I can´t think of any other genre that is so controversial than the Horror one. But, here´s the naked truth: some of us in this world – me, included – do have fun with these movies that the majority despise. Raise your hand if you are a horror fan that never got a weird look when you confessed to a stranger that you lost count of how many times you watched the Exorcist. Or how about that time you let out in a conversation how much of an icon Chucky is? Yeah, being a Horror fan can be quite lonely… (violins´s cue)
…except when you are taking part in Universal´s Halloween Horror Nights. This is when all Horror fans gather to celebrate the genre….and scream like hell. This is an event that takes part once a year at the park in Orlando, Hollywood, Japan and Singapore. It normally happens from early September until the first week of November, featuring 10 haunted houses (mazes) and five scare zones. The tickets are already on sale for 2019´s event!
First things first. No, you don´t have to be a Horror fan in order to have fun at this event. If you like movie sets and have always dreamed of stepping into one, this can be quite fun. Furthermore, the Studios try to include different kinds of movies and themes each year, making sure there´s something for everybody – after all, there are many types of horror movies out there. I, for example, can say I love every kind – gore, psycho, paranormal, you bring it, girl! Mathias, on the other hand, refuses to watch the paranormal ones, but kind of likes the classics Friday the 13th and the Chainsaw Massacre. He was super apprehensive to go to this event, but in the end….he LOVED IT!
THE HAUNTED HOUSES
The main reason why people buy tickets for this event is to experience the movies they love first hand. Don´t think of these haunted houses as the ones you know from those seasonal carnivals in your city that you went to when you were 13. We are talking about professional scenarios here, which are put together by the best in the industry in order to recreate exact sets from emblematic horror movies.
I have to say that though I had read how real the settings were, I had no idea how perfect it was until I got there. Last year, for example, they featured the Stranger Things´ house for the first time, which was made in collaboration with the actual team from the Netflix tv show, who supported Universal´s crew with details of the set. Will´s living room was such a perfect copy of the show that most of the people would stop there to suck in all of the elements – even though it would raise your chances of getting a scare by an actor.
Oh yeah, the actors. So, here´s the thing: while you walk around overwhelmed by what´s surrounding you, you might encounter an actor who´s dressed as one of the movie´s characters. The set is constructed with many hidden passages, which allow these performers to move around pretty quickly, managing to scare people in different parts of the house. Still, there´s nothing to fear: the artists will never touch you. They are pretty good at getting veeery close to you….but they will never make physical contact with you. By the way, you are not supposed to touch them either. There will be a crew inside the house making sure you follow that rule.
The cool thing is that you will see the villains and the heros from the movies. I don´t know where Universal recruits these performers but, oh my! Some of them look exactly like the real actors from the movies!
Last year (2018), the haunted houses featured were Stranger Things, Seeds of Extinction, Halloween 4 – the Return of Michael Myers (gotta insert a shout-out here to this iconic soundtrack playing at the entrance of the park and setting the mood of the night!), the Horrors of Blumhouse – the First Purge / Happy Death Day, Trick R Treat, Scary Tales, Carnival Graveyard, Slaughter Sinema, Poltergeist and Dead Exposure. This year (2019) they have already confirmed 6 houses: Stranger Things, Universal Monsters, Yeti – Terror of the Yukon, Nightingales – Blood Pit, Depths of Fear and Ghostbusters.
If you are not convinced yet by the attractions announced for this year, the only advice I can give you is that Universal can always surprise you. Last year, though I was super excited for Halloween 4, Poltergeist, Dead Exposure and Stranger Things, only the latter was my favorite from this list. In the end, Mathias and I were totally impressed by Carnival Graveyard, Scary Tales and Slaughter Sinema. The former was our ultimate favorite!
There are some nice YouTube videos if you want to have an idea of how the mazes look like here and here.
THE EXPRESS PASS
Now this is something I debated with for a long time. The tickets to Universal´s Halloween Horror Nights are not cheap, costing around $67 for a single night ticket (they are sold separately from the park´s ticket). This admission will get you to the event, but that´s it. You will have to queue like everybody else to get inside the houses. That would be totally ok, if some houses wouldn´t reach the waiting time of 3h in certain nights…You can try to arrive early and do as much as possible, or do the event on a day that you will already be in the park in order to get early access to it. Still, it will be pretty impossible to do all the houses, if that´s where you are aiming at.
That´s why Universal offers the Express Pass, which needs to be bought separately from the event´s ticket. This pass allows you to use the express line, which will get you inside a haunted house a lot faster than the usual line. Sometimes, there isn´t a line at all and you can go right in, which is a huge advantage. This year (2019) the express pass prices start at $89 – the exact price depending if you want to get entrance to each house only once or more than once. If you are sure you want this pass, don´t wait until the last moment to buy it like I did – you will end up paying a lot more than you need to.
