September 30, 2014 – This year’s Halloween Horror Nights VIP Experience is a curious beast.
For first time visitors looking for an all-inclusive experience that includes unlimited Front of Line access, special entertainment, valet parking and a personal guide, well, look no further – the VIP Experience is perfect for you. For experienced Horror Nights fans that are looking to build upon successive VIP tours with a new and unique experience…well…you might want to look elsewhere or downgrade your ticket to a Front of Line pass.
But before I get into that, let me talk about what the VIP Experience for Halloween Horror Nights entails. Longtime followers know that the VIP Experience comes with valet parking, a special VIP entrance, a VIP Horror Lounge, dinner and more. Let’s run down that list.
First and foremost, VIP Experience guests get exclusive valet parking. While we didn’t use this perk on this specific visit, previous experience tells us that valet is handled very well at Universal (and as a result, better than your typical theme park operation). Complimentary hot chocolate and coffee are the norm, and the staff is known to handle your vehicle safely and efficiently. No worries there.
Likewise with the exclusive VIP entrance. If you want to avoid the typical Horror Nights crowds that usually swamp the event’s metal detectors, both the VIP Experience and the Front of Line pass offer express lanes to help get you to the entrance of the event quickly. Once you’ve gone through the necessary procedures, you’re off to the VIP check-in located between Will Call and the park’s ticket counters on the right hand side of the arch. With our printed tickets in hand and ID verification in tow, a kind hostess proceeded to check us into the VIP registration room. Here you will receive your lanyards, a dinner registration time slot, a map and a wristband to access both the VIP lounge and unlimited Front of Line access. Before we knew it, we had been in and out of the check-in process in less than ten minutes – a real testament to the efficiency of the VIP crew.
“Before we knew it, we had been in and out of the check-in process in less than ten minutes – a real testament to the efficiency of the VIP crew.”
With our dinner reservation at 7:00 PM, we proceeded to make our way to the VIP lounge located between Moulin Rouge and Super Silly Fun Land after witnessing the opening ceremony. This year’s VIP lounge includes an exclusive (albeit small) scare zone leading to the lounge, followed by a luxurious dinner spread, lounge DJ and bar for patrons. While the DJ and exclusive scare zone are certainly nice additions to the VIP Experience, both are unable to compensate for the astoundingly underwhelming experience that follows.
To offer a bit of context before I delve into this year’s offering, 2012’s VIP Experience offered a private tour of Jaws Lake and the surrounding neighborhood – taking guests to the heart of the Universal backlot to experience one of Universal’s oldest studio tales. Guests would wander through a pitch-black set to learn of the tragic fate of a stuntman and his wife as a studio guide proceeded to navigate the group through the couple’s eventual demise.
While the backlot concept wasn’t something all-too spectacular admittedly enough, the Jaws Lake experience gave guests the opportunity to truly separate from the rest of event. In this instance, your group was offered an exclusive look of Universal’s historic sets with an experience catered to the VIP Experience. Personally speaking, the opportunity to walk on Universal’s backlot alone offset the high cost of the VIP ticket, providing a truly unique experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.
2013’s VIP Experience built upon the foundations of 2012, offering an exclusive Insidious-themed shootout with a crew from Spectral Sightings. Despite being held in the same location, the VIP Experience managed to offer guests a completely new experience with an entirely new plot pitted alongside some excellent special effects. Themed characters alongside some clever projection mapping allowed guests to experience their own spectral sighting away from the cacophony and chaos of the typical Horror Nights event.
Unfortunately, 2014’s VIP tour offers no such experience, eschewing the backlot portion of the tour for a trolley ride down to the backlot for a guided escort to three of the mazes – avoiding the quarter of a mile walk for general admission Horror Nights attendees. While our guide remained fantastic throughout the night, her attempts couldn’t mask the operational debacle of the backlot mazes. Alien vs. Predator amounted to a 35-minute wait for Front of Line guests, while the Walking Dead and From Dusk Till Dawn both ate 20 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively. The VIP Experience whisked us away as we landed in front of the Terror Tram – our concluding guided experience for the night. By the time the proper tour ended, the clock hit 10:00 PM.
Upon our personal independent visits back to the backlot, Alien vs. Predator ballooned to a 45-50 minute wait – with From Dusk Till Dawn commanding a similar wait time throughout the night. Suffice to say, we only managed to experience Alien vs. Predator once more before proceeding to the Lower Lot with the realization that repeat visits to all seven mazes was simply unattainable given our remaining time. Traversing from the Studio Tour to the backlot already took a significant portion of time, and we only managed to hit Clowns 3D (30 minute wait) and American Werewolf in London (10 minute wait) once before the clock struck 12:30 AM.
The Upper Lot mazes both fared significantly better, with Dracula Untold and Face Off commanding 10-15 minute wait times. Dracula Untold’s queue eventually became a walk-on experience while Face Off garnering slightly higher wait times into the night. We managed to hit both mazes 2-3 times before visiting some of the event’s scare zones.
In short, while the VIP Experience tour guides and staff remained excellent throughout the night, one can’t help but think that those in charge of the operations and entertainment of the event completely missed the mark. The lack of a Terror Tram experience coupled with the operational debacle of the backlot mazes essentially meant that you were paying a premium for dinner, a small scare zone in front of the VIP Lounge and a trolley ride down to the backlot. While the first two elements are excellent in their own right, the sheer lack of entertainment – coupled with the operational mishaps of opening night – made this experience underwhelming at best.
“The lack of a Terror Tram experience coupled with the operational debacle of the backlot mazes essentially meant that you were paying a premium for dinner, a small scare zone in front of the VIP Lounge and a trolley ride down to the backlot.”
Subsequent comments have shown that some of the issues we’ve encountered on opening night have been ironed out, allowing many VIP patrons to experience all seven mazes at least twice. Regardless, after several years of operations (and the second year of offering backlot mazes), one would think that Universal would be able to handle the event from the onset without significant problems.
For Horror Nights fans that are willing to plan accordingly, a Front of Line pass may be your best route. That, coupled with Early Entry, may be an especially good deal and may allow you visit multiple mazes more than once. For those who wish to solely take advantage of unlimited Front of Line access, the VIP Experience remains your only option. The staff of the VIP Experience remain as cordial and professional as ever (and were quite honestly the highlight of our night), though you might be disappointed by this year’s Horror Nights-related offerings.
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Santa Cruz, California. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.