I have a confession to make: when it comes to fall, I’m as basic as it gets. I love it all: sweaters, boots, hot seasonal drinks, pumpkin carving. Of course, I don’t get to indulge my love of cozy sweaters too often…thanks a lot, Orlando. What this city lacks in seasonably cool weather, however, it more than makes up for with one of my favorite events of the year.
Fall used to mean changing leaves, but now it has a new meaning. Fall in Orlando means Halloween Horror Nights. The Halloween event is put on by Universal Orlando every year, and if you couldn’t tell from the name alone, it is definitely not for sensitive audiences. Hint: stop reading now if you don’t want to see blood, guts, and half-naked bodies. There really isn’t anything too gross in this post, but I know people can be pretty sensitive.
Are we good?
You’ve been warned.
2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the first-ever Horror Nights event, then called Fright Nights. Back in 1991, the event lasted only three days. As Halloween Horror Nights grew in popularity, so did the length of its run, maxing out this year at 30 full nights of terror. The event is so much more than a few haunted houses (there are nine this year, by the way). It really is an immersive experience. All sorts of depraved creatures roam the streets in search of their next victim, sometimes tapping on the windows of the buildings that you think will keep you safe.
With nine haunted houses and a multitude of themed “scare zones,” there really is no place to hide once you enter the front gates.
I don’t want to spoil the event too much, so I’ll keep the details to a minimum and share a few tips and photos.
Jack the Clown returns this year, continuing his reign of terror over the entire event. Halloween Horror Nights brings entirely new experiences to life each year, presided over by an “icon” of some type. Jack is the first original icon, created specifically for Halloween Horror Nights 10. My favorite thing about Horror Nights is the insane amount of detail and backstory attributed to its icons. Jack was originally a circus performer (and a bloodthirsty maniac, naturally), whose murdered ghost went on to unleash his vengeance on the guests of Halloween Horror Nights. His story continued on, evolving over subsequent years in several reincarnations. I recommend this article for a closer look at this particular monster. Jack is back in 2015, and I couldn’t be happier.
Safety is the number one priority at Universal Orlando. When you arrive at the front gate, expect to walk through metal detectors and have your bag inspected. Meaning: leave your booze and anything that could be perceived as a safety hazard at home. And remember that theme park food and drinks can get pretty pricey, so eat before entering the park if you want to save a few bucks!
Arrive Early, Stay Late
This is as basic as it gets. Halloween Horror Nights is a very popular event in Orlando, both with tourists and with locals. It gets incredibly busy throughout the night, and it’s not at all uncommon to see haunted house wait times exceeding 100 minutes. The best way to tackle the lines? Arrive before the park opens, and knock out two or three houses before everyone else shows up to the party. Same goes for the end of the night. When other people head home, stick around! You’ll usually be rewarded with much shorter wait times. And with less people winding through the houses, you’re also more likely to receive extra special attention from the creatures lurking within.
Of course, another alternative is to spring for the HHN Express Pass, which gives the owner access to much shorter lines throughout the night. This is not a “skip the line” pass, but it will dramatically cut down on the wait. Express passes are very costly, sometimes even exceeding the cost of the park entry ticket. Still, having waited in some of those crazy-long lines myself, I can definitely recommend splurging on Express passes if you are experiencing the horror for just one night. There is no better way to see everything.
Does this one really need any explanation? Booze and Halloween Horror Nights almost go hand-in-hand.
Out on the streets, and even in the house lines, booze is available pretty much anywhere. Just look for one of the lurid carnival bar signs, or buy a Jello shot from one of the bloodied-up shot girls. Each year brings a new, wonderfully obnoxious flashing souvenir cup to hold your poison of choice. Bonus: cheaper refills are available when you buy a souvenir cup!
My personal preference, however, is just to hit up Finnegan’s, a bar in the New York area of the park. Sure, you might have to jostle for room at the bar, but it beats paying top dollar for the limited booze selection out on the streets. Halloween Horror Nights is fun no matter what, but I have to admit that having one little drink helps me to lower my guard and welcome the scares. Just don’t go punching the scary clowns. Come on now.
Did I Mention There Are Shows?
That’s right! There are two shows at Halloween Horror Nights this year. The Carnage Returns features everyone’s favorite killer clown, and his equally crazy girlfriend Chance. It’s worth watching once, but again, it’s definitely not for those who are easily offended or weak-stomached.
The second show is somewhat of an icon on its own. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure (yes, that Bill & Ted) is a long-running tradition at Halloween Horror Nights. The show parodies pop culture moments from the months leading up to the event, which leaves me scratching my head and whisper-shouting “Who is that?” at least a couple of times each year.
Some of the most popular rides at Universal Studios Florida remain open throughout the event, and they tend to have lower wait times than the haunted houses. Need to kill some time? Go ride Revenge of the Mummy before catching the next Bill & Ted show. Check your park map for availability details.
Pssst…There’s an App for That!
Universal Orlando recently rolled out a mobile app that helps visitors to stay on top of wait times, show times, and more. It’s especially helpful for Halloween Horror Nights, when you’re sick of waiting in that 90-minute line and wondering if any other houses have a shorter wait time.
Take Some Time to Relax
Hey, getting scared all night would be no fun without a breather or two. Grab a snack and just soak up the screams. I love watching people run screaming through the streets, chased by a chainsaw-wielding clown. Never mind the fact that I myself am terrified of anybody with a chainsaw.
It’s fun to watch others jump out of their skin and take off through the crowd. If the wait times are long and you don’t want to see the shows, just take the time to appreciate the level of detail that goes into each actor’s character, makeup and costuming. There are plenty of impressive people at work here.
Please, for the love of God, leave your kids at home
If you’ve reached the end of this article and are thinking of bringing little Bobby and Susie to meet Jack the Clown…just don’t. Seriously. Booze + Boobs + Chainsaws + Guts everywhere is not the recipe for a picturesque family vacation.
Now for the practical details:
This year’s Halloween event runs until November 1st. Tickets can be bought online or in person, but I recommend skipping the line at the ticket window and just booking online. Same goes for Express passes. It’s worth doing your homework and researching the various event passes to find out which one works best for your needs and budget.
Disclaimer: I am an employee of Universal Orlando; however, the views and opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I am in no way being compensated for this post. I just really enjoy attending Halloween Horror Nights and wanted to share the love…er…horror.