Every September and October creatures, monsters, and goblins come out to take over Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, transforming the Harry Potter-run park into Halloween Horror Nights. Growing up in Ohio I was accustomed to something similar--Fear Fest (later Halloween Haunt) at King's Island and Halloweekends at Cedar Point. So when I moved to Florida in 2013 one of the things I was most excited about was experiencing Universal's take on the haunted house tradition. My girlfriend and I did HHN that year (no pictures available) and returned in 2014. So if you have a minute I am going to take you through the good, the bad, and the frightening of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights.
It's expensive. For 2015, if you want to go to the park during the day and add HHN to it for that night, it breaks down like this--you will pay at least $102 for the ticket just to get into the park during the day (and that's just for the Studios park. If you want to venture into the connecting park, Islands of Adventure, that's another sixty dollars or so). So you've paid $102 (after paying at least $16 to park) to get into the park before HHN starts,. Adding HHN will cost you at least $50 (this goes as high as $76.99 on weekends and the closer it gets to Halloween). Let me do the math for you: $102 plus $50 plus $16 equals $168--before taxes.
Fortunately, there are other options. If you want to do JUST the HHN experience, that ticket starts out at $101.99...plus at least $16 to park. That's not a huge savings, but it's something.
Going to be in the Orlando area for a while? If so, choose a Frequent Fear pass. This gets you in multiple nights, and you can select from ones that get you in certain nights, or ones that get you into every night, including weekends. These range from about $85 to around $110.
If you live in this area, you also know that being a Florida resident gets you discounts on almost everything--this is also the case for HHN, so if you have the misfortune of living in Central Florida, ask about savings. If you happen to be an annual pass holder--you've already paid a fortune, and yes, you do have to pay extra for HHN, but there are discounts for that too--my girlfriend and I fall into this category--we paid $84 each for Frequent Fear, which gets us in every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Parking is also included. This is the first year we have been pass holders so I am not yet completely certain of this, but I have been told that annual pass holders do not have to exit the park before the event starts--instead they are corralled into certain areas and released as soon as the event starts. This is beneficial in that you do not have to wait to have your ticket and finger scanned--you can make your way to the first house. I am really hoping this is true, as waiting outside the park for them to begin the event gets very crowded and is an exhausting test in patience (more on this virtue later).
There is one more thing that can cost you an arm and a leg before even stepping foot in the park: the HHN Express Pass. This pass allows you to skip the regular line and mosey your way through a faster line. The cost for this ticket is about $150--no, that is not a typo. If you want to treat yourself to much shorter lines it will cost you around an additional one hundred fifty dollars.
 To conclude this section and move on, yes, Halloween Horror Nights is expensive--if you are planning on doing this for one night, you live somewhere outside Florida, and you want the entire experience, it will cost you (for a weekday night) $102 to get into the park plus $50 for HHN plus $16 to park plus $150 for the Express Pass--this comes to $318 BEFORE YOU EVEN STEP FOOT IN THE PARK!! And this is before taxes, before drinks (don't even get me started on the price of those), food, t-shirts, AND is assuming you are going on a weekday in September--it only gets more expensive on weekends and the more into October you get.
So let us assume you have decided to fork over the dough and experience Halloween Horror Nights. You will park in the garage and walk what seems like forever. You'll then enter "City Walk", a collection of restaurants, bars, shops, a movie theater, Hard Rock Orlando, and some other stuff--it actually is a pretty cool area. You will make your way to the gates of Universal and watch as the workers usher out the people in the park who do not have an HHN ticket. A tip: get there early. The closer you are to the gates the better because 1) it gets really crowded before the event, 2) people in large groups will attempt to cut in front of you, 3) crowd control is non-existent, 4) the sooner you get in the park the sooner you get to an experience, and 5) the event opens with a ceremony. In 2013 the ceremony was "The Walking Dead" themed, and it started with "walkers" coming around the corner toward the crowd waiting to get in--in 2014 it was "The Purge" themed. The "Opening Scaremony" is always really cool and the closer you are to the front the more you will enjoy it--my girlfriend and I would always arrive about and hour or so before the gates opened, were always in the front (or at least very close) and we never regretted it.
Once inside the park you will go through a series of scare zones--in 2015 these will include  "Psychoscarepy", "Unleashed, Icons", "HHN, Scary Tales", ScreamPunk, Evil's Roots", and ""All Nite Die In". These will be located all throughout the park, and in the previous two years I have found them to be hit or miss. Last year they had probably my favorite Scare Zone--"Face Off", based on the popular SyFy Network show of the same name. Basically it was a bunch of characters on themed stages that would scare you and, something most others won't do, pose for pictures with you.
Face Off banner at the front of the park
Face Off Entrance
Who's that guy?
Hey, I know her!

