September 2012: Halloween Horror Nights returns to Universal Studios for its 22nd year. No haunted house, haunted field of corn, or haunted anything touches Universal Studios for nailing the true spirit of All Hallows Eve, and Horror Nights put Orlando on the Halloween map. The true sights and sounds of the holiday – blood, guts, rats, chainsaws, corpses, and zombies – can be found only at Universal.
If considering other Central Florida venues, only Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay comes close, though it doesn’t garner the crowds that Universal does, and it tends to redo some of its haunted houses. Still, from a scare-for-scare comparison, newbies won’t be disappointed.
On the other side of the horror coin, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (named after Universal got so successful and held in Disney’s Magic Kingdom) offers a family-friendly night out with separate admission required. Sea World’s celebration is included in regular park admission and is toned down even more, though still worthy for preschoolers who don’t need the biggest and the best.
As for Universal, it again has unique haunted houses but adds a level of terror: No more scare zones. For 2012, the entire park is a scare zone. For those who have never enjoyed Horror Nights, Universal once labeled portions of it round-the-lake walkway as scare zones, and they usually had thick (fake) fog and zombies, some carrying (fake) chainsaws. If you were outside a scare zone, you felt safe.
But apparently no more.
Many rides continue to operate during Halloween Horror Nights, and some will feature an extra glimpse of monsters or their minions. If a ride can scare you, expect it to be open, including all roller coasters. The even occurs every night except Mondays and Tuesdays; and it only operates on Wednesdays from Oct. 17 on.
Tips for your visit
- Don’t save haunted attractions for later so you can look forward to them. Ask a gate attendant which two haunted houses (they’re not really “houses”) get the heaviest crowds and go there first; and ask which get the thinnest crowds and go there last.
- Pick a designated driver if drinking. Universal serves liquor – a lot of liquor – and many guests imbibe.
- Arrive early. Haunted houses lose some punch if you wait in a one-hour line, which is common. If you have lots of extra cash that you don’t mind parting with, consider front-of-the-line access for an extra fee.
- If you plan to visit the parks during the day, do all the rides then and focus on haunted areas during Halloween Horror Nights.
- Plan to visit early in the season, which begins on Sept. 21 this year and ends on Oct. 31; the latter will probably sell out at least a few weeks before the event – and if it doesn’t, the crowds will make you wish you’d gone earlier.
- Take along a skittish friend who screams a lot.
For more information, visit Universal Studios Orlando’s website.