What a crazy Halloween season 2020 has proven to be.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, guests have endured a seesaw experience leading up to this 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, now, this piecemeal effort has 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 doesn’t have an official name for its Halloween proceedings, that doesn’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’s actually more than just the two houses going on here! We’ll walk you through everything you’ll need to know for this stripped-down-but-still-fun Halloween celebration.
But that’s not all! On October 27, Universal snuck one last little holiday tidbit into the theme-park ether: the very first announcement regarding Halloween Horror Nights 2021. You can find that down below.
Halloween 2020 – overview and explanation
Universal’s “Haunted Houses Weekends” will run the last two weekends of September (those exact dates are 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 these are clearly the heart of the experience, there are a few more components to this seasonal happening:
For the very first time, guests – under the age of 13, that is – can 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 are participating (you can’t miss them because they have a giant pumpkin sticker attached to their storefronts), along with the type(s) of candy they carry:
- 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 are a couple of rules or restrictions when it comes to Islands of Adventure trick-or-treating: each child will get just one treat bag, and he or she must be accompanied by an adult. Furthermore, it seems like some of these stores still hand out candy even during the week – just ask a team member to see if they have any goodies left.
Consider this trick-or-treating for the adults.
Much like the Holiday Tree Hunt that debuted last Christmas, Universal has unleashed its first-ever Halloween-themed Scarecrow Stalk for this fall, spreading 13 different scarecrows (or skeletons) all across Universal Studios Florida. Grab a map at any of the creepily designed locations, get it stamped, and then, once your stalking is complete, head 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.
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 will be available from September 18 to November 1.
On select dates, visitors to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida can wear family-friendly costumes while strolling about. Just keep in mind that Universal’s normal policy regarding dressing up still applies (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 are absolutely no requirements for attending the haunted houses or participating in trick-or-treating or dressing up (well, besides having park admission, of course). But guests should still be aware that, more often than not, the two haunts utilize the Virtual Line system, which means you’ll need 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 two 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 and Tooth Fairy originally started life out as).
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – haunted houses
Although there are shows, scare zones, and plenty of terrifying activities as part of Halloween Horror Nights, the haunted houses are the primary attractions for the event.
HHN haunts are best described as “movie-set quality” recreations of fantastic and fearsome locations. Sometimes referred to as mazes, each house is indoors, often set up in the unused queue area of a daytime attraction or one of the Universal soundstages. These haunts rely on every effect you can imagine to scare the pants off you, including hideous creatures, blood-curdling sound effects, loud music, tight passages, strobe lights, air bursts, mirror effects, and, of course, very elaborate – and, in many cases, very gruesome – props and set decoration. In general, guests are sent through the houses in a steady flow (sort of like a conga line, versus being “pulsed” through in small groups), and, once inside, each maze is typically a three- to four-minute experience.
Throughout much of the event’s history, the haunted houses’ themes have been original creations. However, in more recent years, Universal has started basing more and more of its Halloween mazes on third-party licenses (often referred to by fans as intellectual properties, or IPs), such as AMC’s The Walking Dead or, more recently, Netflix’s Stranger Things. Although we don’t yet know (obviously) what this year’s breakdown is going to be between the two camps, 2018 saw them split evenly down the middle, with five IPs and five originals.
NOTE: eight of the 10 houses that were created for HHN 2020 have remained untouched or otherwise unused. The final two, however, have been resurrected for 2020’s Halloween Seasonal Experience, which began on September 18. We will explore these two now:
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
Acting as something of a sequel to last year’s Universal Monsters house, The Bride of Frankenstein Lives also serves 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 is transforming the mythologized Tooth Fairy into a series of “goblin-esque” creatures that demand children’s baby teeth – or else. This haunt is set in an old manor that has been 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.
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – Tribute Store
Although Halloween Horror Nights 2020 has been cancelled, that hasn’t stopped Universal from throwing some Halloween love our way: the Tribute Store was opened on Tuesday, July 28, consoling us with a bunch of general and retro Horror Nights merchandise.
This may only be the sixth year that the store has 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 has only seen 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 the sole surviving element of that year’s intended experience.
What does the HHN Tribute Store look like for this strangest of outings? First up, there is 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, leads to the first main themed space: Frankenstein’s lab, which is filled with turning gears and other iconic equipment from the classic ’31 film, all arrayed around the central Monster, who is hidden under his sheet on his infamous slab (awaiting to be resurrected, it would seem). There is 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 is devoted to Jack the Clown, the original Horror Nights icon, who appears to preside over Oddfellow’s Dark Carnival and Emporium. This area is 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 is 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, and we also track all of the treats (and their prices) in our food and drink guide.
The 2020 HHN Tribute Store is open daily during parks hours from now “through the fall.”
HHN Tribute Store 2020 – photo gallery
Halloween (Horror Nights) 2020 – merchandise
The wide selection of items that heavily feature the big intellectual properties may not be coming this year, but Universal has kept its range of anniversary merchandise up for sale (both in the HHN Tribute Store and on its website). The slogan for this year’s retro offerings is “30 Years, 30 Fears,” and there’s still a surprising variety of keepsakes to call your own.
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 can 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.
What do we know so far about Halloween Horror Nights 2021?
Not much, but the one morsel we do have is a particularly juicy one: the very first haunted house of next year’s event.
Called Puppet Theatre: Captive Audience, it was announced on October 27 in a behind-the-scenes video walk-through that Universal dropped on its YouTube channel. You can get the very first details – including the creepy haunt’s backstory and a glimpse at its scareactors’ costumes – in our write-up.
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