While it still feels like summer in Florida, visitors to Orlando may feel an unsettling chill in the air as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights opens once again for the 2013 Halloween season.
The Captivation Media team will be there opening night (Friday, Sept. 20th) for a weekend of frightful fun at its annual mini corporate retreat.
Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is Universal Orlando‚Äôs annual Halloween event.¬† HHN is also held at Universal Studios Hollywood and at Universal Studios Singapore.¬† The event features haunted attractions, scare zones, live entertainment and plenty of spooky atmosphere with low lighting and eerie music.¬† The theme park is still open to the general public during the day, then reopens under a separate HHN admission ticket in the evening.¬† If you love Halloween, then HHN is something you should check out at least once in your lifetime.
For its designers and planners, Halloween Horror Nights is a year-round job.¬† Work on the 2014 event starts as soon as this year‚Äôs season ends.¬† The themes and names of the haunted houses are kept closely-guarded secrets until late summer.
This is Universal Orlando‚Äôs 23rd year producing Halloween Horror Nights. ¬†¬†Universal Orlando‚Äôs HHN began in 1991 under the title of ‚ÄúFright Nights‚ÄĚ.¬† It was renamed Halloween Horror Nights in 1992.¬† HHN is a huge revenue maker for the theme park.¬† It has helped make Universal Orlando into a vacation destination that rivals Disney World, located just a few miles away.
Universal got its idea to start a Halloween event from Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California.¬† Knott’s ‘Scary’ Farm’s Haunt has been scaring patrons since 1972.¬† And in 2000, Universal’s Tampa rival, BuschGardens, debuted with Howl-O-Scream, another theme park Halloween event.
Universal touts HHN as the premiere Halloween event with large crowds every night to help support that claim.¬† Halloween Horror Nights has grown considerably over the years.¬† When it began in 1991, the event was for three days with only one haunted house.¬† Now, Halloween Horror Nights begins in late September, has eight haunted houses and extends for 27 days.
One of the reasons HHN remains so popular is that every year it reinvents itself with new themes and all new haunted houses.¬† This year, HHN continues its recent trend toward movie themes with houses inspired by the films, Resident Evil, American Werewolf in London, Cabin in the Woods & Evil Dead, along with the TV series, The Walking Dead.
One house you won’t see this year is a very elaborate Angels/Demons attraction that, for some inexplicable reason, was scrapped late in development.
Here‚Äôs a list of this year’s haunted houses, scare zones, rides and other fun things to do, along with tips, tricks and advice on surviving the event.
There are eight all new haunted houses open this year.¬† Each is a walk-through attraction with startles and scares around every twist and turn.¬† Many of these are housed inside Universal‚Äôs giant sound stages.¬† The attractions are spread throughout the park and are generally well marked with signs.¬† The event also has its own map that‚Äôs given out to each patron, so it‚Äôs easy to find a desired house.
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven
This is the second straight year that HHN will host a Walking Dead house.¬† Last year, The Walking Dead was heavily promoted by Universal but the general consensus was that the house was a disappointment.¬† Judging from comments from fans on their Facebook page, not everyone is excited about The Walking Dead returning so quickly.¬† Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson and put more time and effort into this year’s house.¬† However, the sole reason for Universal bringing Walking Dead back this year was because the attraction helped increase ticket sales last year.¬† Even their own employees were angered by this decision.¬† Uh-oh…
UPDATE: ¬†The Walking Dead house is better this year, although still not as intense or scary as Universal’s hype. ¬†Still, it’s enjoyable with many of the scenes being instantly recognizable to fans of the TV series. ¬†Worth seeing.
Resident Evil: Escape from Raccoon City
We’re not sure if this house will be based on the game or the movies, but if Raccoon City is done right, there’s certainly enough material to draw upon to make this attraction interesting and exciting. The promo video for this attraction hints at possibilities but it’s still difficult to know what to expect.¬† Let’s hope it’s better than last ¬†year’s game/movie rendition of Silent Hill.
