Halloween Horror Nights survival guide

My feature article for the Orlando Weekly on Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights XVII: Carnival of Carnage is now online:

And, as a special treat for Other Orlando Blog readers, here is my guaranteed HHN touring plan (Note: Guarantee not valid in Florida or Georgia, or on days ending in a “Y”)

1. Go on an off-peak night. The crowds are overwhelming on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll have a much better time if you visit on a Wed, Thurs, or Sunday.

2. Skip the Express Pass. On an off-peak night, you should be able to see everything without them if you plan well. On a peak night, you’ll have difficulty visiting all the houses even with Express, and you’ll have spent an extra $66 to stand in (shorter) lines. However, if you’ve got the spare cash, I highly recommend the RIP Tours – they are the only way to all the houses on a peak night (and even then you might miss some shows).

3. If you are a local (especially if you have an Annual Pass) consider the Frequent Fear pass. For less than the cost of 2 discounted single-night tickets, you can visit on as many off-peak nights as you like. You’ll have more fun if you don’t feel pressured to see everything in one evening.

4. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t see every house and show. Keep in mind that the park has cut back on traditional Scarezones this year, so don’t expect many scares in the streets. Also, don’t expect to see Freddy, Jason, or Leatherface outside of their haunted houses (despite what the commercials imply).

5. Buy your tickets online before you arrive. You can save money with various Florida Resident discounts and take your E-Ticket directly to the gate.

6. Watch your alcohol consumption, for the sake of your liver and your wallet. The temporary bars serving domestic drafts and weak cocktails in souvenir glasses are a poor value. If you want a beer, get a pint of Guinness for $5.75 at Finnegan’s. Remember that you can’t bring food or drinks into the houses or shows.

7. Arrive as early as possible, at least 90 minutes before the event starts. If you have an Annual Pass or a “Scream Early” upgrade ($10 in advance/ $15 at the gate) you can enter through Islands of Adventure and take the back entrance into the Studios before the crowds are let in. The only way to see everything is to be in the park before the general public is let in for the night.

8. The security screening at the front gate can be very slow, so check out all the lines before queuing up for the metal detectors. Often the far right line, marked for “Annual Passholders”, will be very long, while the far left lanes are empty. Don’t bring any bags with you, and take everything out of your pockets before stepping up to the security checkpoint.

9. Once inside the park, head past Shrek to the area in front of the Soundstages. The three houses there (Nightmare on Elm Street, Psychoscareapy, and Dead Silence) will be the first to open. Ask an attendant what order the houses will open. Typically, the first (Nightmare) will open 45 minutes before the event starts, the second (Psychoscareapy) opens 15 minutes after the first, and the 3rd (Dead Silence) just before the official opening time.

10. Get in line for the 1st house that will open. As soon as you go through, head to the second house to open. You should be able to go through the 1st 2 houses several times before the official opening time. Do not get in line for the 3rd house if it has accumulated a long line before opening.

11. Once you have seen at least 2 houses and are allowed out of the Soundstage area, head past the Mummy to the entrance of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Try to be one of the first in the house when it opens. This house is much more effective after sunset, but it seems to have one of the longer lines once the crowds come in.

12. Exit TCM near Earthquake and head left towards Jaws. Visit the Friday the 13th house as long as the wait time is under 30 minutes.

13. At this point you have seen at least 4 houses, and the crowds will be starting to grow. If it is 7:00pm and you want to see the Bill & Ted show, get in line for the 1st show of the night. Later shows get very crowded, and the preshow (which starts 5 minutes before the posted show time) is the best part.

14. If you have time before the 1st Bill & Ted, or you don’t want to see the show, continue past Men In Black to Jack’s Funhouse. Since this is a 3D maze with crowd-flow issues it tends to have one of the longest lines. If the wait is over 45 minutes, skip it for now.

15. Look at the schedule in the park map and plan the next couple hours around seeing shows. I recommend the Rocky Horror Tribute, Freakshow, and Carnival of Carnage (in that order of priority). You will need to arrive 15 minutes early for Rocky Horror, the other 2 shows have large capacity.

16. You should be able to visit The Thing (near ET) and Vampyre at your leisure in between shows, as they tend to have little-to-no wait even during the peak hours of evening. Don’t miss seeing The Thing; despite its lack of crowds it’s one of the best-designed houses in HHN history.

17. Concentrate on the special Halloween attractions, and don’t waste time on the regular rides until you’ve seen everything else. The only exception in the single-rider lines for Mummy and Men In Black, which sometime have little or no wait when the houses are packed

18. By the time you’ve seen all the shows, it should be about an hour from park close. Visit (or revisit) any houses, as the wait times fall off dramatically near closing. Dead Silence and Psychoscareapy are typically walk-ons in the last half hour of the night. You can get into line right up until closing time, even if there is still a significant wait time listed.

19. Getting out of the parking garage at the same time as everyone else is a mob scene. If you’re leaving at park close, consider a drink or late movie at Citywalk to allow the crowds to exit.

With this plan, you should be able to see everything (or almost everything) on a non-peak night without Express and without waiting in any lines longer than 30 minutes. If the line for any house is over 45 minutes, skip it and come back later. Meanwhile, check the wait time boards and go to a less-crowded house. Remember, it’s not worth it to wait longer in line for a house than you would spend watching the movie that house is based on!

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