Let’s get this out of the way: My name is Kristin Luna, and I’m a scaredy-cat. I’m not embarrassed by this; it just is what it is. I can’t even watch the trailer for a horror film, and I cover my eyes at least half of every episode of The Walking Dead. I’m also not the person you want to protect you through a haunted house.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins aside, Halloween is pretty much my least favorite time of year, because it means ghosts and ghouls and goblins and other creepy things waiting to jump out at me around every turn. So when I found out I’d be heading to Florida for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando right in the midst of Halloween Horror Nights, well, to say I was less than stoked to get scared out of my mind was an understatement.
But let me back up for just a second.
This would be a great time to announce that September kicked off a year-long ambassador program with Universal Orlando Resort where I’m now a sworn-in member of the #BlogSquad.
Now back to your regularly scheduled scream fest.
From mid-September through early November each year, Universal morphs into the stuff of nightmares when Halloween Horror Nights takes over on select evenings, so one full day of our #UORBlogSquad retreat was dedicated to seeing how the team puts together such a large-scale event. It was the 26th year, and there is a dedicated team who works year-round on executing HHN and figuring out new ways to scare park visitors. In fact, they were already busy working on the 27th while we were there.
Halloween Horror Nights is held in the original Universal Studios Florida park and comprises nine houses and five scare zones. Eight-hundred actors—or rather, “scaracters,” as they’re called—are hired to play the parts of zombies, slashers, clowns, vampires, chainsaw-wielding geishas, dead vampires, you name it. Each Wednesday through Sunday night through the duration of HHN, they take their places to scare people: two teams of scaracters rotating out in 45-minute shifts.
The doors open at 6:30pm each night, but before we experienced HHN after dark, we got a peek at what the sets looked like during the bright (erm, safety) of daylight.
Movie and horror genre buffs will love the Unmasking the Horror tour, as a guide takes you through a handful of the houses so you can see the sets and the special effects with the lights on.
This doesn’t make it any less scary once you walk through them at night, I’d come to find, but it is super cool to see all the details that go into creating such a masterpiece.
We began in The Exorcist house, which we weren’t allowed to photograph, and I immediately knew I would not be entering that one come night, as it was terrifying enough with the lights on. Then we got to go into Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch, a Universal original, and find out how they created mirror effects, rain, lighting and more, before also checking out Tomb of the Ancients and Universal’s showstopper: the 3D fun house.
That night before the doors opened, we all convened upstairs in VIP services and got to watch a pair of makeup artists transform a couple of regular—very good-looking, I should add—guys into, well, freaks of the night.
You might think it would take hours to get these effects, but the artists are such pros, they were done with each in 20 minutes or less. Given the makeup team has 800 actors to transform into scaracter each night, I guess they have to learn how to do it in a speedy manner.
Then, it was our turn. They asked each of us what kind of injury we wanted to sustain. Some chose vampire bites, others bruises, others knife slashes.
I told my makeup artist to do whatever she wanted, and less than 60 seconds later—no exaggeration—I looked like I’d been shaken up by a gang of teenage zombies.
Now that I looked the part, it was time to join the masses and go inside Halloween Horror Nights. Despite my new face costume, I still didn’t have a whole lot of confidence that I wouldn’t pass out from the fear of it all.
My game plan had been to go into one house (maybe)—if I was feeling really brave—then sit the rest of them out with my girls Alex and Angie, who are equally scaredy-cat when it comes to this sort of thing. However, when we got to the entrance of The Walking Dead, I suddenly wanted to go in. I mean, a) it’s one of my favorite shows and b) zombies? How scary can they be?! (Very, it turns out.)
However, I persevered and held on with my pal Rachelle for dear life as we raced through the house as quickly as we could screaming “I SEE YOU!” around every corner in an attempt to dissuade the scaracters from making us pee our pants (or, in my case, dress).
When I came out the other side, I thought: That wasn’t so bad. It gave me a false sense of fear for my next house: The Exorcist.
