Observations from Halloween Horror Nights and Updated HHN24 Touring Plans

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Plan your Nights of Horror with our updated HHN24 touring plans (photos by Seth Kubersky).

Halloween in still three weeks away, but Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 24 is well underway, and as always the event — and therefore our HHN24 touring plan — is ever evolving. After experiencing the rain-soaked chaos of opening night, I returned on a precipitation-free Thursday without the benefit of an RIP guided tour or Express Passes.

The good news is that I was able to experience all 8 haunted houses, and both shows, before the evening ended even without those extra-cost line-cutting perks, but it wan’t easy. To update my previously published Halloween Horror Nights Survival Guide, here’s a summary of my recent observations, followed by an improved edition of my HHN24 touring plans to plot your escape from the evil of overstuffed queues.

HHN24 Observations for Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

If you want to be inside Universal Studios Florida for Horror Nights early entry, you should enter the park (using a valid regular ticket or annual pass) well before its 5:00 p.m. daytime closing; I recommend arriving no later than 4:30 p.m.

There is no special Stay & Scream ticket offered this year, but guests with park-to-park admission may ride the Hogwarts Express between USF and Hogsmeade when IoA is open later. Exact operating hours vary with closing time, but during my visit guests could continue to enjoy Diagon Alley until 6 p.m., as long as they received a wristband indicating park-to-park access.

Unfortnately, while HHN guests in Diagon are led into a holding area outside the London Waterfront as early as 5:15 p.m., they aren’t released to the haunted houses until well after the New York and Kidzone groups, making it a poor choice for maximizing your HHN efficiency.

Guests in KidZone were the first to be released into a haunted house, at around 5:50 p.m. However, the house they have first access to is Roanoke, which has some of the shortest lines during the rest of the evening. They also get a head start at around 6 p.m. on Dollhouse of the Damned, which developes moderly long waits later on. Finally, KidZone guests can can be first to pre-load in the Halloween queue before its 6:30 p.m. opening.

There is also a holding area on Hollywood outside the Lucy museum, but guests there don’t get released until the front gates open, negating any early entry advantage. You can’t even see much of the brief Purge-themed pre-opening ceremony from there.

I selected the New York holding area on Delancey St., whose line consumes a portion of Transformers’ extended queue. The line to enter Finnegan’s Bar spilled out into the street, so it’s a good thing I brought a snack with me from Springfield.

At 5:58 p.m., we were released from in front of Finnegan’s to the Alien vs Predator house, which was the first one to open. Due to some “technical difficulties,” the house didn’t actually begin accepting guests until 6:12 p.m. I was out the door by 6:18 p.m., by which time its line was posted at 45 minutes.

Neither Dracula Untold nor The Walking Dead open until 6:30 p.m., at which point the former posted a 10 minute wait, with the later already over an hour. From Dusk Til Dawn was operating before 6:30 p.m., also with a 10 minute posted wait.

When official opening time arrived, Dollhouse of the Damned and Roanoke were both 10 minutes; Dollhouse’s line grew substantially, but Roanoke’s remained relatively low.

When the line was short early in the evening, operations was “pulsing” small groups of guests through Dollhouse instead of a stead conga line. It made HHN’s creepiest haunt in years even freakier!

Within 10 minutes of the event officially opening, the wait for Halloween was posted at 45 minutes, and actually took 40. Ideally you should experience this house after dark, because of the excellent projection mapping effects used outside the entrance, but by sunset the line was 60 minutes or more.

This year’s Bill & Ted show continued to impress me as the funniest in several years. If you attend the first Bill & Ted performance of the night, you can slip in right at (or even a few minutes after) showtime, since there are usually empty seats in the rear; be warned that you will miss the painfully hillarious preshow video. Later in the night shows sell out at least 15 minutes in advance.

