Omg, the Day/Night combo ticket is the BEST THING. The backlot mazes all open at 5:15, and you can knock them all out before the park even officially opens.
Exorcist was absolutely terrifying. A lot of really wonderful practical and lighting effects as well.
Krampus was a masterpiece of terror mixed with delight. I was literally beaming and giddy with joy while also screaming obscenities. My favorite of the night by far.
Freddy vs Jason was cool, but I don't have a whole lot of investment in the characters. There's a really fabulous scrim effect in the maze that's super impressive. Also, there are these blackout hallways with lights that shine right in your face, so you can't see anything around you or where you're going... super effective. The light isn't bright enough to be irritating, but its leave you completely oblivious to what's in the dark, and it's really really spooky.
AHS was pretty cool, but I feel like I went through at a bad time. Some of the walk thru videos show a lot more than what I experienced, and the line got up to 2 hours later on, so I didn't get to go a second time. Anybody know what the deal is with the totally empty room in the Hotel section?
Terror Tram was lame. Sorry clowns, but pretending to come at me with obviously pretend weapons that you're obviously not going to use... doesn't work.
Texas Chainsaw was pretty good. Again, not a lot of personal investment for me, but a solid maze. Got squirted in the face and there's some really intense smell-o-vision in one of the rooms.
The street talent seemed to be pretty good at scaring other people, but I got very few startles. Sticking an obviously plastic knife up to my throat just doesn't work. I know your chainsaw doesn't have a chain on it. Staring me down doesn't intimidate me. And nobody ever talks, which is so weird to me.
Skipped Halloween because the line was too long.
Overall... As someone who has been very critical of my past visits to HHN (and thinks the present could still be better), I have to say that I was very satisfied with this trip. Will most likely go again next year with the Day/Night ticket. I just wish the lines weren't so awful.
I went last Thursday and did the Day/Night combo so that I could finally see Potter (literally identical to Florida but I love me some Butterbeer!). Anyhow, I had a good time and the combo ticket definitely helped. My group (about 14 of us total) were able to do every single maze, scare zone, ride, and show and we left around midnight. The only reason was because since we were already in the park, come 6PM (or earlier) when they open up the Backlot mazes there's next to no one back there and we were able to do all four within the span of an hour.
...Which leads me to my biggest qualm about HHN. This is my 7th year in a row going to the event (totally not planned by the way, it just seems to work out every year) and I've finally realized what I dislike about it. It's so disjointed. There's no cohesion to it. I know a lot of that is due to the nature of the theme park and its being perched on the side of a hill, but I still feel like it's so sporadic. I honestly miss the days when the upper lot was used for 4-5 of the mazes and there was only 1-2 on the lower lot. It really made the entirety of the upper lot feel like one big, crazy area that sucked you in and immersed you. It's just not the case anymore. It just feels like a random hodgepodge of areas all interspersed throughout the park and getting from the main gate to the metro sets and that group of mazes takes a solid 30 minutes.
Part of me wishes that Universal would just stick HHN entirely in one area, or at least axe the woeful Terror Tram and use that stop as a means to get to the bulk of the HHN mazes. Or part of me is just over all of the SoCal haunts in general because none of them seem to be all that interesting anymore...
With that negativity out of the way, I will say that I did enjoy the Krampus house quite a bit but that feeling was helped by the fact that I also thought the movie was wonderfully bad and I loved every second of it. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was also another highlight as it actually gave the feeling of being genuinely creepy and real, not just half baked sets that kind of gave off the general vibe of the source material (cough American Horror Story).
I will say that if it's your first time going to a Halloween event even though I'm not sure how that's possible anymore given their explosion in popularity, definitely go to Halloween Horror Nights. It's still the best event in the area, but if you've been in years past, it's honestly more of the same.
Took a trip out to Universal today with friends and family — still hoping to hit the Halloween event another time, and this was a trip to check out some of the newer attractions since the last time we were there. We expected it to be a fairly slow day but the place was slammed for the first few hours. The park extended their hours twice, and by 5pm the place had cleared out a little. Almost all of the rides were listed as about 60-80 min waits, but only Harry Potter actually took that amount of time.
The main reason we went was to check out the Harry Potter ride. Not much to add to the praise that it gets: it's impressive on pretty much every level. We rode twice — once around 12pm and then again around 7pm, and although the queue length was about the same, the queue moved dramatically faster the second time through for some reason. The first time had lines forming just to get löckers, and the whole building was incredibly congested.
