Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort is back for its 26th year. There’s nine mazes, five scare zones, two shows, and one upcharge VR experience. We attended, battled the crowds, and fought off a sinus infection all to bring you the real guest experience. While HHN gets better every year, there’s always areas that just don’t hit expectations. Everything we talk about is subject to change as the event goes on as the Universal’s creative team is always tweaking everything based on guest feedback; making the last weekend the best time to visit if you want a solid show.
Krampus is based on the 2015 film (check out our review here). You’ll enter the Engel residence after the snowstorm has everyone locked in. The maze follows the movie pretty nicely and does a good job replicating some key scenes. There’s quite a few “whoa” moments and scares for most. The best part of the maze is closer to the end where it continues where the movie left off. Krampus is the must see house of the year (and movie if you haven’t seen it already).
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a real classic house. Variations on the theme have been done before, and it’s one property that just can’t get old. Everything is really gritty, bloody and loud. Every room you pass through is insanely detailed. There’s nothing innovative or new about it, but that’s okay. The actors are huge, scary, and make you feel like you’re in the movie. TCM is ranked as one of our top mazes and for good reasons. We’re hard to scare, and this one cuts the fear right out of you.
Halloween: Hell Comes To Haddonfield
Another Micheal Meyers house with pretty much the same elements all of the others have had. This time based on Halloween II and includes a lot more knife sound effects (which gets annoying very fast). While we’d prefer if the same properties were not re-used year after year, this one gets a pass because of how well it was executed. With that said, the Halloween maze from 2014 was far better. This year there wasn’t even a facade, only a movie poster looking billboard.
The Exorcist is hands down one of the most requested mazes in Halloween Horror Nights history. The film is excellent is just about every way. The maze itself was a complete let-down. From poor set design to holdups with the line just stopping midway for a good five to ten minutes, it’s clear that the movie doesn’t translate well to the film. If there were special effects in the maze, they didn’t work on many walkthroughs. The actors felt lifeless and bored; not even trying to scare anyone. Many people have said it’s a masterpiece of maze design, but they’re likely stuck in denial that Universal Orlando failed to pull you into the story. Walk through the maze if you get a chance but don’t waste your time in a line over sixty minutes.
American Horror Story
American Horror Story is another maze fans have been asking for pretty much since season one aired. Rumors say it was tough to secure rights to produce the maze which might explain why both Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando did it the way they did. Instead of the maze focusing on a single season, it’s an assortment of scenes from every season. It’s a nice little sample of some very well done sets and actors that are really in character.
The main problem with this is nothing feels connected. Since the plots of AHS vary so much, it may as well have been marketed as a few micro houses as each season only gets a room or two. As the entrance to the maze is at the front of the park, and without a doubt, the most popular franchise, expect wait times to skyrocket. Good news for those without express: most of the wait is in an air conditioned soundstage – a very nice addition.
The Walking Dead
Skip. Seriously. Words cannot express how bad this is. If you’re a huge fan, you’re going to see it regardless. If you’re not then, only go through it if the wait is ten minutes or less. There is not a single redeeming factor about this maze except for the exit and the fact that it’s air conditioned.
Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch
Ghost Town is a somewhat unique offering from the rest of the mazes as it takes on a western “gold rush” like theme. There’re some very nice effects throughout including real rain (note: there have been reports Universal Orlando has toned down this effect so much it’s hardly noticeable). You’re thrown right in the middle of gun fire that will catch you off guard as you’re admiring all the incredible detail.
Tomb of the Ancients
Another creative maze that features tons of detail and lots of dangling feelers. There’s something claustrophobic, yet therapeutic about pushing aside so many dangling strings. It’s dark, creepy, and a whole lot of fun.
Lunatics Playground 3D
All the Halloween Horror Nights regulars know who Chance is. She’s a twisted, crazy, and downright insane. This maze is about Chance and her delusional sense of being. Put on your 3D goggles and try to stand upright while walking across the very overused spinning tunnel. Chance is not present enough in the maze, and the 3D felt useless. The very end of the maze you get close and personal which causes some backup as people feel the need to stare. It’s amazing that there’s no security guard or line patrol person standing in the back as this could be a trouble spot after someone had four or five too many.
The rest of the event is put together quite well with a few areas that could use some improvement. The scare zones were beautiful, some of them felt cheesy, but it worked. Dead Man’s Wharf looks remarkably nice but ended up creating an unnecessary choke point. Vamp ’55 was excellent in nearly every way with the actors playing their characters exceptionally well.
On the shows front, you have two favorites of ours: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, and new to this year: Academy of Villains: House of Fear. 2016 is the 25th year of Bill & Ted, and there are references to it thrown around throughout the show. People come to the show for the crude humor and sexy dancing, but this year they played it very safe. None of the jokes were too edgy. The show is incredibly funny, but this year just didn’t have the same oomph as previous years have.
Academy of Villains, on the other hand, is highly entertaining. Last year they made their debut at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights as a small production on the lower lot. Everyone loved them then, and everyone certainly loves them now. Last years show wasn’t themed to anything horror, but this year they went all out. We only managed to grab a few minutes of their show due to the typical Florida rain ruining everything, but what we saw blew us away. As far as we’re concerned, they’re way better than the Jabbawockeez (sorry Hollywood).
Overall it’s a fun event that keeps getting better every year and pushing the boundaries of what you can do with live performers with a conga-line of people going through small rooms. If you have the means to go, you should make an effort before the end of the season when everyone else goes. Florida locals can get discounted tickets, while everyone can also get pretty cheap tickets from just about anywhere. Express tickets are going to run you around 100 bucks a night in addition to event admission.
We highly recommend staying in the park and hanging out at Finnegan’s until around 5:45 when they let you into the mazes early. That extra half hour is useful if you want to see as much as you can in one night. For example, we were able to go through all nine mazes, Scare Zones, Bill & Ted, and still had time left over in one night with express.
One last tip: if it rains, don’t leave. The lines WILL clear out, and the mazes will stay open. While everyone is busy trying to stay dry, just go for it.