Duffy note: This post does include a few sort-of-grisly images of Halloween Horror Night blood and guts. Our magical coverage of dazney will continue shortly.
While this website struggles to publish something resembling coherence about Universal over at easyuniversal.com, we’ll pretend like the wdw in this url means something pertaining to that other theme park complex.
What It Is
Horror Nights is Universal’s after-hours, hard ticket event. It’s similar to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in that you’ll need a ticket to participate exclusive of your daytime admission. In other words, it’s going to cost extra if you’re visiting during the day or tickets can be purchased separately if you’re not planning to visit during the day. Also like Mickey’s Party, favorite attractions continue operating and there are unique shows and attractions that are only available during the event.
Unlike Mickey’s Not So Scary, Horror Nights is heavy on blood, gore, and booze – not necessarily in that order.
Universal recommends guests be at least 13 years old. As we’ll learn later, the “horrors” are not confined to the haunted houses. You’ll find zombies, demons, chainsaw-wielding goons, Disney bloggers, and other frights from the entrance all the way back to Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. If your child, uncle, significant other, etc. is easily frightened (in a bad way), Horror Nights may not be a fulfilling experience. But there are plenty of families with young kids in tow. I even saw a few infants in their parents’ arms being carried through zombie-infested campgrounds and around this tank, which smells like rotting flesh and gasoline (I’m guessing, I have no experience).
What It Costs
There are approximately 9,000 different ticket options available:
See http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/tickets.html to click around. If you’re a Florida resident or Annual Passholder, start with those pages on the right side. Unlike most types of theme park tickets, only the person purchasing the tickets needs to be a Florida resident or passholder. They don’t check to see if the ticket holder fits those requirements.
If you’re not and don’t know one, start with the Stay & Scream pricing. If you don’t have Universal theme park tickets and are planning to purchase them from Universal directly, you can purchase both regular admission and Horror Nights tickets at the same time online and save a considerable amount of money. If you’ve already purchased tickets as part of a package or from a third-party seller, you can still take advantage of the discounted price by purchasing your ticket on-site at Universal. In this instance, “Stay and Scream” is kind of a misnomer, as you don’t have to use your Horror Night ticket on the same night as your daytime ticket. In other words, you can visit Universal on September 23rd and purchase tickets for Horror Nights on September 28th.
If you don’t want to soil the good name of Walt Disney by entering the confines of Universal Studios during the day, you still may not need to pay the full $91.99 price. Take a look at the dates and prices under the “Frequent Fear” tab. If one or more of your dates falls on a Rush of Fear or Frequent Fear date, you’ll save money over the full price by purchasing a multi-night ticket.
If you have the opportunity to visit on multiple nights, the Frequent Fear passes are a terrific value. If you’re planning to visit four times, each visit could be rationalized as costing as little as $18.25 with no other discounts.
Express Pass, Picking A Date, And It “Feels” Crowded
Universal lets you know how crowded they’re expecting it to be based on how much they charge for Express Pass. Like the Horror Night ticket, Express Pass must be purchased separately, even if you’re staying on-site at a Universal resort.
As far as waits for the haunted houses are concerned, every Horror Night is extremely crowded. This is the line for (in my opinion) the worst house at 7:45pm on opening night, which is typically one of the less crowded nights of the year. And this line is “not that bad” compared to what it’s going to look like on a weekend in October.
If you can only go on one night, regardless of the date, you want to strongly consider Express Pass. If you’re going on a peak night, when Express Pass costs $79.99 or more, Express Pass is the only way you’re going to be able to experience more than three or four houses over a six- or seven-hour night. Regular lines are that long.
Fast forward to October 5th and this entire queue will be full by 9pm, resulting in waits that top 90 to 180 minute per house. Seriously – a three hour wait to experience three to five minutes of haunted house. And there is not much to do in line other than stare at the poor unfortunate souls inching forward in the opposite direction. Most of the queues are uncovered and there’s only the occasional cart selling bottled water and Heinekens. There is no easy access to bathrooms. If the only date you can go is October 5, 12, 19, or 26, you either want to reconsider or purchase Express Pass. Even with Express Pass, on a peak night, waits can top 30 to 45 minutes per house. With “premium” pricing on admission in addition to “premium” pricing on Express Pass, a peak Horror Night can be an expensive way to have the pleasure of standing in line.
You can see how long the Express Pass queue is. It’ll be full on October 5th.
