September 16th, 2016 – Orlando, Florida: It was opening night at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando. I was attending with my daughter Katie. She’s an adult too, so have no concern that I was taking a child to an event intended mostly for adults. This was part of the family Florida vacation, so I wasn’t really attending as press. These are just my views as a regular Joe, and I have to say that more of the press really needs to attend these events in a non-press capacity. At least 3 times during the evening, as I was waiting to get into a particular house, we were stopped to allow a cadre of 30 or so members of the press to go in before us. So we got to experience all of the line waiting and figuring out where everything is on our own. Lousy press.
I did have some help though. We had purchased Express Passes for the event, in addition to the regular admittance fee. All in all it cost us about three-hundred bucks for my daughter and I to visit Halloween Horror Nights.
first off, we were running late, and didn’t arrive at the park until about 9 pm. This was a big mistake, as it turned out that there was no way we would be able to see every haunted attraction that evening, even with the express passes. What surprised me was that even though we were arriving several hours after the event began, it still took us fifteen minutes to get through the entrance to pay for parking. At least it was much cheaper than the regular parking fee. Only $6 for regular parking and $10 for preferred if I remember correctly.
Once we finally entered the park, I was impressed. Everything is decked out for Halloween. The entire park is darker and spooky, with many decorations and music blaring through the streets. While many of the rides were open that evening, hardly anyone was riding the rides. It was all about the haunted houses.
The first we ran into, and I had to ask because we were not given any kind of guide map for the locations of the houses, was American Horror Story. This was the one house I was most anxious to see as I’m a big fan of the show. The wait time was showing 90 minutes, but with our Express Passes we assumed that it would be much shorter. It’s a bit deceiving, because the Express line came all the way to the ropes, while the regular line had everyone walking briskly down an empty line and disappearing into the distance. Once we rounded the corner however, we saw that the regular line wound around and around, seemingly endlessly. We were very thankful not to be in that line.
Even with our Express Passes though, it still took us 40 minutes to get into the attraction. It was then that I realized there was no way we were going to see everything. The park was closing at 1 AM that night, and it was already after 10 with only one house under our belt.
The American Horror Story attraction was well worth it in my opinion. Many very thematic scenes, great makeup, and some good scares. This was rated number 2 haunted house for the evening by me. (Spoiler Alert!) My particular favorite was the bed scene with the mutated, disfigured, dead guy popping out of the bed to attack passersby, before disappearing back into the bed completely.
One basic theme of the evening, and who knows it might be this way at every haunted attraction in the country, is that you are so close to the people in front of you that you rarely get surprise scared. You see everything happen in front of you, so it isn’t very scary by the time you get there. They did get me a few times throughout the night though.
Next up was Ghost Town. We were going to go into Exorcist, but the line was even longer than AHS, so I thought I would try to save that one for later in the night and do some of the shorter line houses. This one still took 20 minutes to get inside, and it was no big deal. This was basically an Old West haunted attraction, filled with ghosts and geezers, gunfights and ghouls. It was entertaining, but more of a filler house than anything else.
We did a bit of walking then to see some of the scare zones. Survive or Die Apocalypse reminded me a lot of Mad Max. The guy shouting into the microphone on top of the platform was particularly reminiscent of the Mad Max movies. My favorite scare zone of the night was Vamp ’55. Where a bunch of leather jacket clad Buffy-esque vampires were attacking a homecoming float, with bloody jocks and homecoming queens running around screaming everywhere. So well done, and it really gave me a Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel. Dead Man’s wharf was also well done, with a lot of characters that looked like they stepped right off of the Flying Dutchman of Pirates of the Caribbean fame.
We next entered the Tomb of the Ancients, filled with horrifying Naga, and various other ancient dead. Sadly there were so many rubber vine ropes hanging all over the place that you had to walk through that it became annoying after a while. (Spoiler Alert!) My favorite scene in this attraction was the giant Anubis on stilts that attacked us from several directions. Very intimidating even if he didn’t get you with a jump scare.
Lunatics Playground 3D was the best original (not based on an existing license) house of the night in my opinion. You were given the generic 3D paper glasses to wear, and it really gave s surreal feel to everything. It was difficult to tell who was real actors and what was just mannequins, so the scares came more easily. Also, they made good use of the distraction effect, by directing your attention one way and then jumping on you from behind. Watch out if you have susceptibility to motion sickness though. There is one of those spinning tunnels filled with lights, and the only way I made it through without vomiting was to squint my eyes and stare only at my feet as I shuffled though. Lots of sexy Harley Quinn type clowns in this one too.
Halloween: Hell comes to Hadonfield was excellent as well. My third favorite house of the night, it was just chock full of scenes from Halloween and Halloween II, with Michael Meyers popping out of everywhere. Some rooms had up to three of him ready to pop out in turn. Many of the scare actors were dressed as actual characters from the movies, even a Jamie Lee Curtis look alike if I am not mistaken. This is the attraction where they got me with a good scare at least once, right at the end. Good Job Universal.
The last one we got to see because of running out of time was Krampus. Neither one of us had seen the movie, and let me tell you the weird creatures that populated the rooms of this house were the stuff of nightmares. This was my favorite house of the night, with its joining of Christmas and Halloween in a non-musical, real horror fashion. Smashed rooms filled with sparkling snow and huge headed weird creatures popping out of every corner. I don’t recall actually seeing Krampus anywhere, but it was still amazing. If Krampu was actually there somewhere let me know. I missed it somehow.
That was our last house. As we headed out I got the best treat of the night. There was Chance, the icon of the fest, on a small platform right on the street taking pictures with guests with accompanying taunts and jeers. She pulled her fingers through my hair while my daughter took a pic. I was so glad to get a chance to actually see her and it topped off the night nicely.
We never did get to see any of the shows. We heard that Bill and Ted was awful so we didn’t bother with that. We didn’t get to see Exorcist or The Walking Dead, which was disappointing. We didn’t bother with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because the employees we asked said it was garbage.
Last thing I want to mention is that to me, this is not a show for kids. If your kids can handle the haunted houses, then that’s fine, but it was more of the adult atmosphere than anything else that makes me say that. By the end of the night there were noticeably drunk guys stumbling around, and I witnessed at least one fight break out. I don’t take my kids to the bar, and I’m not going to take them here. But for us grownups it was a lot of fun. A bit expensive, it seems more geared towards the locals who can buy the Frequent Fear Pass and attend on multiple nights. One night just isn’t enough time to take in everything. Overall, a big thumbs up for Halloween Horror Nights 26.