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Typical Dates: Late September through Halloween
September 16, 17, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30
October 1, 2, 6 (canceled), 7 (canceled), 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31
November 4, 5 (extended)
Held at Universal Studios Florida
The below information is based on the 2016 event. This page will be updated as new details are released.
The godfather (or is that gorefather?) of all Universal Orlando seasonal events, Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights (or HHN, as it's know to its legions of bloodthirsty fans) is recognized as the nation's most popular and industry-awarded haunted theme park event. Originally a locals-friendly filler during a normally slow season, Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween celebration started in 1991 as a single weekend of “Fright Nights,” and proved popular enough to almost single-handedly save Universal's financial skin during the park's lean early years. Over the last quarter-century, HHN has grown so famous that the seven-week-long scare-abration can provide a substantial percentage of USF’s annual attendance statistics. Much like visiting any of Orlando’s theme parks during a peak holiday season, an evening at HHN can be tremendous fun if you go in with a solid plan and sane expectations. Without those things…well, you might be better off eaten by zombies!
Halloween Horror Nights Survival Guide
Part I: Before The Event
We've been attending HHN every year since 1996, and it has become one of our favorite after-dark activities in any park, but it ain't for everybody. Before beginning, make sure Universal's brand of Halloween is right for you; this ain't Mickey's Not-So-Scary. Halloween Horror Nights is a gory, gruesome bacchanalia of simulated violence and tasteless satire, marinated with a liberal dose of alcohol and rock ‘n’ roll. In other words, it’s a heck of a party as long as you know what you’re getting into! If the idea of copious blood, guts, and booze doesn’t appeal, we advise staying far, far away. Needless to say, it is not appropriate for young children, though you will likely see many there.
To arm yourself with knowledge before braving Halloween Horror Nights, visit the official website, along with the fan-run websites HorrorNightNightmares.com, HHNCrypt.com, HHNYearbook.com, HHNRumors.com, and HHNUnofficial.com.
1. Pick the right night.
Even more so than daytime touring, a successful HHN visit requires careful date selection. In 2016, Halloween Horror Nights was held on 30 select nights between September 16 and November 5 (including a two-night extension due to Hurricane Matthew). In short, you want to avoid all Saturdays (especially the final three leading up to Halloween) like the plague. Fridays in October -- particularly the last two before Halloween -- aren't much better. Wednesday nights are usually the least crowded, followed by Thursdays (especially the first two) and Sundays (especially the first, but excluding the last). Opening weekend brings out all the local fans, so your best bet is the last week of September, or the first week of October. Halloween night itself and any nights after it are often extremely quiet. The price of express tickets on a given night is your best guide to how busy it will be: the larger the cost, the larger the crowds.
2. Know what to expect.
The three basic elements of each year's event are haunted houses (or mazes), outdoor scarezones, and theater shows. Universal also makes many of their regular rides available during HHN event nights, including Escape From Gringotts (though not the Hogwarts Express) in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley.
3. Buy a pass in advance.
If you walk up to the box-office on the night of the event, you'll pay over $105 plus tax -- a frightening sum for a little as 6-1/2 hours in the park -- and likely wait in a ridiculously long line for the privilege. Instead, study the myriad online ticket options in advance and purchase before you leave home.
Deep discounts (up to $49 off) are offered online to Florida residents with coupon codes from Coca-Cola cans. If you aren't eligible for those, consider getting an annual pass, which entitles you to even deeper price breaks and early event entry during Passholder parties on select nights during the opening weekends. If you already have daytime admission to a Universal park, you can purchase an add-on ticket at the park that allows you to remain through the evening’s event for $56-$83, depending on the night.
Finally, if you are a hard-core haunt fan and spending more than a night in the area, you'll want a Frequent Fear (valid every Sunday through Thursday event night, with Fridays included in the Plus version for an extra fee) or Rush of Fear (valid every event night through the first Sunday in October) multi-day pass. In 2016, Universal introduced an Ultimate Frequent Fear pass valid every event night, in case you feel like spending more than the cost of an annual pass for a few weeks of scares.Tip: You can buy a Rush of Fear and upgrade it to a Frequent Fear on or before its expiration date for maximum value.
