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JOE TOURIST - Halloween Horror Nights 14 @ UO

From his little padded cell, Joe Lane files his trip report on Universal's annual haunted house and Halloween event.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: October 11, 2004 at 9:52 AM

JOE TOURIST - Halloween Horror Nights 14 @ UO
How I Found My Breaking Point

I've never been to Universal's annual Halloween event. People who know me know I don't like being scared. So it took every last bit of courage and a great deal intrigue to make the trip to Orlando this month and experience Halloween Horror Nights for the first time. As most folks know, this is a big year for the Orlando-based resort which is holding the event at both Universal Studios AND Islands of Adventure for the first time.

Seven houses. Four scare zones. A parade, a live show, and about a dozen attractions (not to mention all the vendors selling alcoholic beverages). Although the event is held in both parks, only about half of each park was used. At IOA, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park and half of The Lost Continent are closed. At the Studios, the park is closed from Earthquake around the lagoon, through World Expo to the front side of Mel's Diner and down Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and Nickelodeon Way. While it is in some light a sensible move to close off portions of the park, the closure of Dueling Dragons and Men In Black: Alien Attack, two E-Ticket attractions, hardly makes sense in my mind.

Despite the fact, our group was still pressed for time to see and do everything on our list from open to close (and this is early in the month, too--imagine what the crowds will be like come Halloween!) Even on this peak night, we were early enough in the month to avoid long waits. Our longest wait was 45 minutes, although some houses went on to feature hour long waits later in the night.

We arrived at the park around the 6:30 opening time. A lot of extra precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of guests and scareactors. Metal detectors have been set up and extra security in the form of Orlando P.D. are present at the event. Haunting music fills the air and a pair of demonic temptresses invite the unknowing victims into the Point of Evil, the focal point for years of horror and fear inspired by past Horror Nights. Universal does an excellent job in setting up the atmosphere for the evening.

Instead of traveling in a counter-clockwise route as the universal map and tour videos suggest, our group decided to do the park in a clockwise form, so we traveled up through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent to our first stop for the evening.

As in previous years, monitors and large screens play videos explaining a little of the backstory for each house. Hellgate Prison tells the story of notorious warden Robert L. Strickland and his unusual methods for punishing criminals. We then learn the inmates have overpowered the guards and taken over the facility. The criminals run around the complex, screaming and making rude comments to both female and male alike (how flattering). The climax of the attraction is a very convincing execution by electric chair.

Next up is the Fright Yard scare zone. Two warring gangs, The Demented and The Twisted, populate this industrial area. Chainsaws and flamethrowers are present. Lots of loud noises make for an unnerving experience--the sound of roaring ATVs and helicopters fill the air, along with heavy rock music.

Exiting the Fright Yard takes you into the Studios and the entrance to Castle Vampyr. The vampire-themed hosue has a very convincing set design--gothic-style architecture on the soundstage makes it look like you're inside an ancient castle. This is also where you'll see the now popular vampire dance club scene, as well as some great flying vampire effects. Many of these elements make Vampyr one of the more popular houses this year. At midnight, while most houses sported a fifteen or thirty minute wait, Vampyr held an hour.

Horror Nights Nightmares revisits HHNs past in a documentary style before taking you to meet the icons, including The Director, Jack, The Caretaker and Eddie. This house was both convincingly scary and interesting, especially to see all these characters from years past in one place. The house seems a little short, but there are still plenty of scares.

The dead end along the Embarcadero humorously enough marks the entrance to Deadtropolis, a zombie-themed haunted house in the vein of Resident Evil or 28 Days Later. A strange virus has been unleashed upon the city, bringing the dead to life. This is an instance where the pre-house queue video was more disturbing and scary than the actual house itself. One of the major highlights of Deadtropolis is the vomiting zombie which reportedly actually smells of vomit. Otherwise, you'll hardly smell the stench.