Between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. wait times approach their peaks. On this “off-peak” night, maximums were 90 minutes for Halloween and The Walking Dead; 60 for AvP, Dracula Untold, and Giggles & Gore; 45 for Dollhouse of the Damned, and From Dusk Til Dawn; and 30 for Roanoke. Actual wait times averaged about 5 minutes shorter than posted, with Express Pass return queues reported to average about 25% of standby waits.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute has a great cast this year, but most guests just don’t seem to know what to make of the audience participation, and many begin to flee around the “Touch-a Touch-a” number. I was also disappointed that they cut Science Fiction Double Feature Reprise, which had a lovely vocal arrangement. Even though I’m a long-time fan of the property, I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed to see a different show in the Beetlejuice Graveyard stage next year.

Be sure to spend some time exploring the scarezones, especially The Purge in New York which features regular “victim auctions” atop the school bus outside Macy’s.

The Face Off and MASKerade zones aren’t too scary, but are packed with gorgeous photo-ops.

The Bayou of Blood’s stage is somewhat static now that the sacrifice shows have been scrapped, but you should still say hello to the spooky Voodo Queen.

Queue entertainment is disappointingly lacking this year. The only house with a preshow worth mentioning is Halloween, with Giggles’ slideshow and Walking Dead’s trivia adding nothing to the storytelling. While waiting 35 minutes for the meh Dracula maze, I wondered why clips from the new film weren’t screening on the giant soundstage walls we were standing outside.

Posted wait time may be grossly overestimated in the event’s final hour. Giggles & Gore’s wait was posted at 30 minutes when I queued up at 11:30 p.m., but the actual wait was only 15. Better yet, Walking Dead was posted 60 minutes at 10 to midnight, but I actually waited only 20. Best of all, the scareactors didn’t seem to be slacking of in the least, even if their long shifts were nearly over.

Updated HHN24 Touring Plans

Overall, I accomplished everything I wanted to in one night without Express, but it gets harder every year. I’ve heard that, thanks to heavy “off-peak” discounts, Saturday nights have been more managable than the “slow” night this year. If you’re going to tackle HHN without extra-cost assistance (and even if you are going with Express) you’ll want to study these revised HHN24 touring plans.

Early Entry Option A (KidZone):

  1. Enter the park no later than 4:45 p.m. using a valid daytime ticket.
  2. Proceed to the KidZone area, where you will show your HHN ticket and receive a wristband.
  3. Wait in the shaded area outside Animal Actors until allowed to queue for Roanoke: Cannibal Colony.
  4. If Roanoke: Cannibal Colony begins operating first, enter it when it opens.
  5. The Roanoke exit leads directly to the entrance of Dollhouse of the Damned.
  6. After Dollhouse, if Halloween is not yet open, cross the park to Alien vs Predator (enter near the Twister facade).
  7. Return to the other side of the park, where Halloween’s entrance can be found next to MIB Gear.
  8. Check your map for the first showtime of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, and arrive at the Fear Factor Live stadium 10 minutes prior.
  9. After Bill & Ted, walk past the London Waterfront to Giggles & Gore, Inc.
  10. Exit to your right and continue to the New York area. Experience Dracula Untold, followed by From Dusk Til Dawn if their waits are 45 minutes or less.
  11. Check your map for the next showtime of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute, and arrive at the Beetlejuice stage 10 to 20 minutes prior.
  12. Before or after the show, ride Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, or MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack using the Single Rider line.
  13. Walk around the park clockwise, exploring the scarezones. Start by walking through the Bayou of Blood to Hollywood, then through Face Off towards the park entrance. Turn right into MASKerade, then end with The Purge in New York (watch for victim auctions).
  14. Consider taking a break from the park in CityWalk, especially if the park is open past midnight. Hold onto your ticket and have your hand stamped at the gate.
  15. Return to the park 90 minutes before closing to experience The Walking Dead and any other houses you missed or want to see again. Wait times drop dramatically in the last hour, and you can join the queue for a haunted house right up until closing time.
  16. To avoid a traffic jam, leave the park 30 minutes before closing, or wait to be one of the last to exit.

