This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons Halloween Horror Nights is Better than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Now, before we start, this is not an article that’s trying to sell you on the idea that MNSSHP is not good, as we wrote several weeks ago that we love it, and it’s definitely the best Halloween event in town that you can bring the whole family to. That said, Halloween Horror Nights brings some elements to the table, which Disney could learn from in terms of over delivering to its guests. While HHN may not be for everyone, if you are a regular reader of the Saturday Six it’s probably for you and today we’ll look at the reasons why. Please remember that clicking on any picture will open it up in full size, and let’s count ’em down…
# 6 – A night at HHN is completely different than any other experience you’ve had at Universal Studios Florida
For anyone who has gone to MNSSHP you know that the one of the bigger differences between a party night and any other night is how well Main Street, U.S.A. is decorated. Unfortunately, outside of The Haunted Mansion, that’s where the level of theming stops. All the lands of the park are the same (albeit with wonderful candy stations) and all of the attractions are the same, just with less people going on them. That’s where I find the value in a MNSSHP ticket. You can do all the E-Ticket rides like Space Mountain and Big Thunder without having to worry about FP+ or standby lines as almost everything is a walk-on. Halloween Horror Nights on the other hand completely changes the dynamic of Universal Studios Florida. There are scare zones and seemingly hundreds of scare actors thoughout the entire park along with 8 haunted houses, none of which are available to non-party going guests.
To put it in perspective: My normal day of going to the Magic Kingdom would be riding some of my favorite attractions (such as the TTA, Haunted Mansion and Jungle Cruise,) seeing a parade, and staying for fireworks. A night at MNSSHP at the Magic Kingdom has me riding my favorite attractions, seeing a parade, and staying for fireworks. To be fair, for the latter two points I do think that the Boo To You parade and Happy HalloWishes fireworks are the best Disney has to offer, but there is very little change to either one from year to year. In contrast, a night at HHN almost never sees me going on the attractions I love at Universal. It has too much going on that is new and exciting, and it’s here just for the Halloween and then gone forever.
# 5 – Rush of Fear/Frequent Fear ticket options
One of the least talked about strengths of the Universal Orlando Resort as whole, is the value, which guests can find across the board, especially the ones used to Disney-only vacations. Whether it’s the room rates and amenities at hotels like the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, menu prices for restaurants such as Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, Mythos, and Red Oven Pizza Bakery, or the incredible deals HHN guests can get via the Rush of Fear or Frequent Fear ticket options, there are great prices everywhere you look. As much as I love MNSSHP, as an annual pass holder the $62 per night charge is hard to justify more than once or twice a season considering how little there is different between a MNSSHP night and a non-party night. For HHN, the Rush of Fear tickets allow guests to go to 10 events for less than $80. The Frequent Fear pass gives access to 16 event nights for under $90. The deals almost seem too good to be true. These tickets seem to be targeting the local and annual pass holder guests, and it would be nice to see Disney offer something as well to this fan base, even if it was done like a standard Magic Your Way ticket where the price reduces the more days you purchase. 1 ticket to MNSSHP for $62, 2 for $100, 3 for $135, etc. I could see myself going to more MNSSHP if there was a better financial incentive to do it.
# 4 – Merchandise
When you see all the items Universal pulls out for HHN it’s actually shocking how little Disney produces for MNSSHP. Outside of the limited edition MagicBand, Disney only has a limited selection of t-shirts and pins for MNSSHP, all featuring designs that if you took off the “2014” date, guests would find them impossible to distinguish from any other year’s offerings. Universal pulls out all the big merchandise guns offering not just a slew of HHN related merchandise, but also pieces directly related to all the big franchises they have licensed for the event. So that means not only do you have unique items like the limited edition zombie Uni-Mini, but you will find shirts for brands such as Aliens vs. Predator, John Carpenter’s Halloween, and The Walking Dead. I would have loved to have seen a MNSSHP themed vinylmation, or instead of using Chip & Dale for the millionth time on a generic pin, use one of the rarer villain characters like the Big Bad Wolf or Bowler Hat Guy.
# 3 – Finally there is something in the theme parks designed specifically for those of us over the age of 13
The fact that both Disney and Universal are family friendly is great. In fact I would argue in general Universal’s biggest weakness is the fact it doesn’t offer enough for guests under the age of 8. However, in every form of entertainment, adults have options, which directly appeal to them and doesn’t have to be “for all ages.” Yes, I enjoy watching Modern Family and Dog with a Blog, but I also like True Detective and Fargo. I’m a huge fan of Guardians of the Galaxy and Frozen, but I also enjoy going to movies I can’t bring the kids to like Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street. For Universal to have an event inside a theme park that caters to adults is refreshing. Legitimately creepy scare actors that roam the streets, next level bananas situations like The Purge human auction, and stuff inside the haunted the houses that can be terrifying.
I understand the point of the Not So Scary part of MNSSHP, but some times I like scary. I love the fact that Universal Creative can produce a house like Roanoke – Cannibal Colony and mix what I know about history with a great horror twist. When I was growing up the movie Child’s Play was a huge hit playing on the idea of an evil doll, and the Dollhouse of the Damned takes that idea to the next level. I love going to the theme parks with my family, but sometimes I like going with my friends and nothing beats HHN as it doesn’t need to be safe or dumb anything down.
# 2 – The Walking Dead. Halloween. Aliens. Predator. From Dusk Till Dawn. The Purge. Dracula Untold (well, maybe not the last one.)
While there is something to be said for original content in the parks, the same argument can be made that guests equally love properties adapted from other forms of entertainment. For every Expedition Everest and Haunted Mansion that we love to ride we also have properties like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours which work tremendously because we already know – and love – the worlds they are based on. Universal was built on the concept of being able to ride the movies and Halloween Horror Nights takes that concept to the next level, allowing guests to be completely immersed within the various properties and not just a passive experience on a ride. It’s one thing to ride Peter Pan’s Flight and see Capt Hook in a sword fight below you, but it’s something much more visceral to have Michael Myers from Halloween coming after YOU with a knife.
# 1 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
A pitch perfect skewering of pop culture, celebrities, and the theme park world we know and love. The list of people and brands taken down is large and the jokes are actually funny. Zac Efron. Justin Beiber. Orange is the New Black. Snapchat. Frozen. 22 Jump Street. Donald Sterling. Capt. Phillips. Megan Fox. Scarlett Johansson. Divergent. Breaking Bad. Lebron James. Game of Thrones. The Hobbit. Guardians of the Galaxy. MagicBands. State Farm commercials. Avatar. This is just a taste of what you will experience.
Great music. Great dancing. Great jokes. The perfect recipe to a crowd pleasing show and has plenty of lines you’ll be talking long after the show. (I’m puppet dying… You’re turtle racist….Magical Tracking Bands.) Step aside Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo: The Musical and Celestina Warbeck. There is no better show in any theme park, period.
So there you have it: Six Reasons Halloween Horror Nights is Better Than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween P:arty. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the SATURDAY SIX, where I promise we are finally going to cover some non-Disney and Universal attractions you should consider on your next to trip to Orlando. If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, grammar cop MegS, Universal Parks Icon Hate to Fly, Cover Band magnate Morgan Crutchfield, Parkscope everyman Joe Matt, and photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto for their invaluable assistance in this article.