Midway of the Bizarre and the Festival of the Dead Parade act like one big scare zone. Although the Midway appears rather small in size, the scareactors and the themeing are both done well. The parade floats are stored here in the midway and at parade time, one entrance/exit of the scarezone is closes to bring the floats out for the parade. They head up the main road, past the Mummy and down to the lagoon where the floats take a right. They follow the road to Mel's 'Die-In' then take a right to go back to the Midway. Red, silver and gold beads are thrown from the floats, along with red HHN14 coins.

Ghost Town was our longest wait of the evening at 45 minutes. Upon entering the soundstage, the detail and design of the abandoned western town Lightning Gulch is incredible. The pre-house video paints a vision of a violent town caught up in a gold rush and destroyed by a freak electrical storm. Don't let the western theme fool you; the long gone inhabitants of this small town are just as scary as the next scareactor (tip of the hat to the sheriff, who responded to my greeting with a low, grumbled, "I wouldn't be puttin' down roots here if I were you cause you won't be stayin' for long!")

Horror In Wax is an obvious idea--take a wax museum that features classic Universal movie monsters and sprinkle heavily with gore and scareactors. Trying to determine between wax prop and scareactor makes for a rather creepy experience. The melted wax scareactors were especially disturbing.

Field of Screams was nothing like I expected. When I first heard Universal was growing a corn field behind Seuss Landing, I imagined guests and scareactors walking through enclosed rows of corn, but this isn't the case. In order to maintain safety standards, paved paths have been placed in the field. Scarecrows and walking cornstalks were the least of our worries--country farmers with chainsaws walk menacingly through the crowd. Universal did a nice job with the themeing for this one.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure was more bogus than excellent. Word is the show has gotten progressively dumber over the years, replacing a convincing storyline with a song and dance number at the end. This year was no exception. Although the choice of villain was nicely received, some of the chosen characters just didn't fit the bill. Next year Universal, focus less on the choreography, and more on the story--despite the jokes and jabs to pop culture, I still left the show feeling like my intelligence had been insulted.

Disorientorium can be found on Marvel Super Hero Island in the old Carnage building and it was our groups last house of the night. This is basically a twisted fun house with scareactors hidden throughout. The Inkblots and some of the Treaks and Foons from last year make appearances in this house. There's heavy use of strobes as well. You'll either be very scared, very disoriented, or just get a real bad headache.

Was HHN14 worth the trip (and the cash)? I'd like to think I got my money's worth, but bear in mind I'm a Horror Nights newbie--I can't really compare this event to anything else, including Knott's Scary Farm or Howl-O-Scream. If you need help deciding for yourself whether to go or not, I encourage it--and the sooner, the better! If you're easily scared, like me, and you're still not sure, here's another personal revelation--it's not as bad as you think. Sometimes, our own imaginations can be downright horrifying--don't let yours fool you into thinking HHN is the most disturbing thing ever.

So, if you're still planning a trip to Universal Orlando this month to check this event out, what do you need to know? First, show up early--yes, I know, it's no fun when it's daylight out, but the sooner you get there and start doing houses the better--plus, since your in some of the earlier guests, the scareactors will focus directly on you to give you the best scares.

Also, if you can make the investment, get yourself a Halloween Horror Nights Express booklet--it'll get you express passes for each haunted house, most of the attractions in the park (with the exception of Shrek 4-D), and a way in for only the FIRST Bill & Ted show. You can save yourself some time by purchasing them in advance online.

As soon as you enter, be aware that the majority of the houses are to your right. Whether you go up through the Lost Continent or through Seuss Landing is up to you, either way, on your way back through to IOA, you'll deal with some longer wait times either at Castle Vampyr or Ghost Town. Disorientorium was easy for our group to see by 1:00 am, although I can't say it'll be the same the closer we get to Halloween. Plan accordingly.

If you have a weak stomach, don't eat before you go into Deadtropolis.

Scareactors are people too, y'know. Don't do anything stupid to the monster that jumps out at you. The best you can do for them is be scared, and let them know when they do get you. It's encouraging for them, especially scaring in the same house at the same spot of hours. Yeah, it's their job, but what's the harm in letting them know they're doing a good one?

That's about it for this trip report. For more information on the event, you can check out the official Halloween Horror Nights website. Don't hesitate to post your questions here on TPI, also, I'll do my best to answer them for you--and if I can't, I'm sure our viewers may be able to. So until next time, keep on ridin'!

