COVID-19 slew Universal Orlando’s 2020 Halloween Horror Nights celebrations like Jason and Freddy fillet frisky teens, but after weeks of rampaging rumors the fan-favorite event has risen from the dead. HHN 30 is still canceled, but Universal Studios Florida has announced a limited daytime Halloween experiences on select days through November 1, including two complete haunted houses. On Friday, September 18, we were treated to a Premier Annual Passholder preview of Universal’s Halloween happenings, and we are here to tell you that this “Halloween Horror Lite” is no trick!
Universal Orlando tested its new Halloween daytime experience on September 19-20, and has officially extended it through September 26-27, and October 3-November 1. The centerpieces of the event are two walk-through haunted houses, located in the soundstages behind Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. These haunted houses were constructed for Halloween Horror Nights 30 before it was called off; they easily live up to the high standards set by the award-winning event.
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy is an original twist on the familiar tradition, depicting what happens when one child defies the fairy and refuses to turn over a lost tooth. Beginning with a giant animated pop-up book facade, this maze mixes detailed Victorian sets with lots of gruesome gore. An exceptionally scary house, it reminded me of a blend of Body Collectors and Scary Tales, both past favorites of mine.
Bride of Frankenstein Lives serves as a sequel to the Universal Classic Monsters movie, and it begins with a clever video diorama recreating that film’s finale. In addition to Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, you’ll spot Dracula’s brides, as well as cameos from other vintage villains. Keep an eye out for flying performers on bungies, among the mazes’ many electrifying special effects.
Both of these houses boast the detailed scenery, screen-quality costumes, and macabre makeup HHN is famous for. Better yet, they both have exceptionally strong narratives, with dramatic story arcs delivered through action, narration, and even oversize text. While many haunted houses merely create creepy environments filled with jump scares, these truly turn you into a character inside a horror movie.
While Halloween fans worried how social distancing might impact the haunted houses’ immersive designs, Universal’s safety modifications actually improved the mazes in many ways. All performers wear masks over their mouths, and most are shielded by plexiglass barriers. The actors can’t get as close to guests as they used to, and the barriers seem too short to serve much scientific purpose, but they do create clever distractions in several spots.
The biggest upgrade imposed by social distancing is the death of HHN’s dreaded conga line. Instead of a continuous queue of guests shuffling through the maze, each party (even solo visitors) is sent into the attraction alone. During previews, guests were “pulsed” into the haunts approximately every 20 seconds, significantly lowering the hourly capacity compared to standard operations, but allowing for a much more personal experience.
Inside the houses, team members waving flashlights (and wearing face shields) are still to be found. But for a change, instead of urging guests to go faster through the maze, they make you stop and wait for the party ahead to advance. This way, the actors are able to reset and give nearly every group an ideal show, instead of having to rely on random timing to see all the scenes.
Of course, the down side of this VIP-style experience inside the haunted houses is that the queues leading up to them must move much more slowly. Even with reserved return times (available through Universal’s app-based Virtual Line service) and without any Express access to interfere with the standby line, don’t be surprised if you stand in line over an hour to enter one of these attractions.
During the preview, I stood in line for just under 75 minutes to see Revenge of the Tooth Fairy. Fortunately, by the time I finished that maze, the wait for Bride of Frankenstein had dropped to a very reasonable 15 minutes.
Likewise, on September 19 and 20, Virtual Line reservations for the mazes reached maximum capacity not long after the parks opened. In fact, the parks themselves had to temporarily close to new arrivals on Saturday due to the haunted houses’ popularity! However, the parks were able to reopen, and by late afternoon on both days guests could freely enter the mazes with minimal waits.
If you plan on attending Universal’s daytime Halloween experiences, we advise either arriving at least 1 hour before park opening or delaying your arrival until late morning/early afternoon. If you are an early riser, check Universal’s app for Virtual Line availability beginning 15-30 minutes before USF opens; you don’t need to be inside the park to make a reservation, just on resort property. Those arriving later should look for short standby waits at the mazes during the last couple of hours of the day, especially after a rainstorm.
If you do insist on standing in line for the mazes no matter how long it takes, be sure to bring an umbrella and bottled water. The outdoor queues are almost entirely unshaded, and the broiling midday sun reflecting off concrete can bring strong people to their knees.
Braving Universal’s haunted house may have made you hungry, so look for food trucks around Music Plaza and the New York area. One sells twisted taters wrapped around a sausage, while another offers fried chicken on funnel cakes, as well as pork rind nachos. Across the park in Cafe La Bamba, a spooky skeleton-themed bar is serving seasonal drinks and bites, including a vegan mac & cheese.
Join the Scarecrow Stalk by picking up a free scavenger hunt map in most USF shops. Collect stamps from all 13 marked locations around the park, and receive a free candy sampler sack.
Islands of Adventure is also offering free trick-or-treat candy at 10 locations, exclusively for kids 12 and younger. And guests of all ages are allowed to dress up in costumes (subject to restrictions) during event days.
Finally, you can memorialize your daytime Halloween experience with merchandise from the Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store, which is hosting periodic autograph sessions with some of the talented artists who have contributed to the event’s legacy.
For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.