UPDATE: ¬†Unfortunately, Resident Evil doesn’t cut it. ¬†Fans of the game/movies might enjoy some of the recognizable elements, but there didn’t seem to be enough scares or actors and the story was disjointed. ¬†A disappointing house that had so much unused potential.
Depending on the actors and the level of make-up FX, this has the possibility of being a fun house.¬† The movie series has a big following and the ad promises gruesome Deadites trying to possess your soul.¬† Here’s hoping they deliver on their promise.
UPDATE: ¬†The Evil Dead was one of the better houses this year. ¬†Well themed with some nice, creepy touches. ¬†If you’re a fan of the original Evil Dead movies or the remake, you’ll enjot the attention to detail. ¬†One head scratcher was the entrance way just after entering the building, just a big black curtain and a lot of dead (no pun intended) space. ¬†Still it’s one that you want to make sure you visit.
The Cabin in the Woods
Love it or hate it, Cabin in the Woods was a very different type of horror movie.¬† There’s a ton of potential in this attraction with no shortage of creature and make-up inspiration that Universal’s creative team has hopefully tapped into.
UPDATE: ¬†The Cabin in the Woods was one of the better houses this year. ¬†Although not scary, it was fun and well designed with lots of creatures throughout. ¬†More blood and gore than most houses too, which was a nice touch. ¬†If you’re at HHN for only one night, don’t miss this one.
An American Werewolf in London
For many horror fans, this ranks as one of their favorite werewolf movies and, despite being over 30 years old, the movie still holds its own in repeated viewings.¬† The ads tell us we’ll experience the Slaughtered Lamb pub, the wolf attack on the moors and the chaos of Piccadilly Circus.¬† Set photos also show the London subway.¬† We’re not sure if this adds up to a scary attraction or not, but this attraction has the potential to be loaded with visuals.
UPDATE: ¬†One our top three best houses this year (Cabin in the Woods and La Llorona being the other two). ¬†Again, not really scary, but if you are a fan of the movie, it’s a nice stroll down memory lane with realistic sets that thread the story together nicely. ¬†Not all of the scares are timed well though. ¬†We went through four times and still missed a number of scares that happened just before us or after we had passed.
Urban Legends: La Llorona
Based on an old Mexican legend of a beautiful woman who drowns herself in a lake after being rejected by her lover,¬† La Llorona was a scare zone at last year’s HHN Hollywood.¬† Now Orlando takes over and turns this concept into a haunted house.¬† The set design looks very promising and hopefully it will be better received in Orlando than last year’s Hollywood hand-me-down haunted house, Alice Cooper (which was a disaster).
UPDATE: ¬†This house turned out to be a sleeper and might have been our overall favorite. ¬†It has a nice, creepy atmosphere that is usually missing from HHN’s haunts. ¬†Well themed and well stocked with actors. ¬†One piece of advice, since this one is in one of Universal’s metal tents, the house is much darker and creepier at night.
This attraction’s storyline centers on a militaristic train that’s transporting genetically engineered super-soldiers called “Dogs of War”.¬† There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information on this house, which could be good or bad.¬† Generally, there’s always one sleeper house every year that’s better than the heavily promoted attractions.¬† Could this be the one?
UPDATE: ¬†No, this definitely wasn’t a sleeper. ¬†Not sure what they were thinking, but a bunch of super-soldiers aren’t scary – they’re just annoying. ¬†This wasn’t worth the time we spent in line for it. ¬†If you have to decide between houses to see, this is one to miss.
After Life: Death’s Vengeance
The storyline on this attraction focuses on a serial killer who gets the electric chair and now his victims are going to get their revenge in the afterlife.¬† This is another house that has the possibility of being a sleeper, but the ad shows an electric chair.¬† Unless Universal has a trick up their sleeve, we’ve already seen enough electric chair gags in other haunted houses to last us a lifetime.¬† We hope HHN shocks us (instead of the serial killer) and does something unique and creative instead.
