While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and other seasonal entertainment at Walt Disney World seem to get the lion’s share of publicity this time of year, visitors to Orlando shouldn’t overlook Universal Orlando‘s holiday offerings. Universal Orlando holidays might not have quite the nostalgic lure of Mickey’s merrymaking, but Universal’s options are every bit as expertly produced, and have the benefit of all being included with regular park admission (unlike the extra-cost “hard ticket” nighttime parties at the Magic Kingdom).
Universal Orlando’s holiday lineup, which kicks off the first weekend each December (unlike Disney, which starts Christmas almost before Halloween is over) and continues through the Saturday after New Year’s Eve, consists of two main components, described in detail below.
There’s been no noticeable progress on the Hogwarts Express since it completed its first test run, as reported in our last installment. Instead, let’s take a nighttime look at the London Waterfront, the facade that conceals Diagon Alley.
Slow-speed Hogwarts Express testing has begun at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (photo by Seth Kubersky)
Exciting news, Harry Potter fans: Hogwarts Express testing has commenced at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort! The iconic Hogwarts Express trains, which were lifted onto their elevated rails in late October, began slow-speed movement tests over the weekend.
It will still be many months before guests get to ride the Hogwarts Express attraction, which is expected to officially debut in June 2014. When complete, the Hogwarts Express will provide transportation between the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley expansion in Universal Studios Florida, and the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
Ordinarily, the Touring Plans team would be the first to bring you footage of the Hogwarts Express testing, but this time our friends at Orlando Attractions Magazine have beat us to the punch (blame our post-Thanksgivukha turkey & latke hangovers). Check out their video below, which also includes some shots of the London Waterfront construction, and check back here often for further PotterWatch progress updates on Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The first new episode of TNA Impact will be recorded live at Universal Orlando’s Soundstage 19 on November 21-23, 2013. In the past, guests wishing to be part of the studio audience could attend free of charge. Since production typically occurs inside the soundstages, we anticipate little to no impact on crowds or touring inside the parks on broadcast days. Keep an eye on Universal’s production website for information on how to attend.
We’re heading into the home stretch of Universal Orlando’sHalloween Horror Nights 23, and if you plan on facing the undead hordes you’ll need a good plan now more than ever. Luckily for you, we’ve been on the ground every weekend of the event so far, and have recorded over 300 pieces of wait-time data for the haunted houses.
Here’s the final result: field-tested touring plans, designed to help you tackle all eight mazes in a single evening without the use of extra-cost express passes — provided you pick the right night to attend (Wednesday or Thursday are best, Saturdays are worst, and Sunday can be surprisingly busy), arrive early, and stay late.
Usually when people talk about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida the first thing they mention (after the gore and booze) is the huge lines. But this year, I lucked out. So far, I’ve been on an “RIP” guided tour, attended during exclusive annual passholder hours and “Stay & Scream” early entry periods, and made full use of my “Rush of Fear” and “Frequent Fear” unlimited Express passes. As a result, I’ve been able to experience all eight of the event’s haunted houses at least five times each so far this season, with an average wait time of under 15 minutes.
All photos by Seth Kubersky
But last Friday (10/4/2013), I wanted to experience how “the other half” lives and see the event from the perspective of an ordinary guest. Is it possible to arrive at the front gate on a moderately crowded night without any special line-cutting passes and still have a good time at HHN? Let’s find out!
On 9/20/2013, the 23rd annual edition of Universal Orlando'sHalloween Horror Nights unleashed its undead hordes upon horror-hungry fans who have made HHN the nation's most popular and industry-awarded haunted theme park event. Touring Plans researchers have attended all event nights so far to capture data on attraction wait times in order to present this updated itinerary, and we'll continue to improve our advice with new information throughout the month.
Originally a locals-friendly filler during a normally slow season, Universal Studios Florida's Halloween celebration has grown so famous that the 27 event nights between 9/20 and 11/2 will provide a sizable percentage of USF's annual attendance statistics. Much like visiting any of Orlando's theme parks during a peak holiday season, an evening at HHN can be tremendous fun if you go in with a solid plan and sane expectations; without those things…well, you might be better off eaten by zombies…
With only two nights worth of wait time data to analyze, it's impossible to craft an HHN touring plan with the same precision we do for daytime visits. Operational tweaks will continue to be made throughout the event, so the crowd patterns observed during this year's initial operating nights aren't guaranteed to persist. However, thanks to years of experience with HHN (I've attended every edition since 1996) we can extrapolate the opening weekend info to update our preliminary touring plan into a multi-pronged strategy for tackling Universal's elaborate (and infamously long-queued) haunted mazes.
(Fear not, we’ll be posting an updated HHN touring plan later this week in time for the next event night, based on wait-time data we collected during opening weekend. And we’ll continue refining the plan as the event progresses into October.)
Approaching the park you are now greeted by massive “tree roots” entwined around the iconic archways, framing banners representing the haunted mazes featured at HHN XXIII.