Halloween is our favorite holiday and for years Tom and I have been itching to attend Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, one of the premier Halloween events in the United States. During the height of the pandemic we came across some crazy good travel deals to Orlando, and with the vaccine starting to roll out, we decided to treat ourselves; we figured what better way to celebrate surviving a year of hell than with a night of hellish terrors. Sadly the pandemic was still trudging along by the time the event came around. This made our trip a unique one, but perhaps not the most conventional Halloween Horror Nights experience. Nonetheless we had a blast and were happy to get out exploring again!
Halloween Horror Nights is meant to be experienced, with each guest choosing their own adventure, so we won’t provide direction on how to go about your visit. There are plenty of other reviews and articles around the internet if that’s what you’re looking for. This article instead focuses on tips that apply to any year you’re attending to help ensure the night is as spooktacular as possible.
Note: All prices are listed in USD
Take Public Transit
Our first tip is to take public transit to the event. This is because spending hours on your feet can be exhausting, and once you add in some alcohol or good food, the last thing you’ll probably want to deal with is driving home after a late night. Parking can also quickly eat into your fun budget (as of September 2021 it was $28 per vehicle). Let someone else do the work while you use that extra cash to indulge in the festivities.
- Go Lynx is Orlando’s public bus system and has a route that’ll drop you off right at Universal Studios CityWalk. When we attended a one-way ticket cost $2 and could easily be purchased through their app.
- Are you heading to Hollywood instead? Ride the Metro red line to get to Universal Studios. From there you can then hop on one of the shuttles that take you directly to CityWalk. Shuttles run about every 10-15 minutes.
Pro Tip: Double check timing before heading out as routes may have reduced frequency during the pandemic, weekends, or holidays. Additionally, don’t forget to check masking guidelines as carriers currently require riders to wear them while onboard.
- If you’re staying at a hotel near Universal Studios, then they may offer a free shuttle service to the park. However, we often found the shuttles only ran during the daytime, so this option is best for those planning to make an entire day of it. Just ensure you have a plan for getting home that evening since the shuttle will not be in operation for Halloween Horror Nights.
- For a more catered experience getting to/from Halloween Horror Nights, consider taking an Uber or Lyft. While this is definitely a more premium price point, you’ll receive door to door service and be saved the hassle of having to drive yourself.
Arrive Before 5:00 PM
When entering Universal CityWalk you will have to pass through security. This includes sending any bags or backpacks that you bring through their x-ray machines. Although their online guidelines say they accept 2 liters of water, there seems to be an unwritten policy of banning liquids after 5:00 PM. We unknowingly ran into this our first night and were told to toss or empty our water bottles before entry.
It seems this policy is to prevent outside alcohol from entering the premises. It’s not a big deal, but still a hassle. The annoyance comes when you later want to refill your water bottle. You can find fountains at the bathrooms but they don’t taste the best, aren’t the most hygienic, and Universal would obviously prefer you to purchase refreshments instead.
Uncertain how to pass the time until Halloween Horror Nights begins?
The only downside to arriving before 5:00 PM is that you’ll have a bit of a wait before the evening festivities begin. Don’t fret though as there are plenty of ways to kill time at Universal Citywalk.
- Have dinner. Delicious restaurants line the lengths of CityWalk, with offerings from dine and dash to opulent sit-downs. While some take reservations, most also accept walk-ins, which is likely going to be your best option if you didn’t book well in advance. Just be prepared to wait in line and aim to get your name on the list early or else your meal may run long.
- Grab some drinks. Besides food, there a few bars where you can sip some spirits to steel your nerves.
- Go shopping for your Halloween Horror Nights souvenirs. There are shops inside the park too, but they mostly sell the same things so it’s better to not waste your precious time at the event looking for trinkets.
- Play a round of mini golf. Tom and I are big mini golf fans, and rarely pass up the opportunity to try a new course. With Universal being known for their sets and décor, you’ll find yourself playing amongst some really fun props. They have two courses: one outer space and the other horror themed. This is only available at the Orlando CityWalk.
