We started going to Florida to attend Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando in 2008. This event is responsible for Haunt Season on this blog. Before then I did not care that much about haunted attractions. That’s why I don’t even have anything on my site about 2008 and 2009 – reviewing haunts wasn’t a thing that I did yet.
Unfortunately HHN has not been the same intensity level as 2008 since 2008. 2009, 2010, and 2011 were good, but they lacked detail and narrative around the icon. In 2008 there was a website with a wealth of information for you to discover and the icon could be found in every house as an Easter Egg. It reminded me of the cohesive stories that the rides at Disney tell, complete with “Hidden Mickey”- like detail.
Since 2008, licensed properties that are plugged into the event as standalone pieces seem to be the directions that they are taking. I know why. Your average idiot is more attracted to a name that they recognize. It even sounded attractive to me at first to have a property that I like in the park. Unfortunately in every case, my anticipation of what the house might be was far higher than the reality of the actual experience.
I get why licensed properties are the direction from a financial perspective. It’s built-in marketing and probably easier to develop than an original property because no explanation is needed. I just am not a fan of it because in practice it is an experience that, to me, feels smaller than an original piece. It’s like training wheels or a crutch, and gets used as such to cut back on things.
It would not be the first time that I were more discerning than a casual customer. I get that.
2012 was a very disappointing year for us. Not only did we have the licensed property issue, but the park was constrained by construction which made just being in the park an exercise in patience that was just about as unpleasant as waiting for a dentist’s appointment in an atmosphere similar to a frat party on a NYC subway. The park experience was unpleasant, so we didn’t even return after the first night like we had in past years. They didn’t bother to even try to mask or hide the construction.
The bloggers who are desperate to get free passes at the expense of their honesty disagreed with me, but I don’t play that game. I do what I do to help events judge how they are doing from an impartial, constructive, and honest perspective. It is my goal to help raise the bar because I want more awesome events to go to myself. I aim to be the person that I value the most in my own art career – the one that will tell you the straight truth.
The licensed property issue holds true this year, but we just have to accept it. How did the folks on the ground developing these experiences do this year now that the park has less issues with construction?
We felt that HHN was much better than last year, but still nowhere near 2008. The event now has me wanting to come multiple days again. We were actually able to do all of it in one night, but decided to cut it short due to being so tired from our trip to Florida. Plus we got to eat and check out the new Simpsons area, which was pretty cool.
I can appreciate all of the houses but The Afterlife and Havoc are not worth a second trip through. The Afterlife had an interesting concept, but it really seemed like this house was put together in a hurry. It lacked a finale and deposited us outside in a confusing way that seemed like a finale room but wasn’t. It’s nice when haunts try something new, but it just didn’t work and would have been better without 3d.
Our Expectations weren’t high, and only got lower in the house
Havoc was just bland. Army guys jumping out with guns. Every time they do an army house I am left cold – this was no exception. It looked nice though, but for a better version we liked The Field of Screams Nocturnal Wasteland with it’s more realistic feel.
Resident Evil was also a work of art but low on scares. I did like it from a creative perspective, but did not care for the Nemesis animatronics in the middle of it because they looked fake. I would have preferred a real actor. Unlike the game, this house did not have any replayability, so we just went through once. It seemed that they were playing it for humor, but that didn’t really work. The in-jokes could have still been done with a darker execution.
La Llrona blew us away. This was my favorite house. I actually bought the T-Shirt. (Yes, they actually had a T-Shirt for it hidden on a cart in Citywalk – nowhere near the main gift shops.) It was the standout star of the night. I am willing to guess that this is what happens when they let Art and Dev go wild – we get an experience legit could fit into the 2008 event.
The Church was slightly less scary during the daytime
The Walking Dead was the last thing I thought I’d like because I hated the TWD house last year, but it actually was strong with some good scares. I recognized a lot of the scenes from the show but it didn’t detract from it just being a good house.
The Cabin in the Woods did not deliver, but we may have been “off”. It looked nice. I hear The Unicorn was in there but we missed him both times.
Evil Dead was fun, but we didn’t go through more than once. I haven’t seen the new movie, so I can’t compare to how well it delivered there.
An American Werewolf in London might have been the best house. The wolf puppets were absolutely jaw dropping and accurate to the films. There were some scares in here. This is an example of doing a license right. It was a walk through the movie, and instead of just going for pure scares it had really great views.
For the most part the scarezones were decent this year. Universal really doesn’t do a ton of wandering monsters, they mostly stay put. They have their chainsaw brigade, but it’s such a big park that you rarely end up seeing them.
They did have a really nice semi-haunt scarezone this year. The barn from the Walking Dead was set up, with a mini-path and scare actors to jump out. It was a neat addon and we’d love to see more of this.
It’s In the Barn
They had a few other set pieces as well. It was better than last year, which was a wreck.
One thing Universal needs to change:
One thing stood out to me as not good. I did find it incredibly awful that HHN staff now gets really in your face waving their arms at you aggressively and shining a flashlight all over if there is any space between you and the party in front of you whatsoever. This is new to me. Their presence really killed the mood and made it seem like park experience was second to pushing you through like a Japanese subway. I felt it was unnecessary because early in the night it wasn’t that busy. When it’s busy, I get it. But this was not that.
To complicate matters, it knocked me a bit because I am both vision impaired and I have trouble walking. It takes me more effort to see and navigate inside haunts than most. I don’t look it, but I have to expend 4x (figure quoted by my doctor) the effort than regular people. This extra harassment made it even harder for me to concentrate.
It’s not likely that you will get the scares if you are plastered to the butt of the person in front of you. I got so frustrated with it that I almost said, “Can you fucking stop?!” But didn’t because I know they are just doing their jobs. It really was CRAZY overbearing and distracting. I wasn’t stopping in rooms or anything like that. In the best case it kind of breaks things to have them standing there but this level of interaction was practically a deal breaker.
All in all we had a great time this year. Was it the scariest it’s ever been? No. But we had fun. Now they just need to bring back the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich cart. Sounds gross, is delicious, and you can totally justify it on vacation.
I guess I’ll have to settle for a Flaming Moe.
Oni Harstein is an New Jersey-based entrepreneur that is obsessed with Marketing, Art, and Technology. Please direct all business inquiries or technology review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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