Readers' Opinions

From Joe Llorens on October 11, 2004 at 1:48 PM
"Scareactors are people too, y'know."

This will be my 6th straight year going to HHN, and you won't believe how many times I've wanted to convey this message to other people attending the event, though probably not as eloquently as Mr. Lane put it.

Let me just say these few things; kind of like an attender's guide to Horror Nights:

-Don't sneak up behind scareactors and try to scare THEM. It isn't funny, you're not impressing anyone and you're not the first person to ever think of it.

-Put out that cigarette BEFORE you get in line. No, Universal doesn't provide smoking areas like WDW does, but that's not an excuse for you to make everyone around you uncomfortable with your own personal vice. (And I'm a smoker, people.)

-We know it's crowded, we know you're trying to see everything before the night is out. If you absolutely feel like you have to run, remember that it's NIGHT and DARK. Don't trample over people that are in your way.

That's all I can think of for now. Maybe other attendees can chime in with their personal observations. I'm going next week, can't wait.

From Chuck Campbell on October 11, 2004 at 8:03 PM
I caught HHN at Universal with some friends a few years ago and had a great time (although I think Knott's does it a bit better). Here's two things to keep in mind.

1) It's tough to do it all in one night, especially if you spend the day running around Islands of Adventure and exhaust yourself (as we did). Be sure to get some rest beforehand.

2) If a member of your party needs a wheelchair, bear in mind that you can't ride one of those electric carts in a maze. When we were there, we had to wait until a regular chair was available (which was quite a wait at one maze because some jerks had taken off with one of the maze's two assigned chairs). So, rent (or bring) a regular wheelchair (not an electric cart). Universal's chair rental is located in the parking garage (about halfway to City Walk).

Nice report. Makes me want to go again this year.

From Joe Lane on October 12, 2004 at 7:56 AM
You bring up the subject of wheelchairs, Chuck, and I'm glad you did because I think it's important to note that a portion of Castle Vampyr has a series of stairs that take you up to a second-story portion. Non-scareactor Universal attendents were present with flashlights, warning guests to watch their step. The downstairs also had a rope of lights that illuminated the way down. Even with all this, this in no way detracted from our experience in the house, but it does beg the question of wheelchair accessability. If my memory serves me well, Vampyr was the only house with stairs.

There might be rules against wheelchair guests enterting the houses--many portions involve tight corridors and sharp corners--I wonder if a standard wheelchair could navigate the attraction safely.

From Jason Moore on October 12, 2004 at 8:57 AM
Can't stress enough the need to respect the scareactors (and other guests of course). A few years ago my ex and her best friend worked HHN as scareactors and I couldn't beleive the stories they came home with about how they and their fellow employees were treated. Drunk jerks would actually punch them, and one of our friends (who was working in a Mummy themed house) actually had some idiot try to set him on fire (he was wearing mummy rags for cryin out loud! do you know how fast he would have gone up in flames?!)! The worst part was that based on my friends' telling of things, the management seemed to just turn a blind eye to such behaviour and not bother to deal with it at all. Hopefully that has gotten better since, but I haven't been back since that year.
From Jonathan Hensley on October 12, 2004 at 10:58 AM
As for Castle Vampyr... there is a separate way for those in wheelchairs to go. It is an additional room or two on the lower level... so they still recieve a quality experience (actually kinda cool, they get to see things no one else can).
From Joe Lane on October 12, 2004 at 4:48 PM
Good to hear, Jonathan. Figured I might have missed something. Didn't think to check, what with all the strobes flashing in the room.
From James Adams on October 13, 2004 at 7:05 AM
Great review Joe!

I typically alternate between Howl-O-Scream (Busch Gardens Tampa)and HHN yearly and this year is HOS.