3. Consider Universal's HHN Express Pass
Universal Orlando's paid line-skipping service is a welcome luxury during the day, but an absolute lifesaver at night. On peak HHN nights, queues for the haunted houses will approach 3 hours, and even on the slowest nights they will hit 60 minutes. HHN Express passes reduce that wait to between 25% and 33% of what it would otherwise be, which can make the difference between experiencing 2 or 3 houses in a night, or visiting 7 or more. The only catch is that Express starts at $80 per person, and goes up over $140 depending on the night. Express is also available as an add-on for Rush of Fear or Frequent Fear multi-night passes. Express passes often sell out and may be more expensive or or unavailable inside the park, so if you do want them buy in advance.
Bottom Line: On off-peak nights it is possible to experience all the haunted houses and at least one show without Express, if you arrive early and stay until closing. On peak nights it is virtually impossible to do the same without Express passes, and can be challenging with them.
If you're feeling particularly flush, and fed up with any kind of queue, an RIP guided tour will whisk you to the head of every line for "only" $180 and up, admission not included. A private RIP tour for you and up to nine of your friends starts at $1799. When money is no object and you want to feel like theme park royalty, the RIP tours are highly recommended.
Call 1-866-604-7556 or email email@example.com for pricing and reservations.
4. Dig Even Deeper (for Hardcore HHN Fans)
For the superfans with extra spending money, Universal offers a choice of in-depth HHN experiences. Join one of Universal's designers on a daytime light-on trips through three houses on each of the two Unmasking the Horror behind-the-scenes tours ($75 and up for one tour, $120 for both). On event nights, ticket holders can start their night with a $50 Scareactor dinner, which includes an all-you-can-eat buffet and monster meet-and-greet. These upgrades can be booked online at this webpage.
In 2016, Universal introduced their first extra-cost attraction at Halloween Horror Nights. The Repository is a unique Virtual Reality interactive experience where groups of four guests at a time use 3-D headsets to explore a secret warehouse of supernatural artifacts. The touted VR simulation is only a small part of the overall experience, as guests must also solve real-world puzzles by interacting with live actors who push and shove you though the elaborate sets. Tickets are an additional $50 on top of event admission, and it’s only offered on select nights. For first-time Horror Nights visitors, there’s more than enough entertainment included in your regular admission, but habitual haunters will want to book their required reservations early and often.
Part II: On The Event Night
1. Arrive as early as possible.
The event officially begins each evening at 6:30 p.m., but the front gates typically open as early as 6 p.m. If you have an HHN ticket but not daytime admission, you'll want to be outside the park gates, ticket in hand, by 5:45 p.m. at the latest on slow nights, and as early as 5 p.m. on peak nights. Be sure to leave ample time for I-4 traffic and parking, which is full price until 8 p.m. and $5 until 10 p.m. Valet parking is available but remember that there is no free or discounted valet for annual passholders on event nights.
Since Universal began security screenings of all guests in the parking hub, there is no longer a gauntlet of metal detectors to navigate at USF’s front gates. Your goal is to secure a spot as close to the turnstiles as possible; don't be shy about lining up at the temporary entry scanners at the center gate.
On-site hotel guests also get their own exclusive entrance on the far right end of the USF arches. Note that the unlimited Express access included with some resort rooms is not valid during HHN.
Early arrivals may also get a view of a gate-opening performance, which usually occurs just inside the main entrance. Don't worry if you miss this minor event; it's a nice touch but not essential.
1a. Arrive even earlier
Better yet, get a jump on the general public outside the gates by being inside the park before they open. The park closes to daytime guests at 5 p.m. on event nights, but anyone holding a ticket for that night's HHN is allowed to remain inside the park in designated holding areas. Universal no longer sells a specific "Stay & Scream" ticket for early entry; anyone can access this opportunity if they have any valid daytime park ticket, including annual passholders.
