We just got back from spending two weeks in Orlando consisting of 9 total nights of Horror Nights and we’ve got some thoughts…
Overall Halloween Horror Nights 31 was a moderately solid year with a nice collection of creative and IP houses. This year was far from the best Horror Nights Orlando we’ve experienced but we still had a great trip despite the insane rain that fell nearly every single night.
Express. Oh how nice it is to have Express. After dealing with the crowds last year we swore that going forward we would splurge and get Express added to our passes. This year we went with Rush of Fear + Express as we were only planning one longer trip instead of our usual two shorter trips. This ended up working out well for us as it let us do every night Horror Nights was open while we were in town. If we had gone with Frequent Fear we would have missed almost all of it.
Express made it possible to do all ten houses every single night. Mostly wait-free but there were some exceptionally busy houses with a poorly managed Express queue. More on that later.
The food this year was also pretty great. We have some complaints about the operations around it but variety and taste wise it was much better than last year. Highly recommend the tombstone cake pop and the custard popcorn.
Set design in the houses like usual were incredible. Especially the absolutely massive “outdoor” section of Dead Man’s Pier. They put a ton of thought into sight-lines.
The Tribute store was also once again very immaculately detailed with photo ops and animatronics. Some nice selection of merch too, if it were in stock.
Ghoulish: A Halloween Tale was a very well done water-projection show. Typically anything World of Color-esque we pass on, they’re just not that entertaining. But this one was so well done, you have to see it. Universal is on to something here, and I really hope this was done in house.
Yeah so we have quite a few thoughts this year. Just to get to the point, they have a staffing and operations problem. Even on lighter nights they struggled to keep even small lines organized and food ordered going. There would often be leads and park managers standing around watching problems arise not doing anything about it.
Trip hazards were also a surprising issue this year. We had to let them know on more than one occasion that one of their cables leading to a house sign was in the walkway and people were tripping over it. Every time we brought it up it didn’t seem like a big deal or the employee had no idea what to do and just stood there. There’s also a few instances where we tripped in The Horrors of Blumhouse. If you’re going to have elevation changes or door thresholds they should be gradual or lit up so people can see or expect it.
The crowds were also another issue. This one isn’t particularly Universals fault, but they were rude and unbearable. Smoking and vaping in line (AND EVEN THE HOUSES). Teenagers running around screaming just because. Groups of drunks standing in circles at house entrances/exits.
This ranking isn’t scientific and may be influenced by outside factors such as weather, crowds, time of night, cast and overall mood such as hanger levels.
The first six houses are all pretty solid and honestly could be in any of the slots on any given night. The Weeknd was a really welcome surprise hit. Legends Collide took a few runs to “get” it.
Spirits of the Coven is a great concept but it feels they got lost making the concept a house. For a house supposed to be about witches, it was very lacking in that department. The ending follows the same basic idea that Descendants of Destruction does, and houses before it in previous years.
Hellblock Horror was supposed to be some other property which was pulled last minute, if you believe the rumors and tour guides that is. It wasn’t a bad house by any means but it suffered from Hollywood syndrome… it had black hallways with boo-holes and a prop that looks like it legit came from HHN Hollywood. If they had that more fleshed out this house would be higher up for sure.
Halloween is just old and boring now but the general public loves it so they’ll keep bringing it back with the same scares. There was nothing remarkable here.
Now, the Horrors of Blumhouse. Wow what a joke. I am almost certain they just brought someone in from Hollywood to design and build this one. It’s located in the Fast & Furious queue so they don’t have much space to work with. But knowing this limitation they decided to base the house on two different movies that neither lend themselves well to houses. The first half was base don Freaky which wasn’t too bad but everything was super cramped. The second half you actually leave the Fast & Furious queue building and go outside where of course everything tries to take a picture of the Black Room facade (if you want to call it that) but will be yelled at by an op that they’re still in a house and no pictures. Roll eyes. The rest of the house is just a lot of textured black walls and awkward layouts and a long hallway filled with hanging cloths and those silly drop window scares which do nothing but make a lot of noise. It’s just bad. There’s one section where they have door frame hidden behind those plastic curtains. People have definitely walked into it. Plus all of the trip hazards.
