games was making the whole ship comes alive as collective organism. Carnival also had adult retreat areas for those who wants to cuddle up out of all the commotion, appropriately supplied with lay-downs.

Things-to-note: Professional photographer scattered everywhere on the major cruise events and on the deck were eager to capture you randomly. Posing is free. See how it all came out on their designated pictures wall.

After satisfied with our late morning to noon desk excursion and once tanning started to settle in ferociously, we had to get down to seclusion in our stateroom and be prepared for evening extravaganza.

Evening of the 2nd day on cruise wanted us to don our best attires and be presented at designated shoot-outs scattered in elegant main foyer as well as main deck. Cruise’s professional photographers tried to capture those opulent moments in stills.

Things-to-do: Always carry at least one of your best formal attire; suits for men and gowns or elegant tops, dresses for ladies. It will pay off once you see how your photographs came out on digital wall (And you need to pay more for physical copy)

Carnival had evening live shows planned for all of the evenings which we used to attend on regular basis at their superbly decorated amphitheater. Shows were all nice and mesmerizing with good visual and musical mixture. After dinner, we attended late night adult comedy shows which were actually quite funny and then retired for next day’s port of call early morning.

Things-to-note: Carnival had sumptuous lunch buffet options and delicious dinner variety. Even more then expected vegan options available for my vegan friends. One Indian dish also available daily with complementary "papad"(Indian side delicacy) and pickle for my Indian friends.

Previously on Carnival cruise and Bahamas: Day 1, Day 0

Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 1 – Boarding

Traveling light is an understatement.

Above golden truth stated at Allegiant website has notoriously played it’s sinister part for us. We had chosen to fly to Orlando considering the fact that we had cheap flight options available during first two weeks of April. Given the fact that spring holidays were over in diminishing March, choosing April has its advantages in terms of flight options. But…

Caution 1: Manage you luggage well. Try to plan in advance and register number of luggages from Allegiant website. It will cost $10 less than at the airport. Allegiant has check-in baggage restricted to 40 lbs, cabin baggage to 20 lbs and only one free limited size personal belonging.

Things to remember 1: Allegiant has some really cheap options if there are no traveling reservations on day or time. We got flight tickets under $80 per person, to and fro. Check the calendar early on Allegiant website.

Caution 2: All Allegiant flights arrive at Sanford airport which is 60-70 miles away from port Canaveral and 50-60 miles to park area of Orlando.

Things-to-do: Do the on-line check-in which will be open 24 hours prior to departure.

I found Orlando flight conveniently “available” in the morning around 9:00 AM. Though had to settle up with returning flight at early 6:00 AM in the morning.

Once landed at Sanford, drive to port Canaveral was dotted with pleasant palm variants along the road with intermittent bright blue water bodies. Orlando was in full bloom at the start of summer.

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We choose Carnival as our 4 night cruise expedition, leaving from port Canaveral to Nassau to Freeport and back at the port. There are various other cruise options available from Orlando or Miami other than Carnival. Aligning of the boarding date with other traveling plan, availability of the appropriate stateroom and budget were few of the major factors for selecting Carnival. Boarding the cruise was easy and more comfortable then boarding flight. Everything was arranged and planned out by cruise management beautifully.

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Things-to-remember 2: Always carry passports. No need for Bahamas visa for valid US citizens provided they have green-card or valid stamped work visa.

Caution 3: select stateroom not too aft or too fore and at least at or above deck 4 if you have sea sickness. We had our stateroom at deck 6 where it was almost standstill all the time and won’t  have any feeling of traveling on-board the ship. Choose as per your capacity of fulfilling the sea travel.

Things-to-do: Complete on-line pre-requisites on cruise’s website and set up your account in advance. On cruise, all you need is cruise access card which will also act as on-board currency for everything. On the last day, you will get receipt of all your spendings which has been debited from your linked credit card.

