Spooky season has returned, which means it’s once again time to face down the maddening hordes of bloodthirsty gorehounds who annually attend Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida. Lucky for you, our field-tested Unofficial Survival Guide is effective at blasting you past the legendary long lines at HHN 32, and it can even help you experience all 10 haunted houses without the need for expensive extra-cost Express Passes!
If you’re planning to attend Halloween Horror Nights 32 this year, you’ll want to arm yourself with our step-by-step Unofficial Survival Guide to Universal Orlando’s biggest yearly after-hours event.
Keep in mind that your experience will vary based on several factors, including how busy it is on the night you attend Halloween Horror Nights and the size of the group you’re traveling with. As a solo visitor attending on the first Thursday evening of the season (using the free ticket included with Premier Annual Passes), I was able to tour all of the houses once and visit half of them a second time, and I got to see the show and scare zones before the night ended.
The catch is that successfully executing such a touring plan relies on three key requirements. You must:
- Attend on an off-peak night.
- Arrive early.
- Stay until closing.
If you are able to agree to all three, read on for our minute-by-minute account of how we conquered the crowds at Halloween Horror Nights 32.
Weeks Before: Buy Tickets
Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights are a hot commodity this year, and even Frequent Fear and Express Pass have reportedly sold out on certain nights during the opening weekends. Save yourself heartache and money by buying your Halloween Horror Nights tickets in advance online as soon as you know when you want to attend. Remember that Wednesdays and Thursdays are usually less busy; Fridays and Saturdays are more popular, especially as it gets into October, but Sundays can also be full of Frequent Fear passholders.
To follow in my footsteps, you will also need to take advantage of Stay & Scream, which requires being inside Universal Studios Florida before it closes to daytime guests at 5 p.m. That means you must either be an Annual Passholder, have a daytime ticket to the park, or purchase a “Scream Early“ bridge ticket for $40. Scream Early is far cheaper and more cost-effective on a dollar-per-minute-saved-waiting-in-line basis than buying Express Passes.
Note that Premier Annual Passholders don’t need to reserve their one complimentary night in advance, but there are limited dates when it is valid.
Day Before: Get Ready
Check the weather report and, no matter what it says, get a pocket-size umbrella, both for shade in the sun and shelter in a storm. Also pack a refillable beverage container—if you aren’t buying one in the park —and remember to hydrate frequently with water or sports drinks (not just soda or alcohol). Get out your most comfortable walking shoes, and get a good night’s sleep because you’re going to need it!
Day Of: Arrive at Universal by 3 p.m.
During Halloween Horror Nights, parking isn’t free for non-passholders until midnight, and even Premier Passholders will pay for valet parking if they don’t retrieve their cars by 7 p.m. But you should still plan to arrive and enter Universal Studios Florida around 3 p.m., which gives you plenty of time to grab a snack and stake out your preferred Stay & Scream holding area. These will start scanning in HHN guests shortly before 4 p.m., but eager guests begin lining up an hour earlier.
Here are your Stay & Scream options for Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 32:
- New York: Offers the earliest access to Stranger Things 4 (this year’s most popular house) and Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate at 5:15 p.m., plus The Exorcist: Believer at 5:30 p.m. and Yeti: Campground Kills at 6 p.m.
- Central Park/Springfield: Offers access by 5:45 p.m. to The Last of Us (this year’s second-most popular house) and Universal Monsters Unmasked, along with first crack at Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins (which attracts the longest lines of the original houses) and The Darkest Deal at 6 p.m.
- San Francisco: Offers access by 6 p.m. to Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count, as well as air-conditioning inside Richters and Freestyle machines that are usually stocked with ice.
- Today Cafe: This pen, as well as the one nearby for on-site hotel guests using their exclusive entrance, is only steps away from the entrance to Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings. However, guests are released from here around the same time the front gates open, so it provides very little advantage and is not recommended.
4 p.m.: Check Into Stay & Scream
I chose to go the New York route. After grabbing a Guinness from the still-accessible bar inside Finnegans, I jumped in line outside the Starbucks shortly after 3:30 p.m. and watched it rapidly grow behind me. The line began to move by 3:50 p.m., and I was inside the first corral of guests queueing for Stranger Things before 4 p.m. arrived.
Once inside the holding queue, team members allowed us to temporarily exit and get food from the available concession stands, which made the hour-long wait more comfortable. I can endorse the cordyceps corn dog, which was a generous portion of Korean sausage stuffed with gooey cheese in a crunchy fried coating, covered with mushroom sauce.
5:15 p.m.: Stranger Things 4 (1-minute wait)
Guests were moved from Gramercy Park to the queues behind the soundstages at 5 p.m., and the black-robed cast members were spotted heading into their boo-holes 5 minutes later. At 5:15 the line began moving, and my turn to enter the year’s most-popular haunted house arrived just over a minute later.
This year’s Stranger Things house doesn’t quite top the memory of the original year, but it’s better than its last appearance, with some epic scenery straight out of the Netflix show. The only thing really missing is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,“ which is the most iconic song on the season’s soundtrack but is barely heard inside the house.
5:25 p.m.: Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate (5-minute wait)
Immediately after Stranger Things, I jumped in line for Dueling Dragons, and I was in and out of the maze by 5:35 p.m.
This was easily my favorite original house of the year, with an aggressive cast and fantastic fan-service recreations of IOA’s lost Lost Continent attraction. At the end, you must pick Fire or Ice to determine whether Merlin survives the battle or gets beheaded; choose wisely!
5:40 p.m.: The Exorcist: Believer (20-minute wait)
After more or less breezing through the queues for my first two houses, I hit my first real line at The Exorcist, waiting slightly longer than the posted 15-minute standby time. By this point, Stranger Things was already advertising a 75-minute wait!
