It’s finally October which means we can officially start celebrating Halloween without feeling like those people who start celebrating Christmas in, well, October. One of the longest-running Halloween rituals in my friend group is Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. We are in our 9th year in a row going to this event, and while over the years people have dropped out of the group and other people have been added, it has always been me & my friend David every year.
We splurge and get the Frequent Fear passes with the Express Pass option, which allows you into the event every Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday night with Express access to each house once per night. There are other Frequent Fear options available but we find this one works best for us. You can also add an Express Pass to your one-night ticket, and the price varies depending on which night you go. There are 10 houses this year, so having an Express Pass is really the only way you will be able to experience all ten houses in one night. We attended the event both nights on opening weekend and were able to visit all ten houses both nights! With the Stranger Things house bringing out fans in droves this year, wait times for houses can get up to 2 hours or more. But, if you’re on a budget and simply can’t afford to splurge on an Express Pass, you’re in luck, because I’m giving you a run-down of my favorite can’t-miss houses!
Even if you’re not a Stranger Things fan, this house is definitely not to be missed! Let me preface this by saying, I am not one to be scared or startled. Five years of living in New York City has me trained to be acutely aware of my surroundings. But his house honestly scared the bejeezus out of me. Perhaps that’s because the show genuinely scares the bejeezus out of me, but even if you’ve never seen the show, there’s one thing in a maze that always freaks out even the strongest of heart: pitch darkness. Walking through parts of this house you are literally not able to see what’s in front of you other than the person you’re following. All the iconic scenes are there, including Winona Ryder’s ouija board living room wall with strung-up Christmas lights, and a creature from the Upside Down trying to come through the wall. I love that they incorporated the characters from the show into the scenes as well. It gives it a freaky authenticity. And of course there is an appearance by our favorite Eggo waffle fan, Eleven! This is the most popular house this year, for obvious reasons, and the first house you come to when you walk into the park. For the shortest wait times, you’ll either want to be at the entry gates at 6:30pm when they open and go straight there (I mean literally at the gate, not in the back of the crowd waiting to go in; we got in at 6:40 and the wait time was already 120 minutes), or wait until closer to the end of the night when people have gotten tired and started to go home. Wait times start tapering off after 11 on weeknights. Wednesday and Sunday nights are great nights to go where you won’t be fighting the bigger crowds.
Every year there is at least one “comedy” maze, with more of a tongue-in-cheek tone than the seriousness of the other houses. This year “Slaughter Sinema” fits that bill, and while I’m normally not a fan of these slightly-cheesy spoof houses, this one is definitely worth a visit. It’s filled with made-up 80’s B-movies that could be real. Be sure to look for the “movie poster” at the beginning of each scene, so you have a clue about which horror film you are about to witness. Just be careful; heads can roll with the credits.
Along the same lines as the horror movie spoof is “Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After”. Any Disney fan will be entertained by this one, featuring Rapunzel’s hair taking over an entire room as well as a scene where Humpty Dumpty is served up for breakfast, and you finish your journey “under the dead sea”.
Rounding out my top 4 is “Dead Exposure: Patient Zero”, which was not what I was expecting, in a good way. It has a very film noir feel to it, and takes you through an apocalyptic scene of an uncontained virus and the zombie invasion it leaves in its wake. The most interesting aspect of this house is that it takes place in Paris! I almost didn’t notice until we came across a subway map on the wall and recognized it as Paris’ Metro system! After walking through the Paris Metro you come across several plaques de rue (street signs) and lots of iconic French imagery. It was such an unexpected creative twist that took it from a typical horror house to a very unique experience.
The remainder of the houses are “Poltergeist”, where you step into the cult classic, “Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces” (the name explains this one pretty succinctly), “BlumHouse”, a very weird mashup of Happy Death Day and The First Purge (neither of which I have seen, but baby faced dudes in masks just doesn’t do it for me), “Trick r Treat”, based on the horror film of the same name, the fourth installment of the always-good Michael Myers-filled “Halloween” house, and Seeds of Extinction, another post-apocalyptic “nature takes over” original house that I think I would’ve ranked higher had my experience not been tainted by the way-too-early express line merging with the regular line (which they have since remedied) causing a super long wait time.
It wouldn’t be Halloween Horror Nights without a signature cocktail or two. This year’s drinks are the Wicked Rad Punch (pictured above) and the Totally L.I.T., which can be served together in this divided souvenir cup with a twisty straw! Make sure to bring your cup back to the bar every time, because you get a discount on refills! If you’re not a liquor fan, Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale is a pumpkin-flavored seasonal beer that can be found at most of the pop-up bars around the park.
There are some new snacks this year, including this chocolate-covered waffle on a stick, and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of foods on sticks? Speaking of foods on a stick, the crowd favorite Twisted Taters are back this year, but they’ve been moved to a new location near the Animal Actor stage.
There are five scare zones this year, ranging from the 80’s cult feature Killer Klowns from Outer Space to a Vampire New Years Eve party in 1985 (I guess the Stranger Things theme made them nostalgic for all things retro this year), and they are all worth checking out. Make sure to stick around for the “Operation” show in the Revenge of Chucky area to see some real gore.
Even though it’s technically fall, Florida apparently did not get the memo. As much as I want to dress ‘Halloween’, when it is still in the 80’s after the sun goes down, sweaters are just not an option. The first night I chose a black and white gingham cotton top and denim skirt, with an orange bandana headband in my hair, and was drenched in sweat by 6:45pm. The second night I opted for a sleeveless black sundress from Target’s Who What Wear line with a side braid to keep my hair off my shoulders, and tied the bandana around my neck so I still rocked the Halloween color scheme. Whatever you wear, don’t forget comfortable shoes.
A good fake bloody garment is always a good choice, too.
Have you been to Halloween Horror Nights this year? What are some of your favorite houses? Let me know in the comments!