The big question: is it worth it? That´s really up to you. It depends on so many factors. For example, do you have only one night to attend this event or are you planning on buying the multiple-day ticket? Do you want to experience everything the event offers, or would you be satisfied with only seeing selected houses and scare zones?
Since this would be, for me, probably a once in a lifetime thing, and I only had one night to attend the event, I opted to buy it, even though I thought the price of the event combined with the express pass was very high. Did my pocket scream? Yes. Do I regret it? No way. The Express Pass allowed us to experience the event in its fullest. We saw all the houses, enjoyed every scare zone, saw the shows we wanted and even rode a few rides that stayed open through the event. Without this extra, we would have spent most of the night in waiting lines.
It is important to mention that the Express Pass is not the only way to help you experience everything in one night. Another option is to book a R.I.P. tour where you get a guided V.I.P. walking tour, including skipping the line at the mazes and the show. You can do this tour by day or by night. By night you will experience the maze like everybody else at the event, whereas by day you will have a lights-on walk-through, where you can take your time and see the details of the houses better.
To check out all the tickets and extras available for the Halloween Horror Nights Orlando, take a look at their ticket page here.
THE SCARE ZONES
The first time I read about the scare zones I wasn´t really interested in comparison to the haunted houses. But, be warned: they can be even cooler than some of the houses!
The scare zones are basically transition streets that will get you from A to B in the park. These streets are also thematic, with characteristic music and actors that blend pretty well with the crowd. These performers will jump at you when you least expect. The cool thing about scare zones is that you get to interact with the actors a looooot more than in the houses. You can talk to them (be warned that they will stay in character!) and even take pictures.
Last year´s (2018) scare zones were: Revenge of Chucky, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the Harvest, Vamp 85 – New Year´s Eve, and Twisted Tradition. They were all sooo fun! Vamp 85, for example, recreated NYE in the year of 85 (duh!) at Times Square….but full of vampires as a crowd. There were countdowns and ball drops that happened every hour. At Revenge of Chucky´s scare zone, you could watch the doll come to life and interact with who is passing by, as well as see other toys become your worst nightmare. Unfortunately, there are still no scare zones announced for 2019. No matter what, I´m so sure they will be amazing!
You can find some special treats during the event, which are not up for sale until the Horror Nights start! Universal tries to bring new exciting desserts and drinks each year, like different flavored beer and themed sweets. This is a chance to try things you haven´t before or just feel closer to your favorite movie/tv show through food.
Last year, for example, Universal put out the cutest Christmas´ lights cupcake, an allusion to Stranger Things. Mathias also enjoyed his pumpkinhead ale very much, even though he´s not a pumpkin lover. Additionally, you can find many booths throughout the park selling easy fast-food like pizza and corndogs. These will allow you to eat on the go and not miss a second of the event. There are also places where you can sit and
rest…eat in peace.
If you want to make something special of your meal, an extra that is available is the Scareactor Dining Experience. With this ticket you can have a “scary” dinner at the Classic Monsters Café, in the company of some of your favorite villains and creatures.
THE PARK´S ATTRACTIONS
Some park attractions stay open during the event. Though I had read before that there would be barely any queues, this wasn´t the case of our day. Some of the attractions were pretty crowded actually, which was a surprise. So, if you want to enjoy the rides as well as the event, I would suggest that you avoid Fridays and Saturdays during the month of October – they tend to be pretty crowded. Or buy an express pass (yes, they are valid for the rides as well!).
The attractions that stayed open in 2018 were: Transformers, The Simpson´s, Fast and Furious, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Men in Black, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and Revenge of the Mummy. Do check which ones are open until later in the evening, because they have different closing times.
Some stores will be specially decorated for the Halloween Horror Nights, so don´t take them for granted and end up passing them by. Though I wasn´t really interested in the seasonal merchandise, I did want to check some stores out for their decoration, and I was quite impressed. One of the stores I accidentally entered had one of the rooms transformed into the “upside down” from Stranger Things, with the particles floating around and all. It was pretty impressive.
Also, who knows when you will be faced with that souvenir that will catch your heart? I wasn´t planning on buying anything, but when I saw that Trick R Treat Sam T-shirt….I had to have it. By the way, I was very happy I didn´t get dirty looks when I saw that shirt and screamed Sam was the cutest. Well, maybe from Mathias…he is still getting used to that side of me.
All IN ALL
If you are a horror fan, the Halloween Horror Nights will be worth e-v-e-r-y penny, especially if some of your favorite movies will be featured as mazes. What I love the most about it is that Universal will offer different things each year, making this event always fun and interesting for those who love Halloween.
And, if you are not much of a fan, you will still enjoy it, because as Sheriff Leigh Brackett said (Halloween, 1978), “it´s Halloween, everyone is entitled to one good scare”. Nothing is more certain, than an old horror movie´s prophecy.