Horror vs. Boo: Which Theme Park Delivered the Best Halloween Event?

When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still: that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight!

Or, rather, that is the signal that October has commenced and it is time for me to buy my annual passes to something spooky. Growing up in Florida all my life, I am no stranger to Orlando’s theme parks. And if you’re a fan of anything that goes bump in the night like me, you’ve probably looked in to buying a ticket to either one of the two biggest tourist attractions in the area as they celebrate Halloween.

Both Disney World and Universal Studios offer their own unique events during the holiday. If you’re balling on a budget like most college students are, it can be difficult to weigh the two together as they promise Michael Jackson-esque thrills and fall festivities. If you cannot decide which to invest in, allow me to be your Ghost Host and give you a thorough analysis of each. And if you do decide to join one, final arrangements may be made at the end of the article.

EVENTS

MNSS: Disney has always been known to go all out with their magic for holidays, and Halloween is no exception. The park trades its pixie dust for a bubbling cauldron, and brews up guests a family-friendly celebration of everything villainous. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is an after-hours bash at Magic Kingdom where guests of all ages can dress up as their favorite characters and trick-or-treat around the park (I include all ages because I am nineteen years old and ended up with more candy than most of the small children I saw that night). A soundtrack loud enough to wake the dead blares fan-favorite music from Disney’s most notorious bad guys, and many popular rides are open all night.

HHN: Halloween wouldn’t nearly be as thrilling if not for the infamous cinema that has been created in its name, and only a movie studio as innovative as Universal Studios could deliver an homage to the creepy and crawly. Halloween Horror Nights is an event filled with haunted houses inspired by anything from scary movies to your worst nightmares. Scareators dress in Hollywood-grade costumes to chase guests through the park, and lurk in designated Scare Zones to claim their next victim. To survive the night, only those who can handle bloodthirsty characters ripped from silver screen will be able to navigate through some of the scariest mazes of all time.

PRICES/TIMES/DISCOUNTS

MNSS: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has increased in price over the past few years. Depending on the day you go and the age of the guest, prices range from up to $74 in September, $79 in October, and $87 on Halloween night. Any guest with a Halloween Party ticket can enter the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 P.M. and stay until the event ends at midnight. The only discount I found was showing your annual pass at the gate to get $10 off your ticket, but my friends and I did not see this advertised until after we already purchased our passes.

HHN: Halloween Horror Nights has an array of different offers on ticket prices and fast passes. General Admission tickets depend on how busy the night is estimated to be based on past attendance. An individual ticket is ranges in price depending the night. Slow nights are around $49, while the busiest nights are $76, such as Halloween night. However, there is an Add-On ticket, which is an offer for passholders or those wanting to buy a park ticket for the day time. Add-On tickets are a cheaper Halloween Horror Nights ticket for those with a day pass or annual pass, and that pass does not need to be used on the same day they attend the event. Prices for this depend on the attendance to Halloween Horror Nights in the past. If you are interested in attending Halloween Horror Nights more than once, you can purchase a Frequent Fear Pass, which gets you in to the park multiple times for $94. Express passes to skip lines in the house may be purchased in the park, or combined online with Frequent Fear Passes. Additionally, Florida residents save up to $52 with UPC code from CocaCola, CocaCola Zero or Sprite products at their local grocery store.

THINGS TO DO

MNSS: I can honestly say that I’ve never had a dull moment at Magic Kingdom, and the same goes for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Guests of all ages (including college students) will be able to find something that suits their interests and is still adorned with spooky charm.

For entertainment, by far the best aspect of the night is Mickey's "Boo-To-You" Halloween Parade. The Headless Horseman takes the lead and rides through the park on his horse, signaling the start. Afterwards, heroes and villains alike dance to an original score combining their own theme song with a Halloween twist. I don’t want to spoil too much, but The Haunted Mansion makes an appearance, and their float definitely took the night by storm.

Other entertainment includes two fireworks shows: Celebrate the Magic and HalloWishes. One is more lighthearted and is a pre-show for the main event. HalloWishes turns off the lights of the park and delivers some of Disney’s most famous fireworks; illuminating the skies with stories of the villains you love to hate.

New for 2015 is Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, which is a short skit out front of the castle featuring Winifred, Sarah, and Mary themselves. Rare characters throughout the park also make their appearance, such as Jafar and The Queen of Hearts.

Depending on the weather, certain rides will stay in operation (and The Haunted Mansion gets a delightfully ghoulish makeover). And of course, Trick-or-Treating stations are located throughout the park. Upon entry, guests are given a bag to store their snack-size goodies. All you have to do is walk up to a cast member with a cart and yell, “trick-or-treat!”

HHN: The attractions at Halloween Horror Nights are definitely not for the faint of heart. The biggest draw to the event is the haunted houses, which are located throughout the park and marked with a sign and wait time. Each year the houses are different, though some may be throwbacks from Halloweens prior. However, these are not regular mazes your hometown used to rent out warehouses and hire bored, minimum-wage earning high schoolers for. Inside the sets will make you believe you are in the middle of a movie. Guests navigate through haunted houses, werewolf-infested woods, and even whacky insane asylums. Around every corner is a character ready to scare you, and terrifying obstacles to pilot through.

The Scare Zones are also just as good as the houses, so there is no need to fear that you will not be enjoying yourself if you do not hit every house. Designated areas of the park are themed something cryptic, and guests have no choice but to walk through them to make it to other attractions. And don’t think you can navigate around them! The entrance in to the park is one of the largest Scare Zones the park has to offer.

Since Universal Studios is an entertainment industry, you can bet there is a show of Hollywood proportions. Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure features Bill and Ted themselves from their classic 1989 film, except instead of time-traveling for a school project they are recapping pop culture from the past year. Whether it’s arguing with the characters from OITNB or breaking out in to song, the show is guaranteed to keep the audience in stitches and lighten the mood from the horrors lurking by the gates. Excellent!

There is also a Scare Zone that stretches across the Hollywood strip which usually holds the most Scareators, and this year it has also been turned in to a live show. The Carnage Returns features magic, demonic dancers, and lots of fire in a villainous extravaganza.

Within the park, several rides and restaurants are still open. Make sure to also grab the event’s famous t-shirt that features all of the houses of the year on the page as a souvenir of your bravery.

WINNER

Of course, this is completely by personal preference. Some envision Halloween as a bloodcurdling holiday to celebrate everything scary, while others prefer to curl up with candy corn and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on repeat. However, if you want more for your dollar, Halloween Horror Nights is the clear winner.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is fun, but it doesn’t offer much more than what you can already experience with a regular pass in the daytime. Besides the parade and fireworks (which Disney already has every night in the form of Main Street Electrical Parade and their nightly fireworks), I did not find the other events significant enough to cost over $70. Trick-or-Treating is fun, but not when I can buy the candy for under a dollar at the store. Sure the lights of the park are dimmed and there is festive music, but minor atmospheric changes are not significant enough to cost so much.

Halloween Horror Nights offers a completely different experience than anywhere else. The houses can ONLY be experienced during this event, and they are created with so much care and attention to detail that they already make the night. The addition of Scare Zones, live shows, and a curfew past MNSS’s midnight give you so much more for what you’re paying for.

 

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