Universal decided to take on some sponsorship for an NFT scam and put these awful looking displays at each house. Later that night they were removing them, likely because of how much backlash they got. They’re not using small A frame signs which, is fine.
Not really much to be said about the scare zones this year. They continued to be very detailed. But due to all of the rain we barely got to see any actors on the street. Graveyard was the best this year – the walking skeletons with the little arms and light up eyes were so adorable.
Scarecrow was a huge chokepoint. This area needs to be removed as a scare zone. It’s really narrow and when there’s a show going anyone trying to get to that side of the park basically is forced through it. The same goes for up near Nightmare Fuel, but there’s not much you can do about that – although as a side tangent they could remove the booze carts from the exit of Nightmare Fuel and have plenty of space.
Conjure the Dark seemed like a cool concept but in practice what we did see didn’t really do much for us. Was just everyone wanting to take selfies.
The Pumpkin Lord returned in the Horrors of Halloween but apart from that and the hidden lil’ boo there wasn’t much to this.
Sweet Revenge was awesome but the little ‘show’ wasn’t getting much attention.
First off lets just vent a little. They spent all this time and money creating really nice looking food stands only to put the cashiers facing each other on the two most popular stands which created just a mass of people not sure which line is which or what line they were in. And to make matters worse, the food ordered got so backed up there was another line just to pick up your food but the cashiers were not telling people and the leads were not doing anything to ensure people waiting were not being cut in front of.
This wasn’t just a one-off incident either. Another night we decided to get some pizza fries (get them from Louie’s Italian Restaurant, they’re better than the ones from Kid Zone) and the person serving them was just handing out ordered to anyone that walked up, not the people that had already ordered and were waiting. One order took over half an hour. They were making one order at a time and standing around while it cooked instead of prepping multiple at once. The ovens definitely are large enough to support it.
The other issue the park was running into was keeping food actually in stock. It seemed every place we ordered from, they were short an ingredient. Instead of being proactive about it and making sure they had the supplies they’d need for the night they all waited until they were out to wait around and figure out what to do. There didn’t seem to be any mechanism for them to contact someone that could bring it, the leads would leave and you’d wait while they went someone to get something. Universal, we’re just trying to give you money here.
One other annoying thing is theres no clear menu on what items are where. They kind of mention it in press releases but the app doesn’t show anything on the map. Trying to find vegetarian options meant us just walking around and looking at each menu and ultimately just giving up.
The food we did get, apart from the pizza fries and bear meat, (seriously these things are gross ya’ll), was really tasty.
Nightmare Fuel was stunning last year. This year sadly it’s essentially identical. They ruined the ending with a worse magic trick. The talent wasn’t very good either, which I understand is who was supposed to perform last year. I think keeping last years talent would have greatly improved things. Better idea, bring back Bill & Ted or actually come up with an in-house show instead of just finding some one trick pony .
Ghoulish was the standup show and it’s a must see for anyone attending more than one night. Universal makes Disney look bad here. Let’s hope it’s not a one-time fluke.
There was some really nice merch that we were all looking forward to throwing our wallets at but either due to very high demand or very limited supply just about none of it ended up in our luggage. We managed to find a lil’ boo hat that was actually embroidered and not the glued on patch they’re using on all the other hats. They’re clearly using multiple suppliers to meet demand, so at least they’re trying but the quality just… aint there.
There was one shirt we wanted and decided to wait a day, and as luck would have it they were literally all sold out.
Other items they were supposed to have like the lil’ boo blanket just were never on shelves. Some people reported that they would get stocked in the morning but they must have had just a few because we looked every morning and didn’t see any and the employees also claimed to have no idea where they are.
We wanted to buy the lil’ boo shirt but for reasons we’ll never know, Universal only made them in youth sizes. Youth. At Horror Nights.
Universal was also caught raising prices. Those lil’ boo purses, those were 45 dollars originally. Universal had employees ripping off the price on the tags and re-priced them, almost doubling the price. They’re not selling very fast now. Shocker.
Look, even with all of the issues and complaints we had this year it’s still a great event, way better than what you get out on the west coast. Not every year is going to be a home-run and that’s okay. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into by reading our Haunt Guide to Halloween Horror Nights Orlando and bringing an extra pair of shoes if you’re staying at a hotel.