I don't know anything about Harry Potter so many of the details and ride's narrative were lost on me (I really had no idea what was happening either time we rode), but I loved checking out the ride mechanism itself. The movement was a little more intense than I had anticipated, and it was fun to try and trace the maneuvers the ride carriages were making. At one point, when traveling under a large tree, I swear the ride tipped up beyond the 90-degree mark. At other points, especially when facing various ghouls, I got the sense that the arm was making some fairly fast flips back and forth from one side of the track to the other. The nerd in me would be genuinely interested in seeing the arm in motion from behind the scenes. Anyhow, it's a great ride with beautiful presentation.
The Walking Dead was a bit of a letdown, but I'm not entirely sure I can say why. It did feel short — like less of a maze and more like four or five scenes strung together. Maybe I just prefer traditional haunted mazes, but I swear that Universal's old haunted house walkthrough was much longer than this. The sets and effects were nicely done — many lifted from last years' haunt — but something about it didn't feel quite right. It was a once-and-done kind of experience for me, and I'm usually down to go through mazes multiple times to catch every detail.
Anyhow, the place was miserable for the first few hours because of insane crowds — and we only got on three attractions in four hours. It cleared up a bit after that and we were able to get on most of what we wanted, but a busy day for SoCal parks it seems! Still hoping to make it to the halloween event this year despite some tepid reviews so far.
We visited Universal last night for the finale of Halloween Horror Nights. We'd avoided it all season and had read reports that the days following Halloween were usually more quiet. Perhaps it was because it was a Saturday night, but the place was still packed with average waits for mazes clocking in between 90 and 120 minutes. Fortunately, with some strategy and a bit of luck, we were able to go through all the mazes, ride Harry Potter, the little Harry Potter coaster, and Transformers in just under 6 hours. The longest line we waited in was for The Exorcist (80 mins), but when we arrived at the entrance, we were handed a front-of-line pass (at random, it seems?) that we then used for American Horror Story that was also clocking in at around 100+ mins for much of the night. They were pulsing the mazes rather than letting a steady stream of people go through — which made for better maze experiences, but made the lines super sluggish. Also, front of line passes were everywhere, and managing the congestion of those lines (some of which were quite long) with regular lines was a bit messy. As always, the park looked great and the scream actors were uniformly excellent. They're really top notch at getting right in your face while never touching you and many seem positively acrobatic in their movement. Anyhow, the mazes, from best to worst:
The Exorcist: Our expectations for this were low, and we weren't sure how Universal would be able to develop a maze from a film with such limited scenery and monsters. It was excellent. One of very few mazes I've ever walked through where I was aware of my increased heart rate. I actually found myself hoping it would end sooner than later, and that's never happened to me before before in a maze like this — the scares were almost too much. The conceit of the maze was simple but remarkably effective: much of it was pitch black (aside from three or four creative takes on the bedroom scenes and a few others), punctuated by a surprising amount of highly intense jump scares. Even though we knew they were coming, the jump scares got us every time. The lighting effects throughout were simple (lots of the subliminal face from the film) but all looked fantastic. It struck the perfect balance between really creepy and straight-up terrifying. One of the most effective haunt mazes I've experienced at any park. 10/10
The Exorcist was far, far better than expected. Best maze of the night.
Halloween: Last year's Halloween didn't do much for us, and we waited a dreary 60 minutes to get in it. This year was much improved with almost every scene from the previous maze completely transformed. The sets were extremely immersive with lots of trick scares throughout (such as the scene where Michael Myers is slightly visible behind a shower curtain so you'll know he'll jump out as you approach, but a different Myers springs out at you from another part of the room instead). The maze incorporated key scenes from all three Halloween movies, ending with the bizarre series-busting Halloween III and a great final scare right at the exit that was very in-your-face. One of the best mazes of the night, and leagues better than the previous version. 9/10
Texas Chainsaw: We feared that this would be little more than chainsaws and carcasses, but it was far more immersive. While there were plenty of great jump scares throughout, it was the scenery and characters that made this one work. While not nearly as scary as The Exorcist, it was a great balance between elaborate set design, humor, and overall creepiness. 9/10
Freddy Vs. Jason: I'm not sure who watches these kind of films, and the film's conceit suggests that Hollywood has been out of ideas for some time now. The maze, despite the illogicality of Freddy Krueger chumming it up with Jason Voorhees, itself was a lot of fun. What made it work was that it was quite compact with small hallways giving you little room to escape the various blades and weapons flying toward your face. Plenty of cool tricks inside such as vanishing walls, blinding light tunnels, and tons of great jumps throughout. 9/10
Freddy vs. Jason. Terrible concept, but a fun maze throughout.