UPDATE: ¬†The house was pretty much what we thought, but it was in 3D. ¬†Lately, HHN’s attempts at 3D have been poor. ¬†While the actual 3D effects are much better than they have been, the house itself is rather boring. ¬†Worth the trip through only if the line is short, or if you’ve never been through a 3D house before.
Scare Zones are designated exterior walkway areas of Universal Studios that are themed for HHN, usually with fog effects and creatures lurking about to scare pedestrians.¬† This year, in an effort to cash in its success, all of the scare zones are based on The Walking Dead.¬† Can they really make Universal Studios look like the locations in Georgia, or is their creative team beating this concept to death (no pun intended)?¬† We shall see very soon.
The Fall of Atlanta
The city is decimated and full of walkers, along with sandbag barriers, rotting corpses and an abandoned tank.
This scare zone promises terror lurking in a woods-like setting, along with scenes and characters from all three seasons of the hit TV series.
This scare zone is designed to be a derelict campsite, complete with more roaming walkers.¬† The centerpiece is a broken down RV.
HHN says this area will recreate the smoldering remains of the burnt farm.¬† Of course, expect the undead not to be far away.
HHN’s write-up for this scare zone says “Turn around and live – proceed and face your fate.¬† Stick together as you head down this street, because the spiked barriers are there for a reason.¬† If you refuse to head the spray-painted warnings, you’re in for a terrifying walk that will feel like an eternity.”¬† Roughly translated… more people in zombie masks.
UPDATE: ¬†Okay, the zombie overload experiment didn’t really work. ¬†Over-saturating the park with another Walking Dead house and the entire scare zones was overkill. ¬†Zombies walking down the street aren’t that scary anyway, but when they’re the only scare actors out on the street, it got boring real fast. ¬†In fact, the street scenes seemed more lifeless and with less atmosphere than ever before. ¬†In many ways, scare zones set the stage for the overall excitement of the event, so this year if felt like something was missing. ¬†Disappointing.
Tired of standing in line? ¬†HHN’s entertainment lineup gives you a great opportunity to grab a cold drink and relax for 15 to 30 minutes before jumping back into the thrills.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
A HHN staple since 1992, this is the 20th anniversary of the show that parodies pop culture and celebrities.¬† This show loosely resembles the long running Hangman show at Knott‚Äôs Scary Farm.
Unfortunately, this show has been digressing for a number of years.¬† The show used to be hilarious and was not to be missed during HHN.¬† Now, the writers seem bored and uninspired with the material.¬† You won‚Äôt be disappointed if you go in thinking it‚Äôs just 20 minutes to sit down and rest your feet.
UPDATE: ¬†While still not as good as their heyday, Bill & Ted did show signs of life this year. ¬†Writing seemed more inventive this year and the humor was crisper than in the past few years. ¬†The writing didn’t seem as forced either. ¬†Still not a can’t-miss experience, but it is a nice diversion when you want to get off your feet for awhile.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute
The show returns to HHN Orlando after running for three years from 2007 to 2009.¬† This condensed version of the movie highlights some of the best moments and songs of the cult classic.¬† Many people were sad to see Rocky leave, but after several years of other performances (including last year’s awful 20 Penny Circus) HHN gave in to their fans’ antici… pation.
UPDATE: ¬†It was good to see Rocky Horror back again. ¬†If you like the film experience, you’ll enjoy the tribute show. ¬†If you’ve never seen the movie, you still might enjoy the musical numbers and the high energy.
Universal Orlando is famous for their mix of classic and high-tech rides.¬† Not every ride at Universal Studios is open during HHN, but the ones listed below should be operational during this year’s event.
If you live in the Orlando area or plan to visit Universal Studios during normal hours of operation, we recommend skipping most of the rides in favor of touring the haunted houses first.
UPDATE: ¬†The Despicable Me attraction was also open.
