Growing up, I was never a person for anything horror related. Pretty typical kid that had nightmares after watching a scary movie, or after going through a haunted house. But as I grew up, I started to get into movies, and the horror genre became one of my favorites. And while I was opening up my horizons to new movies, the thought of a haunted house still freaked me out.
Life goes on and new things come into our lives, and theme parks was that new interest for me, and when I say theme parks, I mean Walt Disney World. To plan better trips, I would listen to podcasts on the way to and from work, and sometimes, at work. I won’t name it here, but one podcast would just get on my nerves at Halloween every year, because they would shift from covering a lot of Disney, to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). I didn’t want to hear about that, I wanted to hear about the Magical Disney Halloween experience with free candy. But the more podcasts I would start to pick up, the more I would hear about this “ amazing” event at Universal.
So in 2017, we made the decision to take a stab at HHN based on the podcast that I had heard.
The best thing about HHN, is the following it has. Just like everything else, there are people that have been with the festivities from day one and the people who are going for the first time. The biggest thing they all have in common is they know the year or event number that they first started to go. For me, its 26 or like I said above 2017 with the only year I have missed being 2020 and that can be technical because they only ran the houses for a short time, and I wasn’t in the parks the day they ran the 2 houses.
This group of people are great. There are people that can tell you the houses and there locations for the past 10 years. They keep a running tab on the best houses and scare zones throughout the years. It’s just fun to be in queues with anyone that is going to this even, but the Hardcore fans make it a little better for me as I get to talk about other years. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what was great and bad, which helps keep things interesting in conversations.
The main focus of the event is the Houses (or mazes). As the years have continued, the number of houses have gotten to 10. They are split into Original and IP (intellectual property) Houses. IP houses are going to be based on Movies, TV Shows, and sometimes Music in popular culture. The Walking Dead, The Shining, Stranger Things, and American Horror Story are just a few examples. While originals give the creative team a chance to create their own stories.
The houses are located about the outside perimeter of the park, well besides one. The majority of the houses when you walk into the event and head straight will be in Sound Stages to the right of the park. You will enter these by going through a ride entrance, or through a Backstage access. The houses toward the back of the park are mostly called “Tent Houses”. These are just Tents set up in the back stage areas and will be accessed through a “Team Member Only” area in the park. There are a couple that will lead you through queues to get to them. They do utilize the Parade and a maintenance buildings on this side of the property. The last house is actually located in the 2nd theater of the Shrek 4D attraction.
One of the best parts of the event is how the park transforms at night. Universal does a great job of trying to keep the gore to a minimum during the day, covering up a lot of the HHN decorations. The park closes early on the nights that HHN happens to give team members time to set up for the event. But once the gates open back up, the feel of the park has completely changed, and it only gets better as sunsets and the night progresses. The lighting, the music, and the effects all change, not to mention the scare actors come out.
The scare actors are all placed in what are called scarezones, and these scarezones are each themed differently. There are 5 scarezones most years. The first one you will come across is in Production Central, and will usually be the smallest and less themed of the event. In the years I have been, this has been more of a “selfie” area. The next area you come to will be New York, which will be one of the biggest zones. This Scare zone will start at Jimmy Fallon and wrap all the way past Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. You’ll also find the Tribute Store in this area, a place where you can buy all things HHN inspired.
New York is one of the best places to sit and watch scares happen. Guests have a lot more area to run from the actors. San Francisco is the next area, and it’s also pretty small, usually just on either side of the Fast and Furious Gift shop. This area has a more intimate feel, but usually lacks good scares. You’ll have a break until you get back to Central Park, which is one of my favorite areas. The Trees create a dark and gloomy area, with fog machines always on high. Scares are great in this area as you don’t know if you’re coming up on a guest or a scare actor. The last area is Hollywood, this is another big scare zone and with my short experience, has been a hit and miss. A lot of places to sit and watch, but not a lot of scares.
Outside of the scare zones, you have what they have called the “Roaming Chainsaw Hoard” in the past. It’s not an official zone, but something that just happens in Springfield. Honestly this is the best place to have a drink/meal and watch the guests get stalked and scared. There is generally no theme year to year in this area. Sometimes they are clowns, other times just wearing Purge style masks, non the less it’s all fun.
Stay and Scream
If you have been in the parks all day, and want to get to a specific house right when the park opens, you can stay in one of the 3 Stay and Scream locations. These locations offer you the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, a drink, or just a place to sit and relax before your night of excitement. New York, Production Central, and Springfield are usually the locations for the Stay and Scream locations. You can expect to be a little more crowded when you are in an area that is close to the popular houses, but you will be well ahead of the group of people waiting at the gate to get in.
What else to expect
If you want to sit and relax for a few minutes, HHN has a couple of shows that you can take time to enjoy. The main one takes place in the Fear Factor Live theater. This show revolves around variety. When I started to go, it was the Bill and Ted show, it was later changed to The Academy of Villains, and now it’s Nightmare Fuel. It’s main focus is dance, but throws in some other elements throughout.
The next show is at the Lagoon Projection show, Marathon of Mayhem. Think of this as Universal’s answer to World of Color in Disney California Adventure. Each year this show changes to reflect the theme, houses, and scarezones that are at the event. This show is best viewed at the back side of Central Park, but can be viewed in other locations.
One of the other ways to get off your feet is to get on a ride. Mummy, Gringotts, Rip Ride, and a few other attractions remain open through the night for your enjoyment. Diagon Alley itself is open, and a “safe place” as there is no scare actors in this area.
If you are in need of food or drinks, there are plenty of places to stop. Universal has erected plenty of temporary bars and food tents. Pizza Fries, Hamburgers with Doughnuts for buns, Twisted Potatoes, and much more are available to find while you are roaming the parks. But you can also grab some more traditional food at some of the quick service locations around the park. The bars offer wine, beer, and specialty themed drinks to the event.
Overall, I have come to love this event. It’s one thing I love to look forward to each fall. As soon as the last night of the current event is done, I’m ready to hear what is in store for the next year. It’s a great time to hangout with friends, and if need be a fun solo trip. Whether you are at horror fan or not, I think this would be well worth a try!