He wants my soul
Handsome fella
Captain Jack he's not

I'll get you my pretty

Doing anything tonight?
Scarecrow Awesomeness

MASKerade was a scare zone in front of the main road that had many of the houses. It featured a ballroom dance of the dead, many of whom were on stilts. This was another zone I liked quite a bit--I can't tell you how many hours we spent taking pictures in this zone and watching the dancers scare the people going past.

I forgot the giant candles

My girlfriends favorite character

The elusive girl in blue
Stand still for just two seconds!
Thank you
Tall chick
Another tall chick
Tall dude
Taller dude

Moments before cornering me

I honestly thought for a moment she was going to attack me
The main theme in 2014 was "The Purge"--thus, this was the largest, most elaborate scare zone. Honestly, it felt like such a letdown from how fantastic "The Walking Dead" was in 2013 that we didn't spend much time in the area, simply passing through a couple times on our way to the houses. There was a stage show involved, but we never managed to catch that. For the most part it was guys and gals walking around with clear masks and weapons, and it wasn't very scary--or interesting. 
The banner
They both look bored

Kinda cool?
The fourth and final scare zone of 2014 was Bayou of Blood. This was a very small area that was wonderfully lit, but lacked in being really scary--it was mainly a few characters walking around with noise making shakers and other such "voodoo" items. Rumors floated around there was a sacrifice show in this area early on, but that it was stopped because it was deemed too gruesome--I can't confirm any part of this story at all, but I saw no such show. It was fairly dark in that area, but the walkway is so narrow one tended to spend more time trying to get around the drunkards than focusing on the scary characters.

Entering the zone
Creepy writings
Papa Shango?
Scary dude
Looking for a sacrifice
Of course the thing most people attend HHN for is the houses. Here's what you need to know about the houses: the later into the night it gets, the longer the lines get. For the popular houses expect to wait in line 2 to 3 hours--I'm not kidding. Even the less popular houses will have an hour and a half wait or longer as the night goes on, and these wait times only increase on the weekends. Remember the Express Pass we went over earlier? This is how Universal can get away with charging that much for this pass. With the pass you may wait 20 minutes, but typically no longer. Without the pass--patience is a must. This is tested later in the night not only by the sheer amount of time you spend in line but also by your tolerance for drunk people (who get even more intoxicated while waiting in line as they have stations throughout the queue that sell alcohol), large groups of teenagers, and screaming Brazilians. My tolerance level for all three is fairly low, so my plan is always arrive early, hit as many houses as I can early, and explore the zones more the later it gets--this is where having a frequent fear pass comes in handy. By spreading it out over 3 or 4 trips I can enjoy every houses several times without waiting in unbearably long lines to do so.

Halloween Horror Nights offered eight houses in 2014. As in previous years Universal features a handful of houses that are based on movies and/or television shows, and fills in the last few with original ideas and stories. We'll start with the "big" houses.

