Dreaded Dominions

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Last night marks the first night of the 25th year of Halloween Horror Nights.

After spending 7.5 hours, walking 10 miles, and seeing 8 of the 9 houses I think I got a good feel of the event.

First off: A little on my history with the event. Halloween Horror Nights has been an obsession with me since the very first year in 1991 (Fright Nights). The event has come a very long way from that single haunted housed event. This year boast 9 houses, 4 scarezones, and 2 shows. I’ve been there through all the evolutions of this event. While I did miss the event itself in 2004, due to the hurricanes that year, I have followed the event closely every single year.

20150918_221612This year, Halloween Horror Nights is celebrating it’s anniversary in grand, twisted, splendor. It is a macabre shindig not to be missed. Nobody does a bigger, more immersive Halloween event than Universal Studios.

As with anything on par with the scale and magnitude of Halloween Horror Nights, there will always be criticisms. There are thousands of moving parts that all have to click for the experience to work without a hitch and, for the most part, the manage to produce a quality product year after year. Still, there are things that can take away from the event. Some of the criticisms can be very minor and others may not affect everyone but I can only speak to what affects my personal experience. You can make the determination as to how they would affect your experience.

20150918_205437The biggest criticism I see is, ironically, due to how great the event is. That, of course, is the throngs of mindless hoards that overrun the streets every night… the crowds. (What did you think I meant?)

Horror Nights is a big deal in every sense of the word. They attract people from all over the state, the country, and the world. As a result, the crowds in the past couple years have expanded to park busting proportions. This causes a multitude of problems (as can be expected) such as wait times, maneuverability, ambiance, and even the actual scares received.

For example, up until last year, it was no problem hitting every house and maybe even a show. Last year I saw all houses and missed the shows and sacrezones. This year I missed scarezones, shows, and 1 house despite the fact that an additional house was added and Diagon Alley was opened for the first time for the event.

If this was the only problem it might be manageable. But, crowds infiltrate the houses and scarezones to the point that they often loose their effect with the scarezones taking the biggest hit. The scare actors are swallowed up by a sea of people. While this can work towards their advantage in the element of surprise they just don’t have the room to maneuver. Not only that, a haunted, abandoned movie theater loses all believability when it’s choked with 300 people at all times. The ambiance and theming is destroyed.

Now, I know many will say:

“Just by express pass or come multiple nights” and that brings me to my next point. The cost.

Things go up in price I get that. You could also argue that the you’re getting more for your money than other events and would probably agree with that. But I also believe that the base price should allow me to enjoy the event. Sure I may have to work a little harder and plan better but I should still be able to see what I want. This simply is not possible anymore without incredible luck. You have to go the right night and hit the right attractions in the right order. Even then I’m not sure it’s possible and with a base ticket price of $64 for Florida residents (and over $100 for others) that’s a large gamble.

But you can by express right? Yes you can… for more than the price of a Florida resident ticket. It will set a Florida resident back roughly 140.00 for one night with express pass. That, of course doesn’t include any food, drinks, or merchandise you want to buy. Of course there are a plethora of options for multiple nights, annual pass holders, etc. But for the single night, non-annual passholder you are quite restricted.

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The question I get asked all the time is “Is it worth it?” I always have a hard time answering that.

For me, despite the stress, price, and crowds I came away feeling glad I went. Yes I feel it costs too much (even for me as an annual passholder). Yes the crowds are insufferable. Yes I missed a lot. All things considered, I’m still glad I went. The event has a level or realism that is hard to match, the sets are gorgeously and delightfully horrific, and the actors work hard to scare you to death. Which is their job. Even for a seasoned, hardened haunt enthusiast such as myself, I found myself in awe at what has been accomplished.

I truly want to hate on the corporate money-making machine Halloween Horror Nights has become but I cannot deny they create a quality product that is tough to beat.

20150918_213903-2If you love full immersive haunt settings, aren’t particularly concerned with seeing everything in one night (or have deep pockets) then it is worth your time. Halloween Horror Nights is not the “best kept secret”, super scary, intimate haunt that it started as. It is massive Halloween event of epic proportions with a legacy of tradition that stretches 25 years. It isn’t something you should just casually decide to attend. It’s an endeavor that can be very rewarding with careful planning.

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