With Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort only being (potentially) 75 days away, it’s time to start thinking how the event will handle this new Covid-19 environment. Since It’s known for having tight haunted houses and large crowds, so there’s no way the event could be reasonably safe for guests… right? Well actually, Horror Nights can be one of the safest places out there if certain protocols are put into place. I’m here to speculate on what these protocols may be, hopefully making you feel more comfortable about going to the event in the process.
Disclaimer: These ideas aren’t confirmed. This is purely speculation.
Haunted Houses Could Be the Safest Places in the Park
Yes, you read that right. People on various social media platforms keep citing these houses as reasons that Horror Nights will be a MAJOR safety hazard, but if they looked into it more closely they would realize that’s not the case whatsoever. In order to properly explain my reasoning, I have to split this up into three sections. These three will be lines, security, and scareactors.
If you’ve been to Halloween Horror Nights before, you must remember the terrible lines that occurred in the event. These lines stretched out for hours and hours, usually extending through switchbacks, for all of the houses on busy nights. Obviously, that can’t happen this year. With social distancing markers causing parties to be 6ft apart from other parties, those lines would cause guests to literally extend out of the queue itself. To counteract this, I believe that Universal will absolutely use a virtual extended queue system (it’s technically called a virtual line, but my wording is much more honest on what the virtual line system actually is). This system will be located on the Universal Orlando Resort app, and it will do exactly what the name implies. You pick a time to experience the house so you can virtually be in the extended queue while also having the ability to walk around and do other things. When your time is up, you would have a team member scan your phone at the beginning of the line and finally enter the queue. Universal has done this already with its popular attractions in the park, such as Revenge of the Mummy and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, so it should be very easy to implement for Horror Nights.
Now the queue line problem is fixed, but we have another HUGE problem… conga lines. Horror Nights houses have a “conga line” type system, meaning parties are extremely close to other parties. It’s one person after the other, just like the name implies. This would cause thousands of people to catch the virus, so it’s clearly a no no. What could we put in its place to keep everyone socially distant from one another? The answer is simple. We would instead use a pulsing system. This system lets one party enter the house, makes the other party wait a minute, and then lets them enter. This system would be repeated until the night is complete. Not only does this give each party more personal experiences with the scareactors, but it also promotes social distancing… if they don’t run through the house. Unfortunately, given that this is a scary event, some people will run as fast as they can to escape the horrors they are facing. This would cause them to run into the party ahead of them if it wasn’t for one very important thing…
Throughout the houses, team members are placed to point guests in the right direction and also to keep the line moving. The second part, in my opinion, will NOT be a thing this year. Instead, these team members will make sure to keep the guests away from the party in front of them. In other words, social distancing WILL (in this scenario) be enforced. That gets rid of one problem inside of the houses, but not the main one. As we all know by now, COVID-19 is mostly spread through the air. Even if guests do socially distance, if one party takes their masks off, they could infect multiple parties behind them. Without masks, these haunted houses would be a breeding ground for COVID-19. Therefore, team members will be issued another job. Their job will be to make sure guests keep their masks on. The plan isn’t foolproof, given that the guests could simply not listen. However, if a moveable barrier could be controlled by the team members (like how they control early morning entry) that would show the guests that they are not fooling around. Nothing is worse than being embarrassed in a theme park. If they still refuse to comply, we come to our last resort..
THE HOUSE WILL BE SHUT DOWN FOR HOWEVER LONG HEALTH OFFICIALS RECOMMEND IT TO BE (Probably not longer than 3 hours)
All guests behind the noncompliant guests would turn around, while all guests in front of them would be able to complete the house. The ones unable to complete the house, the ones that made it into the actual queue, and the ones that made it into the virtual queue would all be given virtual Express Passes that would let them skip the line of any house of their choosing. The people who caused this situation would be kicked out with real security, usually the Orlando Police, and the house would be put on hold for however long health officials recommend it to be (most likely not longer than three hours) to get the potential COVID-19 out of the environment. It’s a process that I think could work beautifully, even though it means tons of guests might not get a chance to experience that specific house that night.
Now, let’s say the line goes smoothly and everyone follows the rules. How will the scares themselves not infect the guests?
