Theme Park Insider

Universal Orlando's change in plans frustrates some Horror Nights fans

September 18, 2017, 11:08 AM · The best Halloween scare events aim to trigger our fears. Now, they shouldn't go too far — there's nothing funny about true distress. But the theme park industry's established Halloween events have learned how to play with our fears in ways that leave everyone entertained — and even laughing — at the end of the night.

Universal Orlando this year seems to have triggered a different type of fear this year, however, and that's left a lot of fans howling, not laughing. It's the fear that the nation's most popular Halloween event might be taking steps toward becoming a dry event like its Hollywood sibling.

Let's be clear. The alcohol still flows at Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights. But it's not flowing in exactly the way that Universal had promoted that it would, in the week leading up to last Friday's opening night. And that's stoked fears among some fans.

Universal had promoted on its blog that it would be selling watermelon-flavored Jell-O shots in squeezable heart-shaped containers at this year's Halloween Horror Nights. (And when we say "heart shaped," we are talking the human organ here, not Valentine's shapes.) But when the event opened, the heart-shaped shots were nowhere to be found, and Universal team members said that the shots would not be available during this year's event. Universal also has taken down the blog post page that promoted the heart shots.

"In terms of beverage sale during this year's Halloween Horror Nights, we'll be placing a greater emphasis on beer and wine as compared to other kinds of alcohol. All locations will be offering an expanded beer and wine selection," Universal Orlando spokesperson Tom Schroder said in response to my request for a comment.

"That said, we are still offering our specialty drinks (Liquid Courage, Liquid Fear, Midnight Madness). But we are not offering Jello shots," Schroder said.

Yet many fans took to Facebook groups to complain that they could not order mixed drinks in any of the bar tents around the event. Only Universal's pre-mixed speciality drinks were available. Fans wanting a mixed drink to order had to queue at the bar at Finnegan's instead.

Now, with all that beer, wine, and those specialty drinks available at multiple tents around the park, this year's Halloween Horror Nights is about as dry as a guest coming off of Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. But any move to restrict or reduce alcohol sales at the event stirs fear among some fans that Universal one day will stop alcohol sales at Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, as it did in Hollywood when that event returned after a multiple-year hiatus — a break that many blame on drunken guests' unruly behavior during previous events.

Drunks have created problems at Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights in the past, just as they have at any event that serves alcohol. But non-drinkers create problems, too, and it's up to a park's security and operations teams to minimize those disruptions and swiftly escort trouble-makers from the park, whether they've been drinking or not. Smartly-managed alcohol sales are one tool among many that parks can use to prevent problems and lessen the burden on their in-park teams.

"We are always refining our approach to food and beverage, and we wanted to see if an expanded beer and wine selection is a better fit for this event," Schroder said.

So let's put it this way: If you want theme parks to continue selling alcohol, do your part to support that by not becoming a problem when you drink.

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Replies (19)

September 18, 2017 at 11:53 AM · There's alcohol at USH's Horror Nights this year- I think they're trying to find a healthy balance.
September 18, 2017 at 12:10 PM · This is a touchy subject. Halloween is becoming more of a "drinking" holiday than ever, and theme parks/haunted attractions see high margins in catering to these crowds. However, the drunken debauchery is an obvious problem for all of these events, which put parks at an impasse - sell alcohol uninhibited, which then inflates safety and security costs as well as decreases overall guest satisfaction, or reduce/eliminate alcohol sales, which will slightly reduce revenues/margins and guest satisfaction from the "core" audience. It's a really tough line to draw, but I think eliminating the frat-party atmosphere exuded by Jell-O shots and "blood bags" of syrupy booze to focus on strictly beer, wine, and frozen cocktails is the way to go.

From a logistical perspective, drinking a beer makes far more sense since most HHN maze lines stretch for hours, so with limited purchase locations, it's easier to grab a big beer to sip while waiting in line instead of pounding a shot and then stumbling down a wandering queue for 3 hours. Personally, I tend to stray from the alcohol altogether (aside from maybe a pre-event drink at Finnegan's) because it's not worth taking time to stand in line for a beverage when there's so much to do at HHN. However, if making Orlando's HHN a dry event makes it less crowded, but with the same level of quality, I'd be all for it. Though something tells me that event designers count on that beer money to pay for their elaborate concepts.