From recent years, one of the big differences that sets HHN a notch higher than HOS is that they continue to push the envelope of creativity trying new things each year. For example, when HHN did Islands of Fear, it was a phenomenal presentation. BUT, the very next year they changed completely even though Islands of Fear was such a success. That seems to be where HOS loses some ground to HHN. Typically at least half of the houses are the SAME houses as the year before (and in some cases, the year before that, and the year before that, ... etc.). Same for the shows AND the scare zones. They tend to have a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. However, I enjoy going to HHN just for the pure creativity and new concepts. That may be where they are going wrong with Bill and Ted's - they are beating a dead horse - doing the same old thing over and over but with new pop icons - BORING.

Come on Universal - we expect better than that!

So, tell me more about this "famous" vampire scene and "flying" vampires?

James Adams

From Luis Diaz on October 13, 2004 at 12:25 PM
OK, first off... Horror nights this year was... AWESOME! never a disappointment. However, if you're going I recommend getting there early. When i went they opened the gates 20 minutes earlier than usual. Buy the express pass if you can. you will greatly benefit from this.. TRUST ME. Try going clockwise instead of counter clockwise when visiting the houses. On my visit we missed 2 houses cuz they were just so packed as the night got later. we're talkin bout 2 hour waits here for some houses! Missed disorientorium and ghost town. But the best ones for me were vampyr and hellgate. horror in wax was ok. nightmares was short but good. deadtropolis was alright not worth the hour in line waiting though. Liqour is extremely overpriced! $5 bucks for beer, $4 for a shot, $5 for jello shooters! All in all. Great time. Come early, have fun, be safe, and be considerate.
From Joe Lane on October 13, 2004 at 1:44 PM
"Famous" vampire scenes. Heh heh... I'm talking for mature audiences only, like a moaning female vamp in a poster bed and scantily clad vampire females in the dance club scene. The "flying" vampires use some bungee connections to appear to fly at you through windows and overhead in a library scene.

Horror Nights is not intended for younger audiences, not in terms of horror or gore so much as the mature themes--the beautiful vampires and demon temptresses at the entrance of the park. Then there's the Bill & Ted show, which strives to be extreme and over the top with light swearing and innuendo--something you generally wouldn't want your young child to see.

From Luis Diaz on October 14, 2004 at 12:11 PM
I've only gone to horror nights for halloween events. I hear busch gardens has a halloween event also. Can anyone tell me how these two compare and if its worth the trip?
From Joe Lane on October 14, 2004 at 5:10 PM
You're talking about Howl-O-Scream--the Halloween event that's held not only at BGT but at BG in Williamsburg also (I must say Tampa's version is far more creative, though, likely due to the competition with Universal).

And I'm trying my darnedest to find the time in my busy schedule to get over and review this event as well. The year prior to last, Haunt World magazine, I believe it was, gave BGT the number one ranking in the country, which beat out Knott's. No word on whether BGT beat out Knott's last year, but Busch Gardens is looking VERY intimidating. For information on their event, check out www.howl-o-scream.com/tampa.

From James Adams on October 15, 2004 at 8:34 AM
I will be going to Howl-O-Scream tomorrow and try to bring back a general comparison and review. My impression from years before is that HOS measures a little less in the theming category but measures better in the cost category. For example, you can buy tickets for HOS for the opening night for $20/person if you have an annual pass. Also, the HOS products are tpyically much cheaper than HHN. Typically, HHN and UNiversal are going to "bleed" you for as much money as they can get. Busch as a general rule is much, much more accommodating. Last year, I think the ioacentral.com website did a compare and contrast on the two and found them almost equal and may have even leaned towards HOS.
From James Adams on October 22, 2004 at 10:44 AM
Sorry guys, I would have loved to have brought back a nice detailed review of HOS and Busch Gardens but it was just too busy to even move much less go through very many houses. Literally, half of Tampa must have been there. Busch actually ran out of parking. Did that stop them? No way, they started parking people in the streets, sidewalks, grass lots, some old lady's living room, etc. So, my wife and I just walked aimlessly with a sea of people through more marijuana smoke than chemical fog. It was the pits, Busch needs to re-evaluate their practices a bit before I will go back.

On a positive note, one nice touch was that their maps glowed under a blacklite showing you where things were. then they posted blacklights throughout the park so that you could read your map but without going into the light. Nice touch Busch!

