Halloween at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando looks very different than Halloween at Disneyland or Halloween at Walt Disney World! Universal Studios Hollywood’s ticketed event, Halloween Horror Nights, is recommended only for ages 13 and up and caters strongly to a teenager and adult crowd with Hollywood-style special effects in haunted houses, and scare actors that roam the parks with other horrific encounters. This is a popular event and guests will have the best experience if they go in with a Halloween Horror Nights strategy in mind.
For adults and teens looking to enjoy the spookier version of Halloween, Halloween Horror Nights is a great option. Each year this ticketed event gets more and more popular and haunted houses have included popular film franchises like Stranger Things, Last of Us, Chucky, The Excorist, classic monsters like Frankenstein, and the Jordan Peele films. This popular event brings large crowds and a different strategy is needed to tackle the event most efficiently!
As a mom to a teenager who wanted something a bit more grown-up than our tradition of Disneyland Halloween, my 13-year-old and I enjoyed a night at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Here is my strategy for attending the event plus the best tips on surviving the crowds with my Halloween Horror Nights strategy.
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Best Halloween Horror Night Tips
Here are all my best Halloween Horror Night tips that take into account how to have the best experience seeing all the haunted houses, scare zones, entertainment, and more at Universal Studios Hollywood.
- Buy Express Pass– This is a crucial step for having the best experience. This is one instance where the money is always absolutely worth it, the lines for all these haunted houses get very, very long. You will not be able to do everything without Express Pass.
- Buy Early Entry– If you’re splurging on Express Pass, you might as well purchase Early Entry too and enter the park at 5:30pm instead of 7pm so you can start on the popular houses in the Lower Lot.
- Wear Comfortable Shoes- You will do a lot of walking at this event, more so than you do on a regular day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Nearly all the haunted houses are located in the backstage area of the park which means more walking as some of the houses require you to walk pretty far into this backstage area!
- Eat Before the Event- While Halloween Horror Nights has its own special dining experiences, you should plan on eating a big meal before it starts. Like any special event at a theme park, you will have a busy night and may encounter long lines for food! Best to eat beforehand and have a lighter meal later.
- Take Your Time in the Haunted Houses- Although it can be challenging, especially if you’re scared, take your time walking through the haunted houses. The timing of the jump scares and appearances from scare actors are often coordinated to each separate group, if you are following the group in front too closely, you may miss out on some parts of the house. Take your time, walk at a slow pace, and really take it in.
- Go Last for Best Jump Scares- Being the person who walks through the haunted houses first might actually be less scary than going second. We found that many jump scares were timed to hear the first person walking past, and once they jumped out it was really at the second person! What a fun twist that is.
- Don’t Be Scared- Well, easier said than done but if you’re nervous just remember that many folks who work in haunted houses were once theater kids. And theater kids can’t be that scary, right? I had many theater kid friends when I was young and what did they all do when not acting in plays? Work in haunted houses! Scare actors also can’t touch you- not in the haunted houses or the scare zones. Take a deep breath and have fun!
- Prepare for Loud Noises/Smells- The haunted houses are all extremely loud and can include flashing lights and strong smells. If you are sensitive to this type of stimulation, it’s good to be prepared. Some guests even bring a mask to wear in the houses with the smells if this is something that may bother them. And some of the houses have very strong smells!
- Bring Your Teens– If you have teens who won’t be scared by haunted houses, this event is a must. Being a teenager can be a hard age as they’re between childhood and adulthood and so many experiences do not cater to them. Halloween Horror Nights is a perfect event many teens will love, we saw so many having a blast!
- Leave the Young Kids at Home– Halloween Horror Nights is not recommended for anyone under 13 and I think this is a perfect recommendation. We did not see one single kid under the age of 13 at this event and it’s good advice to follow, most kids would be terrified by this event. And maybe some of us adults too!
Keep reading for our full strategy for surviving Halloween Horror Nights!
Is Express Pass Worth It for Halloween Horror Nights?