September 18, 2017 at 12:22 PM · I look forward to being able to stand in line without having some stupid drunk vomit all over me. With sober people, you usually do not have to worry about this.
September 18, 2017 at 12:30 PM · Alcohol deadens the scares. It also makes people more violent and disruptive. They should only sell beer since it takes longer to feel drunk. Wine goes down much easier.
September 18, 2017 at 12:59 PM · It took Universal guts to come up with this plan. Booze is a clear profit maker and if their willing to sacrifice dollars and alienate the "pass holder base" they must be serious about, eventually, going dry. In talking with an employee, UO is trying to make it a family friendly event. Fine, bring in your 5 year old and lets give him/her nightmares for who knows how long.
September 18, 2017 at 1:38 PM · The only thing I don't like about this is the fact that it drives more people to Finnegan's ..... Finnegan's has always been a pleasant oasis to relax in the middle of the happy chaos. Yes, the bar area is separate from the restaurant (except for a few tables) and yes, the bar has always been loud, but I'm afraid that having a liquor queue line outside the restaurant will add unnecessary crowds to the restaurant. If they're going to go this route, it would be great if they could open an additional bar somewhere else.....
September 18, 2017 at 2:45 PM · I've only been to HHN once, and the alcohol was one of the things that left me disappointed. The drunkenness of everybody around the park was repulsive. The second thing that bothered me was the emphasis on cheap slasher films/actions. Universal has this wealth of old horror movies, and NONE were represented. Just slasher crap. Perhaps that appeals to the drunken visitors.
September 18, 2017 at 4:44 PM · I've been a 'scareactor' at Halloween Horror Nights Orlando several times, I'm not there this year, but I have had plenty of experience and know what it's like to deal with extremely drunk guests, and let me tell you it never goes over well. They are almost always carrying their drinks into our houses and streets where they're not supposed to anyway sloshing them all over themselves the floors the guests us and the props making it dangerous, stagger around screaming obscenities and saying how they're not afraid, and sometimes even going to the level of hurting actors and staff and occasionally other guests as well. I'm not even going to mention some of the true horror stories that have occurred over the years due to people being so drunk and getting violent.
Don't get me wrong I have no problem with anyone drinking at these events, and if I'm on my day off or I just got off of work I'll go indulge in an adult beverage myself, but I certainly won't be letting myself get to the point of Staggering all over the place crashing into stuff and other people and trying to steal a chainsaw from one of our crew members.
I know that people will quote-unquote pre-party out in City Walk and then come in through the gates already sloshed, but I think it's a good thing that they're cracking down on not allowing people to continue to do hard liquor and shots while navigating the park while it's already both dark and disorienting even when you're sober.
Everyone involved with hhn goes to a lot of trouble to plan every little detail out and make it entertaining and fun for everyone.
Still have your alcohol but don't go overboard.
September 18, 2017 at 6:17 PM · As a UO employee I wanted to offer my view on this subject. This of course is my person opinion and not the opinion of the Universal company. I think this years event has become more streamlined from a service aspect. Based off of previous years I think the jello shots held a very small profit margin for UO. Between wage, storage, spoilage from a low shelf life, and the amount of units being thrown away because of cheap containers the jello shots as a product arent worth it. There has also been a shift in consumer demand within the food service industry as a whole. Yes people still order mixed drinks but I think that demand has shrunk considerably. People simply dont want hard liquor anymore. Demand has shifted to craft beer and wine. This article is a little click baity because I dont think it is moving to a dry event. As far as reports of long lines at bars I think thats a little unfounded. My experience lastnight (Sun 9/17) was there was not a single line at any of the bars and that goes for restaurant bars as well. Universal made a business decision based on demand from last year. Not this fake thought or 'report' of them getting rid of alcohol in general. Now them releasing images of the jello shot heart containers and then simply negging on that product after the fact means nothing. There could have been supply issues, last minute cuts, irma literally screwing up the event planning. So many variables to consider that I find it a little irresponsible to jump to that conclusion. I dont care if im right or wrong but I think its fair to say that alcohol is not going away at HHN Orlando.
September 18, 2017 at 8:53 PM · As someone who worked UO security for 3 years HHN is literally insane every security officer has to have an OPD escort. Yes, it is that bad. There is literally a processing station right behind lost and found. There is literally a steady flow of people who are trespassed or arrested from the time the doors open to the time they close. The stories I can tell about HHN are memorable to be sure. I thank God this time of year I no longer have to work shifts from 1530-0300!
September 19, 2017 at 5:02 AM · I always hated HHN because of all the drinking and everything that goes along with it.
September 19, 2017 at 5:29 AM · Could we look at this from a different perspective. I like to have a drink or too, but I don't enjoy over doing it, especially the next day.
While so many parks are taking things away because of profit margin, I don't believe this is the case.. Most people spend more after drinking and the profit margin for alcohol is outrageous especially jello shot drinks.
So, here we have a park cutting baco on hard liquor. Could it be because they are concerned of their patrons health, well, possibly. I would also venture they are considering cutting alcohol all together because of incidents and possible liability issues, but after debate the mutual decision was to cut hard liquor this year and see how it goes.
I have heard stories and can imagine the incidents. If we want to keep what they have available then let's drink sensibly.
However, they advertised the heart shaped shots and folks bought tickets expecting them so I think they should honor that advertisement and/or offer a refund concidering.. just an opinion and everyone has em
September 19, 2017 at 9:18 AM · The overabundance of alcohol and drunk idiots is the reason I haven't been to HHN in several years. The last time I went in 2012, there were obnoxious, pushy drunks everywhere and it just ruined the whole event for me.

