“Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange?” – The Nightmare Before Christmas

Over the years, it has become quite clear that Universal and Islands of Adventure have tapped into the pre-teen to young adult audience with thrill attractions and immersive lands that put you in the middle of your favorite movies.  While Disney clings to the young prince and princesses visiting with their parents and grandparents, Universal has pushed the limits to find out what the young kids think is “cool.”  Alongside this comes the recent “cool” factor of cheering the villains and admiring the scary and evil.  It may have started when movies moved away from “boogeymen” and more towards whimsical witches like in Hocus Pocus or celebrations of the mysterious like the aforementioned Nightmare Before Christmas.  But there is one event that takes this celebration of horror to the extreme…

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Welcome to Believe Vacations’ Weekly Post where today, we are going to talk about Halloween Horror Nights.  Meet Jenny Garthe.  Jenny is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Disney and Universal.  She lives 90 minutes away in St. Petersburg but we rely on her to educate us on all the extras you can do during your vacation.  Jenny has experienced signature dining, cabana rentals, firework cruise, behind-the-scenes tours and more.  And she was brave enough to attend the 30th edition of HHH earlier in September and share her thoughts on the thrills she experienced!

What is Halloween Horror Nights?

It’s a special ticketed event at Universal Studios in Florida.  It goes from 6:30pm to 1 or 2am and is most days in September and October.  It’s celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year and really celebrates the rich history of horror from the original Universal monsters to the intense frights we have today.  I think it’s the best Halloween production ever.

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When are the best times to go?

This event is very popular and Saturdays are the worst.  Sunday through Thursday is your best bet for lower crowds and wait times.  September is obviously going to be lower than October and as you get closer to Halloween.

Are there express passes available?

The express pass is separate from the regular express pass offered for the parks.  You receive one access to each of the house and the attractions open during the event as well.  You will probably wind up waiting half the time of normal posted times due to the popularity of the event.

What are the current COVID policies?

Masks are required for team members and only recommended for guests.  The biggest difference is there are plexiglass dividers to protect the scare actors from areas you may be close to them.  Of course, there is a no-touch policy.  You CANNOT touch them; they CANNOT touch you.

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What is a Scare Zone?

It’s an area that is themed to a different topic like “Gorewood Forest.”  You’ll find actors and fog and theatrics.  If you go before it’s dark, you can get great photos with the actors and the incredible sets.  There is no line.  You just walk through and have actors jumping out at you and scaring you.

Can you avoid the Scare Zones?

There are 5 zones so they take up a nice bit of the park.  There are areas that are not a Scare Zone but if you’re scared of a certain area, stay to the side and you may avoid some of the intensity.  Keep in mind it’s a very adult-oriented event and I wouldn’t recommend anyone under the age of 13 participating.

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What are the Horror Houses and which did you enjoy the most?

There are 10 houses.  Four are The Haunting of Hill House, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Bride of Frankenstein and then BEETLEJUICE!!  The other six are original productions from the creative minds at Universal.  For me, Hill House and Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin were the best.

What were the experiences like for the houses you were familiar with versus those you did not know about?

I loved BEETLEJUICE because you are experiencing your favorite scenes first-hand.  Always fun for nostalgia purposes.  They even played the music!  And you see Leatherface and his family all the time.  But the original ones are amazing because you have no idea what to expect.  That can make them scarier!  They are so creative and the experience is that much more intense!

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What are the food and beverage selections like?

There are themed items throughout the parks.  Like shredded pulled pork BBQ and apple pie at Texas Chainsaw Massacre!  They have a Poisoned Tea Party, you can get souvenir cups as well for discounted refills.  It’s a party-like atmosphere!

Can you dress up for the event?

Full costumes are not allowed so leave your Spirit Halloween costumes at home.  Bounding is completely acceptable and we saw a ton of people playing into the whole emo/goth look.

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What other options are available that are not as scary?

They have two different shows.  One is in the Fear Factor studio called Marathon of Mayhem: Carnage Factory.  The other is Halloween Nightmare Fuel and you will not believe the amount of fire involved!  Dances, magic, amazing soundtrack, it had it all!  Get there early or you won’t make it in!  Also, don’t forget about those iconic attractions that are open like Rip Ride Rockit!, The Mummy, Men in Black, etc.  And of course, Diagon Alley is open for all the Harry Potter fans.  Lowest wait times for Gringotts and Butterbeer!

What about horror and Halloween keeps us coming back to get scared one more time?

It’s a controlled scare where you get the thrill, the fun, the screams but yet, the laughter afterwards.  It’s the full range of emotions!

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What is your advice for those who are on the fence?

There is a backstage tour called “Behind the Screams.”  You can visit 3 houses in 3 hours or 6 houses in 6 hours.  It is a daytime, lights-on tour with no actors.  You can take still photos and really enjoy the scenery, design and walkthrough without any of the scares.  I recommend trying it out just for the appreciation of seeing it again later that night when the performers eventually get those screams out of you!  Don’t wait another 30 years; go this year!

Brian Pavlick

Brian Pavlick

Brian Pavlick is a husband and father residing in Maylene, AL. His love of Disney goes back to his early memories of watching the New Disney Channel on cable, occasional vacations to Orlando Florida and attending Disney Institute Management Training classes. He keeps up with Disney news and updates by reading numerous websites, experiencing attractions by watching YouTube videos and introducing his family to classic and timeless Disney movies, attractions and songs.