Universal Orlando made a responsible decision when they decided to cancel Halloween Horror Nights in 2020 despite it being an anniversary year for the event. However, Halloween is so closely associated with Universal Orlando that it would’ve been hard to completely ignore the holiday entirely. Thus begins the tale of Universal’s Halloween Seasonal Experience Testing.
If you weren’t following the world of theme parks this past weekend, Universal Orlando ran a special test of two Halloween Horror Nights houses during the daytime – Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives and Revenge of the Tooth Fairy. Trick-or-treating was an option for children 12 and under at Island’s of Adventure. Food trucks were stationed at Universal Studios Florida serving up themed food, a special Skeleton Bar appeared in Cafe La Bamba, and a Scarecrow Stalk scavenger hunt was placed in 13 different locations.
Team members and some lucky Premier Passholders were the first to get a taste of the houses during a preview on Friday, September 18 before the test was open to all guests with park admission on Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but crowds showed up. Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay all reached capacity at one point on Saturday. The Virtual Lines for the two haunted houses reached capacity very quickly each morning, but extra time slots were added randomly throughout the day. Just looking at the facts, it would appear that the test was a success, and I’d have to agree based on my experience.
Many eyes were focused on the haunted houses as part of the test, because Halloween Horror Nights is such a huge draw for Halloween fans. We knew that plexiglass would be added to the houses as an extra barrier for the scareactors and some of the performers would have to wear face coverings, but did that have an impact on the end result? For the most part, it had no impact at all. It didn’t feel normal at all compared to the event any other year, but it also wasn’t distracting. Universal’s houses primarily use sound and lighting effects to elevate scares, so nothing really changed in that regard. Scareactors can’t take the scares to the next level by getting as close as possible without touching or throwing a hand out at the last second, but it’s not needed. Universal is known for the level of detail in their houses and this physical distanced scaring allows you to take in the details without worrying about a scareactor popping out at any second.
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy was the standout house in our opinion. The story was simple and straightforward. What happens when a boy refuses to leave his tooth for the tooth fairy? The fairy goblins get revenge on the family and the boy of course. The sets were impressive throughout the entire house, but the entrance was a stunning storybook brought to life in three dimensions. It had vibes reminiscent of ScaryTales and Krampus and the scares were hidden slightly better than the Universal Monsters house, so there were a few more surprise moments.
The Bride of Frankenstein Lives was a good house, but felt like it was missing something. It doesn’t help that the Universal Monsters house at Halloween Horror Nights 29 was a standout and the sequel house had a high bar to meet or exceed. The story of the house picks up with Frankenstein’s castle crumbling and the Bride mourning the loss of the monster. She vows to bring him back and attempts to do so by harvesting the blood of Dracula’s brides. The story was hard to piece together inside the house and played out like it was Bride of Frankenstein versus Brides of Dracula, but there were some monster easter eggs and the aesthetic of the house was pure, classic horror.
During the testing, many people were posting on social media about being able to do each of the house multiple times throughout the day. This could be due to the loophole in Universal’s Virtual Line system that doesn’t link your reservation to specific people. This means if you come to the parks in a group of five and each of the five people makes a reservation for a house or ride then you can experience the house or ride with your group all five times. The Virtual Line system accepts up to eight guests in a reservation, so spots can go quickly. Maybe Universal is keenly aware of the loophole and they decided to drop more times throughout the day to try to combat the issue. Still, it didn’t appear to impact those that wanted to experience each house multiple times.
Beyond the houses, food and beverage was clearly a big goal for Universal. Two food trucks were placed in the park with specialty themed food. The Universal Music Plaza Stage truck had loaded pork rinds and a funnel cake topped with a piece of fried chicken complete with themed names. The food truck across from the Macy’s facade had classic Twisted Taters and a new version with a hot dog in the middle. Inside Cafe La Bamba in Hollywood, the Skeleton Bar added extra food options and pre-mixed specialty drinks like the Circus Peanut, Mango Inferno, and Loup-Garou.
Plenty of people were constantly running around Universal Studios Florida to do the free Scarecrow Stalk scavenger hunt in exchange for a free bag of candy. Sometimes the simplest activities can end up being a big hit and this definitely seems to be the case for the scavenger hunt that will be available daily through November 1.
Universal hasn’t announced at this point whether or not the haunted houses will resume operation beyond the weekend test, but it seems like it would be a safe guess to say they will. Some rumors are pointing to the houses running for the last weekend in September and daily in October. Some have even speculated that additional houses could be added to the potential daytime Halloween event. Others are even suggesting that the houses could be an up-charge to generate additional income. We’ll have to wait and see what actually happens, but check back soon for future updates on Halloween at Universal in 2020 and Halloween Horror Nights in 2021!