September 19, 2017 at 9:43 AM · Dang Hollywood has no alcohol it alway alcohol free event do fun the only thing not fun this year is the price 199.99 for ftint of line on thursdays and Sundays friday and Saturdays 219.00 damn only the super rich can go
September 19, 2017 at 11:13 AM · My husband and i go every year to hhn orlando and having a few drinks is always part of the fun. I can say we've never had any drunks throw up behind us while in line. It just makes the experience a little more fun. Its definitely not a place for children. I don't think that they would ever completely get rid of alcohol because it is intended to be a more adult atmosphere. In regards to it's having cheap slasher themed houses is completely incorrect. They have main houses from some of their more popular movies to some of more or less known films either way I always think that Universal does a fantastic job keep up the good work.
September 19, 2017 at 4:31 PM · I drink - and prefer mixed drinks over beer and wine. But having attended HHN in Orlando on full tilt alcohol offered - I found the drunk partiers in the lines much scarier than the monsters in the houses. I think this is a silly controversy and Universal is taking the right steps to balance thing out. HHN is not a place to get rip roarin' snockered.
September 19, 2017 at 8:12 PM · They also have 4 "full bars" in the park. Finnegans, Alcatraz, Warf (a new bar on the left of Lombards that has no line all night long) and Duff Gardens. People just flocked to Finnegans because it's a known quantity, but the other bars were never too busy all weekend.
September 23, 2017 at 6:55 PM · No one can argue that getting fall down drunk is a good idea, but when I go to haunted house events (never been to HHN but I hope to soon), I find that a few drinks allow me to get into the spirit because it dulls my sense of realism and allows me to immerse myself more in the horror. Do I miss some of the nuances or setpieces that would be more apparent when I'm sober? Sure. But I'm ok with the tradeoff.
That said, I don't care if it's beer, wine or whatever. But this article and some of the comments seem to be more of an indictment on people who drink rather than the type of alcohol being served.
Of course you could make the argument that some people can't control their drinking and therefore it should go dry to prevent that. But my response would be that some new Yorkers are loud and annoying at theme parks so should they be banned? Sorry if you're from NY, just had to deal with an obnoxious family in line today at Hersheypark. :)
September 24, 2017 at 1:14 PM · I think it was a good choice to cut down. Less punks trying to show their group how they are not scared at all.

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