In Orlando the festive holiday season tends to start a little early. And with the start of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN), the spooky Halloween season has officially begun!
This year marks the 28th year of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and it includes an experience that is sure to attract some first time visitors. Universal is bringing to life Netflix’s smash show Stranger Things. You might say the hype level is an Eleven (that’s some Stranger Things humor for you).
With this year attracting more guests than ever before, you and your honey might be curious about experiencing this event together. But be warned, Orlando’s premiere Halloween event is not for the faint of heart nor those that don’t plan ahead. So read on for our guide on making the most of a date night, or should we say dare night, at Halloween Horror Nights 2018.
Note: Admission to Halloween Horror Nights is NOT included with regular park admission. You will need a separate event ticket in order to attend. Also, parking is NOT free until after 10pm, so be prepared to pay full price.
Check out the full line up
Chances are you’ve heard of some of the main attractions this year such as the Stranger Things, Halloween 4, and Poltergeist houses. These headlining houses are worthy of the buzz, but you won’t get the full experience if you overlook the incredible scare zones, shows and original concept houses. Be sure to review the full list of houses, scare zones, shows and rides in advance.
Focusing just on the houses can sometimes lead to disappointment due to the long wait times. Plan out 3-4 must see houses, including at least two original concept houses (ones that aren’t based on a movie or TV show). The original concept houses tend to have less wait times and the creative design team has more freedom with house designs.
“Get there early and go to your favorite houses first when the lines are shortest. You’ll be able to get through a couple houses and maximize your time together.” -@nicks_pix
The spooky scare zones feature intricate themes without the wait times and the enclosed space of a house. Many repeat guests cite the scare zones as their favorite part of HHN. There are five scare zones this year, and two have mini-stage shows that kick off about every 45 minutes. Vamp 85 – New Year’s Eve is a must see for any 80’s fan. The Revenge of Chucky scare zone features a mini show with Chucky the evil children’s toy himself. There is an 80’s theme to many of this year’s features thanks to the headlining Stranger Things house.
There is also an elaborate and impressive stage show featuring Academy of Villains. The Academy of Villains surprised Halloween Horror Night’s diehard fans in their debut three years ago. Hailing from the Los Angeles area, this dance group performs impressive physical feats with incredible synchronization and brings a twisted, high energy to Halloween Horror Nights. This show is a nice way to take a break from the scares and horror.
How to save time
The lines for the most popular houses can get as long as three hours, with average wait times around at least an hour or more for popular houses based on movies and TV shows. Alternatively, the original concept houses such as Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After, Seeds of Extinction, and Slaughter Sinema are full of detail and unique experiences and tend to have lower wait times.
If you have regular park admission to Universal Studios Florida for the day as well as for Halloween Horror Nights that night, you won’t be required to exit the park and come back in for HHN. You’ll just need to head to one of the holding areas. At the time of writing this guide there are four holding areas inside Universal Studios Florida. They are Finnegan’s Bar & Grill in the New York Area; near the Hello Kitty Store in the Hollywood Area; Springfield, USA; and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. For this early admission option, you must enter the park before official park closing for the day.
After about 45 minutes to an hour from park closing, the holding areas are opened up and at least one house in the immediate area will be available to experience with little to no wait. It is wise to map out the event ahead of time and determine which part of the park has one or two houses you want to see the most so you can utilize the proper holding area. You should be able to get through one house right away and then get in line for your next house with little wait time.
The alternative to early admission is the Express Pass – and it is going to cost extra. The prices range from $79.99 all the way up to $159.99. The question always is “is it worth it?” And there’s no easy answer to that. Will you get through more houses in less time? Yes. Will it eliminate all waits at all the houses completely? Not so much.
A few important notes: Express Passes do sell out on peak nights, including weekends and dates in mid to late October, so make your decision about purchasing Express Passes well in advance. If you choose to go on a peak night, some wait times can be as long as 2 hours or more for the most popular houses. An Express Pass for Halloween Horror Nights does not guarantee you won’t have to wait in line. On peak nights, the line for the Express Pass can still be up to half of the posted wait time.