Krampus: Low expectations for this one too, but it was also much better than expected. Lots of sets look like they were on loan from past mazes (Crimson Peak and Aliens), but overall, it was a good balance of cute-ish satire and terror. Some fantastic scares throughout, and excellent set immersion with strong environmental effects. 8/10
Krampus took some of the great set design of Crimson Peak but added scares.
American Horror Story: While the above mazes were all exceptional, a couple saw a pretty severe drop off. This maze is huge, and as the result, much of it feels too open. There was a lot of dead space in this one with entire rooms devoid of props or characters, and not enough action to carry it off throughout. The gimmicky-but-effective light trigger / sound effect used by scare actors in the other mazes was largely absent here, and so AHS was little more than relatively human-looking people just opening doors as you walked by. There was also a mini scare zone inside which took up a huge amount of room (a circus-type space) and all the scare actors were clearly visible before entering. Aside from some creative designs (the art deco hotel was kind of cool), American Horror story was all bark and no bite. It looked good, but it was let down by the shoddy design and general incoherency. We were fortunate to use a front-of-line pass for this one as we would have been disappointed if we'd waited two hours for it. 4/10
Terror Tram: This wasn't very good last year, but this year was utter garbage (consistent with Eli Roth's meagre contributions to horror I guess). The only redeeming factor was that some of the static props in the second part looked good. Hackneyed concept (creepy clowns, yawn) with almost no maze design to speak of and completely uninspired scare actors. To be honest, this felt about on par with a cheap, makeshift neighborhood haunted house. A pox on the terror tram. 2/10
Scare Zones, compared to other parks, are smaller and less intense, but the scare actors are exceptional at what they do. It’s amazing how close they get to whacking you in the face, and many of their moves border on choreography. More than one attacker approached with an elaborate series of spins and turns before stopping inches from your face.
Although many of the narratives are a bit lost on me (I do like the horror genre very much, but tend not to watch the kind that Universal seems to produce), there’s no question that Universal is the reigning champ of haunts in the LA area. It’s a shame the place gets so insanely crowded, and there’s really not much they can do to help people experience more of the park (I assume many leave frustrated), but its understandable given the overall quality of the haunt. A great way to wrap up the season, and having visited SFMM, Knott's, and now Universal, I can safely say that Universal came out on top once more. Knott's was solid this year, and SFMM was as atrocious as always, but Universal continues to raise the bar.
Last year, I let you know about a new partnership between Universal Parks & Resorts and Nintendo. Today, I am going to update you on this historic collaboration – and share a glimpse at the creative vision behind it.
Imagine the fun of stepping into a larger-than-life Nintendo adventure. Gigantic Piranha Plants spring to life. Question blocks, power-ups and more surround you. And Mario and all his friends are there to pull you into a brand-new world.
You’ll enter an entire realm filled with iconic Nintendo excitement, gameplay, heroes and villains. And it’s coming to three Universal theme parks around the globe.
Nintendo-themed areas are coming to Universal Studios Japan, Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood.
These will be expansive, immersive and interactive. They’ll be highly themed and authentic environments filled with multiple attractions, shops and restaurants. You’ll feel as if you’re playing inside your favorite games – in real life.
There will be something for everyone—regardless of their age or gaming experience level.
Planning and creative work on these areas is well underway; they will open separately over the next several years.
Shigeru Miyamoto, of Nintendo, and Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative, recently sat down to talk about the two teams working together. Along with reviewing potential designs for the land, they also discussed what fans can look forward to experiencing as these exciting plans come to life.
The goal of everyone on this project is clear: to bring the characters, action and adventure of Nintendo video games to life within Universal theme parks. And to do so in new and innovative ways that capture what makes them so special.
All of the adventure, fun and whimsy you experience through a screen will now be all around you – in breathtakingly authentic ways.
Each Universal theme park will announce details of its specific Nintendo areas. The first such announcement will come soon.
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