Note that the park is officially open for regular operations until 5 p.m., but you'll want to enter before 4:30 p.m. to avoid dealing with the arriving evening crowds. Between the park's closing and reopening, guests remaining in the park are confined to one of the following "Stay & Scream" locations:
- The Springfield section near Fast Food Boulevard features priority access to the first two haunted houses that open each evening. Guests in this area can queue as early as 4 p.m., and are allowed into the two houses with entrances there between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. Guests are released from the area at 6 p.m., and can be the first to queue for the house nearest to the MIB Gear shop. There is a limited selection of food and drink vendors available in this location. Note that on the first two weekends, this area is restricted to annual Passholders who have registered online for an exclusive Passholder event, during which 3 houses are opened as early as 5:30 p.m.
- The New York area holding area includes Finnegan's bar, which offers a full liquor bar and table service food, though reservations are virtually impossible to secure between 4 and 7 p.m. Guests here are released around 5:45 p.m., giving them first crack at the soundstage houses.
- A small overflow holding area is located in Hollywood near the near the Hello Kitty store. There is no food or beverage available here, but you do get early access to the soundstages.
- Finally, Diagon Alley is not a holding area for HHN, but guests with park-to-park daytime tickets may board the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station after USF’s closing as long as IOA remains open.
2. Attack the houses first
The haunted houses (expanded to nine for the 25th anniversary) are the signature attractions at HHN, and quickly develop wait times ranging from moderate to absolutely ridiculous. Four haunted mazes are housed in the huge production soundstages located behind Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit; four are located in a warehouse and large ‘sprung’ tents erected backstage behind KidZone and World Expo; and one takes over one of the two theaters inside the Shrek 4-D attraction.
Each year, due to theme or location, some houses seem to attract longer queues that others. For the 2015 silver anniversary, popular event icon Jack the Clown returned as ringmaster, with his Harley Quinn-esque girlfriend Chance taking the reigns for HHN 26. In 2016, American Horror Story, The Exorcist, and other licensed houses in the sound stages near the front entrance were the most popular, while the original mazes in the rear of the park drew shorter lines than average. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to bite the bullet and queue up for a particular maze.
Tip: Don't waste time at the beginning of the evening queuing for a house that hasn't yet opened, when you could be enjoying short waits at the mazes that are operating. Houses that don't open until after 6:30 will accumulate a large backlog of guests before they begin operating, so save them for the end of the night instead.
Even the least popular houses, however, will have peak waits of 30 minutes or more, even on less busy nights. Your first hour at the event is therefore essential to making the most of evening, and your initial plan of attack is determined by which location you start your night from:
Early Entry Option A: Springfield
If you are among the first inside the Springfield Stay & Scream area, queue up for the parade building house (enter near E.T.) as soon as allowed. The exit of that maze leads directly to the entrance of the first sprung tent house which is conveniently your second stop.
Alternatively, if you are late entering the holding area, the queue for the first house may already be posted at an hour or more. In that case do the tent house first, saving the parade building for later the early entry period (the wait should diminish rapidly) or late in the evening.
Guests should released from the KidZone area between 5:45 and 6:00 p.m., and can line up for the second tent house near MIB Gear, or cross the park to the open soundstage houses.
Early Entry Option B: Finnegan's
Enter the New York holding area between 4 and 5 p.m. (the earlier the better, especially if you want get food or drink), receive a wristband, and relax until released around 5:45 p.m. You will have a short head-start on everyone else for the first of the soundstage houses to open.
Early Entry Option C: Hollywood
Hollywood Holding Area: Check into the holding area outside the Hello Kitty store before park closing, and push your way through the plaza as close to the Despicable Me ride as possible. Guests will be released shortly before the front gates open, and make a mad dash across the street to the first soundstage entrance. By the time the first holding area guests exit the haunted house, the line behind them may be an hour or more, so you should head towards KidZone immediately afterwards.
Once the general public is admitted through the front gates (as early as 6 p.m.) queues at the soundstage houses will swiftly build; see as many as you can until waits exceed 30 minutes, then proceed to the houses in the back of the park.