- If you want to get a little taste of the theme park in the daylight, then you should consider the Scream Early pass. For a small cost ($30 in 2021) you’ll gain access to Universal Studios from 3:00-5:00 PM. Come 5:00 all Halloween Horror Nights passholders are then ushered to a Stay & Scream zone where you wait for everything to be changed over for the evening. Not only does this get you a little sneak peak of what’s to come, but guests are often released early, giving you a head start on enjoying the haunted houses. The Scream Early pass is a separate purchase from the Halloween Horror Nights ticket and both are required for entrance into the Stay & Scream zones.
Halloween Horror Nights begins at 6:30 PM, so unless you’re attending the event towards the end of October, it’s likely you’ll have at least a little sunshine to contend with before darkness descends. Save yourself the eyestrain during this time by bringing sunglasses.
Even if you plan to arrive after dark, we still recommend having your shades with you. Why you may ask? It’s because the park wants to ensure you can navigate through the mazes without getting hurt, so although the lighting is dim, it’s not terribly dark inside. This made it difficult for the scare actors to really surprise us. Add in their use of plastic separators for pandemic protection and we were able to easily guess where people were lying in wait, which ruined the shock of them jumping out at us. If you wear your sunglass though, it makes the setting spookier and much more difficult to see those dividers. The actors were actually able to catch us unawares! It was such an improvement that we’ll definitely be using this trick in future haunted house visits too (try at your own risk).
Even in the off season the sun is extreme in Florida. Read our guide on how to avoid sunburn when traveling.
Pick Up a 21+ Wristband
Shortly inside the entrance to the park you’ll find a booth of people checking IDs. This is where you can pick up a 21+ wristband if you plan to drink while at the event. Although the drink stands will likely still card you when ordering, the wristband lets security know you’re of legal age when walking around with a drink in-hand. Note that the wristband color changes each night so you’ll need to swing by the booth every park visit.
Speaking of alcohol, if you think you’ll have more than one drink, then it’s best to pay the higher price for the commemorative glass on your first order. It’s a unique souvenir, is better for the environment, and offers a discount on all additional drinks. You can even bring your glass back night after night for the extra savings! The year we attended they had some light-up options that looked wicked in the dark.
Note: In 2021 there were two different commemorative glasses: one for alcoholic drinks and the other for soft drinks. You cannot mix and match the refills.
Buy the Halloween Horror Nights Express Pass
You’ve probably already spent a good penny getting to the event, so the last thing you want is to miss out on a haunted house because the lines were too long. This is where the express pass comes in. While it is an added cost, you’ll gain the ability to skip the main line for a much shorter one. It may not sound worth it, but when general wait times can get up to 60 minutes or more on peak evenings (Fridays and Saturdays), being able to cut this in half (or more!) can make or break how much you do in one night.
We spent two peak evenings at Halloween Horror Nights. On the first night we didn’t have the express pass and regularly ran into 45-60 minute wait times. This caused us to only get through half the haunted houses that night. The second evening we then used the express pass. By jumping the general admission lines we were able to get through all remaining haunted houses, see both performance shows, linger through the scare zones, and enjoy all the regular rides that were open too. As such, we highly recommend the express pass for anyone making a one or two night trip. It will ensure you get the most out of your experience.
Many of the attractions at Universal Studios will require you to stow away your belongings before getting in line. This is an extremely important rule to follow. We went on a few rides where people did not do this, only to get kicked out at the last minute because the operators didn’t have a means to hold it for them. I can only imagine how frustrating that would be after having waited in line for so long! The good news is there are lockers at each attraction where this is necessary. They are typically located close to the ride’s exit so you can easily reclaim everything afterwards.
If you have a lot of stuff, you’ll be required to pay for a large locker (measuring 12 in x 13 in x 16.9 in). Why spend money if you don’t have to though? If you pack light then you can can use their small lockers for free. But when we say small, we mean small (14 in x 5.5 in x 16.9 in). We had a partially filled Osprey Daylite Plus daypack with us and it just barely fit into the space.