While I don’t believe Express Pass is always necessary at Universal Studios Hollywood, you can read my full thoughts on that in our Express Pass guide, my opinion changes a bit when you consider the crowds for Halloween Horror Nights.
The same two versions of Express Pass for Halloween Horror Nights are offered: once per use and unlimited. Express Pass can be used for all the haunted houses, the Terror Tram, priority viewing for the Purge show in the Waterworld theater plus the open attractions.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is an extremely popular event amongst locals and tourists alike. Since this is a popular event for folks who live in the area, you will see much larger crowds on weekends than on weekdays.
We have previously discussed how popular October has become at Disneyland, even outpacing Christmas on some levels, and that same result has carried over to Universal Studios Hollywood. You will also see much larger crowds in the month of October than in September so if you are visiting in October, I would highly recommend purchasing Express Pass. If you are visiting in September on a weekday then you might be able to get by without Express Pass but keep in mind that you won’t be able to experience all the houses. If you are visiting on a weekend, I would highly recommend it in either September or October.
I had regular Express Pass during my Halloween Horror Nights experience which was on a Friday night in September and so we saw very high crowd levels during our night. There were three houses this year that were the most popular: The Last of Us, Stranger Things, and Chucky. We saw wait times average around three hours for these houses throughout the night! I was able to experience every house using Express Pass even the most popular houses. Chucky had a three-hour wait in the regular line but with Express we waited about 20 minutes which was a huge difference!
If you do not have Express Pass, it may not be possible to experience all the houses so that is one big reason I feel that Express Pass is worth it if the houses are a big priority for your group. Otherwise, you will spend a large chunk of your night spent in line which is not a great way to spend the evening! It’s an investment in a better experience and I do feel it is necessary for most evenings at Halloween Horror Nights. We were able to take our time going to all the houses while still experiencing the scare zones, Terror Tram, and the new Purge show in the Waterworld theater. And we also rode a few rides too!
Is Halloween Horror Nights Early Entry Worth It?
Universal Studios Hollywood also offers an Early Entry pass that you can purchase in addition to your regular admission. This Early Entry ticket allows you access to the event 90 minutes earlier so guests enter at 5:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
During Early Entry, all the lower lot houses will be available. For the 2023 Halloween Horror Nights, this included Stranger Things, Last of Us, the Excorist, and Holidayz in Hell.
The first houses to prioritize during early entry are the Last of Us and Stranger Things which both had lines building the fastest once Early Entry opened. If you have Express Pass, you may want to wait and see what the posted wait time is before automatically using it. If you can use the regular line then you could use your pass to come back later and do it again if you want!
During our experience with Early Entry, by 6 p.m. both Stranger Things and Last of Us had around an hour-long line but the Express Pass line was a walk-on for all the houses during the time. This is also helpful because the Express Pass lines will grow a bit during the evening although we never experienced one longer than 20 minutes.
Using Express Pass and Early Entry, we had all four houses done before 7 p.m. and also had time to ride The Mummy twice in a row.
Since Early Entry is so cheap, ranging around $15-25 per ticket, I think it is easily worth it. If you do not plan on purchasing Express Pass, I would say this ticket is essential!
Universal Halloween Horror Nights 2 p.m. Ticket
Universal Studios Hollywood also sells a Halloween Horror Nights ticket that gives guests access to the theme park as early as 2 p.m. This is also the ONLY ticket that gives guests access to Super Nintendo World during the event from 7 p.m to 10 p.m. Prior to the start of the event, guests can enjoy the regular Universal Studios Hollywood park attractions and experiences and begin accessing the Halloween Horror Nights experiences starting at 5:30 p.m.
We did not have this ticket type during our event but we were closely monitoring the wait times for Bowser’s ride once the land became closed to all except those with this ticket type. The ride was a walk-on for most of the night with ride times never reaching higher than 30 minutes. Considering this ride does not offer Express Pass and often has waits of up to two to three hours, guests who are interested in Super Nintendo World may want to consider this ticket option for the event.