This ride opened earlier this year, so it’s the first time it will be functional for HHN.¬† The system and design are almost identical to that of the Spider-Man ride next door at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, but the technology and visuals are better with Transformers.¬† If you’re visiting Universal during the day, you may want to try to ride it then, rather than at HHN.¬† Because it’s Universal’s newest ride, the lines might be quite long during the event.
UPDATE: ¬†From what we saw, the wait time never went over 30 minutes, due to the popularity of the haunted houses.
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Orlando‚Äôs tallest roller coaster also has the world‚Äôs first non-inverting loop.¬† This innovative coaster allows you to pick your music to listen to as you ride.¬† The ride starts by pulling you straight up for 17 stories before sending you on a twisting, turning journey.¬† It‚Äôs not quite as thrilling or exciting as some other coasters in the area, but it‚Äôs still fun enough for thrill seekers and mild enough for those who are squeamish about extreme rides.
Plagued by technical difficulties and delays when it was originally set to open in 2009, the ride still seems to break down now and then.¬† It’s not unusual to have longer than anticipated wait times because of technical difficulties temporarily shutting down the ride.¬† Also, keep in mind, the ride is subject to close during inclement weather.
This is a fun ride to experience at night, so if you have the time, check it out.¬† Because it‚Äôs Universal‚Äôs most thrilling ride at HHN, expect long lines at HHN.
UPDATE: ¬†Lines are definitely long, with short breakdown’s through the night. ¬†The posted 30 minute wait time stretched to over an hour.
Men in Black (MIB) Alien Attack
Based on the popular movie, MIB is a video game come to life as you try to shoot as many aliens as possible and rack up scores for each hit.¬† Your vehicle travels through a city infested with aliens from outer space while you zap them with a special laser gun.¬† The ride has been popular since its debut at Universal in 2000.
The special effects, queue line and interactive experience in MIB are top notch.¬† This is an attraction you wouldn’t want to miss during your stay at Universal, but not necessarily during HHN.¬† If you have a chance to ride it during another time, we recommend doing so unless the lines are short.
The Simpsons Ride
This simulated ride features IMAX screens and motion controlled vehicles that put you in the animated action.¬† All of the beloved Simpsons characters are here, voiced by the original actors, and the ride is fun, action-packed and often hilarious.
The queue area features multiple screens with many of the characters getting into the act.¬† Before you board, there‚Äôs a safety film hosted by none other than Itchy & Scratchy.¬† One of the best simulated theme park rides in Orlando or anywhere else.¬† Not to be missed during your time at Universal Studios.
The Simpson‚Äôs Ride opened in 2008 and replaced the popular Back to the Future attraction, which was also a simulated ride.¬† In fact, The Simpson‚Äôs Ride uses virtually the exact same system and design as its predecessor.
Revenge of the Mummy
This is an indoor roller coaster combining the fun of a haunted attraction with the experience of being immersed in the movie (actually, the ride is more fun than the movie it was based on).¬† While the actual coaster part of the attraction is short and rather tame, the special effects and set design are top notch and worth checking out.
Like MIB and The Simpson‚Äôs Ride, the queue line is completely themed and should be experienced even if the ride was not part of the attraction.¬† This is one of those rides that adds to the ambience of Halloween Horror Nights, so we make it part of our experience every year.
Revenge of the Mummy is in the same area that used to occupy the popular Kongfrontation attraction.¬† There is an ode to the previous occupant in the treasure room.¬† Look for a golden statue of King Kong on the left side.
Tips on Surviving HHN
- The lines for haunted houses get long, especially on Friday and Saturday nights and as you get closer to October 31st.¬† Wait times for a haunted house can be two hours on We recommend being at the park early and waiting for the gates to open.¬† The front gates often open early for HHN, sometimes as much as 30 minutes, so be ready and make the most of that time. ¬†This year, the event will also be open on November 1st and 2nd, so crowds might be thinner if you wait till after Halloween.
UPDATE:¬† Be prepared for long lines.¬† Weekends in September are usually less crowded, but this year the crowds have been huge.