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Settling down immediately after securing our room with tropical drinks, it was all about getting your way around the ship and be familiar with cruise’s mandatory emergency security briefing. Deck party has started once cruise raised the anchor. Once the tethering’s were severed, so as the connection with other outer world.  Next 4 days, it was all about sun decked pools, beach-wear and sunglasses, various tropical alcoholic drinks in hot colors and tiny umbrellas perched atop, full-volume DJ’s, group dance and all the other hosting of hilarious fun activities, live shows, live musics and much more. Party has just started……..

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Travelog: Orlando and Bahamas, Day 0

Summer is coming

Oncoming spring of 2019 sprouted fresh buds of desires for long travel after prolonged dormant winter here in Indianapolis. It was easy choice when you think of fleeing the cold; east coast or west coast. As west coast was partially ( very much partially, in fact) touch-based in winter of 2017, choice has befallen on east coast this time. And destination was Orlando, Florida.

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There was lot to do and act upon when you sit down with intension of finalizing itinerary for Orlando which will result in less hectic and more relaxing travel plan. In fact, I realized that “relaxing” was not an option when covering Orlando with single-minded objective of vacationing. As if all theme parks of Disneyland and Universal Studio are not enough, you have Sea world, Miami, Key west and other attractions on your plate considering vicinity of the Tempa and Miami to Orlando. I had already planned to avail 6-7 days for the trip. Also I was aware of the fact that covering everything without any rest day would mean unnecessary exhaustion of monetary aspect as well as of vacation itself. Hence I settled down with below itinerary for my 7 day excursion to Orlando, Florida.

Day 1: Flying to Sanford from Indianapolis. Boarding the cruise for Bahamas from port Canaveral.

Cruise was primary factor of my whole Orlando visit. I chose 4 nights Bahamas Carnival cruise. More on that in next travelogue.

Day 2: Fun day on the ship.

Day 3: Visiting Nassau, capital of Bahamas.

Day 4: Port of call, Freeport. Another Bahamas island.

Day 5: Landing back to port Canaveral, Orlando. Visit to Kennedy space center.

Day 6: Visiting one park of Universal studio. Island of Adventure in my case.

Day 7: Visiting one park of Disneyland. Magical Kingdom in my case.

I’ll try to separate each day into travel blog each, encompassing various aspects such as prerequisites, to-do-list, not-to-do-list, expenses, things to carry, how, what and why of whatever I can think of along with lots of photos.

Your mileage and stretch can wary. So adopt whatever feel like doable for you if you are referring to my travelogue. Else enjoy the read.

PS: In the process, I will try to answer one of the universally fundamental question which was bothering humankind from day immemorial; which theme park is better, Disneyland or Universal studio ? I might not be in best position but I had my enough fill of rituals to move towards enlightenment. I will surely attain complete truth after more visits.

Little wanderings

As onset of summer has kicked the mercury into 80s and 90s like a solid front going for full attack, however lucrative it sound to stay at home, it was equally improbable to not utilize the hot weather after freezing winter in Indianapolis. No longer trips in sight, I have to settle with little wanderings to nearby places in and around Indiana. Each doesn’t deserve full length writing but at the same time doesn’t qualify for complete ignorance. Hence, presenting collage of short trips in one delectable blog as below.

1. Marengo cave

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There are 4 show caves in Indiana. Marengo is one of them. Its situated in Crawford county, about 2.5 hours drive from Indianapolis city. There were multiple variation in circulation for the discovery of Marengo cave and all are equally enticing. But eventually all agree to point that cave has been discovered accidentally by two Hiestand children while playing in the woods.

First sensible effect of entering the cave was drastic temperature drop, especially in hot summer. Our tour guide said that cave was maintaining constant temperature no matter outside atmosphere. Dimly lit corridors and large areas were covered from long years of stalactites and stalagmites formation from floor to ceiling. At some locations, they were so bizarre and oddly formed that whole scene was looked like part of HP Lovecraft’s Chulthu mythos and bizarre imagination from H. R. Giger’s paintings. Human mind will always try to attach some shape and semblance of meaning to chaos and hence you might see with guide’s directional observation the likes of great wall of China (in miniature format), Elephant heads, swinging girls in shadows of torchlight and whatever your mind can comprehend (chulthu older ones for me).