Not so bad either, it turned out. And the smell in the vomit room didn’t make me gag either, which I was really worried about. Don’t get me wrong, still scary for sure, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Then, it was into the Tomb of the Ancients, the one I wouldn’t dare step into even in the brightness of day because of my crippling claustrophobia, and I survived once more! I was getting into a rhythm at this point.
After that, I kept ticking houses off my list: Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch. Halloween. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Krampus. American Horror Story. It was more a challenge to myself than anything else; I’m competitive to a fault, so once I’d done two, I had to do three. Once I’d done five, I was more than halfway there. I couldn’t stop until I’d reached all nine.
By the time we got to the ninth and last house—Lunatics Playground 3D (could the name be more fitting for me?)—I couldn’t believe it. I’d done it! Well, one last house, which proved to be the hardest of all what with the 3D glasses, the spinning rooms, the clowns jumping out from every angle.
You guys, the whole thing was an absolute BLAST.
I couldn’t have had more fun going through those houses with my squad, and at the end of the night I didn’t want to leave. Maybe this will instill enough confidence to watch a horror movie (one day…). I even kept my eyes open long enough to put together a little video of the experience so you can get a taste for it yourself.
What It Costs
The price of the regular ticket is $105 (or $73 if you’re a Florida resident). If you’re already going to the park during the day, you can add on admission to HHN for an additional $56 or purchase a package that also includes your hotel and will save you a little bit on the entrance fee.
Don’t Miss Out On…
There are two shows that take place at Halloween Horror Nights: Academy of Villains and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. We only had time for the latter, but it was totally worth the hour of sitting still between houses. No photos were allowed, so you’ll just have to imagine for yourself the hilarity of having Kylo Ren, HRC, Kim Kardsashian, Taylor Swift, the Marvel characters, and plenty of others share the stage for the most ridiculously amazing variety show I’ve ever seen.
The R.I.P. Tour
Because we were there as official guests of Universal, they arranged for us all to have a designated R.I.P. Tour guide. This is an extra cost, of course, but a service that’s also available to the general public, and one I would highly recommend if you want to get the full experience. For an additional $180, you get to skip all the ridiculously 90-minute long lines and fast track through the house, plus have a designated seat at the Bill and Ted show. If you have a group of 10, you can also book a private R.I.P. Tour that works out to the same cost per person.
There’s even a special restaurant where we were served complimentary treats and drinks when we needed a little bit of a scare break.
Walk the Scare Zones
The five scare zones serve as connecting points between various parts of the park and the houses. They’re also very theatrical and creative, my favorite being Dead Man’s Wharf, which felt eerily similar to being trapped inside that Disney movie about pirates (not gonna say it’s name here since it’s not a Universal brand, ha!), and Vamp ’55, a recreation of a ’50s homecoming dance that went wrong, way wrong.
There’s also Survive or Die the Apocalypse, A Chance in Hell and Lair of the Banshee, which was the scariest one of all—as if Dementors were lurking on the other side of the fog waiting to devour your soul.
For any of you who don’t feel confident enough to go through the houses, at least walk through the scare zones, which are a lot of fun and so detailed and extremely well done, too.
Some things to know before you go:
- Costumes are forbidden. There are enough of those in the park already, so leave your Scream masks and Batman suit at home!
- No outside drinks are allowed in the park, nor are unmarked prescription bottles. I love how Universal is so safety-conscious, and they really do check to make sure alcohol and drug abuse doesn’t ruin the experience for anybody.
- Don’t touch the actors. This could get you kicked out. On the flip side, they’re not actually allowed to touch you either as you make your way through the houses.
- Fellow claustrophobes, it’s really not that bad at all. The only one that might possibly have you feeling a bit panicky is the Tomb of the Ancients, but honestly it goes by so quickly, you hardly think about it. Besides, the widths of all hallways in the houses have to be ADA-compliant and there are marked exits if you really need it. (I didn’t.)
- Some rides and Universal CityWalk stay open. Need a break from scares? Hop on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Revenge of the Mummy, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts or MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack.
So what do you think: Have you ever done anything like HHN before? Would you ever do it?
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*I am an official member of the Universal Blog Squad, and this post is part of a year-long paid ambassadorship, but as always, all opinions are my own.