Do you love horror movies, haunted houses, and Halloween? Then you would go bonkers over Halloween Horror Nights, which draws huge crowds to Universal Orlando each fall. In conjunction with the West Coast version of Halloween Horror Nights at sister park, Universal Studios Hollywood, the two presentations are considered by many to be the nation’s premier Halloween events.
You would go bonkers over Halloween Horror Nights. But you won't be able to go in 2020. That's because for the first time in the event’s history, it has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. What would have been the 30th annual event will have to wait until the COVID coast is clear–hopefully in September 2021.
That doesn't mean Universal Orlando is totally ignoring Halloween in 2020. The resort is open and is welcoming guests to its three parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and the water park, Volcano Bay. The Studios park is presenting the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store. In addition to offering cool HHN-themed stuff to purchase and wacky items to eat (Vegan Brownie Skulls anyone?), the store also features props and displays from past Horror Nights events.
Looking Ahead: Who Should Go, When and Where It is Held
When Halloween Horror Nights does return (again, presumably in 2021), we’ve got the lowdown on what you can expect. The houses and scare zones boast incredible attention to detail and high production value along with themes that draw heavily on popular horror films and TV shows. Crowds can be huge, and lines can be long, but there are strategies listed below to help minimize wait times. Here’s a primer on how to get the most out of the blockbuster event.
While there is no age limit, Halloween Horror Nights is not really for young kids. However, the predominantly PG-13 event is a ton of fun for teens, young adults, and grownups of all ages.
Dates: Universal has not announced dates for the 2021 event yet, but it typically begins a few days after Labor Day and runs through October 31 or early November.
The event takes place at Universal Studios Florida. (The resort has a second theme park, Islands of Adventure.) Because of its popularity, Universal has been extending the run and adding midweek dates. Halloween Horror Nights is an evening-only event that requires a separate ticket from a regular daytime pass to the park.
There are three primary components to Halloween Horror Nights:
- Walk-through houses: The houses are presented in Universal’s soundstages, repurposed attraction buildings, and inside tents set up expressly for the event. For the 2019 event, there were 10 houses.
- Scare Zones: These outdoor areas take over some of the existing lands at the park.
- Shows: Live performances and spectacles presented in the park’s outdoor theaters.
2019 Halloween Horror Nights Highlights
To give you a good sense of the event, let’s take a look at the HHN 29, which was held in 2019.
Featuring houses based on movies and TV programs that either were released in the 1980s or are about the era, Universal’s scaremeisters gave the 2019 version of Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) a retro 80s feel. Visitors were immersed in the decade after entering the park. Heading straight towards the New York area, they entered the Anarch-cade scare zone. If they were able to flee the chainsaw-wielding brutes hellbent on attacking them, they noticed cool oversized arcade machines lining the street. The 80s-style games ominously flashed “GAME OVER.”
A holdover from the previous year’s HHN, “Stranger Things” returned as one of the event’s featured houses. The all-new maze focused on the second and third seasons of the popular Netflix show, which is set in the 1980s. The meticulously crafted sets transported guests to Hawkins, Indiana and included familiar scenes such as the Starcourt Mall and the Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop. Guests needed to beware the Demodogs and other creatures that lurked throughout the maze.
Universal’s ode to the period continued with “Ghostbusters,” based on the original 1984 film. Like the movie, the house was more silly than scary. (Although, as with every HHN maze, there were still plenty of hidden “scareactors” poised to startle guests.) Many signature scenes from the classic film were re-staged and included dialogue from the original soundtrack. The house included some nifty effects that brought characters such as Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man to life. The movie’s earworm of a theme song had visitors asking, “Who you gonna call?”
Nostalgic silliness was also featured in the “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” house. The sweet smell of cotton candy wafted in the air, and slide whistles, boings, and other wacky sound effects punctuated the action. It had elements of comedy, but as with the 1988 film that inspired it, the maze also included off-kilter horror notes. Characters included Clownzilla and our favorite celestial circus reject, Tiny the Boxing Clown.