If you are among the first folks through the gates when they open around 6:00 p.m., head straight to the open soundstage houses and jump in line if it is still 15 minutes or less. Otherwise, the majority of guests will mob the four houses located in the sound stages near the front of the park. You should avoid the horde by heading in the opposite direction, towards KidZone, which should have processed the majority of stay & scream guests by now. You can also continue through Springfield to the houses outside MIB Gear and in the MEN IN BLACK extended queue.
3. Check the show schedule.
After the haunted houses, the Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure show (staged inside the Fear Factor Live stadium) is the event's most popular element. Each year's skits skewer pop-culture celebrities and current events while pulling out the stops with pyrotechnics and barely-clad dancers.
The first and last showings are typically the only ones you can attend without lining up 45 to 60 minutes in advance. If you have already seen 3 or 4 houses by 7 p.m. (and are interested in a raunchy spoof) make your way to Bill & Ted about 30 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. first show. You'll be entertained by a parade of painful-looking YouTube clips while you wait for the show to start.
If you've only hit 1 or 2 houses so far, and posted wait times are still moderate (under 30 minutes) you can skip the first Bill & Ted and slide into the final showing 15 minutes before the showtime, as there are sometimes empty seats for the last performance on off-peak nights.
In addition to Bill & Ted, there is usually a gory magic show or high-energy dance show on the outdoor stage erected at the end of Hollywood Boulevard across from Mel’s Die-In.
4. Explore the scarezones.
After the sun sets (around 7:30 p.m.) and the waits for the houses become unbearable, begin exploring the scarezones, which are like open-air haunted mazes minus the conga-line queues. Just as much fun as getting scared yourself is finding a vantage point to stand still and see others getting spooked; this is some of the best people-watching you'll ever find. Be on the lookout for staged scenes, in which actors attack planted "victims" within the crowd.
5. Single rider the rides.
By the mid-point of the evening, standby waits for all the houses will be substantial, and lines for the rides will be astronomical on Saturdays) but experiencing several top attractions should still be manageable using single rider queues. Men In Black, Revenge of the Mummy, Escape from Gringotts, and Transformers all have fairly efficient single-rider operations. (Transformers' singles queue is closed when it hits about 30 minutes, but usually reopens after 10 or 15 minutes, so hang around nearby without blocking the entrance.) Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit has a single rider line but it is often as long as the standby queue, and none of the other operating rides have one at all. On off-peak nights, you may find ride queues shockingly short: Transformers has been as short as 10 minutes, even on peak nights.
6. Escape to CityWalk
Even on a slow night, Horror Nights crowds can drive you to drink, and many of your fellow guests will doubtlessly be imbibing. There are temporary bars serving expensive mixed drinks on seemingly every spare square foot of sidewalk, but but serious in-park boozing we prefer Finnegan's bar or Duff Brewery in Springfield USA. Better yet, if the park is open past 1 a.m., get out of Dodge for an hour or so and retreat to CityWalk. Most HHN passes include admission to CityWalk's clubs, or you can grab a drink at Antojitos or NBC Sports Grill & Brew without a cover charge.
7. Haunt again at the witching hour.
As the evening's event approaches its final hour, wait times at the haunted mazes drop dramatically. If you are interested in Bill & Ted and didn't catch the first showing, show up 20 to 30 minutes before the last performance on peak nights (or 15 minutes before showtime off-peak). Otherwise, use final hours to catch up on the houses you missed earlier. The last 30 to 60 minutes before park close is the best time to hit the most popular houses. If you didn't see the most popular mazes at the start of the night, step into line for one of them at the last possible minute; you'll be allowed to stay in the queue until you're through.
8. Be the last to leave.
Unless you leave significantly before closing time, you're best off dawdling in the park or CityWalk on the way out. The parking garage exits will be at a standstill, so you might as well grab a seat outside and relax rather than breathing fumes in a traffic jam.
Last updated by Seth Kubersky on October 26, 2016