If you’re already inside Universal Studios or have an Annual Pass and can arrive by 4:30pm at the latest, you absolutely want to stay inside the Park. Universal team members will begin clearing the Park out shortly before 5pm. If you have admission to Halloween Horror Nights, you’ll be allowed to stay inside the Park in one of two holding areas – one is located outside Finnegan’s and the other is in Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone. It doesn’t matter whether you have a “Stay and Scream” ticket, a regular ticket, a Frequent Fear Pass, or any other ticket type. You’ll be allowed to stay just the same. Doing so will put you ahead of guests entering through the main entrance because you’ll be let loose before most/all of them can enter. If you’re trying to decide which holding area to wait in, Woody Woodpecker is closest to the Walking Dead and La Llorona Houses. Finnegan’s is closest to Havoc, Evil Dead, American Werewolf, Resident Evil, and Cabin in the Woods (in that order).
If you don’t have or don’t want to use Park admission, you want to arrive as early as possible and ideally by 5pm. While Horror Nights officially begins at 6:30pm, Universal usually begins admitting guests at 6pm. Arriving early means you’ll be through security and on your way before most people have even passed through the metal detectors. Arriving closer to or after 6:30pm will result in much longer waits at the haunted houses.
In addition to the shows and haunted houses, which are only available during Horror Nights events, several of Universal’s most popular attractions remain open. Barring technical difficulties, you’ll find the following operating:
- Despicable Me
- Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Men in Black
- Revenge of the Mummy
- The Simpsons Ride
- Transformers 3D
That means Disaster, ET, Shrek 4D, Terminator, Twister, and the regular shows will not be available.
Wait times for the attractions are generally short – 5 to 15 minutes most nights, all night. The exception is Rip Ride Rockit, which can see actual wait times around 20 to 30 minutes from 8pm – 10pm. Horror Nights is a great opportunity to ride Rockit or Twirl ‘n’ Hurl in the dark. I’d skip Simpsons Ride if you can because it takes about 25 minutes to get through, even when initial waits are short. Otherwise, you can be on/off the other attractions in 15 minutes or less, including Transformers.
Larger map: http://www.easywdw.com/reports9/hhn23.jpg. Horror Nights offers eight unique haunted houses with entrances around the Studios.
Cabin in the Woods is the first house you’ll encounter. It’s located just inside the entrance to the left of Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. Protip: If you’re going to Horror Nights, experience as much of the source material as possible. See Cabin in the Woods, American Werewolf in London, and Evil Dead. Watch or familiarize yourself with The Walking Dead. I thought the television series was boring and didn’t make it through the first season, but a lot of people do enjoy it. The Resident Evil house is based on the video game series, specifically Resident Evil 2 and 3.
With name appeal and its location right inside the entrance, Cabin in the Woods sees wait times that take off first and remain among the longest all night.
It was my favorite house with great sets and perfect character casting.
It also helps that Cabin in the Woods is not a movie that takes itself too seriously. Even if you’re not attending Horror Nights, it’s a great film and I guarantee it isn’t what you’re expecting (unless you know what to expect).
I think I’ll take my chances with the Buckners. Standard advice is generally to bypass Cabin in the Woods because it’s right inside the entrance. But if you’re waiting at Finnegan’s or among the first people in the Park, I’d head to Cabin in the Woods first thing.
Resident Evil: Raccoon City is the next house, with the entrance near Rip Ride Rockit on the left. For whatever reason, Resident Evil tends to have the second shortest waits of the various houses, behind only La Llorona. The house is a lot of fun if you’re a fan of the series, but it wasn’t one of our favorites. If I was going to skip a house or two, this would be one of them. It’s best bypassed early in the evening because waits won’t be as atrocious as the others around 9pm when crowds peak.
American Werewolf’s entrance is located at Twister before you arrive at the entrance to Evil Dead. It’s the only house we didn’t get to, but it’s received nearly universal acclaim from Horror Nights fans. Wait times are above average, making it a good choice early or late in the evening.
The entrance to Evil Dead is located at the end of Universal’s main drag on the left, near the library facade. Waits are among the longest at the event.
In fact, thanks to Raphael, who tweeted this picture of me…to me…you can see me waiting about 30 minutes to enter.
Evil Dead featured some elaborate sets, but fell flat for me overall. It does tell the story remarkably well for a four-minute walk through a haunted house and it’s absolutely worth experiencing. It just missed that “wow” moment, in my opinion. Get here early, late, or be prepared to wait.
Havoc: Derailed is next, with the entrance near Disaster. You may remember this line. The wait time said 15 minutes, but it ended up being closer to 35. That’s another problem you may run into at Horror Nights – the posted wait times seem to be grossly under-exaggerated. That may get better as the event progresses.
It was our least favorite and it seems like the consensus is that it’s the worst house. If you have to skip one, I’d recommend this be it. There are no scares and you basically walk from room to room where topless men with muscles in cages tweaking out on PCP are yelling and trying to get free. I feel like that makes it sound better than it is. But it’s really kind of a yawn. Wait times are typically higher than some of the better houses, which makes it even easier to walk by.