Exorcist began with a fantastic rural village facade and had a few other impressive sets, but it seemed underpopulated with actors, especially in the opening scenes. It’s most memorable for its overwhelming “poop“ smell in one portion, which is artificial but nauseatingly authentic.
6:05 p.m.: Yeti Campground Kills (25-minute wait)
By the time I exited Exorcist, the “opening Scaremony“ was about to happen at the front gates.
I slipped into the queue for Yeti just ahead of the arriving crowd. The posted 15-minute wait turned out to be closer to 25, but at least I got a sneak peek at the house’s ursine costar while I was waiting!
Whether you like campy comedy or shocking jump scares, the Yeti house is another big winner, not to be missed.
6:40 p.m.: Chucky: Ultimate Kill (20-minute wait)
On the other hand, if there is one house that you are going to miss, you might want to make it Chucky.
Contained within the Fast & Furious Supercharged queue, this disjointed maze full of flat sets and unfrightening puppets turns Universal’s worst ride into HHN 32’s least-interesting maze.
Even so, my 20-minute wait was almost exactly as long as promised, and by just after 7 p.m. I had finished half of the event’s 10 headlining houses, leaving plenty of time to finish the rest at my leisure.
8 p.m.: Nightmare Fuel Revenge Dream
I probably could have squeezed in one more maze before the first performance of Nightmare Fuel, but I wanted to arrive extra early and relax with a signature beverage rather than rush.
As it turned out, there were empty seats on the ends even after the show began, but for later performances you’ll want to arrive at least 10-15 minutes prior to showtime to guarantee your seat.
The third time is the charm for this high-energy dance and pyrotechnics show, which features explosive illusions and a red-hot cast of performers.
Be sure to check the show schedule in the app and plan the middle of your evening around its showtimes.
8:40 p.m.: Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins (45-minute wait)
The longest wait I encountered all night was for Dr. Oddfellow, a circus-themed maze tied to popular HHN icon Jack the Clown.
Of all the houses this year, I’ve heard the most online complaints about crowd flow at Oddfellow’s, with conflicting accounts of the Express and Standby lines each moving slower than normal. (A typical HHN house can handle one guest about every 2 seconds, or around 1,800 per hour.)
Frankly, aside from some moist gags, I found this maze less memorable than similarly themed houses in past years, such as Carnival Graveyard, and I entirely missed any clear references to Jack.
9:30 p.m.: Scare Zones and Tribute Store
When lines for the houses have reached their peak, take a break from the mazes and explore the queue-free offerings found throughout the event. First, take a walk through several of HHN 32’s interactive outdoor scare zones with our 4K first-person video:
Then, be sure to explore the fantastic new Halloween Tribute Store inside New York’s Macy’s Facade next to Revenge of the Mummy. (Speaking of which, several of the park’s top thrill rides also run with low wait times during the event, but most shut down for maintenance by midnight.)
This is also a good time to grab some grub. Lines can look long, but they move at a reasonable rate; I waited about 10 minutes total to order and receive my ravioli in a souvenir ration can.
10:15 p.m.: Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings (25-minute wait)
By this time of night, most of the crowd has moved away from the park entrance, allowing wait times to drop at this sleeper hit.
With a similar sense of scale to last year’s Dead Man’s Pier but with way more gore, Bloodmoon should not be overlooked among this year’s houses for both sheer scariness and artistry.
10:50 p.m.: Universal Monsters Unmasked (25-minute wait)
This maze began a trend of queues being far shorter than the posted standby waits, which accelerated until park closing.
A predicted 40-minute line turned out to be only 25, and the haunt inside turned out to be well worth the wait, with the Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame facing off, plus cameos by Dr. Jekyll and the Invisible Man, making this one of HHN’s better uses of classic monsters.
11:35 p.m.: The Darkest Deal (20-minute wait)
From its Depression-era juke joint facade through the fiery finale, Darkest Deal is a devilish twist on the legend of bluesman Robert Johnson that deserves to be in a big soundstage instead of the claustrophobic sprung tents.
I was more than happy to wait half of the posted 40-minute wait for this house, and wish I could have hit it a second time.
12:05 p.m. The Last of Us (40-minute wait)
For the grand finale, I waited 10 minutes less than the posted 50 for The Last of Us, which maintained its lengthy queue until minutes before closing.
Although I’ve never played the PlayStation videogame or seen the HBO series, I was extremely impressed by the scope and storytelling of the sets, as well as the detailed prosthetic masks and makeup.
1 a.m.-2 a.m.: Repeat Houses
In the final hour of the event, wait times at the soundstage houses dropped to walk-ons, and I was able to revisit five of the houses in under an hour. I was even the very last guest of the night to step into line for the Exorcist house! Of course, I could have headed off to bed earlier, but I wanted to savor every last minute of the event, as well as avoid most of the traffic jam exiting the parking garage.
Final Tally and Tips
When all was said and done, I waited a total of 226 minutes in lines once the first haunted house began operating, plus about another 90 minutes before that during Stay & Scream, for a total of about 5 hours and 15 minutes for the 10 mazes—or an average of 32 minutes per maze. That is without using Express and still leaving time for the show, scare zones, and snacks.
In fact, I could have probably optimized the plan even further by hitting the houses in the rear of the park —like The Last of Us and Oddfellow’s—earlier in the evening just as Stay & Scream ended, instead of queuing for Yeti and Chucky first.
Following our Unofficial Survival Guide path is bound to result in a long and exhausting evening—I walked over 9 miles in just one night!—but Halloween Horror Nights 32 is well worth the pain for haunt fiends. And with this hard-won guidance, it truly is possible to experience it all without the expense of Express.
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 Threads, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.