“As a team member, express passes are the way to go. To give you an idea, the line for Stranger Things was longer than 90 minutes at 6pm. They have hundreds of people that do the stay and scream and get in early (they open certain houses 15 minutes early). When the event actually starts, many lines can be longer than an hour.” -@atlippold
“We went last night and always splurge and get the Express Pass. It’s double the price but so worth it. We arrived at 6:45pm and Stranger Things was already at 150 minute wait. Our wait time was 20 minutes! Definitely hit all the houses you really want to see first, then enjoy the rest. The Killer Klowns scare zone is the absolute best!!!!!!” – @mustangcaryn
If you’re able to splurge, Universal offers a special R.I.P. Tour where you’ll join fellow fans on a guided VIP tour of Halloween Horror Nights. The tour includes front of the line entry to all houses (once per house), complimentary valet parking, a special lanyard, a pre-tour reception, reserved seating at select shows and Universal Express Unlimited™ ride access (excluding houses). R.I.P. tours begin at $159.99/person and require separate event admission. If you can swing it, this is a pricey but fun way to ensure you won’t have to wait in line and will be able to see all of the houses.
VISIT ON A WEEKNIGHT
I recommend visiting on a non-peak night (such as a weeknight and in September or early October) and that you take advantage of early admission if eligible. It is also recommended that you enjoy the scare zones and shows and a ride or two to get the full value of your event ticket.
Halloween Horror Nights officially kicks off at 6pm on most nights and generally runs until 1am, so you and your honey could get your fear on for about seven hours. Take breaks, enjoy the experience, and show those scary fiends they are no match for the power of love!
Map it out
Even if you’ve been to Universal Studios before, Halloween Horror Nights is a different experience and layout. In order to maximize your time it is best to review the official Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights map. Take note of the location of your must-see houses and scarezones. The headlining Stranger Things house is near the front of the park (because it has the longest wrap around queue). If this house is not on your must-see list, congratulations, you’ve just saved yourself a ton of time! Start in the back of the park and work your way back to the front.
Fuel up on signature food & drink
Over the years the good people at Universal Orlando have learned that special events require special food and drinks. This year the food and beverage game has been taken up a notch. Most of the treats are Stranger Things-inspired so get ready for waffles galore!
The Triple Decker Extravaganza lives up to its name, comprised of three waffles with layers of whipped cream, chocolate chips, peanut butter candy pieces, and… jelly beans. Strawberry Shortcake in waffle form gives one last touch of summer as Halloween season creeps in, and Bananas Fosters waffles offer rich flavors of banana cream cheese and hazelnut spread, topped with raisins, walnuts, whipped cream and bananas foster sauce. All three of these waffle wonders are available at the San Francisco Bakery, towards back of the park.
Want something else to satisfy your sweet tooth? There’s the Waffle Ice Cream Pocket Sundae found at Louie’s Gelato Window in the New York area of the park. Strawberry ice cream is sandwiched and pressed between two chocolate chip waffles, then topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Sink your teeth into this after escaping from villainous fiends trying to sink their teeth into you.
If you want to fuel up with something more savory, try these favorites:
- Pizza Fries at at KidZone Pizza Company
- Fiery Onion Ring Burger at Mel’s Drive-In
- Chili Garlic Chicken Sandwich at Richter’s in San Francisco
Cuddling up to your honey between scares can be a fun way to bond. But there is also some benefit to going with a group or another couple, like safety in numbers and all that. Halloween Horror Nights has a bit of a party vibe. Longtime fans often gather and attend in groups. Sometimes following each other through a dark and often sensory overloaded house feels less scary when you’re part of a pack.
Talk about your comfort level
Perhaps one of you is more enthusiastic about being scared. Perhaps you’re both a little hesitant. Or maybe you’re both brave and ready to face the scare zones and dark, loud houses together. Whatever your tolerance level for scary stuff may be, it is best to get it out in the open up front. This way you’re both on the same page and prepared to be supportive of each other if needed. It is fun to push yourself and conquer your fears, but you also don’t want to end up make each other uncomfortable without realizing it. The best way to have a date night at Halloween Horror Nights is to be supportive and understanding of each other’s comfort level.
Ride some rides
Take a break from the horror to ride some rides. Some of Universal Studio’s top attractions are open during HHN. This is a great way to experience rides with very low wait times and without having to pay regular park admission.
The following six rides are open during Halloween Horror Nights:
- Transformers: The Ride 3D
- Revenge of the Mummy
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Fast & Furious Supercharged
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts)
- Men In Black Alien Attack
What are your best tips for Halloween Horror Nights? Let us know in the comments!
Feature image credit: ©2018 Universal Orlando. All Rights Reserved.
Select images used with permission from @thefloridalocal