Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL is the event that Rex and the Beast most look forward to during our Festival of Fear tours. In our opinion, this haunted theme park event is the best in the country and they provide great scares and atmosphere every single year. This year was no different.
Rex and I arrived in our sweet hotel room at the Universal Hyatt Place extremely late Thursday night/Friday morning. Although our initial plan was to get up and hit IOA during the day, we decided to sleep in and get some good rest for our experience that night. After a quick stop by the media relations people, who were extremely nice, we made our way into the park and began to "scan the scene" to see how things were looking during the day. After a ride on Revenge of the Mummy, we headed on over to Finnegan's Bar and Grill where we would stay until they released us for Halloween Horror Nights. This is an awesome set up Universal has going and we have enjoyed it for a few years now. We eat a relaxing meal at Finnegan's and then only have a short wait in the "holding area" outside the restaurant before they release us. Brilliant! We typically get around half an hour of HHN time before the main gate opens.
Our first house was our favorite house of the night. I will go ahead and list brief reviews for each house here, starting with our first and favorite.
Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate
This house was located in one of the big sound stages at Universal and boy did it deliver. The front facade was absolutely beautiful, with a gorgeous two story Victorian style home made up to look like it had been inhabited by ghosts. The wires and technical garb from the Legendary Truth ghost hunters was stationed throughout the house. But it is the detail that makes this a winner. Just breath taking rooms with incredible detail and imagery made us excited to see what was around the next corner. There were some terrific scares in the floors and some great effects in the bedroom scene. The conservatory room is probably one of the best I have ever seen – you really feel like you are in a house at that point, complete with realistic lighting flashing outside the beautiful gazebo style windows. Although the ghosts who infest this house were not necessarily scary looking ghosts, I nevertheless found their glowing faces to be effective. This house gets our top ranking.
PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook
Usually you can count on PsychoScareapy to be a solid, entertaining, scary house from year to year. Unfortunately, we found this year's house to be a bit tame compared to previous years. Still some good set work and detail, but nowhere near the creepy carnage that has defined this house in years past. Perhaps we went through during an "off" time. The best PsychoScareapy house to date is "Home for the Holidays" which was at HHN 17.
Hades: The Gates of Ruin
Pretty much every stereotypical imagery of hell you can think of was thrown into this house, complete with tall, weird looking demon creatures with big horns. Torture scenes and lots of screaming filled the halls of this house. It provided some good scares and tense moments, definitely a house worth visiting during your HHN trip.
Building on the current popular theme of zombies and what to do with them, Zombiegeddon begins with a demonstration of how a zombie has been "domesticated" through the use of special equipment. Then, as you can imagine, the domestication process goes terribly wrong and the zombies are out for revenge. The scariest zombies in this haunt were not the quick, jump and scare zombies, but rather the ones who were slowly doing their thing in the background, leaving you wondering if they would end up working their way to you.
The Orphanage: Ashes to Ashes
Great potential here, but ends up falling short. The outside looks great with a see-saw that that being ridden with no apparent riders present, so it must be the ghost of Cindy. Lot's of "Trick-or-Treat" lines are thrown at you throughout the haunt and although there are some pretty good scares here and there, we felt like so much more could have happened. Interestingly, Rex and I have yet to fully enjoy a haunt located inside the Jaws queue line.
Havoc: Dogs of War
This house was a military themed house, which are not typically our favorite houses, yet the super enthusiasm of the actors present in Havoc made up for some of the other elements of the house that were lacking. For example, the set itself was somewhat blah and I believe some of the set work might be leftover from The Spawning. Still, these actors are in your face the entire haunt and it tended to build its intensity as you made your way deeper into the house.
Catacombs: Black Death Rising
Cool theme, some creepy moments, and an overall claustrophobic atmosphere made this a better than average house. The only complaint, and I guess it is somewhat of a big one, is that the house tended to repeat itself throughout the length of the house. So, once you saw the first couple of scenes, you have in effect seen the entire house. Still, there were some good moments here and worth checking out.
Horror Nights: Hallowed Past
It is like you stepped into the HHN warehouse with all the incredible sets, props, and monsters from previous HHN events. Rex and I wanted to stop and really take our time checking out all the cool material; this was like a museum! Very cool house that would take 4-5 times through it to really take it all in.
Apart from the houses, Rex and I also managed to make it to both shows this year: Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure and Brian Brushwood's magic show (we saw one of the two shows offered). Although Bill and Ted's was definitely better than last year's effort, it was still not up to speed with previous event's shows. Having said that, the main character other than Bill and Ted, whose name was Richard Head, was wonderfully performed. Rex and I were left completely underwhelmed by the Brian Brushwood show, I just couldn't believe the effects he did for a major stage production. He actually did a card trick, utilizing the way-too-old digging into the stomach illusion. These are cool things in the basement of your house, but not for a world-wide illusionist. To be fair, we missed his other show, so maybe it was better.
Finally, the scarezones were pretty good this year, the best being "Fear Revealed" and "HHN 20 Years of Terror." It was pretty darn cool to see the old mascots all gathered together paying homage to Fear itself. The weakest scarezone of the night was Saws-n-Steam.
Overall, we give HHN 20 a thumbs up and are glad to see the event continuing to enjoy great success. The night we were there, the event was sold out. Some of the props riddled along the streets were wonderful, the best by far being the massive XX sign with flames shooting out the top. To see that and other cool effects, check out our HHN 20 video.