There’s a ways to the next house. Afterlife: Death’s Vengeance is located to the right of Men in Black.
Disposable 3D glasses are distributed prior to heading inside.
I had never been through a 3D house before and thought the neon, disorienting effects were neat. Sentiment seems to be that it’s a rehash of previous houses and uses effects that are already tired.
It’s a short house and what was happening throughout did not make a whole lot of sense to either of us. Lines are surprisingly long, perhaps because the effects force people to walk through slower. It’s worth a wait of 15 minutes, but I think most people will appreciate the other houses more. If I had to skip two, it would be this and Havoc.
The next two houses are both located in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone.
The entrance to La Llorona is on the left with Walking Dead on the right. As the sign says, the exit is all the way back at Men in Black and right next to Afterlife. That may have something to do with the longer lines at Afterlife.
While most of Horror Nights is based on the supernatural or fantastic, La Llorona is the story of a beautiful woman that murders her children in order to be with the man she loves.
That premise made the house all the more “real” with the corpses of the children laying face down in a stream just as you enter. We enjoyed the house quite a bit for its eeriness, though it did not have a lot of outright scares. I would say more but I don’t want to ruin it! Wait times are among the shortest.
The entrance to Walking Dead is located in the KidZone.
I got a bit of a kick out of the fact that you walk through Curious George to reach Walking Dead and underneath Barney on your way to La Llorona.
I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I tried, but as an American that needs things shoved down my throat with 100% action all the time, the series was boring.
Anyway, I thought Walking-Dead-the-house was boring and without any real scares. Also be aware that you have to bend over and walk crouched down for a bit in the middle. The prison block scene is very cool though. Fans of the show will undoubtedly enjoy the house more than the rest of us, but it seemed like it was just more of what we saw outside (discussed next) confined into an indoor space. Expect wait times to be above average moving forward.
The Street Experience
Scare Zones sort of return here in 2013 with six different areas themed to specific scenes from The Walking Dead.
The zombies blend in better than you might expect in the dark.
So you can be plodding along behind what you think is an upstanding tourist, only to be startled when said gentleman turns out to be a brain eating zombie.
I’m not too enthusiastic about this year’s theme. Basically what we’ve got is a bunch of people in masks, torn flannel, and wounds of some variety limping around the Park. That takes a lot of the variety and excitement out of the streets. In years past, an eight-headed-octopus-man-on-stilts-with-a-razor-blade might mosey up behind you while you’re trying to tweet something hilarious on your iPhone. Those sort of WTF moments are few and far between in zombie-land. I’m personally on high alert everywhere I go at Horror Nights and I’m expecting everyone and everything to lunge at me. So I’m not easily frightened. And if you follow this website, you already know I’m hella alpha, so it should come as no surprise that I prance through the streets like a superstar.
The scarezones basically run together and feel like more of the same the longer you’re inside the Park, but this is where the setpieces are located: At the entrance, you’ll see the truck in the picture above. “The Fall of Atlanta” is the tank scene outside Revenge of the Mummy. Next is Highway, outside Disaster, where you’ll find an abandoned school bus. Survivor’s Camp (the coolest imo) is located in front of the animal show stage near Woody Woodpecker. The Woodlands is located outside the Garden of Allah. The Farm is located near Mel’s Drive-In and then “Clear” is located on the streets of Hollywood.
Unfortunately, there is no lagoon show this year. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure is offered several times over the course of the night at the stadium that typically houses Fear Factor. Seeing the first show of the night is what I recommend. Arriving ten to fifteen minutes before the start of the show typically results in decent seats. As always, arriving earlier is better. The first show, usually scheduled around 7:45pm, occurs right as peak crowds arrive and waits at the houses reach 30+ minutes. The show provides a rare opportunity to sit down as well. For the middle shows, you may need to arrive 30 or more minutes early. Even for those of us “hip bloggers,” Bill and Ted’s is pretty raunchy, and includes a lot of skin and plenty of perverse jokes. If you like movies like Superbad and keep up with Us Weekly, then you should enjoy Bill and Ted’s. But a lot of the pop culture references are going to go over people’s heads.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute is held at the usual Beetlejuice stage. I have never seen the show myself, so I can’t comment on quality. It does tend to fill slower than Bill and Ted’s, but arriving early is always a good idea.