As for everything else, I couldn't tell you. All I know is what 10,000 smelly, drunk or high teenagers make? A bad time for old farts like myself at HOS I guess!

From Carrie Hood on October 23, 2004 at 8:36 AM
Defidently remember to respect the actors, I don't care how drunk you are. It is no excuse to punch someone trying to do exactly what you paid them to do.. scare you! They can and will arrest anyone caught abusing the actors (Thanfully! When I worked there that was unheard of.)

During the Parade is a good time to hit up a House or Ride since many people will gravitate towards the parade rather then skipping it over attractions. This is good for you since you can always catch the second parade and do Mummy in 10 minutes flat (at least Thrus-Sun).

On a personal level I was very dissapointed with the selection of attractions open to the public, as well as the lay-out. It's a flow control nightmare in the flesh but on the less crowded nights I'm sure it works very well. The problem is that the houses are to closely togther which leaves a lot of dead space and downtime. I'd rather have someone in my face and riding me hard for a reaction then large zones of...nothing!

As every year the houses get better as the season keeps moving and your actors improve on methods. I'd defidently reccomnd Ghost Town and Horrors in Wax as "Do not miss!". Also just take a few minutes and look at the sets and props, like always universal puts togther an amazing show. The Frequent Fear pass is a good addition, I believe it was $10 more then a one night ticket which allows repet visits during the run of HHN. It's only good Thusrdays threw Sundays thought (less crowds!).

From shock absorber on October 24, 2004 at 7:56 PM
Ok, we hit it Saturday night (10/23) and it was packed.If anyone is going anytime soon,GET THE EXPRESS PASS ASAP!!! If we had not had them we wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell of doing everything.I know the passes are pricey,but it is WELL WORTH THE COST!!!Let me put this out here right now: For GhostTown,even with the express pass,all they do is put you at the last leg of the queue so you still have to wait (to a degree) in line.At least that's what they did with us.We felt that was BS, but what can ya' do?We still got past about 300 people in line.Also,in CastleVampyr,the express line does not form until you have gone through a portion of the queue,so here is my suggestion:if the line is backed up to the entrance,and if you can,move to the right of the line along the gates and ease your way to around the corners till you get to the express entrance.We saw some girls doing that and no one seemed to mind that they were doing it.Its what we should have done because, unless you wanna wait about 20 minutes to get there,its the only way you can really express the express pass.We were kinda pissed about these two houses not really having express entrances at the entrance but overall it wasn't that bad.The Bill and Ted Show gets about a 6 out of 10 because it was funny (and it does do a bit more of the political satire it used to..i guess since this is an election year it was an easy target) but overall it was OK at best.A lot of people suggested the Stay and Scream since we had annual passes.They didnt "open" it for us till 545 and then they let the regular admission people in at 610 so it didnt benefit us that much, other than we hit two houses fast.Also,for regular admission ticketholders:For some reason,at the Point of Entry(Evil)they were damn near forcing everyone to go to the left to go furhter into IOA.The only house open there is Disorientorium.If you go the right through the Field of Screams by Dr Suess, you can hit 2 much better houses rather quickly.USF wasnt opening till 645 so I guess that was their rationale for doing that but it made no sense to me.In fact, one of the employess stopped me and told us we were going the wrong way and that the Universal side didnt open till 645.Well,whatever,cause by the time we got back over there it was time for them to open.I mean,we paid for our tix, dont tell us where to go!If I had to pick a best house it would be GhostTown.Disorientorium was weak,but not as tragic as some have made it out to be.In fact,the HorrorNightsNightmares I would say was the weakest,least original house there.We only did Deadtropolis once because we had to break in our express pass on that one first, and it was not bad.I liked CastleVampyr and Horrors In Wax.HellGate Prison was also pretty good.Actually,it was a bit disturbing having all those big Bubbas in there talking smack while you walked by their "cells".The parade was a bit of a disappointment because it did not seem to be as big as it usually is but it was still entertaining and we gots TONS of beads and coins.Overall I'd give the whole night a 9 out of 10 but a lot of that has to do with Universal having the sense to put a great deal of it back at Universal Studios where it really belongs.Quite frankly,I still say Univeral Studios should be its permanent home but it was kinda nice hitting the Hulk and Dr Doom at IOA.As this will probably be my last post till it starts rampin up for 2005, I want to thank everyone here for the advice and info I got before the trip.It was useful and informative.
Shock

