One of the benefits of living in Central Florida is having easy access to both HowlOScream and Halloween Horror Nights. You can visit the events from late September through the end of October and get a big dose of horror compressed into those weeks and weekends. But even if you don’t live in the area, you often have other options. When I lived in Chicago, we had everything from local fundraiser haunts to professional productions. I love living near the theme parks, but sometimes I miss the old haunts, too. If you’ve never experienced Halloween Central Florida-style, here are some differences you can expect:
1) Local haunts tend to give you more personal attention. Halloween Horror Nights and HowlOScream are both crowded events, so you go through the haunted houses in a conga line. It’s the only way to get the large volume of people through the houses, and even then, the lines can exceed an hour or two. Most local haunts don’t attract as many people, and they often send in small groups, or even individual parties. This means more personal attention from the scareactors and more intense effects. My favorite was Buried Alive, at a house in the Chicago suburbs, where you were put into an elevator-sized space in total darkness and “buried” in dark-colored balls like you’d find in a kids’ ball pit (you can’t tell what they are in the dark so it’s pretty startling!).
There are two ways you can come close to this experience in Florida. First, get to the event as early as possible and you might luck into an absence of lines. We are often able to do this by doing Stay & Scream at Universal, which means arriving before the park closes and staying in a holding area. You get a jump on the houses that open early, and every now and then you’ll get in by yourself. The second way is to do Alone at Busch Gardens. Unlike the other houses, which are included with your admission, Alone costs extra but it’s well worth the price. You can go in by yourself or with just your own party, which means the scareactors are totally focused on you.
2) Local haunts some “interesting” pathways. The theme parks have to design their houses for maximum crowd flow, which means that you pretty much walk a straightforward path. At local haunts, I’ve been through everything from a tunnel that you literally had to crawl through to a slide where you slid down from the second floor to the first, and a mirror maze where I suspect there are still some poor, lost souls wandering aimlessly, even though several years have passed. Halloween Horror Nights did incorporate a mild version of a varied pathway this year in The Forsaken, which has a slanted floor in one room (there is a bypass for wheelchair users).
3) Local haunts take a lot of travel time. The theme parks have a limited number of houses (8 at Halloween Horror Nights, 6 at HowlOScream), so you get to know them pretty well after you’ve been to the event a few times. When you live in an area with a variety of different houses, you can spend the whole season without any repeats. The number of houses you see is limited only by your time and driving range.
If you prefer a less spooky theme park experience, click here to read about something fun you can do at SeaWorld and click here for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Click here to read more of my articles, and click here to follow me on Twitter. Click here to sign up for my pets newsletter if you love animals, and click here for my Pet Supplies & Product Reviews site on About.com. I’ve taken over 80 Disney cruises and can book yours and give you a special stateroom credit. Visit www.dclexpert.com.