A Parent's Guide to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando
Octavian Cantilli/Universal Orlando Resort/Getty Images

Do your kids love horror movies, haunted hourses, and Halloween? Then they would love Halloween Horror Nights, which draws over half a million visitors to Universal Orlando each fall and is the nation's premier Halloween event.

While this event is definitely not for young kids, the predominantly PG-13 event is a ton of fun for teens, young adults, and grownups of all ages. A few years ago, my teenage daughter and I had a blast at HHN. While we did see a few preteen kids at the event, they were few and far between.

Here's a quick primer on how to get the most out of this blockbuster event.

When and where does Halloween Horror Nights happen?

Dates for 2017: Select nights Sept. 15-Nov 4, 2017

The event takes place over several weeks leading up to Halloween at Universal Studios Florida, one of two theme parks at Universal Orlando. (Universal's second Orlando park, Islands of Adventure, is open as usual.) This is an evening-only event that requires a special ticket that can be purchased separately or added on to a regular daytime ticket.

There's a separate Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Not for little kids

The event offers a wide spectrum of scariness, ranging from spooky fun to sheer slasher terror. As night falls at Universal Studios Florida, eerie music is piped in, fog machines are turned on, and artfully placed spotlights create lots of shadowy areas. As you walk around the park, you encounter scare zones filled with costumed actors playing every sort of horror character, from classic monsters to deranged asylum patients and chainsaw-wielding, maniacal clowns.

But here's the thing: They're actors. It's all in good fun. The actors can (and do) creep up next to you or try to jump scare you, but they won't touch you and all the weapons are fake. 

Having said that, the themed haunted houses are significantly more frightening. Set up like mazes, these dark houses are themed to some of the biggest R-rated horror franchises ("Friday the 13th," "Nightmare on Elm Street," "The Purge," "Scarecrow," and more) and have tons of twists, turns, and places for actors to hide. 

Halloween Horror Nights by the numbers

  • 43,004 souls collected for the Festival of the Deadliest
  • 425 gallons of blood (don’t worry, it’s fake!)
  • 350 –hand-carved pumpkins in the Central Park scare zone
  • 300 strobe lights throughout the event
  • 87 fog machines adding that creepy atmosphere
  • 74 make-up artists transforming our scareactors each night
  • 60 chainsaws revving
  • 40 murderous clowns with chainsaws
  • 30 organs throughout Halloween Horror Nights
  • 16 stilt walker scareactors scaring guests in both scare zones and houses!
  • 15 minutes on average to apply each scareactor’s make-up
  • 5 minutes to get each scareactor into costume

How to get more out of the night

Go Sunday-Thursday. The crowds are bigger and lines are longer on weekends. Ticket prices are highest on Saturday nights.

Go in September or early October. Ticket prices are set according to demand, and rise in the last few weeks of October in the runup to Halloween.

Add a Universal Express pass. It costs more (okay, significantly more) but this pass let's you skip the regular lines at the houses (which get reeaaaallly long) so you'll spend less time waiting and more time having fun.

Tips for scaredy-cats

Go early. HHN opens at dusk. As the night goes on and the sky darkens, the shadows seem more ominous and the actors more emboldened.

Look 'em in the eye. The actors love to get a reaction. I am a sucker for jump scares and tended to look warily around me as we walked throught the park. As a result, I was the perfect mark and got targeted quite a bit. Meanwhile, my daughter had a big smile on her face the whole time. She would say hello to the actors and was largely left alone.

Choose houses wisely. The houses range from very scary to flat-out terrifying. While some of the themes are PG-13, most of the houses are modeled on R-rated movies. We all have something that scares the daylights out of us—slashers, ghosts, clowns, zombies, or whatever. If you're terrified by "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Friday the 13th," steer clear of the Freddy vs. Jason house. A good rule of thumb: If you love the film, you can probably handle the house.

My daughter and I are huge "Walking Dead" fans. Ironically, we found that particular house to be less scary than some others, since we were familiar with the story arc and busy paying attention to all the creative details. Yes, we got spooked by actors hiding behind corners and lurking in shadows, but we also appreciated how cool it was that the maze took us through events from the previous season of the show.

Go on a ride. A handful of rides and attractions (Rip Ride Rockit, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Transformers: The Ride 3D, The Simpsons Ride, and Revenge of the Mummy) were open during the event. When you need a break from the scary stuff, go ride a coaster.

Repeat the same house twice. Did you survive a house? The second time through, you'll know where the actors are lurking and can focus on the creative details. 

Take an RIP Tour. Love the idea of haunted houses but scared of the dark? The daytime Behind the Screams Tours give you a lights-on look into how Universal’s Orlando’s Art & Design team transforms the biggest names in horror into haunted houses. The events are scareactor-free, so you don't have to worry about jump scares. And, unlike in the dark houses, you are allowed to take photos in the daytime tour.

Visited: September 2015

Disclaimer: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.