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2. Indiana Dunes

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It is basically shoreline of lake Michigan. Beaches dotted along the line don’t have the seashore level playfulness of waves and spread, but still vastness of lake won’t allow your mind to latch onto such thoughts either. So basically you have few sandy trails where you climb and trudge through send hills and after that, cool off at nearby beach. Hotter the day, double the fun. Don’t forget your tanning apparatus and good camera. As late evening summer sunset over lake might present wonderful vista of red spectrum colors with usually beautiful scattering effect found in northern hemisphere.

3. Chicago (again)

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Next Chicago tour was more of architectural. We had river tour of famous Chicago architectures along with ample dose of its history mostly centered around destruction of Chicago in great fire of 1871 and its Phoenix-esq rise from the ashes.

 

Sin City: A hard goodbye

Last day in Vegas. It was a bit of charting away from “symbolic” Vegas attractions. No more betting or bar-hoping. No more slot machines or roulette. Like we want to reshuffle the  impression of Vegas as amazing visiting spot for “sins” it was known for in our mind.

First we visited the unique museum, not only from Vegas standard but world around, having real human body on display with view to its innards in a way which can make doctors go crazy and ogling all over. Pun asides, it was something which you could not experience in such presentable manner. From birth to last stage of life (the death itself), passing corridors would give glimpses of various biological systems with all its participating organs.

Next spot was very famous (and now available at lot many popular visiting spots) Madam Tussaud’s wax museum with very limited “celebrities” (I am gravely offended that they have not included my favorite A Jolie).

As I already pronounced early in this blog that we were specifically looking forward to something which was not “signature” Vegas on our last day. MARVEL’s superhero experience was something like that and beyond expectation. Staff role-plating to visitors as SHIELD agents who wants to recruit new members (that is you) to their secretive group and in turn make you visit various rooms propped with original and “almost-original” replicas of various MARVEL studios designs was believe-it-or-not experience for any superhero (and Marvel) fan. There was captain America’s WW2 motorbike. There were shields and large-scale machine (used in Captain America’s movie also) where  Steve Rogers transformed into superhero. There were full size costumes of Ant-man, black-widow, Nick Fury and various others. And at last whole collection of Iron-man suits;all the versions included along with Hulk-buster armor in its real size. Have I mentioned that there was free demo of very cool VR game to play. In short, it was MARVELous.

Day (along with that Vegas trip also) was concluded with few shopping sprees and lovely sea-food along with local beer.

 

Sin City: Booze, Broads & Burgers

In Vegas, you count your stay in nights. On second night of our visit to Vegas, we choose milder “approach” to experience women’s company; most popular and high-profile night pub: Omnia. After queuing amidst scantily adorned beautiful ladies for almost an hour, entry to pub was more like entering the darkest dungeon for “surprising catch”. All the tropes of night pub was merrily present and if something required to be criticized then it was not registered by our alcohol incapacitated minds.

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As the night wore on, heat increased as well the party-goers. Leaving around mid-night, we ventured more in vicinity till decided to retire in company of roulette and Jack. Offering more of “hard-earned” money on the altar of betting God, we decided to call it night. Next day we had already planned to cater our taste buds rather than giving all the pleasure to intoxicated mind and liver.

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Next morning we queued up for famous Gordon Ramsey’s Burgers. There were other Gordon Ramsay’s variant also present in Vegas such as Fish & chips and Steakhouse. Burger was delicious and nothing like I had tested before. After satiating the sweet tooth at Hershey’s chocolate factory, day was accomplished without much fanfare till late evening when we decided to take cab and indulge Vegas in old ways at Fremont street.

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Fremont experience mainly composed of light show via covered ceiling, old cheap souvenir shops and casinos, live cabaret, a hard rock show, a very weirdly themed but hilarious restaurant (see photos at last), zip line stretching the whole street and lots of old style pubs and bars. Beautiful, nostalgic and unique.

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Live show at Fremont

At night, we have secured seats for famous show Mystic, the Cirque du Soleil presentation of jaw dropping live stunts, enchanting music, kaleidoscopic colors, alien costumes and creatures and some of very humorous live pranks with audience.