August 2011: Vacationing in Orlando over Halloween and trying to decide where to take little Johnny? Or 21-year-old Vinny? Or your mother? Here’s the skinny on Halloween festivities in Central Florida:
- For PG-13 rated thrills, blood, and hard liquor: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.
- For trick-or-treat style thrills suitable for pre-teens: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween.
- For some candy and a Halloween theme that’s included in a single-park admission admission: Sea World.
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights
Universal put Halloween on the Orlando map, and the other parks can’t keep up. The true sights and sounds of Halloween – blood, guts, rats, chainsaws, corpses, and zombies – are found only at Universal. The company took a traditionally slow tourist season and ramped it up.
Four elements highlight Halloween Horror Nights
- Haunted houses. Universal themes these to movies or ideas. Some houses could return more than once, but designers try to create new concepts each year. If a horror movie hit the big time recently, expect actors, sets, and lighting to recreate key scenes that guests walk through. Universal also takes happy ideas and turns them bloody, accented by a bit of black humor. Expect to see a killer Santa Claus in a Christmas set or a zombie Alice wandering around Wonderland.
- Shows. Universal creates stage shows exclusively for the event. Most include elements of horror but also humor. (There’s a fine line between humor and horror.)
- In-your-face madmen (and women). The entire park (many times Universal Studios but sometimes Islands of Adventure) has horror elements, from areas with fake thick fog to hundreds of actors running around with noisy, chainless chainsaws. The park creates an anything-can-happen-at-anytime atmosphere. For maximum thrills, visit with a screamer – that one friend, usually female, that jumps at every shadow. Actors focus on screamers and follow them around.
- Rides. Many rides continue to operate during Halloween Horror Nights and usually throw a Halloween element into the show. Jaws might eat tourists in the boathouse, for example, as Freddy Krueger scares survivors from the sidelines.
- Pick a designated driver if planning to drink. Universal serves liquor, and a lot of guests imbibe.
- Arrive early. Haunted houses lose some punch if you wait in a one-hour line, which is common.
- If you plan to visit the parks separately, save the rides for later.
- Visit very early in the season or after Oct. 31 if they schedule a few days in November. The event sells out the two weeks before Oct. 31, especially on weekends, making lines almost unbearable.
A word of comfort: Horror actors cannot touch guests, so the intelligent part of your brain knows your safe. Also note that guests cannot wear costumes to the event, mainly so other guests and employees can tell the difference between “us” and “them.” For information on dates and prices visit Universal’s website
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Disney has its hands tied on Halloween. The family-friendly park cannot trot out disemboweled bodies without offending its core audience, so execs created a party focused on the pre-teen set, and even noted its difference from Halloween Horror Nights in the “not-so-scary” title adjective.
Mickey’s party has the feel of trick-or-treating – of girls dressing as princesses and boys decked out as pirates. The party is a bit darker than other Disney special events, however, as it focuses on its existing horror elements – mainly the Haunted Mansion and the characters/songs from a movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Key elements of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
- Parade. Expect to see The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s headless horseman, ghosts from the Haunted Mansion, and favorite Disney characters in Halloween costumes.
- Themed areas. Disney knows how to decorate, though look forward to big jack-o-lanterns and candy corn rather than bleeding princesses.
- Fireworks. Jack Skellington has an eerily appropriate song, “This Is Halloween,” that backs the light show.
For dates and prices visit Disney’s website.
Sea World’s Halloween Spooktacular
Sea World is the only Orlando park that does not offer a separate Halloween party. On the upside, the Halloween events are part of regular admission so guests get a two-fer. On the downside, 90 percent of a day is focused on non-Halloween events, which takes away a bit of the devilish fun. Sea World’s event has a look and feel similar to Disney rather than Universal, and it’s appropriate for all ages. Kids can wear a costume. It’s held only on weekends in October, however, making a visit slightly more difficult for families taking a weekend-to-weekend vacation.
- Trick or treating. A special section of Sea World gives kids bags at one end and stations along the way offer candy. If they start whining for junk food, head over. Adults may also collect candy if willing to swallow a small amount of pride.
- Décor. Halloween elements can be found throughout the park, though in limited quantity when compared to the theme park competition. Sea World combines the ocean theme in interesting ways with traditional Halloween décor.
For dates and prices, visit Sea World’s website