What a crazy Halloween season 2020 proved to be.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests endured a seesaw experience leading up to that year’s holiday: first Halloween Horror Nights was cancelled (on July 24), then Universal attempted to salvage as much of the event’s experiences as possible in the months afterwards, ranging from opening (and expanding) the Tribute Store to offering Pizza Fries at select Universal Orlando Resort locations.
And then, finally, this piecemeal effort culminated in something far more material than anyone might have originally guessed – we got actual haunted houses that were originally designed and built for Horror Nights.
Although Universal didn’t have an official name for its Halloween proceedings, that didn’t stop the “fall activities” from having a set schedule: they ran on the last two weekends of September before expanding to daily operations beginning on Saturday, October 3 (and ending on Sunday, November 1). But there was actually more than just the three houses going on here! We’ll walk you through everything that happened for this stripped-down-but-still-fun Halloween celebration (and who knows? Maybe some of these elements may make a return appearance in 2021 and beyond).
Halloween 2020 – overview and explanation
Universal’s “Haunted Houses Weekends” ran the last two weekends of September (those exact dates were the 18-20 and 26-27) before expanding to become an everyday occurrence beginning on Saturday, October 3 (and ending on Sunday, November 1). The houses in question are Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, an intellectual property-based maze, and Revenge of the Tooth Fairy, an original one – and while those were clearly the heart of the experience, there were a few more components to this seasonal happening:
For the very first time, guests – under the age of 13, that is – could dress up, grab a free treat bag, and then hit up the various stores of Islands of Adventure for some candy.
Here’s the full list of locations that participated (you couldn’t miss them because they had a giant pumpkin sticker attached to their storefronts), along with the type(s) of candy they dispensed:
- Islands of Adventure Trading Company (Port of Entry) – Brach’s Kiddie Mix (Now & Laters, Nerds, Sweetarts, etc.)
- Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe (Port of Entry) – Mixups candy variety (Butterfinger, Crunch, Gobstopper, etc.)
- Comic Book Shop (Marvel Super Hero Island) – Dum Dums
- Marvel Alterniverse Store (Marvel Super Hero Island) – Starbursts
- Gasoline Alley (Toon Lagoon) – Mixups candy variety (Butterfinger, Crunch, Gobstopper, etc.)
- Toon Extra (Toon Lagoon) – Brach’s Kiddie Mix (Now & Laters, Nerds, Sweetarts, etc.)
- Dinostore (Jurassic Park) – Hershey’s Halloween chocolate and sweets assortment (Reece’s, KitKat, Rollo, etc.)
- Treasures of Poseidon (The Lost Continent) – Hershey’s Kisses
- Cats, Hats, & Things (Seuss Landing) – Tootsie Playtime Mix (Tootsie Rolls and Pops and Fruit Chews)
- Mulberry Street Store (Seuss Landing) – Dum Dums
Please note that there were a couple of rules or restrictions when it came to Islands of Adventure’s trick-or-treating: each child got just one treat bag, and he or she must have been accompanied by an adult. Furthermore, some of these stores still handed out candy even during the week – a team member just needed to be asked (politely!) if there were any leftovers.
Consider this trick-or-treating for the adults.
Much like the Holiday Tree Hunt that debuted during Christmas 2019, Universal unleashed its first-ever Halloween-themed Scarecrow Stalk for 2020, spreading 13 different scarecrows (or skeletons) all across Universal Studios Florida. If you grabbed a map at any of the creepily designed locations and got it stamped, you could have headed over to either Studio Sweets (in Production Central) or San Francisco Candy Factory (in San Francisco, of course) to receive a free tick-or-treat sampler bag as your reward for all that stalking.
Here’s a full list of all 13 scarecrows/skeletons:
- Universal Studios Store (Production Central)
- Silver Screen Collectibles (Hollywood)
- Five and Dime (Hollywood)
- SpongeBob StorePants (Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone)
- MIB Gear Shop (World Expo)
- Custom Gear (San Francisco)
- San Francisco Candy Factory (San Francisco)
- Rosie’s Irish Shop (New York)
- Sahara Traders (New York)
- Shrek’s Ye Olde Souvenir Shoppe (Production Central)
- Film Vault (New York)
- Supply Vault (Production Central)
- Super Silly Stuff (Production Central)
The Scarecrow Stalk was available from September 18 to November 1, 2020.
On select dates, visitors to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida could have worn family-friendly costumes while strolling about. Just keep in mind that Universal’s normal policy regarding dressing up still applied (such as the stipulation that costumed guests can’t pose for photos with others).
How do I attend Universal’s Halloween experience?
While it’s true that the first day of Universal’s Halloween Seasonal Experience Testing (on Friday, September 18) was reserved exclusively for Premier annual passholders, that restriction was immediately dropped the very next day – that means there were absolutely no requirements for attending the haunted houses or participating in trick-or-treating or dressing up (well, besides having park admission, of course). Guests just needed to remember, however, that the haunts usually utilized the Virtual Line system, which means that you needed to use the resort’s mobile app to secure a return time.
(If you want even more information on Halloween 2020 at Universal Orlando, including a summary of its daytime houses’ historical precedents, you can check out our announcement article.)
Tell me more about the three haunted houses!
Sure, we’d be happy to – in the section directly below, the one normally reserved for the Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses (since that’s what Bride of Frankenstein, Tooth Fairy, and Beetlejuice originally started life out as).