- Visit the haunted houses early, before the crowds arrive.¬† You can often see just as many at the end of the night as well.¬† Many people start to wear out as the night goes on, so the lines thin out near closing time.¬† We usually can visit three to five houses plus a couple of rides during the hour before closing.
UPDATE:¬† Universal has pulled a fast one and switched the normal time of 2am to midnight for the first few weeks, meaning the lines are long all the way up to closing time.
- Consider skipping the first few haunted houses you encounter and head for the back of the park.¬† Most people will stop at the first attractions they come across, creating long lines that repeat into the next haunted house.¬† By breaking that pattern, starting with houses near the back and continuing counter clockwise, you can experience more with fewer lines during the first couple of hours.
UPDATE:¬† This is still our advice.¬† The lines get long quickly so get all the houses in that you are able to as early as possible.
- The lines for the haunted houses are usually longest during the middle part of the night.¬† That‚Äôs a good time to take a break, check out a couple of rides, get something to eat or take in the Rocky Horror Tribute or the Bill & Ted show.
- Wear comfortable shoes!¬† You will be walking a lot and waiting in long, so you‚Äôll be on your feet for most of the seven-eight hours you‚Äôre at HHN.
UPDATE:¬† One member of our party wore a FitBit, a device that counts steps and accurately records how many miles are walked.¬† It showed we walked 15 miles at HHN on Saturday night.
- Yes, it’s expensive, but consider purchasing the ExpressPass if you go on weekends in October.¬† It’s probably the only way to ensure you can get through all the attractions in one night.
UPDATE:¬† It’s still your best bet to avoid the long lines, but be aware – even the Express line gets backed up too.
- Near the back of the park, you’ll see construction going on for the new Harry Potter expansion which is scheduled to open in 2014. ¬†The new section looks even larger than the current Wizardry World of Harry Potter located in Islands of Adventure.
What HHN Orlando Does Right
- Even if you are a hardcore Halloweenaholic, there’s something for everyone at HHN; haunted houses, shows, rides and lots of fun atmosphere. ¬†No huge event like this is perfect, and there are things we’d like to see improved upon, but we always have a good time.¬† Whether you’re on a date or go with a group of people, it’s a great way to get a Halloween fix, especially earlier in the season when other haunted attractions aren’t open yet.
- This is an adults oriented event.¬† Universal Studios suggests HHN is not recommended for anyone under the age of 12.¬† That‚Äôs good news for some people who are tired of getting their feet run over by a herd of strollers, like in other amusement parks.
- HHN pours on the atmosphere.¬† Dark streets, fog and eerie music are ¬†everywhere.¬† There are lots of photo opportunities around the park.
- It’s fun just sitting down and watch people who scare easily.¬† Almost everywhere you look, you can spot someone¬† (not just females either) screaming and running away from actors who appear suddenly out of the darkness.
- Every year HHN completely reinvents itself with all new haunted houses (well, except for bringing The Walking Dead back this year) and themed scare zones.¬† It keeps people coming back year after year with the promise of a whole new experience.
What HHN Orlando Needs to Improve Upon
- While the haunted houses are fun, they are not as scary or extreme as many stand-alone houses across the country.¬† This is primarily because of the high volume of patrons they must push through each hour.¬† Because Universal allows the park to get extremely overcrowded, people are herded in like cattle.¬† There‚Äôs a constant line stretching through the houses, so scares are hit and miss.
- This is one of our biggest complaints.¬† HHN posts a non-acting employee/guard around every turn in their haunted houses to show you the way or yell at you if they think you‚Äôre slowing down to look at the set design and props.¬† It serves as a constant reminder that you are in a fabricated environment and lessens the suspense.¬† For a lot of these employees, it’s their one chance at having a little bit of power and it can go to their head.
