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Halloween News: Of icons and IP — the differences among Universal's Halloween Horror Nights events

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: July 31, 2014 at 10:25 AM

There was a bit of a lull in theme park announcements this week — Halloween Horror Nights has remained silent and we’re all waiting for Knott’s to drop their maze lineup August 6. After these dominoes start to fall we’ll learn more about what to expect from the smaller, regional parks across the country.

Last week we linked to a report about the Horror Nights event in Singapore but didn’t spent a lot of time discussing the event. Now in its fourth year, Horror Nights Singapore uses a similar format to that used by the Orlando event: namely, it uses an icon. This year’s icon, Jonah Goodwill, has been teased through promotional videos (there are five in that playlist) and takes prime placement on their website.

The videos are very cinematic, even the first which was filmed (I believe) at the press conference for the event is very well done. As Goodwill takes reign in Singapore, it appears we are seeing icons take a backseat in American properties. Hollywood has not relied on an icon since 2007 when they brought in the New Line troupe of Freddy, Jason and Leatherface to run the show (though they used Jack the Clown in many promotional videos over the years).

Orlando, the event that has most relied on an icon to sell the show in the past, has moved away from using a made-for-the-event character as the focal point of their campaign. Three years ago Lady Luck was the icon of the Orlando event — since then the ambiguous Legions of Terror led the way in 2012 and the zombies of the walking dead did the heavy lifting in 2013.

While the Japan event is still in its infancy, it has relied more on IPs than new-for-the-event icons. Resident Evil made an appearance in last year’s event, but it seems that Sadoka, the antagonist from The Ring, was the main icon of the event. Like the Hollywood event, and increasingly the Orlando event, it appears the focus is moving towards IPs as the means of drawing guests in. The power of the Brand is alive and well at Universal Studios.

Despite Universal’s newfound commitment to the brands of horror films, most other events rely on good ole-fashioned tropes to make their money. Howl-O-Scream in both Tampa and Williamsburg pumps out “oh yeah, that’s a Halloween Thing” maze concepts year in and year out. Cedar Fair and Six Flags use similar strategies, with Knott’s Berry Farm occasionally pulling in an IP to bolster its lineup.

As someone who has not gotten the full icon experience at their home event, I’ve always liked the concept — particularly the way it has been pulled off by Universal in Orlando. It adds something to tie the event together and gives the opportunity for great showpieces. The opening ceremony at Universal Studios Orlando became as much a part of the event as the mazes and scare zones, and it appears that is true in Singapore, too.

That all being said — if you have IPs, you have no business not using them. To the surprise of no one, The Walking Dead holds more advertising clout than Bloody Mary and Jack the Clown. Many fans (myself included) would like to see more non-IP mazes and icons at Halloween events, but the reality is we’re likely to see the number of IPs increase across the world, not the opposite. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing...just a thing.

Next week’s column will feature news on all the new mazes coming to Knott’s Scary Farm and (hopefully) some more news from Universal Studios, too.

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Disney World brings return time cards to Epcot's Soarin'

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 30, 2014 at 1:33 PM

Walt Disney World today expanded its "Anna and Elsa"-style timed return ticket system to Epcot's Soarin'. With standby waits often over two hours, Soarin' is one of Disney's most popular attractions, which is why the resort soon will be building a third theater for the show. But in the meantime, Disney's trying the system it employed last week for the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet at the Magic Kingdom's Princess Fairytale Hall.

Soarin'
Inside Soarin'. Photo courtesy Disney

People who have made Fastpass+ reservations for Soarin' will continue to use that return queue as before. However, once the standby queue reaches a certain point, Disney cast members stop admitting visitors to that queue and start instead handing out cards with assigned return times.

When that time arrives, the visitors go into the by-that-time-much-shorter standby queue for a (relatively) quick wait to get into one of the Soarin's theaters for the show. Ultimately, visitors still are waiting several hours to see Soarin', but now they can wait elsewhere in the park, seeing other attractions or spending money on food and merchandise. In essence, it's like getting another Fastpass+, but one that doesn't count against your limit and one that you have to claim in person at the attraction, with no choice on return time. In those ways, the "new" system is much like the old, original Disney Fastpass system.

As with Anna and Elsa, this appears to be a test. But with this system appearing now in three of the Disney World theme parks (Disney's used it for the Frozen Summer at Disney's Hollywood Studios, too), one wonders if Disney will continue to expand these return time cards to other popular attractions throughout the resort, when standby wait times surpass a certain point.

That would leave Disney with three ways to get on its attractions: the advance Fastpass+ reservations, the return-time tickets, and the traditional stand-by queues. Note that when Disney goes with return-time tickets at a ride or show, it closes the standby queue, so there are only two of the three options available at any given time on a specific attraction.

Visitors will valid theme park tickets may reserve three Fastpass+ reservations per day for their visit via the Disney World website or app, then get additional Fastpass+ reservations in the parks, one at a time, as available, after they've used their first three. The return time cards aren't part of the Fastpass+ system, so you can get one of those without counting against your Fastpass+ limit. And once Disney's handed out all the cards for all the available return times for the day, you're out of luck. There's no way to get on that ride or show. (Though it is possible that Disney could decide to cut off distribution of the return time cards earlier in the day to allow the standby queue to reopen on a walk-up basis later in the day. Some visitors have been told that's what will happen with Soarin' today.)

If you're trying to figure out a strategy for maximizing the number of high-demand attractions to visit with these return-time cards, good luck. Perhaps, with time, it will become easy to predict when Disney will close a stand-by queue in favor of the return-time cards. For those attractions, you'd want to be at the attraction entrance as soon as possible after Disney starts handing out those cards to get your assigned return time. If you knew you'd be able to do that, it then would make sense to use your three advance Fastpass+ reservations on other rides or shows during the day. That would allow you to have, in effect, four reserved attraction times. But if you're not certain that Disney's going to go with the return-time cards on a ride or show with typically long waits, you'll need to get a Fastpass+ reservation to avoid having to wait physically in an hours-long standby queue.

Previously:

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Game Review: Roller Coaster Tycoon 4 Mobile

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: July 29, 2014 at 1:35 PM

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Universal announces a new 'Puss in Boots' family coaster for Singapore

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 29, 2014 at 10:44 AM

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What are Orlando's best theme park hotels?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM

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King Kong is coming back to theaters, as it comes back to Universal Orlando

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2014 at 9:26 PM

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The Week Ahead: Disney and Universal schedules for July 28-August 3, 2014

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2014 at 2:37 PM

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Insider's Update: Setting sail from Pirate Island.. and a new freebie at Universal Orlando

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 26, 2014 at 10:18 AM

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Vote of the Week: Should theme parks make certain attractions available by reservation only?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 25, 2014 at 9:02 AM

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Holiday World announces Thunderbird, America's first launched wing coaster

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: July 24, 2014 at 7:47 PM

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