Universal Studios Florida

Take your teens to the best Halloween party ever

Every day seems like Halloween when your kids start sporting rings through their noses, spiked dog collars, and belly chains. In fact, the sight of your lanky 15-year-old wearing a mask and banging on the front door may send the mistress of the house reaching for Mace rather than Mars bars.

If the thought of your teen roaming the streets and hanging out at parties unsupervised fills you with horror, but she won't give up pleading—loudly—to roam and prowl, then it's time to take your kids (preteens and older) to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. The nocturnal festivities have become the preeminent place to cringe in a safe, but sufficiently spooky, atmosphere that will thrill even the most blasé of teens.

On these evenings, the park transforms into a world of horror—this is no mild gathering of drugstore-bought costumed characters with welcoming smiles. Universal uses its highly skilled creators, make-up artists, and technicians to deliver creepy critters and well-timed surprises. Because the after-dark chills pack a wallop, Universal Orlando recommends that children who attend be at least ten years old.

Frightfully freaky "scare-actors" roam three transformed areas of the park. Harvest of the Souls, Blood Masquerade, and Deadtropolis feature some of the most fear-inspiring specters from the past 15 years of Halloween Horror Nights. You never know whom you'll meet. A gnarled and evil witch may pop up behind you, a ghost trailing ersatz blood could bump into you, and a cyclops might ask for a cigarette. The sweet-looking mom pushing a baby carriage reaches in and hands you a severed head to admire. The chainsaw drill team, a band of psychos with real (but disabled) whirring blades, march through the park, chasing the guests. Wheeled through the streets, the rat lady rests peacefully in her glass coffin while scores of live rats scamper over her.

These terrors set the tone, but the highlight is seven hauntingly clever houses with ghoulish horrors. The props seem convincing, the timing is on target=, and the characters look horrifying. Teens, despite their bravado, should be impressively scared. Some themes: "Run: Hostile Territory," a chamber of tortures known for its dismembering; "Psychoscareapy—Maximum Madness," an asylum run by craziest; and "Psycho Path: The Return of Norman Bates," macabre moments at the bad-trip motel.

If you and your teens haven't screamed yourself hoarse by now, then be prepared to shriek some more at Sweet 16: The Director's Cut, a mélange of horror film clips emceed by four foul and fiendish hosts—the Director, the Caretaker, Jack, and the Storyteller. "Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure," a live stage show, mixes tricks with the treat of comic relief. The park also presents Universal 360, a high-tech combination of projections, lasers, and pyrotechnic effects projected on 30-foot spheres across the park's waterfront. In addition, select rides and attractions remain open.

Purchase tickets in advance for these terrifying nights. Day passes won't get you into the haunts. However, you may upgrade your regular ticket to a Stay and Scream Pass, allowing guests of either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure admission to the evening's Halloween Horror event. Pay more and you can purchase a Halloween Horror Nights Express Pass that allows you to skip the regular lines for quick entry to the haunted houses and attractions. The park offers three RIP (VIP) tours. On a non-exclusive tour, join others as you tackle the haunted house, Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure show, and other attractions if time allows. The Exclusive RIP tour is tailored to your family's fears, so the venues include the abovementioned but may be altered at your request. With Unmasking the Horror, you go behind the scenes to see how the park creates its masterful haunted experiences.

(407-224-5500; www.halloweenhorrornights.com)

Away.com's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from Amazon.com.

Published: 5 Oct 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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