From mellisa zandy on November 1, 2004 at 11:15 PM
as a HHN 14 scareactor...i would like to personally thank you for telling people not to mess with us. i had 3 people kicked out of the park in the month that i worked. i'm a 5'2" 18 yr old girl. i worked on the street in jurassic park *they opened it on peak nights to hold the overflow of people.*

when you're as small as i am, and you are jumping out at large people, when they get violent, it's scary for ME. many times i was very intimidated because people would surround me or hit me or throw things at me.

it's no fun for us and it's not fair to us. we're just doing our jobs. at 7.15 per hour...i'm not going to accept a punch in the face by a 6 foot 250 lb man as part of my job description.

so thanks again for sticking up for us in your post. and i'm glad you enjoyed yourself at HHN. i loved working it.

~missy

From Joe Lane on November 3, 2004 at 8:01 AM
Cheers to you, Missy! ^_^

Speaking of opening Toon Lagoon and JP, can anybody share any information on the additional scare zone? Was there any theme to the area at all? My visit was early in the month, so I had no opportunity to see it for myself.

I'd also be interested in hearing from someone who went to the event in its final days--someone who would be able to compare it to last year's HHN at IOA by itself--how bad were the crowds and wait times this year compared to last year?

From shock absorber on November 3, 2004 at 10:06 PM
Well,Joe, we didnt go on the last weekend but we did go on the 23rd and it was very very crowded.I can say for sure that there is no comparison at all to an IOA only HHN to that of IOA and Universal.The wide streets at Universal made it feel less claustrophobic and the crowds seemed to flow better.My only question is why Universal allowed entry only on the IOA side.The Port of Entry(Evil)was very jammed up for most of the night.As for Missy's comments,I certainly appreciate what you guys (and girls) tolerated in the spirit of entertaining and scaring people.I do feel that alcohol plays a really big part in making people so beligerent and if Universal would limit(or eliminate) the sale of it,it might alleviate some of the problems.Outside of that, I do hope that next year's event includes opening both parks fully.
From sasha white on November 6, 2005 at 10:23 PM
I have never been to HHN before. I hail from MA and was unprepared and uninformed which led to a disasterous evening. I purchased the 2 day/2park tickets three months in advance along with my fast passes. The Universal CSR I spoke with did not inform me that the fast pass I was purchasing for Universal would not help me with HHN. I bought the fast pass for Universal on the 27th and informed the CSR I was planning to attend HHN that same evening. She told me it wouldn't be a problem since the Horror event took place in both parks. I ended up standing in line for over an hour for a lame haunted house that took five minutes to walk through. After having a couple of beers and having been in line for 45 minutes I asked a security guard if I could go relieve myself and come back to join my boyfriend in line. He would not let me do so. The next half hour was painful. Needless to say, we did not attend any of the other houses, for the lines were all over an hour wait. At least we got some coaster riding in. Universal really needs to utilize both parks, limit the amount of fast passes they give out for HHN, and limit the amount of people they let in.
I'm also the idiot that wore a costume(did not read my ticket and assumed many people dressed up for the event). Any of you that went on the 27th would know me as the french maid with a Ghost Buster's shirt on. I am greatful that they allowed me in after I covered up with the Ghost Buster's shirt. (But having to remove a wig I spent a half hour pinning to my head was not exactly fun - but I guess that's my own fault, I was ignorant, not having attended this event before)
Then I get home and receive an e-mail about a costume contest on the 31st! I nearly threw my monitor out the window. Talk about bad timing on my part.
But really, who wants to wait in line over an hour per haunted house? They can't give everyone a fast pass. They need more events besides the houses and to utilize all the space they own.
I would love to go back since I missed every good part of HHN - like shock man says - buy fast pass - and way in advance!

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