John Carpenter's classic "Halloween" got it's own house in 2014--I was a little skeptical of this house when I heard it was announced, but I honestly loved it. As you made your way through the house you saw many scenes from the movie come to life right before your eyes, and of course Michael was hiding behind every corner. We did this house three times, and on the last time through there was a Michael outside the exit that, just when I thought it was over, jumped in front of me and scared me more than anything else did at this event--I literally jumped. This was probably the most anticipated house of 2014, and as the night wore on that was obvious--the line was typically over two hours long after about 8pm. It's safe to say, however, that this was my favorite of the houses.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 9

As I have already stated, in 2013 the main theme was based on "The Walking Dead", and the Opening Scaremony and the scare zone were incredible, but the house itself was a letdown. The house was totally redone (and in a different location) in 2014, and while it was a step up from 2013, it was still somewhat disappointing. The zombies were largely uninteresting, and the final scene (military vs zombies) was loud and kind of boring. That said, the attention to detail in the house was fantastic. Fans of the show could easily identify many of the items from the movie inside the house. This one also had long lines all night, making it even less appealing as the night wore on.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 6

For some reason I thought Alien Vs. Predator was an odd choice for this event. It was never a particularly well-liked film, and there's not much of a following for the combination of the two--though independent of each other they are big, and this brings me to my main problem with this house: they never fought. You went through the house, you saw Aliens, you saw Predators, but there was never a real battle. I went through this one twice, thinking maybe I missed something the first time around. Still, the Predator costumes were cool (even though I saw one outside the building at the entrance, talking to the guy letting people in--apparently there was a problem in the house) and the Aliens were equally impressive.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 7

I was extremely surprised to see a house based on the Rodriguez film starring George Clooney (it wasn't until later I learned of the television show). I am not a huge fan of the film, and have never seen the television show, but I still was excited to experience this house--disappointed is not a strong enough word for this. It was as if the plan was to put some girls in skimpy stripper costumes with half-assed vampire makeup and have them dance, get some guys with guns to shoot, and, well, that's it. It was loud, smoky, dreadfully bland, and easily the worst house of the year.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 2

I entered this house having never seen "Dracula Untold", and I still haven't seen it for that matter. That didn't seem to matter, however, as this house took you through the decay of a crumbling old castle with vampires hiding around every corner. I wasn't expecting much out of this house, and many people were less than impressed by it, but I think it worked. The lighting, the sounds, and the sets were wonderful, and all three times we went through it the timing of the scares was perfect.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 7

For some inexplicable reason, the above is the only picture I took of any of the houses. This is Dollhouse of the Damned, and wow, what a house! This house proves that it isn't necessarily always the "big" houses that pack the most punch (much the same way La Llorona did in 2013). As you entered this house you were immediately surrounded by dolls and stuffed animals (many impaled), which you expect, but as you weaved your way through the house you saw the real terror come to life--this was some strange manufacturing plant that turned humans into dolls. There was a half-human, half-doll girl above everybody that was creepier than anything else in the park, and another girl later in the house that managed to scare me every time I went through.  When you think of a truly terrifying house, THIS is what you should think of--I really hope they bring this one back next year.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 9

Yes, there are always clown houses at these things--it's just something you accept. Giggles and Gore Inc. seemed on the surface one of those things the masterminds behind HHN threw together because they couldn't think of anything better, but going through the house, it was actually pretty cool. There was a production line of sorts that turned people into evil clowns, similar to Dollhouse of the Damned but less subtle. Some of the clowns were absolutely terrifying looking (I can't imagine what this place would be like for somebody who has a natural fear of clowns) and there was even a comical spot in the middle--there was a button with a sign that instruction people not to push the button and, when you inevitably did, it shot you with water. This was a house that delivered a lot more than I expected, and as it typically had a shorter line, I did this one many times.