Food and Drink
Temporary food and drink installations are set up all over Universal. Hot dogs, chicken fingers, and chessesteak sandwiches are all common. In addition, Monsters Cafe, Mel’s Drive-In, Fast Food Boulevard (Krusty Burger, Lard Lad’s Donuts, Bumblebee Man’s Tacos etc), and Duff Brewery all remain open. A stop at Duff Brewery for a $7.25 Duff Draft is intelligent. The makeshift bars serve the same menu. $10 buys you a “Dead Walker” drink with souvenir glass. It’s basically vodka and Full Throttle energy drink. You can get a refill for $7. Draft beer is also available – 20-ounce Miller Lite for $6 and 20-ounce Yuengling for $6.50. For $3 more it’ll come in a souvenir glass. Mixed drinks are available for $7 individually or $10 for the souvie glass with $7 refills. Red or white wine is $6 a pop. Beer is the way to go here, though it can amount to a lot of consumed liquid. The mixed drinks are weak and it’s impossible to say how much, if any, real alcohol is in those Dead Walkers. $6.50 for a 20oz draft beer isn’t ridiculous in the theme park world. If you’re anywhere near Duff though, you’ll want to head in that direction as the beer is very good for the slight upcharge. $6 “blood bag” jello shots are available around the Park as well. They taste good, but don’t seem to have much alcohol in them. Unless you really want to carry around a plastic cup that lights up, I’d forgo the souvenir cup. It holds the same amount as the regular cups, so you’re not really saving money with the less expensive refills.
I have two main gripes with Horror Nights. The first is the lines. Even on the least crowded night of the year, you’re looking at three-plus-hours in line to experience the eight houses without Express Pass. Once October 4th hits, the house with the shortest wait time will hit 60 minutes and Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and others should hit 120 to 150 minutes. That’s two and a half hours in line, outside, without cover, and very little to do. For five minutes of entertainment. It can be particularly aggravating knowing that the reason you’re waiting so long is only because you didn’t fork over the $40+ for Express Pass.
My second gripe is the continuous crowd flow into the houses. Because lines are so long, people head into the houses one after the other continuously. More often than not, the people in front of you or behind you will experience the intended effects and scares while you watch or listen from behind. There is a lot of cool stuff going on in all the houses, but you could walk through Evil Dead and never experience some of the more startling effects because they’re happening in front of you. Another problem is that the paths inside the houses are narrow and well-defined. While they are officially “haunted mazes,” there is really no maze to speak of and you simply walk through the narrow path until you reach the exit. It would be neat if they could figure out a way to make the paths much wider so that it doesn’t feel like you’re traveling through an ant farm or otherwise be able to break up the crowd once they’re inside.
To experience all eight houses, you’re going to be doing some considerable waiting no matter how you go about your night. If you’re already in the Park or can enter before the start of the event, do so. Stay near Finnegan’s if you’re headed to one of the four soundstages near the entrance and Woody Woodpecker if you want to do Walking Dead or La Llorona first. There are two intelligent ways to go about your night. Neither is really rocket science. Conventional wisdom is to bypass the first few houses inside the entrance and continue up to Woody Woodpecker for Walking Dead. I disagree with that sentiment in that you can do very well hitting the houses inside the entrance so long as you’re inside the Park or near the front of the crowd entering. This is how I would plan my night:
- Be inside the Park or at the main entrance at 5pm. Prepare for the event to begin around 6pm, even with the 6:30pm opening.
- Experience Cabin in the Woods – entrance to the left of Despicable Me just inside the entrance.
- Do Evil Dead – entrance past Twister.
- Walk through American Werewolf in London – entrance at Twister.
- See Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure – Fear Factor stage.
- Do rides, walk through the scarezones, grab a bite to eat, see Rocky Horror Picture Show Trbiute etc. Lines and crowds are going to be heaviest through 10:30pm.
- Experience La Llorona – entrance is in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. Exit is near Men in Black and Afterlife.
- Walk through Afterlife: Death’s Vengeance if you have interest. Entrance is to the right of Men in Black.
- Do The Walking Dead. Exit is near Men in Black.
- See Havoc: Derailed if you have interest – entrance is at Disaster.
- Experience Resident Evil. Entrance is near Rip Ride Rockit
- If you have time, do whatever you want a second time. Waits will only get shorter as closing time approaches.
Is It Worth It?
Horror Nights is a lot of fun for the target demographic and the multi-day tickets are a terrific value if you can go two or more nights. If you can score Passholder or Florida Resident tickets, the $40/person or so you’ll pay is well worth the cost. If you can go on a less crowded night (when Express Pass is cheaper), you’ll be able to pack a lot into your night if you plan well. If you’re going on a weekend or another peak night and don’t want to pay for Express Pass, you’re in for some serious waits between 7:30pm and 11pm. Crowds at opening and at the end of the night are lower. But the atmosphere is completely different from other theme park events, fueled by a crowd that typically likes to party and doesn’t mind some obscene jokes with a little blood and guts mixed in. If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend taking part if you can swing a less crowded night. But those peak nights really are that crowded.