Followers of Dis Downlow know that we have been looking forward to one thing this Fall more than any other: Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando! I know we talk about it alot based on how many time it pops up when I search for it on our site. Sorry. We love it! HHN 26 (the number is used to indicate how many years the show has been running) takes place simultaneously on each coast at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood. The event consists of several “houses” (out west they call them “mazes”), scare zones and shows. Universal transforms their parks with fantastic lighting and sound effects and it pays off in every way.
This was our 3rd year visiting for HHN. We’re not sure yet how it ranks in comparison to those years, especially because last year’s 25th anniversary version of HHN was amazing. This year, Universal put a lot of stock in well-known horror properties to up the ante and reengage visitors who may have expected a let down from last year. Six of the 9 houses this year are based on well-known horror movies, while the remaining three houses are based on new ideas created specifically for HHN 26 by Universal. This ratio has pros and cons like everything else. One one hand, Universal was very smart to base so many houses off of big horror names like Michael Myers, Leatherface and the Exorcist. On the other hand, we have found that houses with original content often tend to have the bigger scares and better outcome because guests don’t have any idea what to expect. Fortunately, HHN 26 delivers with the best of both worlds: the well-known character houses were stacked with scares and great effects, while the houses with original content kept visitors on edge with unexpected storylines and beautifully-crafted sets.
Our tickets for HHN 26 were originally for a Thursday night, a slower night and one that is recommended for visitors who aren’t using the express past skip lines. We highly recommend the express pass if you ever visit on a weekend night, but we didn’t buy one this year as we were scheduled to go mid-week. Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew has other plans: our Thursday night trip was cancelled and we had to reschedule for Saturday night. At first we were quite nervous about the change – Saturday nights are the busiest nights of the week and without a game plan, it’s possible to wait in lines up to 2 hours for one house. We were grateful to our friends over at Orlando Informer who have a fantastic travel plan on their site to help visitors navigate HHN. We relied heavily on that travel plan and thanks to some meticulous planning and very fast feet, we were able to hit all 9 HHN houses a busy Saturday night!
The key to a successful night is pretty simple: On show nights, Universal Studios closes at 5pm to give team members time to transform the park for HHN. As long as you are at Universal before 5 and you have a valid ticket for HHN, you are permitted to stay inside the park (in designated holding areas) while the HHN transformation takes place. Then about 15 minutes before the main gates open for HHN guests outside the park, those folks in the holding cells are allowed to get in line of the houses. Fifteen minutes might not seem like much of a head start, but trust us: when you’ve got thousands of guests about to enter the park, a 15-minute head start sometimes will mean you blaze through two or three houses with almost no line.
So the real question is, how do the HHN 26 attractions rank this year? It’s a challenge to rank them, but we’ve tried our best below!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Our favorite house of the night recreates many great scenes from the original TCM including the slamming metal door from which Leatherface emerges and the “macabre” dinner scene. Fantastic scares, great costumes and jumps that continue outside as you exit the house. (5 out of 5)
Halloween – Hell Comes to Haddonfield: Scary and nostalgic, Michael Myers returns for another go at HHN after a year off. This year, the house is set in the hospital from Halloween 2. Many memorable scenes re-enacted and a lot of jump scares from the numerous Michaels. Plus it has the best finale of any house this year. (4.5 out of 5)
Tomb of the Ancients – One of the two original property houses and a home run in our books! The best part of Tomb is that we had no idea what to expect! So when the scares starting coming quick and early, we were totally thrown off and kept on edge for the duration of the house! ToA also features one of the best animatronics of the entire event – a terrifying dragon that somehow actually chases after guests. That one scare might have been the highlight of the night! (4.5 out of 5)
American Horror Story – The centerpiece house this year and the one we were sure to do first so that we didn’t have to wait up to 2 hours to get in. It was a wise choice to get the night started. The AHS house features scenes from select seasons of the show (Murderhouse, Freak Show, and Hotel). If you’ve ever watched the FX series, you’ll recognize a lot of the characters. On the downside, I felt the house was over very quickly, probably because it’s most visitors’ first stop. We felt a little rushed going through, but it was a still a worthy use of the American Horror Story brand! (4 out of 5)
Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch – Ghost Town is the second of the original houses this year and it was a blast. Intricate sets and gloomy atmosphere with some really scary costume work too. Whereas most houses are crowded and almost suffocating, GT was just the opposite – big open spaces that allowed for guests to get some space between each other and really get into the scene. (4 out of 5)
Krampus – Like the movie itself, Krampus the house was a surprise hit! We were honestly going to skip this one as we were into hour number 7 of house hopping and were beat! Glad we decided to do it because it had some of the best scares of the night. Many of the characters, including of course the titular Krampus, show up from the movie: gingerbread people, attic monsters, and other Christmas-themed ghouls. Surprised how good this house was. (4 out of 5)
The Excorcist – Gruesome and terrifying like the movie. The Exorcist house had the best sound effects of all the houses which is a huge compliment at a place like HHN. Many iconic scenes from the movie were somehow recreated including a brief glimpse of the Regan’s spider walk down the stairs, the head spinning scene and even her levitation. Scary stuff! (4 out of 5)
The Walking Dead – In three trips to HHN, we’ve seen WD all three times. This is the best WD house we’ve seen, but still feels like a tired concept ready to be replace. It uses scenes from all seasons of the show, staring strong with the hospital sequence from he series premier and going all the way through Terminus. As with the show itself, the house gets less interesting as it moves along, but it’s still a step up from last year’s boring WD house. (3 out of 5)
Lunatic’s Playground 3D – Not much to say here unfortunately. This house is just OK. It’s the obligatory 3D house which means it has a good use of color and lighting in, but just isn’t very memorable. (2 out of 5)
So that’s the rundown of HHN 26! Each year is different with new houses added and some removed. If you ever find yourself in Florida in September or October, we cannot recommend this event highly enough! We did not take nearly as many pictures as we would have liked, but we did snap a few!
If You Go:
- Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights runs on select nights through November 5, 2016.
- Ticket prices can be found here
- Remember to use this touring plan from Orlando Informer!
- Many signature Universal Studios attractions are open during HHN 26. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to ride the amazing Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s with very little wait, or just to walk around Diagon Alley with very few other people!
- Parking is available Universal CityWalk starting at $20
Have you ever braved Halloween Horror Nights? Interested in going next year? Let us know in the comments!