Darkness creeps up on you while you're standing in the middle of a field, and all you can see is an old farmhouse and windmill. Is there enough time to make it there before they find you? Before you can turn to run, the walking dead are upon you, bloody-faced, dragging their limbs, and hungry for human flesh.
OK, maybe you won't get eaten by flesh-eating zombies, but you'll still get a heck of a fright from seeing professionally made-up undead actors coming toward you during this year's Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights 23.
Every year, tourists and horror enthusiasts rush to Orlando to experience one of the largest displays of terror. Beginning at 6:30 on select nights, Universal Studios transforms into one of the most haunted places in Florida, and this year, eight terrifying haunted houses have been crafted with your worst nightmares in mind.
Universal is a four-hour drive from Miami, but HHN has become an annual pilgrimage for South Floridians who love to be scared. We spoke with organizers to find out the best way to plan your trip: where to stay, what to do, and most important, how to save money.
Mike Aiello, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights 23, warns us that the streets are full of hungry walkers, and you don't want to miss "the interactions between our survivors and the walkers themselves; in certain moments they are literally attacked by the hordes, and some don't make it through the night."
Though Aiello cannot rank the eight houses from most to least frightening (that would be like choosing a favorite child), he does mention one house in particular was very rewarding to bring to life: "This year in particular was fulfilling given the fact that we were able to bring An American Werewolf in London to fruition; this has been a passion project for us for years." He adds how the haunted house has been quite successful and a crowd favorite.
First things first: You can't get in without tickets. But don't worry -- no scary prices here, just frighteningly good deals for Florida residents and those who purchase their tickets in advance online -- the early zombie gets the juiciest brain. A regular general admission ticket for the HHN festivities costs $91.99 for any day of the event; however, don't forget that being a Florida resident gets you these sweet deals:
Aside from admission, Aiello highly recommends purchasing an Express Pass for the haunted houses. The lines border on ridiculous, so the best way to shorten your wait time is by purchasing an Express Pass. These puppies usually sell out pretty quickly, so be sure to check online before making any plans -- it could happen that your entire group of friends buys a pass and you're the lone wolf without one, and you don't want to be a lone wolf during Halloween Horror Nights.
Pricing for an Express Pass varies on select days:
Oct. 16, 31, & Nov. 1: $49.99
Oct. 10, 13, & Nov. 2: $69.99
Oct. 11, 17, 24, 27: $79.99
Oct. 18, 20, 25: $89.99
Oct. 12, 19, 26: $109.99
Certain Coca-Cola products or Burger King cups can save you up to 50% off tickets on select nights, too. And remember, Horror Nights requires a special ticket -- it is not included in a day park pass for Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure, nor does an HHN ticket get you park access during the day. Express Passes are also a separate purchase. Check out more ticket options and pricing here.
Hotels & Vacation Packages
Yes, you're young and in the prime of your life, but you're not going to want to make the four-hour drive up, spend hours on your feet and getting the heebie-jeebies scared out of you, and then drive back home that same night. Maximize your stay and rejuvenate your senses by staying at a nearby or on-site hotel. Universal's "partner hotels" are a good place to start looking; many are affordable and come with vacation packages that let you buy HHN tickets and your room stays together at a discount. This year, the Gory Getaway package was created specifically for Florida residents, including:
1-night hotel accommodations
1-night admission to Halloween Horror Nights
1 City Walk Party Pass
Staying at a partner hotel, vacation packages start at $89 per night
Onsite hotels start at $145
Aside from the bone-chilling houses (listed below), the majority of the regular attractions within Universal Studios will remain open. That includes the new Transformers 3D ride, Rip Ride Rockit (which is extra-scary this year after a group of riders got stranded on it for three hours earlier this week), Revenge of the Mummy (only the coolest ride on the block), and the MIB Alien Attack, to name a few.
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As for the main attraction: the haunted houses. Let's face it, you pretty much attend events like HHN to test yourself and see if you can maintain your composure when faced with truly scary stuff. Chances are you'll break down in terror after walking through one of the eight houses at Halloween Horror Nights this year -- that is, if you make it to the end (cue evil laugh). Here's a list of the full eight.
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven
Resident Evil: Escape from Raccoon City
The Cabin in the Woods
An American Werewolf in London
Urban Legends: La Llorona
Afterlife: Death's Vengeance
As far as attractions go, there will also be various The Walking Dead-themed icons for your street experience, such as the farm and the woodlands -- keep your eyes peeled for memorable characters from the show. Other entertainment that is less likely to soil your pants is Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure and The Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute, which will take place at various times and include live performances and audience participation. Start practicing your time warp now.