Our theme park expert gives some insight into the event so you can decide if it is right for your family
If your kids are into a bit of tricks along with their treats this spooky season, you may be considering a visit to the annual Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort or Universal Studios Hollywood. Select nights each fall leading up to Halloween, the theme parks known for adorable Minions and Harry Potter-fueled lands evoke a sinister feel. You’ll find everything from immersive haunted houses to roaming ghouls—all brought to you by the creative minds behind one of the biggest entertainment giants in the world.
Halloween Horror Nights has evolved to include many interpretations of the horror genre, from classic franchises, like “Halloween,” to current pop culture phenomenons, like this year’s “Stranger Things,” further widening its mainstream appeal and sparking interest in younger horror fans.
Tickets can set a family back several hundred dollars, so it’s only natural to be hesitant before taking that financial leap. Is now the right time to summon your budding horror enthusiast into your scream squad at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights? Let’s break down the event.
What is Halloween Horror Nights?
It’s first important to understand exactly what the event is. Halloween Horror Nights is a separately ticketed after-hours event that takes over the entire theme park—meaning it’s just about impossible to avoid the scares once you step foot inside. ‘Ghosts’ may be lurking in the shadows as night falls and a thick fog (albeit fake) descends upon the entire park. While it may sound frightening, the event carries a party-like atmosphere throughout.
Its cornerstone is a collection of immersive haunted houses based on iconic intellectual properties and original storylines dreamt up by Universal’s creative team. These large-scale walk-through attractions are akin to actual movie sets and feature intricate detailing, props, and of course, live scare actors waiting around every turn. This year features houses from beloved major franchises, including “Stranger Things,” “Chucky,” and “The Exorcist.”
Another major element is its scare zones, highly themed areas that guests must walk through and encounter live scare actors as they move through the various sections of the theme park. Live entertainment and themed food and beverage are the most approachable offerings for the horror hesitant and round out the event.
Who is Halloween Horror Nights for?
This event was created with the horror fan in mind. And while Universal recommends attendees be 13 years of age and up, no minimum age is required to attend. The live scare actors may look like they’re coming close to you, but they are never allowed to touch you.
With Halloween Horror Nights featuring a range of intellectual properties, like PlayStation’s “The Last of Us,” it taps into fan bases of all ages, making it a sought-after event.
How can you prepare your kids for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights?
At the end of the day, no one knows your kid better than you. Much like attempting thrill rides for the first time, this can be a difficult situation to approach.
“My oldest son, Avery, is 10 and is already asking to join us at Halloween Horror Nights,” shares family travel writer and mom of three, Tarah Chieffi. “I would love to share my love of HHN with him and make it an annual tradition, but we are planning to spend the next couple of years preparing him by watching scary movies and visiting local haunted houses.”
Josh Morrow has been an HHN fan since the ’90s, and the self-proclaimed horror fanatic has been bringing his now 6-year-old daughter, Sky, to the event since she was born. “Encourage and embrace it all,” Morrow shares. “Instill in them from the beginning it’s all just one giant fun spooky party.”
The family took a slowly-easing-into-it approach, and at age 3, Sky attempted her first haunted house at the event, one themed to “Ghostbusters” — and was hooked.
“Spend the first year letting them soak in the scare zones and shows,” Morrow adds. “Help them understand that the houses are the same just in much more thematic detail.”
Morrow also suggests splurging on Express Passes, Universal’s expedited line system that allows guests to cut the regular wait time, to reduce any pre-house stress or jitters. “Encourage them to try new things (even scary) but do not force them. We NEVER did and couldn’t have asked for a better result.”
After decades of attending the event, here are some quick tips:
- Your family might want to try dipping their toes first in the horrific possibilities. The best way to do this: an Unmasking The Horror Tour, available at Universal Orlando. Separate from the event ticket, this daytime offering is a lights-on, scare actor-free tour of select haunted houses, and can be a good way to get acquainted with the feel of the event.
- Not all houses are created equal, with some leaning into the fun, kitschy element, while others may be downright terrifying eliciting jump scares. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the content of the houses if you are concerned. It can also prove helpful for newcomers to prepare by watching YouTube videos of house walk-throughs.
- While the haunted houses and live actors are reserved for the evening’s events, there are some ways to get a feel for what your child can handle during the day. Spooky décor, specifically relating to the themed scare zones, will be in plain view during normal daytime operations and could be a good way to gauge your family’s willingness to try out the event.
- If you’ve taken the plunge and purchased tickets but your kid ends up being too afraid to try the haunted house, all is not lost. Many of the theme park attractions are open and with most of the crowd flocking toward the horror offerings, this means the added bonus of shorter wait times for rides.
- The event brings a new energy to the park with loud music and bright lights. Neurodivergent guests or those with sensory issues may want to prepare with noise-canceling headphones.
Images courtesy of Universal except where noted