A Quick Locker How-To Guide
For those unfamiliar with Universal’s locker system, you gain access by scanning your park ticket. A locker bay will then open where you can stow your stuff. Make sure to check the screen after you scan your ticket because it’ll tell you how long your rental is good for. The length of time provided is based on the current wait for the ride you’re about to go on, giving you just enough time to get through the attraction and back out to the locker. After the ride is over, do not get back in line or browse the gift shop as Universal will start charging you for the rental if you go over the time limit. To claim your stuff you’ll then need to rescan your ticket.
Note: There is a chance the ride will take longer than their system anticipated. This happened to us when a ride had an unexpected technical delay. Instead of paying for the time overage, we spoke with one of the locker attendants and they were able to waive the added cost.
Pro Tip: Opt for digital tickets over paper. It’s a great way to reduce waste and much easier for the scanners to read. Just make sure you have a safe way to stash your phone while on the ride so you don’t accidentally lose it. Zippered pockets are an excellent choice.
Carry a Face Mask
Full face masks are not allowed so as to help distinguish guests from the scare actors. However, Universal Orlando does recommend wearing a face covering while indoors at Halloween Horror Nights 2021. Generally speaking though, we never found it enforced. Instead the majority of guests went mask free as park attendants packed us close together, de-prioritizing social distancing in favor of getting people through the attractions as quickly as possible.
Despite being fully vaccinated, Tom and I chose to wear our masks throughout our visit because of the close quarters. This is obviously a personal choice and you should do what’s most comfortable to you. Whatever your stance, we suggest staying updated on CDC guidelines and packing a mask just in case regulations change.
At Universal Hollywood a mask requirement has gone back into effect for Halloween Horror Nights 2021. Guests must wear them both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status. The only exception to this is when eating or drinking.
Even after the pandemic ends, we’d still recommend wearing a face mask to the event. It’s a fun and easy way to sport your Halloween fandom without breaking Universal’s costume guidelines. Additionally, this event takes place during the beginning of flu season, where you’ll be around hundreds of people, and wearing a face mask is a great form of protection against seasonal colds.
Bring Ear Plugs
The park’s sound system blasts music and other haunting effects throughout the evening. While this adds to the ambiance, it also can get very loud at times. Consider bringing a pair of ear plugs if you have sensitive ears. I personally found this very handy during the shows we attended; it didn’t detract from the experience and I was happy to walk away without my ears ringing.
Not All Food/Drink Stands Are Alike
Many of the park’s regular restaurants will be open throughout the evening. However, Halloween Horror Nights always showcases a set of themed treats to tempt park-goers. Everything from alcoholic concoctions, to sweet and savory delights will be waiting to delight your taste buds.
While the popup food stalls may all look similar (and granted, the majority of them are), there are few unique ones throughout the park. Be sure to scan the QR code that the stalls often sport so you can review the full menu online. This will tell you exactly where to locate each tasty treat so you can beeline it there and not waste time reviewing each menu you walk by.
It’s also useful for anyone with dietary restrictions. At first glance it didn’t seem like there were any vegetarian options for me to eat. By using the online menu I was able to confirm there were options available, I just wasn’t hunting in the right locations.
Download the Universal Studios Park App
With the app’s built-in map, this is an extremely useful tool for navigating around the park. The app provides the current wait times at each attraction (including the Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses) which is helpful if you’re debating on where to head to next. Just note that the wait times listed are based on general admission and not the express pass line.
- Get the Universal Orlando App via the Google Play Store or Apple Store
- Get the Universal Hollywood App via the Google Play Store or Apple Store
Stay for the Witching Hour
The busiest times within the park tend to be just after sunset to around 12:00 AM. After that the crowds start to thin considerably. If you won’t turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, stick around until the park closes. You’ll find attraction wait times decrease and you get through the lines much faster.
Pro Tip: Not all of the regular rides stay open the full event. In 2021 Escape from Gringotts, Transformers and the Rip Ride Rockit Roller Coaster all closed early at Universal Orlando. That said, if the regular attractions are on your wish list, make sure to visit them earlier in the evening and save other activities for later.
Visit our Instagram profile to watch the highlights from our weekend of fright!
Never Go Alone
What better way to enjoy a night of fright than with friends? We found this to be an extremely fun event, made even better by having a group of pals join us. So make a party of it, invite your buddies, and get ready for an evening of terror!