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – haunted houses
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
Acting as something of a sequel to 2019’s Universal Monsters house, The Bride of Frankenstein Lives also served as a type of follow-up to the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein: the Monster may have attempted to destroy both himself and his uninterested Bride, but she’s survived the destruction of Dr. Frankenstein’s castle and is now on a newfound quest to restore her mate – by experimenting on “unsuspecting victims,” which, presumably, includes you.
Read our full analysis here.
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy
Universal transformed the mythologized Tooth Fairy into a series of “goblin-esque” creatures that demand children’s baby teeth – or else. This haunt was set in an old manor that was infested by the beings and turned into a makeshift dentist’s office, a place where the Tooth Fairies “extract teeth by force.”
Read our full analysis here.
For just one weekend – Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1, 2020 – Universal opened the doors to the third house of the year. Beetlejuice remade the zany 1988 film from Tim Burton into a fun, engaging maze, filled with classic scenes and lines of dialogue (most especially the haunted dinner party).
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – Tribute Store
Although Halloween Horror Nights 2020 had been cancelled, that didn’t stop Universal from throwing some Halloween love the fans’ way: the Tribute Store was opened on Tuesday, July 28, consoling everyone with a bunch of general and retro Horror Nights merchandise.
This may only be the sixth year that the store had been a part of the event, but it’s quickly become an iconic element, making it a fan-favorite and must-hit aspect of the whole HHN experience. It started off life, back in 2015, comparatively modestly, originally taking up residence in Aftermath, the gift shop attached to the now-retired Twister… Ride It Out attraction (which is today Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon). It was from its very first day a collection of all Halloween Horror Nights merch, but this original iteration was limited by the retail space it was temporarily borrowing; it came across as a Twister-dedicated store that was momentarily possessed by the spirit of Halloween. Even still, Tribute more than earned its name by also collecting a fairly large swath of props, both big and small, from events past, ranging from pieces that were mounted on the wall (say, Resident Evil’s dog puppets from just two years earlier) to larger items that took up space out on the floor (like the Terra Queen’s chopper from 2005).
It didn’t take long for the Tribute Store to evolve. Starting the very next year, in 2016, it took up residence in its now-customary home, in the Macy’s façade right next to Revenge of the Mummy, occupying two rooms that were designed specifically for the purpose. Initially, Universal would take its roster of various intellectual properties that formed most of that year’s haunted houses and divide them more-or-less evenly among these two rooms, but the arrival of Stranger Things in 2018 changed things up (just as the franchise did with practically everything else HHN). From here on out, at least one room would be specifically dedicated to just one IP, with 2019 adding another variation to the mix by introducing a third themed area (the Tribute Store that year consisted of Ghostbusters-, Stranger Things-, and Universal Monsters-themed spaces).
2020 only saw Tribute grow in importance. First up, another one of Universal Orlando’s venerable annual events, Mardi Gras, received a commemorative store of its very own for the first time, with theming that was near-impeccable – its three rooms recreated three archetypal parts of Louisiana: a French Quarter flat, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, and the bayou. And swinging back to Halloween Horror Nights, its Tribute Store not only opened up earlier than ever before (44 days before the planned start of the event, instead of the usual two or three), it also became one of only a few sole surviving elements of that year’s intended experience.
What did the HHN Tribute Store look like for this strangest of outings? Firstly, there was an anteroom, depicting a ruined Frankenstein’s castle (a nod, perhaps, to 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, which ends with the good doctor’s home being destroyed). This, of course, led to the first main themed space: Frankenstein’s lab, which was filled with turning gears and other iconic equipment from the classic ’31 film, all arrayed around the central Monster, who was hidden under his sheet on his infamous slab (awaiting to be resurrected, it would seem). There was a ton of merchandise available here, starting with the Universal Classic Monsters and moving on to “30 Years, 30 Fears” retro wares, such as t-shirts, pins, and shot glasses.
The second room was devoted to Jack the Clown, the original Horror Nights icon, who appeared to preside over Oddfellow’s Dark Carnival and Emporium. This area was dominated by classic Halloween colors and HHN iconography, including a preponderance of jack-o-lanterns and loving portraits of the other event icons. A huge selection of masks was also at hand here, representing a wide swath of IPs from years past – Stranger Things, Halloween, Saw, and, our personal favorite, Ghostbusters (in the form of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, naturally).
But the most intriguing detail when Tribute first opened was also, at the time, its most mysterious: one of the myriad event posters scattered about the store promised a “coming attraction” in the form of a third, secret room. This wouldn’t materialize until three weeks later, on Friday, August 21, when an area devoted to the classic film property (and long-lived Universal Studios Florida presence) Beetlejuice finally debuted, offering more in the way of theming and merch both – and in another, even bigger surprise, Universal also added on a fourth room, this time dedicated to selling some baked food options. We have a full walkthrough of both in our big article.
HHN Tribute Store 2020 – photo gallery
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – merchandise
HHN 2020 merch – CityWalk kiosk
Perhaps because of 2020’s Horror Nights cancellation, Universal decided to do something else a little out of the ordinary: open up a horror-dedicated kiosk in CityWalk, near Voodoo Doughnut. You could find many of your HHN needs right here, without having to make the trek all the way out to the Tribute Store in Universal Studios Florida.