It’s well known to any Halloween Horror Nights fan that the scareactors made the event what it is today. Without them, the event wouldn’t be nearly as loved as it is. The question is, how do we keep them and the guests safe? I have a couple of options, but first let me get this out of the way. None of the scares are 6ft away from the guests, as much as we would hope they would be. Scareactors were usually always in the faces of the guests that walked through the various houses, so it’s no wonder why they are so close. We can decrease the chances of transmission dramatically without getting rid of the scares with a couple simple steps. The first is to have a majority of the scareactors wear masks, but not ordinary masks. These would be scary masks that would prevent any droplets from going near you. Why scary masks? This would make it so guests aren’t taken out of the experience and brought back to the true horrors of reality. Now, the actual scares. In order to not transmit anything, the scareactors would only frighten guests by trying to grab at them/using their hands in creative ways without touching them. That way, nothing will be transmitted and the guests would still jump in fear. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Some scareactors obviously can’t wear masks since it would take away from their characters, such as Beetlejuice. Those scareactors would be placed up high on platforms so they wouldn’t be able to transmit anything to you, sort’ve like most character meet and greets are done now.
The Attractions Magazine video below shows what the current meet and greets look like:
Horror Nights Scare Zones Will Be… Different
Scare Zones in their original form will not be possible this year unless a miracle occurs. They are known for scareactors walking up and down the streets and getting in guests’ faces. That can’t be done with the social distancing guidelines. Here is what I’m proposing Horror Nights should do to keep them safe, but still frightening and magnificent.
A Massive Size Increase
In the Universal Orlando Resort, as I stated before, most characters meet and greets are on platforms and out of the guests’ way. Now it’s time to talk about the exception to that rule… the pharaoh on stilts. In front of the Revenge of the Mummy attraction, a very tall pharaoh can be seen with a mask. The stilts make it so he can get up close and personal with the guests without transmitting anything.
By having scareactors just like this, but instead of regular masks they have scary masks, it could liven up the streets in an incredibly safe way!
Lights! Camera! Action!
Mini-shows need to be the number one priority in the scare zones this year. Even with the stilt walkers, the amount of scares you are going to get in the zones is severely limited. The mini-shows on the sides of these scare zones would be a perfect way to have entertainment while also keeping a safe distance from the guests. This leads me into my last point…
Don’t Hold Back!
How can you make shows frightening? The answer is, you really can’t. Nothing will be as frightening as people jumping at you in person. Therefore, the scareactors on the stages should do everything in their power to make you uncomfortable through the power of words! Don’t take this the wrong way, it can’t be anything socially unacceptable. However, it can be a series of roasts that really gets under the roastee’s skin. This way, the shows are promoting feelings you would’ve gotten in the streets (fear (of being targeted), becoming uncomfortable, and even the feeling of joy that comes from the scare actors’ funny roasts) without getting close to anyone. This proved to be successful in the Revenge of Chucky scare zone from Horror Nights 28, so I truly believe this could make all the scare zones massive hits!
Horror Nights Shows
I’ve already talked about what I think Horror Nights could do in regards to its shows in my last guest post. Here’s a recap in case you missed it:
Academy of Villains
This show usually takes place in the Fear Factor Live stadium, but given social distancing and the difficulty it would be to enforce mask wearing in there, I don’t see it being put in that location. Instead, I see it possibly becoming a street show like it was originally, but that also raises problems as well (such as people gathering together in one area). What happens with this show is something none of us will be able to figure out until it’s announced, but as of now it’s still happening.
Given the popularity of last year’s lagoon show, Marathon of Mayhem, it was inevitable that we were going to receive one this year. Now this show is a lot easier to regulate, given it’s located in a specific area of the park that isn’t surrounded by other people. Here, police officers would be able to enforce mask usage and make sure people follow the social distancing guidelines (like standing on the 6ft stickers). With that said, I’m almost certain this show will come back in some fashion.
Overall, this event could be extremely safe if at least some of these measures are put in place. I trust Universal to make the safest event possible, but only time will tell if it is or isn’t. Either way, you’ll probably still see me there.
Stay safe out there guys,
Jonathan (Creator of the Hung Up On Theme Parks Podcast)