Every year, Universal Studios transforms their theme park into a horrific wonderland of monsters and screams. At least—almost every year. In 2020, due to the global pandemic, Universal decided against hosting their annual event. This year, it’s back bigger than ever, celebrating Halloween Horror Nights 2021 with a bang!
We visited Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida opening week to give you a first look.
For those who’ve never been, Halloween Horror Nights is an event that goes on for weeks. On select nights in September and October, the Universal Studios theme park will stay open after hours with additional attractions that are not available to regular park goers. (It’s important to note that buying a park ticket does not grant entry to HHN. It is considered a separate event.)
Hours vary by day. We went on a Thursday to beat the crowds, and the event was open from 6:30PM to 1AM. That might seem like forever, but with ten haunted houses, scare zones, food and drink specials, as well as shows, there’s all too much to see. If your goal is to experience everything in the park, be prepared to go for more than one night and keep in mind that some events are specially ticketed, even beyond your HHN admission. For full details of everything the event has to offer, make sure you explore the HHN site.
In one night, we were only able to experience a fraction of what HHN has to offer. Still, everything we did experience was loads of fun.
Halloween Horror Nights is like a different park superimposed over the usual theme park. Stages and sets are built along the walkways, and the creative team has their own special brand of magic to make haunted houses appear in a few short hours. Walking around, you almost forget that the park doubles as a run of the mill attraction during the day. So the first thing we decided to do to get into the spirit was head to the back of the park and work our way around—twice.
The first thing you’ll notice at HHN is the scare zones. These are areas where professional actors roam the streets to taunt attendees with stilts and chainsaws. This is one of the easiest ways to get involved, as actors are out in the open with no line to wait in. You can take pictures with them—if you dare—or simply scream and run away. Just be mindful of the other park goers around you. We witnessed more than one injury when someone’s fight-or-flight response kicked in.
Most of the regular park rides are closed at night, though HHN does include “participating rides and attractions.” From what we could see, there were three rides that fit the bill: Men in Black™ Alien Attack, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. In fact, the entirety of Diagon Alley was open for business while we were visiting. That includes the Gringotts ride, all of the stores, as well as the restaurant inside The Leaky Cauldron. It’s worth keeping in mind if you’re planning a multiple day trip, because while Halloween Horror Nights has a lot to explore, there are also other attractions to enjoy if you miss them during the day.
In addition to rides and scares, HHN has a special menu of food and drinks you can enjoy from concession stands. Whether you’re looking for a tornado potato, queso, or human meat on a stick (metaphorically…hopefully), there are plenty of places to stop for a snack between lines. These stands also have an expanded drink menu to include wine and specialty cocktails like Ghoul Juice for attendees over 21.
The Haunted Houses
One of the biggest draws to HHN is the haunted houses. These change from year to year, and offer a mix of general horror, urban legend, and licensed franchises. Die-hards wait every year to find out what series will be headlining the event. This year, the Orlando Resort delivered two-fold: Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and the timeless classic Beetlejuice.
These were the two attractions we prioritized during our visit, but there’s plenty more to see. The full list of haunted houses can be found on Universal’s HHN site. However, we took the time to rank the six that we toured through. For the full details, make sure to check out the HHN highlight reel on the Loot Fright Instagram!
- Welcome to Scarey: Horror in the Heartland – 3/10 Pumpkins – “In Carey, bad things just happen. No one escapes from this small town beset by an endless parade of bloodthirsty creatures and maniacs.”
- Puppet Theater: Captive Audience – 4/10 Pumpkins – “A puppeteer and a ballet troupe trapped in a deserted theatre for years are about to turn you into a human puppet. That’s your cue to scream.”
- The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin – 5/10 Pumpkins – “There’s no breaking free from the vines of the Pumpkin Lord, here to entrap you in his ever-growing evil.”
- Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth – 7/10 Pumpkins – “Follow the trail of a private eye as an investigation into the supernatural leads you into a dark world of ghouls and terrifying creatures.”
- Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House – 9/10 Pumpkins – “Welcome to Hill House, a structure more alive than its ghostly inhabitants. Inside these walls echo the haunted footsteps of those trapped here for all time.”
- Beetlejuice – 9/10 Pumpkins – “Got trouble with the living? You know what to say: Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. It’s showtime!”
This is just the impression we got from our one night visit, so it’s important to remember how crowds and actors can vary from night to night. Remember to thank the staff for their hard work!
The Express Pass
The most important piece of advice we could possibly give you is this: buy the Halloween Horror Nights Express Pass.
The HHN Express Pass comes as a separate purchase from your ticket. Depending on which night you’re attending, express passes can range anywhere from $90 to $170. It might seem like a steep price, but we found that it was worth every penny. For comparison, here’s a list of the estimated wait times for the haunted houses we attended, versus the actual wait time we had with the pass.
The Wicked Growth: 45 minutes / 2 minutes
Puppet Theater: 30 minutes / 2 minutes
Case Files Unearthed: 35 minutes / 3 minutes
Beetlejuice: 65 minutes / 22 minutes
The Haunting of Hill House: 65 minutes / 7 minutes
Welcome to Scarey: 40 minutes / 4 minutes
For those following along at home, that’s four hours of wait time that we saved by purchasing the express pass—and we didn’t even go to all the haunted houses! For our Thursday tickets, that averages out to about two minutes for every dollar, and I could not recommend it enough. If you want time to explore the park, to stop and take photos or grab something to eat, then the express pass is an absolute must.
Overall, we had an absolute blast at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. If you’re looking for more information, remember to check out Universal’s site as well as the highlight reel on our Instagram page. For more horror and Beetlejuice content, make sure to check out our Loot Fright crate. There’s only 2 more days to order this theme!