It’s been a longtime dream of mine to attend Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando and this year, it finally came true. I’ve been hyping it up in my mind for so long that I knew I was probably going to be disappointed, but I’m happy to report it was everything a Halloween/scary movie/haunted house fan could ever ask for.
This year, there are 10 themed houses and five scare zones (these are sections of the park where scare-actors roam a themed section of the street). Every inch of the park gets transformed into a Halloween wonderland, with decorations, fog, monsters, and spooky music everywhere you turn.
Before I get into breaking down the houses and zones, I’ll first mention that for those who are easily scared, you’ll be totally fine. Unlike most haunted houses, where you are let into the house by groups, here you walk through in a long queue so there are always people in front of you and behind you. This doesn’t cheapen the scares by any means, but it certainly puts the mind at ease knowing you aren’t alone.
I will also note that these houses are absolute masterpieces. The amount of work that went into each and every house is staggering, and I applaud the designers. All right, let’s break it down.
With the popularity of the show, obviously this is the main attraction of this year’s Horror Nights and rightly so. It is terrifying. I never found the demi-gorgons that scary in the show, but up close and in your face they are downright nightmare-inducing. This house is definitely worth the possible two-hour wait.
Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
If there is a house that caused me the most anxiety it’s this one. It’s loud, dark, seizure-inducing, and extremely loud. The zombies in this house were so well hidden and got me every time—I was actually wishing for it to be over as my heart couldn’t take one more jump-scare.
This house is stunning. You enter just as the demons have awakened beneath the house and have infested it. You walk through all the later scenes of the movie, through the ghostly realm, and you even encounter that damned clown not just once but multiple times. There is also some extremely impressive puppetry that’ll have you questioning whether you did indeed enter a truly haunted house.
Seeds of Extinction
I think the reason I liked this house so much was because my expectations were so low. I mean, what’s so scary about plants? A lot, apparently. This house explores the aftermath of a world wiped out by a meteor and where plants reign supreme. What’s scary about this house is that it’s so dimly lit and the creatures are so well-camouflaged that I never saw a single monster coming.
While none of the houses are bad, per se, there were two that weren’t my favorite, just because they weren’t particularly frightening. Well-designed yes, but the scares were few, and the gore was high.
Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
In this house, you encounter what happens when the Wicked Witch of the West curses all the fairy-tale creatures. There are some demented-looking bears and monkeys, impressive set designs, and a broken Humpty Dumpty cooking in a pot, but otherwise it’s just gruesome and loud.
The Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces
This house is a look into a rusted carnival graveyard where carny workers get in your face. This one was quite bloody and gruesome, and it even features a section where two lovers, wearing masks made of skin, make out. It was a bit much for me.
Trick ’r Treat
The Horrors of Blumhouse
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Revenge of Chucky
This zone is more funny than scary, with an interactive Chucky on a stage hurling insults at the audience. You’ll also find a creepy ballerina, a demonic Cabbage Patch doll, and monkeys in a barrel.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
In this zone, you’ll find the most demented-looking clowns this side of the Milky Way who wander around and stare you down. One of the best parts about this zone was discovering that when popped, the bubbles floating around collapse into a cloud of smoke. No judgment, but I spent a good five minutes just popping the bubbles.
This is the first zone you walk through as you enter, and it certainly gets you ready for a fun night ahead. There are teasers here from some of the houses as well as creatures lurking and ready to jump out at you.
This zone was my favorite. There are pumpkins everywhere, with a good majority up in the trees creating a Halloween heaven, but keep your eyes around you because there’s half-human, half-pumpkin abominations waiting to scare you.
Vamp ’85: New Year’s Eve
This zone is fun because every 30 minutes the ball drops, and it’s a celebration. Wandering around you are the likes of a vampire Michael Jackson and more ’80s icons as they play Michael’s greatest hits.
Here are the dates for Halloween Horror Nights:
- September 14–16, 19–23, 26, 28–30
- October 3–7, 10–14, 17–21, 24–28, 31
- November 1–3
Undercovertourist.com has a listing of the best and worst nights to go. And trust us, if you go on what is considered a “crowded night,” you’ll be waiting upward of two hours to go through just one house. Here are their recommendations:
Least crowded days
September: 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 26
October: 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18
Moderately crowded days
September: 14, 21, 22, 30
October: 5, 7, 14, 24
November: 2, 3
Most crowded days
September: 28, 29
October: 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31
Spring for Stay and Scream: This allows you to get into the houses up to an hour before everyone else. How this works is you need to buy a ticket for the day to Universal Studios, and when the park closes at 5 p.m. you’ll be put in a holding area inside the park. This is an excellent time to get some food or drinks before your crazy night begins. Around 5:30 p.m. they release you, and you’re able to get in line for the Stranger Things house and only wait 30 minutes as opposed to the 135 minutes the wait time grew to once the rest of the crowd was let in.
Don’t listen to naysayers; you will be able to see all 10 houses if you plan it right: Every single web guide told me that it would be impossible to visit all 10 houses, even on the slow nights and then told me to buy the Express Passes. Now I’m wondering if Universal Studios is paying them to say that. It was fairly busy the night I went, and yet I still got to all 10 houses, saw the Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk show, visited all five scare zones multiple times, and even shot some aliens on Men in Black: Alien Attack. However, if you’re attending on what’s considered to be a very busy night, then yeah, you may be screwed into buying the Express Pass.
Stay hydrated: I highly recommend buying the refillable Halloween Horror Nights cup. It’s $16, which seems steep, but you’ll be able to fill it with water, or keep that Coca-Cola caffeine jolt going the whole night.
Be prepared to walk: If you go to Universal Studios during the day and attend Horror Nights in the evening, just be sure to take it easy during the day. I walked for 14 hours straight the day I went, and by the time I left at 1 a.m., I was legitimately limping. The houses are spread all over the park, so just mentally prepare yourself.
Leave time to see the show: This may be the last thing on your mind when you think about Horror Nights, but trust me, the Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk show is loads of fun. The stunts and acrobatics are jaw-dropping, and the music and performers are high energy. Also, it’s an excellent excuse to sit your ass down for 22 minutes.
Try the special food and drinks: While pricey, of course, there are some really cool specialized drinks and food that only come out for Halloween Horror Nights … like pizza fries. Great, now I’m hungry.
For tickets, visit orlando.halloweenhorrornights.com/site/.
Photos courtesy of Universal Orlando Resorts.