Halloween Horror Nights Strategy
If you purchase Express Pass, my best advice for a Halloween Horror Nights strategy is to start in the Lower Lot and slowly work your way around the Upper Lot when finished. The beauty of Express Pass is a Halloween Horror Nights strategy is not often needed as long as you move deliberately around the park rather than zig-zagging or going out of your way.
For guests purchasing Early Entry, starting in the Lower Lot is necessary since those are the available houses during the event.
For guests not purchasing Early Entry, they may want to do the opposite and start in the Upper Lot! Rather than go right to the Lower Lot which will already have houses with waits, go straight to the other houses. Based on my observations from our night at Halloween Horror Nights, guests without Early Entry should go straight to the Chucky house which is located at the end of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the backstage area. Do the upper lot first and then save the lower lot for last.
If a guest decides to not purchase Express Pass or Early Entry, I recommend monitoring the wait times in the Universal Studios Hollywood app to zig-zag throughout the park as wait times drop. I noticed that most of the crowd seems to follow a similar pattern, some houses will reach high waits and others will drop as the crowds move around. Watch the app for the lowest times! Here’s an order I suggest following for our Halloween Horror Nights strategy but adjust as needed depending on wait times.
- Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count
- Go here first as this is one of the most popular houses! The entrance for Chucky and Universal Monsters are located at the back of Hogsmeade past the castle. This is a long walk to these two houses, do Chucky first then while you’re done there do Universal Monsters.
- Universal Monsters: Unmasked
- This house is well done and very detailed but it does not connect to any popular film properties so if guests need to skip a house, then this one could be it.
- Death Eaters in Hogsmeade
- You walk right through Hogsmeade as you exit the backstage area from the previous two houses. There is a walk-through set up towards the front of the land that takes you through the area with the Death Eaters. This is a quick walk through so can easily be done as you pass it.
- Evil Dead Rise
- This house should not be skipped, even if it has a long line, it’s one of the best houses this year!
- Monstruos: The Monsters of Latin America
- This house is easily one of the scariest (which means it’s a great house!) but it does not connect to any popular film properties so if guests need to skip a house, then this one could be it. Both Evil Dead Rise and Monstruous are right next to each other.
- Terror Tram
- The Terror Tram is a great experience but it does take up a longer chunk of your night. Think about whether you want to spend this much time on the Terror Tram or put that time towards the houses instead. While the Jordan Peele walk-through is amazing, the theme this year The Exterminatorz has received some criticism for being a bit more on the cheesy side.
At this point, the wait times in the Lower Lot should have begun to lower so this is a great time to head down there. Of course, also be watching the wait times in the app and if they drop sooner, head down sooner!
- Stranger Things
- One of the most popular houses this year!
- Last of Us
- Some are saying this is THE most popular house this year!
- This house is very well done, even if the movie hasn’t come out yet, this is a great house to experience that ties into the classic Exorcist stories!
- Holidays in Hell
- This house is easily one of the scariest but it does not connect to any popular film properties so if guests need to skip a house, then this one could be it.
The experiences I did not add to this Halloween Horror Nights strategy are the Scare Zones, The Purge: Dangerous Waters show, and The Blumhouse walk-through.
If you do not have Express Pass, I think Blumhouse is an easy skip as it’s just props from the movies and a short show experience that is not worth the wait if you need to be prioritizing other experiences.
You will naturally experience the Scare Zones as you walk through the park so you don’t necessarily have to plan on incorporating them into your evening.
As for The Purge, wait times for the houses might actually go down during this show which takes place in the Waterworld area so this could be a time to prioritize popular houses instead of seeing the show. Without Express Pass, it simply won’t be possible to do everything so this is a moment of deciding which is the bigger priority. That being said, this is a great show and is worth the time to see!
The last hour of the event may see lower wait times as many guests may begin to clear out before then. But keep in mind, unlike other theme park events, the crowds will mainly be adults and teenagers and most will likely stay until the end.
Overall, I believe the best Halloween Horror Nights strategy is to purchase Express Pass and Early Entry but it can be done without Express if you plan ahead. Just know that without Express Pass, it’s unlikely you will see everything! Prioritize your top houses and plan the order you want to tackle them as you monitor wait times in the app.
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