For sheer spine-tingling scares, we think nothing topped the house based on Jordan Peele‘s hit movie, “Us.” The mirror images of the Wilson Family, known as the Tethered, lurked everywhere and stealthily got up close and personal with visitors. The house was also loaded with mirrors that reflected guests as they made their way through the maze. Or were those reflections actually the Tethered versions of visitors? Hmm.
We don’t know whether there were actually 1,000 corpses strewn throughout the maze, but there were plenty of sadistic oddballs hidden throughout “House of 1000 Corpses.” Based on Rob Zombie’s demented horror film, guests entered Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters & Madmen and confronted the wacko Firefly family. The musician/filmmaker double-threat also got his own scare zone with Rob Zombie Hellbilly Deluxe. With his heavy metal anthems pulsing over loudspeakers, scenes from Zombie’s videos came to life in the park’s San Francisco area.
The Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, and other horror pioneers got their due in the “Universal Monsters” house. Each character got to shine in the spotlight and terrorize guests. Of the remaining houses, all of which the Universal team developed exclusively for HHN, we think “Yeti: Terror of the Yukon” was the best. Bigfoot-like monsters stalked guests amid the stylized setting of a remote logging camp. “Depths of Fear,” set on an underwater ship that’s about to explode, was also nicely done. Other houses included “Nightingales: Blood Pit” and “Graveyard Games.”
Among the scare zones, “Vanity Ball” was especially effective. Grotesque models strut their stuff at a fashion show. They then lerft the catwalk to scare the bejesus out of guests in the crowd. Appropriately, “Vanity Ball” was presented in the Hollywood section of the park.
For 2019, HHN added “Halloween Marathon of Mayhem,” a stirring multi-media show that combined lasers, special effects, and music with video imagery projected onto water screens and the buildings that lined the park’s lagoon. The spectacle presented scenes from Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and other properties featured in HHN. The fast-paced, grand-scale show was clever and one of the event’s highlights. The Academy of Villains troupe, which gained fame on “America’s Got Talent,” returned for a high-energy show, “Altered States,” that showcased its dance and acrobatic expertise.
Tips to Manage Wait Times and Save Money
- Consider visiting Sunday through Thursday. The crowds are bigger and lines are considerably longer on weekends. Ticket prices are lower as well during the week.
- Go in September or early October. Ticket prices are set according to demand and rise during the last few weeks of the event in the run-up to Halloween. Correspondingly, the crowds and wait times are lower in September and early October
- Add a Universal Express pass. This strategy won't save you money, but it could help you add value to your visit. It costs more (okay, significantly more), but this add-on pass let's you skip the regular lines at the houses (which can get reeaaaallly long, especially on weekend nights) so you'll spend less time waiting and more time having fun.
- Spring for an R.I.P. Tour. For the ultimate in Halloween Horror Nights pampering, tour participants join small groups, led by guides, and get immediate access to the houses, reserved seating for the shows, a pre-tour reception, and valet parking.
Tips for Scaredy-Cats
- Choose houses wisely. The houses range from very scary to plain terrifying. We all have something that scares the daylights out of us such as slashers, ghosts, snakes, clowns, or zombies. Steer clear of houses with those themes. A good rule of thumb: If you love the film or show depicted in the house and are familiar with the characters, you could probably handle the house.
- Go on a ride. Some of the rides and attractions, including Rip Ride Rockit, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Transformers: The Ride 3D, The Simpsons Ride, and Revenge of the Mummy, are open during the event. When you need a break from the scary stuff, go check them out. Because the focus of the event is on the houses, the lines for the rides tend to be minimal.
- Take a daytime tour. Love the idea of haunted houses but scared of the dark? The daytime Behind-the-Screams: Unmasking the Horror Tour offers a lights-on look at some of the houses. Because the pace is much more leisurely than the nighttime event and the lights are brighter, you could better appreciate the incredible detail lavished on the houses. The events are scareactor-free, so you wouldn't have to worry about anyone jumping out at you. And, unlike in the dark houses, you would be allowed to take photos in the daytime tour.