Early Entry Option B (Finnegan’s):

  1. Enter the park no later than 4:45 p.m. using a valid daytime ticket.
  2. Proceed to the New York area across from the Transformers ride, where you will show your HHN ticket and receive a wristband.
  3. Wait outside or inside Finnegan’s Bar and Restaurant (reservations are usually fully booked for the event).
  4. When released from the holding area at approximately 5:45 p.m., head directly to Alien vs Predator (enter near the Twister facade)
  5. Cross through the Production Central area past Mel’s Drive-In, and shortcut through the Garden of Allah to KidZone.
  6. Skip Roanoke: Cannibal Colony for now, and experience Dollhouse of the Damned.
  7. After Dollhouse, Halloween’s entrance can be found next to MIB Gear.
  8. Check your map for the first showtime of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, and arrive at the Fear Factor Live stadium 10 minutes prior.
  9. After Bill & Ted, walk past the London Waterfront to Giggles & Gore, Inc.
  10. Return to the New York area. Experience Dracula Untold followed by From Dusk Til Dawn if their waits are 45 minutes or less.
  11. Check your map for the next showtime of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute, and arrive at the Beetlejuice stage 10 to 20 minutes prior.
  12. Before or after the show, ride Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, or MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack using the Single Rider line.
  13. Return to Kidzone and experience Roanoke: Cannibal Colony, which should have a reasonable wait when everything else is overwhelmed.
  14. Walk around the park clockwise, exploring the scarezones. Start by walking through the Bayou of Blood to Hollywood, then through Face Off towards the park entrance. Turn right into MASKerade, then end with The Purge in New York (watch for victim auctions).
  15. Consider taking a break from the park in CityWalk, especially if the park is open past midnight. Hold onto your ticket and have your hand stamped at the gate.
  16. Return to the park 90 minutes before closing to experience The Walking Dead and any other houses you missed or want to see again. Wait times drop dramatically in the last hour, and you can join the queue for a haunted house right up until closing time.
  17. To avoid a traffic jam, leave the park 30 minutes before closing, or wait to be one of the last to exit.

General Admission:

  1. Park and arrive at Universal with ticket in hand no later than 5:30 p.m., and pass through the security checkpoint (using the “no bags” line to the left if possible).
  2. Line up as close as possible to any turnstile (including the temporary ones at the center gate) and watch the pre-opening skit on the balcony above the ticket booths at approximately 6:15 p.m.
  3. When the gates open, head straight past From Dusk Til Dawn and Walking Dead to enter Alien vs Predator.
  4. After exiting AvP, walk past Mel’s Drive-In, and shortcut through the Garden of Allah to KidZone.
  5. Skip Roanoke: Cannibal Colony for now and experience Dollhouse of the Damned.
  6. After Dollhouse, Halloween’s entrance can be found next to MIB Gear.
  7. Check your map for the first showtime of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, and arrive at the Fear Factor Live stadium 10 minutes prior.
  8. After Bill & Ted, walk past the London Waterfront to Giggles & Gore, Inc.
  9. Exit to your right and continue to the New York area. Experience Dracula Untold and/or From Dusk Til Dawn if their waits are 45 minutes or less.
  10. Check your map for the next showtime of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute, and arrive at the Beetlejuice stage 10 to 20 minutes prior.
  11. Before or after the show, ride Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, or MEN IN BLACK: Alien Attack using the Single Rider line.
  12. Return to Kidzone and experience Roanoke: Cannibal Colony, which should have a reasonable wait when everything else is overwhelmed.
  13. Walk around the park clockwise, exploring the scarezones. Start by walking through the Bayou of Blood to Hollywood, then through Face Off towards the park entrance. Turn right into MASKerade, then end with The Purge in New York (watch for victim auctions).
  14. Consider taking a break from the park in CityWalk, especially if the park is open past midnight. Hold onto your ticket and have your hand stamped at the gate.
  15. Return to the park 90 minutes before closing to experience The Walking Dead and any other houses you missed or want to see again. Wait times drop dramatically in the last hour, and you can join the queue for a haunted house right up until closing time.
  16. To avoid a traffic jam, leave the park 30 minutes before closing, or wait to be one of the last to exit.

 

 

 

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

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