Fall has arrived in Orlando and there’s an eerie chill in the air, which can only mean one thing: Halloween is here! One of our favorite things about this time of year is Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. But as anyone who attended can tell you, the only thing more frightening than the creeps and crazies employed at Universal Studios Florida is the crushing crowds that pack the event. Want to enjoy the madness of HHN without losing your mind for real? Just follow the seven steps in our Halloween Horror Nights Survival Guide, and you’ll be well ahead of the bloodthirsty pack in devouring everything Universal’s frightfest has to offer.
1. Pick the Right Night
If you’re only spending one night at Halloween Horror Nights, it’s in your best interests to visit on one of the less crowded nights. Study Universal’s Halloween Horror Night event calendar closely before deciding when to come. Saturday nights are the busiest, followed closely by Fridays and Sundays; Wednesdays and Thursdays see the lightest crowds. Attendance usually increases as Halloween approaches, but Halloween night itself and the nights after it are often half-empty.
2. Buy Tickets In Advance
Buying tickets at the box office will cost you more than $110, and waste your time waiting in line to boot. You’re far better off going online and purchasing advance Halloween Horror Nights tickets at a discount. If you have a specially-marked Coke or Burger King UPC code, you can save up to $50 per person, depending on the night. Even deeper discounts are offered to Seasonal and Annual Passholders. If you like what you see at the event and want to return, consider upgrading to a Frequent Fear pass before you exit; Guest Services will apply the price you paid to any more expensive ticket.
3. Do the Math on Express and RIP
The wait times for HHN’s haunted houses are just as legendary as the scares inside, so many guests are tempted by the line-cutting upcharges Universal offers. Express Passes are priced from $80 to $140, depending on the date; the Express pricing calendar is a great indicator of how busy Universal thinks each night will be.
VIP tours (or RIP Tours, and they are dubbed) cost $160 to $300, but you get what you pay for: Express users still stand in a queue, which can sometimes be only a few minutes shorter than the posted standby wait, while RIP guests get instant back-door access to every maze.
4. Arrive Early! Or Even Earlier!
If you arrive early enough at Halloween Horror Nights, it is possible to experience all nine haunted houses in one night without paying extra for Express or RIP. The key is to be inside the park before the event officially starts at 6:30 p.m. The best way to achieve this is to use a daytime ticket or annual pass to enter Universal Studios Florida before it closes to day guests at 5 p.m. (ideally arrive by 4 p.m.) and wait for HHN to begin inside a “Stay and Scream” holding area.
The Hello Kitty store holding area at the front of the park gets first crack at the popular American Horror Story maze, but it’s crowded and has limited refreshments. The popular Finnegan’s holding area gets early access to two other soundstages, The Shining and Dead Waters; the restaurant isn’t accepting reservations after 1 p.m. this year, so seating is first-come/first-served. Springfield’s holding area offers a selection of Simpsons fast food, plus first dibs on the Scarecrow and Hive houses near Men In Black (this area is reserved for Annual Passholders on Sept. 22 and 23).
Taking advantage of early entry gets you at least a 15-minute head start on the crowds, and allows you to easily knock off two or three houses with minimal waits. If you can’t be inside the park before opening, try to arrive at the gates at least an hour early so you can be among the first through the turnstiles. The houses closest to the entrance will probably already have long waits, so head to your right and work your way counter-clockwise around the park.
5. Say Bye Bye to Bill & Ted
This is the swan song for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, and big crowds are coming out to bid farewell to this venerable pop-culture spoof. If you’ve managed to see three or four mazes by 7:15 p.m., head to the first Bill & Ted show of the evening. If not, plan to see the night’s final performance. Attending any of the packed showings in between requires investing at least an hour if you want a seat.
6. Take a Break from the Boos
Once wait times for the haunted houses top an hour, focus on exploring the scare zones in the streets, which teem with terrors you don’t need to queue for. Also consider riding some of the theme park attractions, which typically have short waits during the event (especially for single riders). Don’t miss the Academy of Villains dance show on the open-air stage near Mel’s Die-In; it’s standing room only, but show up early if you want an up-close view. And if the crowds get too crushing, you can always escape to CityWalk for a breather; admission to the clubs in included with most Halloween Horror Nights tickets.
7. The Night Owl Gets the Worm
Find your second wind and stay until the event closes to enjoy shorter waits at any haunted houses you didn’t experience earlier in the evening. You can step into line right up until the closing time, and will still be allowed to wait for the maze.
Finally, a bonus tip from Blake Braswell, one of the show directors for Halloween Horror Nights: “Wear comfortable shoes!” We logged over 13,000 steps on opening night at Halloween Horror Nights 2017, and walking more than 10 miles during the evening isn’t uncommon when you count all the queue switchbacks. No matter how good those high heels or open toes look, your feet will be in agony before the witching hour arrives.
Complete your Halloween Horror Night 27 survival training by watching these video highlights from opening night, if you dare: