Skip to content

I'm terrified of horror films and braved Universal's Halloween Horror Nights as a first-timer — here's how scary it really was

Sept. 14, 2022
13 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: TPG’s Summer Hull traveled to and attended a media event for Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights as a guest of the theme park. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by any entity.


When it comes to spooky-themed entertainment, I'm a wuss. A scaredy cat. A weenie, if you will. I don't watch scary movies and even skip ahead through the scarier scenes in some PG and PG-13 TV shows. My version of Halloween is usually a not-so-scary approach involving a smiling pumpkin and Charlie Brown.

With that established, it'll shock no one that I haven't been to a haunted house in about three decades. I got separated from my friends inside one for what felt like forever when I was around 12 years old and well ... maybe I still haven't fully recovered.

However, I do love a good theme park production. So, after intentionally avoiding haunted houses for nearly as long as the run of Halloween Horror Nights, which launched at Universal Orlando Resort 31 years ago, it was time to see if I was brave enough to check out the theme park's 10 haunted houses and five outdoor scare zones.

Would I make it out in one piece, or would this first-timer be too afraid to experience all that the theme park has to offer when night falls and it embraces its spooky setting? I stepped inside the fog to find out.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

How scary is Halloween Horror Nights?

Universal Orlando discourages bringing anyone younger than 13 to Halloween Horror Nights, and I'd say that's for good reason. I'm pretty sure my 12-year-old is just old enough to have a good time, but my 7-year-old absolutely would not.

This is not your cheesy Halloween atmosphere where everyone cheerfully says "boo" as you pass. It's a shockingly realistic movie set so well done that it sets the scene for plenty of authentic scares.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

The lights are dim all around the park, with eerie smoke, creepy sounds and sinister lighting upping the ante around every turn. While there are some parts of the park that are mostly normal (other than the dim lighting), in others that serve as designated scare zones, someone may walk at you with a fake chainsaw blazing or pop out from around a corner with rotting skin.

Factor in the elaborately constructed haunted houses and it's safe to say that you (and your kids, if you're bringing along teens and tweens) are in for a theme park experience unlike any other.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Given the incredible attention to detail featured throughout the two-month event, it's vital that you and others visiting with you have a firm grasp of fantasy versus reality to avoid being too terrified to have fun. You may feel nervous or anxious at times, but even if you lack a love of all things horror like me, you'll never truly feel scared, so long as you remember that the chilling atmosphere is a well-orchestrated production — and nothing more.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando

To paint a better picture, here's a video look inside what it's like at Halloween Horror Nights.

What are the haunted houses at Halloween Horror Nights like?

If you're going to Halloween Horror Nights, you must save time for at least one haunted house. Each is like an extremely intricate movie set from one of Universal Pictures' films.

While the exact houses vary from year to year, for 2022, there are 10 distinctly themed houses to choose from. Themes range from bugs to witches to classic horror characters like Dracula and The Mummy. There's even one called The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare featuring a setting dreamed up by the musician.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

All of the houses are "haunted," but the vibe in each is totally different. For example, The Weeknd's house was a fun but spooky dance party at one point, while The Horrors of Blumhouse, which draws inspiration from "Freaky" and "The Black Phone," was one long drawn-out anxiety attack.

Something may spit at you in one, and you may walk through creepy strands of things in others. However, the basic techniques of the scares and experiences are pretty consistent throughout the houses, even though the physical sets and characters vary.

To get you to scream and make it hard for you to see what's coming, each house leans into different levels of minimal visibility through the use of darkness or dim lights, fog, blind spots and easy-to-push-away barriers. If you're leading your pack, you'll have an entirely different experience than you would standing in the middle of your friends, as you'll be the one to experience many of the scares first.

There will be many "jump scares" where characters pop out of different corners and make you scream. They can't touch you, but they will be very close at times. There will also be scenes of gory things happening in the houses, some of which will be far more gruesome than you can imagine.

But remember, all of what you'll see is fake. If you keep that in mind as you work your way through the houses, you'll view them as entertaining and not truly scary. Even if you do find yourself feeling scared, you'll be through each house fairly quickly, as none take more than four minutes to complete.

Related: 7 spooky destinations for a Halloween vacation

How long are the wait times to get into the haunted houses at Halloween Horror Nights?

Haunted houses during Halloween Horror Nights are akin to popular rides in terms of wait times.

During the heart of the evening, expect posted wait times of 45 to 100 minutes for each house, with the most popular ones requiring you to wait at least an hour on most busy nights. You'll find the shortest waits at the start and end of each night, especially on weekdays, as most people tend to visit over the weekend.

Because this is a theme park, there's always a way around the lines. If you're willing to pay more, you can access shorter lines.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

For example, you can buy an Express Pass to wait in a separate line that aims to be no more than half the posted normal wait time. Or, you can partake in a group or private "RIP" tour, a riff on a traditional VIP tour that gives you walk-on access to the houses much like you'd experience for rides during normal operations. RIP tours also come with the benefit of a guide who can tell you all about each house so you know what to expect before walking in.

During the media night, Universal hosted us for the RIP tour, so there was no time to build up extra anxiety as we went from one house to the next. In total, we saved more than eight hours that would've otherwise been spent in lines. (Not to mention, we also stopped at a private bar thanks to the tour.)

All in all, the RIP tour was a fabulous way to cram a lot in. If you want to experience all 10 houses in just a few hours, you'll likely want to consider paying for this upgraded experience. Know, though, that it comes at a cost.

Since the RIP tours cost $300 to $500 extra per person, they're not feasible for many families and groups. When I come back with some of my family using my own cash, I'll most likely opt for the more affordable Express Pass at about $130 per person on some dates, though this means I'll still face a slight (albeit manageable) wait.

Related: These are the best hotels at Universal Orlando

What else is at Halloween Horror Nights?

While the haunted houses and scare areas are the main draws, there's plenty of other stuff going on around the theme park during Halloween Horror Nights.

Spooky-themed food and drinks

I was so worried about getting too scared at the houses that I spent little time researching the food options ahead of my trip. Fortunately, this turned out to be a great surprise, as the food and drink options were, at times, exceptional.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

We got to sample a variety of items from the various stands, including a twist on a fruity margarita called the Burning Skull (on the left above). It's made with tequila, lime juice, mango nectar, pineapple juice, hellfire bitters and jalapeno. The tasty concoction was the perfect blend of spicy and sweet and went a long way in helping take the edge off of going into the houses.

Lots of snacks are available, too, most of which cost between $6 and $8. I really enjoyed Lil’ Boo’s Spicy Pumpkin Bun, an orange-colored steamed bao bun with spicy butternut squash inside. The pepperoni and cheese pizza skulls with marinara were also a fun and filling treat, as were the African lentil coffins made with spiced lentils and potatoes stuffed in flaky vegan pie dough.

I had the churro-wrapped hot dog as well, which was shockingly much better than it sounded, though I likely wouldn't order it again. Next time, I'd want to try the "maggot-covered" cheese dog and twisted taters, both of which looked delicious.

But perhaps no menu item encapsulated the event better than the "fresh ground princess," which was really just raspberry rice cereal, but definitely looked like some sort of ground meat.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: Best credit cards for Disney and Universal vacations

Thrilling rides

Rides shouldn't be the main reason you attend Halloween Horror Nights, but there's nothing wrong with breaking up the spooky screams with a few thrills on the select attractions that are open.

Some of the rides that stay open during the event include Revenge of the Mummy, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The lands around them, such as Diagon Alley, are also accessible, even though they are not used as scare zones or haunted houses, so they can be fun places to stretch your legs and enjoy a break from the scares.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

If you want to experience some rides without a regular park ticket, plan on paying the extra $35 to enter at 3 p.m. That way, you can enjoy a few rides during normal park hours before gaining early entry to the Halloween Horror Nights festivities through the park's Stay and Scream program.

Special shows

There are a couple of shows — "Halloween Nightmare Fuel Wildfire" and "Ghoulish! A Halloween Tale" — that happen every evening during Halloween Horror Nights.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

While I just missed seeing "Halloween Nightmare Fuel Wildfire," it looks fantastic from the videos I've seen. Expect everything from live performers to lots of fire.

"Ghoulish! A Halloween Tale" is also an option. It leans into music, projections and water, making it a good break from the action but not necessarily an absolute must-do.

Regardless of which show you choose to see (if not both), you'll find the entertainment a welcome break for your feet after hours of walking between houses scattered throughout the park.

Related: What really happens on a $3,000 Universal Studios private VIP tour

Should you go to Halloween Horror Nights if you are a bit scared?

After digging into the basics and learning more about the event, you may still find yourself wondering if Halloween Horror Nights is right for you. Before making a decision, there are two more factors to consider.

Safety

Looking back, what really made me terrified to visit haunted houses as a child was feeling unsafe in them. While visiting one as a 12-year-old, I found myself unable to get out, find anyone to help and locate my group when I was separated from them.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

These concerns are simply not applicable here. Not only are there ample security and team members in and out of the houses at Universal Orlando, but there are also safety standards in place when you're experiencing other parts of the park, such as the roller coasters. I felt at ease walking through each house knowing I could easily find someone to help me if an issue came up.

Special effects

Although special effects don't bother me, if things like fog, loud noises and strobe lights tend to make you feel anxious or overwhelmed, you'll likely want to skip attending Halloween Horror Nights. This is especially true for those with younger kids and may also apply to people with any conditions which could make them more sensitive to loud noises, strobe lights and realistic, immersive environments.

If you're worried about the special effects, consider other Halloween festivities like Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World or the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland. Both are better suited for little ones, whereas Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is ideal for teens and adults looking for a bit of a fright.

Bottom line

If you can appreciate the sets and theatrics and want to get a little spooked in the process, this is a fantastic Halloween event worth checking out.

Now that I know what it's like, I'm excited to plan a trip for me and my teen next year as they start fully appreciating all the creepiness of the holiday. Even this scaredy cat who still will not watch any horror films cannot wait to return.

Featured image by SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more