UPDATE:¬† This year, the non-acting employees inside the houses are even more obnoxious than ever before.¬† We had numerous experiences where these people were trying to joke with us or yell at us to hurry up – even though we were right up against the person in front of us.¬† It completely ruins the haunted house experience and remains the #1 thing HHN must change.
- Being loyal HHN fans, we’ve noticed less creativity than there used to be with the event.¬† Some of the decisions they’ve made recently seem to be uninspired and leave the fans scratching their heads.¬† We understand that it’s a business, and the crowds are larger than ever, but the loyal fan base that made HHN the premiere Halloween event seems to be grumbling louder now.¬† Universal would be wise to listen.
- After 23 years, Universal still does a poor job at crowd control during HHN.¬† Some of the queue lines start halfway across the park.¬† Sections of Universal are sometimes blocked off for no reason and create logjams that test everyone‚Äôs patience.¬† Cutting in line has always been a problem and continues to be.¬† We’ve witnessed numerous occasions where people cut in line and employees turn their back and walk away so they won’t get involved in a confrontation.
UPDATE:¬† Unfortunately, no change.¬† In fact, we saw less employees around the line ‘holding pens’ than usual.
- Speaking of lines, you will often be waiting in back areas and along service roads, snaking back and forth through a sea of crammed together people – with nothing to look at and nothing to do.¬† It can make for a long, boring wait for a 3-5 minute walk-through of a haunted house. You would think Universal would take pity on the patrons who have paid hefty ticket prices to go to their event and provide some sort of entertainment value while waiting in endless lines.¬† Also, it’s usually quite hot in Orlando during September and October, so be prepared to get sweaty and occasionally catch a whiff of other people’s scent while you wait in line.
- You can also expect some drunken patrons, some which can get quite obnoxious.¬† Also, expect the restroom facilities to get disgusting during the event and stay that way all night ‚Äď something you wouldn’t ever find at the other theme parks.
Universal & HHN Trivia
- When Universal began developing Universal Studios Orlando, they asked Paramount to be a partner.¬† Michael Eisner was in charge of Paramount at the time.¬† He passed on the project but soon became the CEO of Disney and quickly launched Disney-MGM Studios in order to become the first movie theme park in Orlando.
- Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990, but the first incarnation of the Universal Studios theme park started with a backstage tour of the Hollywood Universal lot in 1962.
- Universal Studios’ opening in Orlando didn’t go so well at first when it opened in 1990.¬† Mechanical difficulties with the rides, coupled with long lines angered many of the guests.¬† The officials at Universal had to overcome negative word of mouth by handing out free tickets as disgusted patrons left the park.¬† It took time, but eventually Universal won over fans and became serious competition to Disney in Central Florida’s amusement park scene.Universal’s Islands of Adventure, a completely separate theme park, opened in 1999.¬† The site was originally planned as a huge shopping mall that would be named Galleria Orlando.
- From 1991 to 2001, HHN resided in Universal Studios.¬† It moved next door to Universal‚Äôs Islands of Adventure in 2002.¬† In 2004, HHN took over both parks.¬† Then, in 2006, HHN came back solely to Universal Studios where it has been since.¬† However, there is talk of the Halloween event taking over both parks again in the near future.
- When HHN was at Islands of Adventure, Seuss Landing could not be turned into a haunted zone because the widow of Dr. Seuss, Audrey Geisel, would not grant permission.
- In 2001, Universal had to make some last minute revisions to their HHN event after the 9/11 attacks.¬† The new mascot was supposed to be Jack the Clown’s younger brother, Eddie, who was insanely jealous of Jack.¬† The story centered around the two of them using terrorist tactics against each other in a fierce clown gang war on the streets of New York.¬† The idea was canned with less than three weeks to go and Jack the Clown became the mascot.
- Soundstage 23, next to Rip Ride Rockit, has housed the most haunted attractions at HHN through the years (17).
We hope you enjoy this year’s Halloween Horror Nights experience and that you have found the information we’ve shared helpful to surviving another gruesome season of haunts! ¬†We will post updates after we have experienced the horrors for ourselves!