As a frequent screamer at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, I can say I’ve learned a few things in my many times attending the park’s October event.
I’d like to pass on some tips and knowledge for making the most of this excellent attraction. It’s a pretty straight-forward, bluntly honest look at the park and how to get the most out of it. Although this particular guide is aimed at the Hollywood Horror Nights, you can really apply the tips to just about any Halloween attraction you may go to.
TIP 1: ARRIVE EARLY
The crowds only gets worse as the days creep closer to Halloween.
More people, means more time in line.
More time in line, means less time to get your money’s worth and see the park.
So take that “arrive early” to heart, both in time of day and day of month.
The park opens at 7pm, you should plan to BE there by 6:30. And when I say “Be there” I mean you’re in front of the gates, tickets in hand, waiting to be let in.
Even with pre-purchased tickets, the throngs are sometimes so thick that it can take you 45 minutes just to get through security, past the ticket booths and to the turnstiles.
If you’ve got the dough, go for the “Front of the Line” pass. It is exactly what it says. You get in a special line that has much fewer people in it as opposed to 100 or more.
If you’ve got Scrooge McDuck money, I’d advise the VIP tickets. It’s like practically being personally escorted around the park— with Valet parking.
TIP 2: PARKING
It takes 30 minutes or more just to inch your vehicle into the parking lots. The freeway exit for Universal starts stacking up with cars at 6:30pm and beyond. So see the above “Arrive Early” to get parked in a timely fashion.
For more eco-friendly solutions: I know a guy who parked way down on Ventura Blvd. (the meters are free after 8pm) and walked in because it was faster and cheaper than following the herd in and out at the end of the night.
If you took the Metro and crossed the street to get in, know that you’re going to wait at least another 15 minutes just to get on the tram to take you to the top of the steep hill where the entrance is.
So my advice: Get some exercise, walk up the hill.
Seriously: the clock is ticking and the staff are usually overwhelmed with making sure no one is getting run over or clonked in the head by the tram doors to organize any sort of first come/first seated protocol. A new tram will pull up and people will swarm to get on. If you’re not pushy and a complete jerk, you’re going to miss the first couple.
It only takes about 5 minutes, gets the blood going and will help work off the giant Simpsons donut you’ll eat later in the park.
TIP 3: PLAN YOUR NIGHT
This is war. You want to see as much of the park as you can to get your money’s worth?
Well you’re going to have to listen to me and do as I say.
The park opens at 7pm and closes at 2am. That gives you only 7 hours to get through everything. Sounds like a lot but get there late and start waiting in line for a maze for an hour and a half and you’ll see how quickly that time evaporates.
Check the link to the latest map:
and plan your attack!
SUB-TIP: Go long, I’ll throw to you!
For frequent theme park goers, this is common sense and old news, but people sometimes forget and newbies don’t know any better:
Go deep into the park.
Amateurs walk in the door and hit the gift shop first or stop at the first maze they stumble on.
At Universal Hollywood, you have to go WAY deep into the park. That means all the way in to The Simpsons Ride, then hang a left and down three sets of escalators. There are mazes back there. GOOD mazes!
OR you can bear RIGHT at The Simpsons Ride and head down the escalator to the Backlot Terror Tram tour.
Either one of these should be your first choice.
SUB-SUB TIP: Eat or Be Eaten
Food in the park is expensive and depending on where you are in the park sometimes the only readily available items are sugary drinks, sugary treats and sugary sugar.
Grab food before going. You won’t waste any valuable maze-navigating time having to hunt and gather when you’re through the gates. Plus, food before the park is a perfect time to plot out your attack (survival?).
TIP 4: PURCHASE A FRONT OF THE LINE PASS
I mentioned this earlier, but here’s the truth of it: it’s more expensive but totally worth it.
To be completely honest: in my experience, it is physically impossible to see every single show, maze and ride in the park in one night with a general admission ticket.
There I said it.
SUB TIP: Go see the things that aren’t evergreen.
Pretty self-explanatory but The Mummy rollercoaster, Jurassic Park The Ride, The Simpsons Ride, Transformers 3D, etc. are all there year ’round so you can go back and catch them anytime. You’re paying to go to Universal Halloween Horror Nights, so make sure you get what you pay for.
TIP 5: STAY CONNECTED
Make sure everyone in your group has a cell phone and knows how to text (Grandma, I’m lookin’ at YOU).
The park is big, loud and dark. You’re not going to hear someone say “hey wait up!” and if you run off to get a churro expecting to catch-up to your people somewhere later, you are sadly mistaken.
Why text? Because it’s much easier to read “Heading to Tram. Meet at Simpsons.” Instead of listening to a voice-mail message or a friend on the phone with all the effects fog, sound effects, soundtrack and, well… screaming.
TIP 6: KNOW YOUR WAIT TIMES
Part of getting the most out of your night is having a plan (which we discussed earlier), but the other part is being flexible. Bookmark www.hhnwaittimes.com and get a constantly refreshed idea of when the next show is. As a smartphone owner I’m very excited about the prospect of gauging line length, checking show schedules and such from my illuminated handset than straining to see in the fog-filled dark from a wrinkled paper map shoved in my pocket.
So, sure, you may want to hit the next big maze, but if the maze you’re next to is only 5 mins., adapt and hit that one instead. Remember: the park is closing at 2am whether you’re done or not.
TIP 7: RAIN OR SHINE
I’ve been lucky enough to not get caught with tickets to HHN on a night when Los Angeles gets rain. That may sound laughable thinking of Southern California weather, but those who live here know that just about every October LA is hit by some sort of water from the sky.
Take a few seconds to check your weather report and pack a parka if it’s looking like rain. Though all the mazes are under some sort of roof, the tram and park itself is not.
TIP 8: THE RUNDOWN
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s what you should go to once you’re in.
Hit all the major mazes. There are at least three every year.
How do you know what the flagship/tentpole mazes are? Usually it’s the mazes plastered all over the marketing.
This year it’s Evil Dead, Insidious, Walking Dead and Black Sabbath 13.
The tentpole mazes (I’m enjoying this term and will continue to use it) usually have the most attention to detail and have numerous actors, scares, scenes, etc.
If you can only see a handful of attractions: make sure it’s the tentpole mazes.
Here’s the deal with “Scare Zones”… it’s usually just an area of the park that you walk through that has costumed people jumping out at you. Sometimes they’ve decorated the existing buildings and structures to tie in to the theme. There’s usually a lot of fog… don’t let your guard down… ever.
Universal will try and bait you to head for that area using licensed characters but they shouldn’t be sought out… only experienced as you walk through them on your way to bigger and better things.
If you’re with someone who scares easily (then seriously why did you bring them to HHN?!), let them know that the “scareactors” will focus on the screamers and not let up. They’re trained to seek out those who react the most. So a patron who is screaming and backing away is only going to make them more likely to keep going.
If we’ve learned nothing from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s that demons get their power from your fear. If you need a break, don’t act afraid. Walk tall and smile and they tend to quickly lose interest.
I’ve seen this actually work. One year, when an exhausted member of our party had had enough and was approached by both a Jason AND a Leatherface, she simply said with a smile “You’re adorable! I just want to hug you!” and they turned and left.
So there you go. You’re ready now. You’re a regular Rick Grimes steadying himself against the zombie hordes.
Do I think Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights is worth it? Absolutely.
The fact that they officially license characters for their mazes means that you’re going to get to see, walk through and be a part of your favorite horror franchises represented with immaculate attention to detail.
Attending this annual event certainly has become a Halloween tradition that I continue to enjoy every year with a group of friends.
Get your scare on at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. You’ll be glad you did.