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Scaring Yourself Silly in Orlando

I won’t tell you how she died. Technically she wasn’t REALLY murdered, but the purple slippers and the missing banana made everyone noticeably suspicious. I was sitting at a table at Sleuths Mystery Dinner and we had been given ample time to digest the facts (as well as our prime rib). The show was one of the best murder mystery dinners I’ve attended and a great ending for a quick two day trip in terror. Orlando is still one of the best places in the country to have a fright-cation. Sleuths wrapped up my whole experience with a tasty whodunit dinner.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal was the main purpose of my visit. This is the 26th year of HHN and my curiosity was reaching critical mass. For select dates in September and October, the park closes early and reopens an hour later transformed from theme park to “scream park”. A few rides stay open that fit the theme such as Men in Black, The Mummy, as well as the Harry Potter ride. You won’t see many long lines for rides though. Everyone is headed to the haunted houses.

Some of the queues  to get into the attractions can be more terrifying than the actual haunts with an up to 2 hour wait for a 5 minute experience. If I were to do it again and had only one night, I would probably opt for the express pass. It’s a pricey add-on but  it’s an impossible task to visit all the houses otherwise. I was able to squeeze in the ones that I wanted to see but it pretty much took all night. If you’re staying a few days at Universal, you can probably knock at least four off your list each go-round each night.It’s an odd business though: People paying to be terrified.

I’m not scared easily but I admire good costuming, quality props and special effects. I admit I was startled repeatedly with chainsaw wielding maniacs and creepy characters jumping out of the shadows. Universal doesn’t allow visitors to dress in costume so you can rest assured that the freaky monsters lurking in the shadows aren’t psycho killers visiting the park to kill you. These are trained PROFESSIONAL psycho killers. I soon lost count of the number of chainsaws buzzing past me. Chainsaws are scary. Especially when the monsters turn them off, creep up behind you and flip them on again. In addition to the rides and houses, there are haunted sets in the walkways : a full sized ship with meandering dead bloated sailors, a high school parade gone terribly wrong, a ghostly alleyway with witches and goblins. One of the best sets in the park features a type of 3D projection on the outside of the buildings that makes them appear to crumble in the midst of an apocalyptic street not unlike The Walking Dead with a touch of Mad Max. There are so many characters waiting for you to let down your guard for a moment, it’s unlikely you’ll get very far without being chased or frightened.

The Walking Dead is a popular haunted house that features scenes you might recognize from the popular AMC show in addition to the flesh-eating monsters at every turn. The popular 3D haunted house turns on the neon and gives you 3D glasses to further confuse you as some of the graphics appear to leap off the walls and floor. The piece d’resistance is the American Horror Story house. The characters are straight out of the popular TV show complete with Twisty,the creepy clown as well as the two-headed woman from the Freak Show season and a  very disturbing creature crawling out of the middle of a mattress from the Hotel Cortez episodes. Even Lady Gaga’a character shows up at several turns. There’s even more chainsaws in “The Texas Chainsaw massacre” and you’re sure to spy at least a dozen Michael Myers in Halloween’s haunt if you can make it through the claustrophobic closet entrance. If you survive these, don’t relax quite yet. There’s still several more including some Universal originals as well as Krampus and the Exorcist.

If waiting in line isn’t your thing, there are several themed shows throughout the park such as a zombie multimedia variety show with lots of fire and dancing. My favorite: Bill and a Ted’s Halloween adventure. Most of the okes are based on current events and executed so quickly, it’s difficult to catch them all. Prince and David Bowie, who both passed away this year had a small tribute in the show. Hilary and “The Donald” were satirized. The show is very adult-oriented and as Ted or Bill might say – “totally bogus for younger dudes  Wyld Stallyns rule!”

The lines shut down at one am, but the park doesn’t completely empty out until sometime past two. If you haven’t had enough terror, you can spend the night at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. This giant  hotel was formerly The Peabody until it’s rebranding in 2013. The property is purported to be one of the most haunted areas in Florida. Guests claim to have seen sinks and lights turned off and on in their rooms by unexplained forces as well as sightings of ghostly figures. The management appears to be totally unaware of such “hauntings”. Yeah. Right.

Orlando has lots of other attractions to scare and amuse guests until the Halloween Season is over. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is made for the little ones and allows them to dress up and trick-or-treat. Busch Gardens has Howl-O-Scream. Seaworld’s Halloween Spooktacular takes place every weekend in October. Even LEGOLAND joins in the Halloween spirit with Brick or Treat.