On A Scale Of One To Ten: 7

The final house on the list is Roanoke: Cannibal Colony. This house delivered pretty much what one would expect--lots of hillbilly cannibals eating other humans. One thing that was interesting about the house was the sheer amount of gore involved--there was blood and body parts everywhere. A nice little addition in this house was scares coming from above you. This was a short and simple house--probably the least popular of the group this year. It wasn't particularly good, but it wasn't bad either--it was worth going through a second time anyway.
On A Scale Of One To Ten: 5
People often ask me if Halloween Horror Nights is worth it, and that is a somewhat difficult question to answer. In the scenario I laid out above, where one is paying $318 before they even get into the park, I would answer no. I believe the only way to truly enjoy and appreciate this event is to go multiple nights. With the discounted rate of tickets for purchasing multiple nights it is a no-brainer for somebody living here who has the time to go. If you can afford it, and you have the availability to go three or four nights, yes, it may be worth it, assuming you get there early enough to get through a couple houses each time before the crowds invade. Clearly I believe the situation I am in is a favorable one--my girlfriend and I have annual passes to Universal, we purchased the Frequent Fear Passes, and we will be able to go probably five times or so. We will get out moneys worth out of the passes.
For those of you from out of town looking for a Halloween theme park experience, I would recommend Kings Island's Halloween Haunt. This event has eleven houses that are just as good as, if not better than, the houses at HHN, it has four scare zones, it has about a dozen roller coasters (Universal has two), and the prices are MUCH better: if you go on a Saturday in October, the park opens at 11:00am, doesn't close until 1:00am, and you get all those hours for the price of just $39.99--that's right, for forty bucks you get more houses, more hours, and more rides. Also, if don't want to wait in long lines all night, Kings Islands version of the Express Pass is $55--compare that to Universal's $155. Typically the lines are not as long as KI (you can easily get through all eleven houses in one night without the pass and still have time to ride the coasters) and there is one very key thing Kings Island does that puts their event ahead of HHN--they count off people and send them into the houses in groups, and this makes a HUGE difference. At HHN one of the most disappointing things you can have happen is you see ALL the scares coming before you get to them--the frustration is only intensified when you have waited in line for two hours just to have this happen. The way KI sends you in in groups cuts down tremendously on this happening. I understand that more people go to HHN and sending people into houses in groups would make wait time even longer, but I would personally not mind waiting longer if it meant having a better experience. If I could only choose one event, even if both were priced the same, I would go to Kings Island's Halloween Haunt before I would go to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights.
All that said, I do not want anybody to read this and think I am saying Halloween Horror Nights is not fun or is not worth it--my girlfriend and I had a blast in 2013 and 2014, and expect much the same in 2015. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the event and it promises to be bigger and better than ever. For the 2015 event there will be nine houses:
"The Walking Dead: returns with their new house, "The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead"
One of my personal favorite horror films comes to life with "Freddy Vs Jason" (lets hope they actually battle).
One of my favorite horror franchises debuts: "Insidious"
Last year it was the theme, this year it's a house: The Purge"
It terrified its guests in 2013, and now it returns with a vengeance: my personal favorite house of the last two years, "An American Werewolf In London"
HHN legend Jack the Clown returns this year with "25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem", a house that will bring back some other favorites from years past.
Assassins are after you as you become a contestant on a game show in "Run: Blood, Sweat, and Fears" ("The Running Man" inspired?)
Winter comes to Central Florida in the form of Shadybrook Asylum with "Body Collectors-Recollections", a house that, as I understand it, also is the inspiration of one of the scare zones.
Finally we have the return of the 3D house with "Asylum in Wonderland 3D", an "Alice In Wonderland" inspired house.
I understand Jack The Clown will be presenting a show that I will be certain to catch, and Bill and Ted return to poke fun at everything that happened in the past year--this show is worth watching when the lines for the houses get too long to bother with. I've also heard the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" show is gone, so there's that.
Halloween Horror Nights kicked off last night, but it will be a couple weeks before I go. Check back in late October for my review of this years event, where I will have pictures, reviews of all nine houses, the scare zones and shows, and tips for getting around and getting the most bang for your buck this year!

Saying goodbye to HHN 2014

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