When you visit Universal Studios Florida in the fall, that chill in the air doesn’t come because summer is over. It’s the feeling you get when you realize the park has been taken over by the ghastly ghouls that come out for Halloween Horror Nights.
A Horrific Halloween
Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event that runs from September 16 to October 31, 2016. It runs on select nights after the park closes for the evening and requires a special ticket. Unlike the Halloween events at most of the other Central Florida theme parks, it’s not for younger children. However, if you’re traveling with teens, or even horror fan tweens, or if your travel party is made up of adults who love horror movies and shows like “The Walking Dead,” it’s a perfect way to celebrate the haunt season.
Each year, Halloween Horror Nights combines popular franchises and original content from the twisted creative minds at Universal Orlando Resort. For example, this year some of the haunted houses and scare zones draw their inspiration from properties like “The Walking Dead” and movies like “The Exorcist,” “Halloween,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” while others have themes ghost towns and ancient ruins. The event’s hostess is Chance, girlfriend of killer clown Jack, whose most recent hosting stint was 2015.
If you plan to attend Halloween Horror Nights and also visit Universal Studios during the day while you’re in Orlando, be sure to do that on the same day. If you have both a day ticket and Halloween Horror Nights admission, you can stay inside after the park to wait for the event to start. While other guests queue up in line outside the gates, you’ll hang out in a holding pen and get a jump start on the haunted houses while the outside guests filter in from the front.
If you bring tweens and teens, be aware that the adult nature of Halloween Horror Nights includes pop-up bars all around the park. The drinking often leads to crude language and behavior, so be prepared. Security is tight, so you’re unlikely to experience any major incidents, but know that the kids could be exposed to swearing and mild drunken antics.
Halloween Horror Nights typically runs until 1 or 2 a.m., depending on the night you visit, so arrive early and stay as late as possible to make the most of your visit. Purchase an Express Pass for the haunted houses if at all possible. It gives you one-time access to a shorter line for each of the houses. If you’re only at Halloween Horror Nights for one night, that ensures you’ll get to experience all of them. Otherwise, if you visit on a busy night, waits can stretch well over an hour, and sometimes even two hours or more.
In addition to the haunted houses and scare zones that take over the streets, Halloween Horror Nights also features shows like “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure,” an annual send-up of pop culture. The shows are adult themed, so exercise good judgement if you have tweens in tow.
A Season of Christmas Cheer
If you prefer a more cheerful experience, visit Universal Orlando Resort during the holiday season. Once Halloween Horror Nights clears out of Universal Studios Florida, the Macy’s Parade arrives just after Thanksgiving. See some of the balloons that appear in the New York parade, along with many balloons, floats, and marching entertainers. They bring a breath of Christmas to the park, and if you choose a good spot (hint: stand near the Macy’s storefront), you’ll even get to see the nightly tree lighting with Santa Claus himself.
Next door at Islands of Adventure, a familiar green personage takes over for Grinchmas. He stars in a live musical retelling of the beloved Dr. Seuss classic, along with the Whos and even Max the dog. You might even meet the Whos when you’re strolling around the park or catch the Grinch for a special photo opportunity.
The festivities at both parks run from December 3 to January, 2016, and they’re all included with regular theme park tickets. Mannheim Steamroller will appear on select nights (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18) with live concerts at Universal Studios Florida. The shows are also included in your admission price. They’re held outdoors on the stage by the Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster, and they’re standing room only, with space taken up on a first come, first served basis, so be sure to stake out your spot early if you’d like to be close to the stage.
If you can’t visit Universal Orlando Resort until after Christmas and you’re a Harry Potter fan, plan your trip for January 27 to 29, when the resort holds its annual “Celebration of Harry Potter.” The event draws fans from around the world, who flock to Universal for celebrity meet and greets, prop exhibits, demonstrations, expo exhibits, and more.