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Universal’s Potential Plans For Controlling Crowds at Halloween Horror Nights 2020

As we ramp up to the official re-opening of Universal Orlando on June 5, we’re already jumping ahead and covering Halloween Horror Nights 2020. By all accounts, the annual event is not only still a “go”, but they’ve been building the houses behind-the-scenes as usual while the parks have been closed.

For the purposes of this article, we aren’t going to talk about either the Intellectual Property or original houses coming to Halloween Horror Nights this year. We already covered that thoroughly in this piece several weeks ago and we stand by our predictions. Rather, you must be wondering: how do you control and social distance the massive amounts of people who come to Halloween Horror Nights? We actually think we have some tentative answers.

For starters, this year’s event could operate differently in terms of scares. If what I’m hearing is correct, the amount of actors hired this year will be significantly reduced. Instead, the company has invested in more special effects. Many of these could be repurposed for Halloween Horror Nights in the future for when things return to normal… whenever that is.

More importantly, how do you control the insane amount of people who come into Halloween Horror Nights? The first step will be to cap the attendance at numbers far below what you are used to seeing. We are talking less than half. Next, we can expect the app to play a huge role in how guests are moved around Halloween Horror Nights this year.

The Universal Orlando app will actually drive your experiences at Halloween Horror Nights this year and intentionally spread out groups throughout the park. You’re going to see a lot of this once the parks reopen with virtual queues, but for HHN, the app will supposedly work entirely different. Let’s go over two scenarios.

First, we will cover what park entry looks like. After guests have bought their tickets (either online or at the gate), they arrive and go through the temperature screening. Upon arrival at Universal Studios Florida, guests use the Universal app and scan the barcode of their tickets into the system. This let’s the app know how many people are in your party.

Halloween Horror Nights

Next, you’ll see a welcome video from Jack explaining what this “new year of fear” is all about. In short, Jack is going to tell you that he’s “in control” and commanding where to go and when. You are then going to be asked to “choose your psychopath”. Basically, you will decide if you want to add Universal Express to your passes (if you haven’t done so already) or not.

Let’s say that you do want to add Universal Express to your passes. Your group will then choose a “scream name” for the app and you’ll see a video message from Jack explaining how to use the features of your express passes.

Next, your group (using one phone/app) will look at the screen and set up an itinerary for your evening. You’ll be able to pull up a list of all houses, attractions and shows and choose a time for each. It will even suggest places to stop along the way during gaps for food and beverage and merchandise locations. If a ride or house ends up temporarily closing? It will update you and suggest an alternative. The point of the system is to keep track of where everyone is and give them a place to go, since queue lines will be virtual.

This brings us to those who opt to not purchase a Universal Express Pass for Halloween Horror Nights in 2020. Just like before, the group scans their passes into one person’s app and they create a “scream name”. Next, they will get a different greeting from Jack and instructions on how the night will go. Non-Express Pass holders will be part of a group tentatively called “Jack’s Maniacs”.

Next, instead of being able to pick times for houses, rides and shows, your group creates more of a “wish list”. The app will present you with a list of every option in the park to do. This includes houses, rides and shows. Your group will tell the app what you don’t want to do (eliminating that from your possibilities) and then ranking all the houses, shows and attractions that you do want to do from most to least interested.

Unlike the Express Pass option, “Jack’s Maniacs” will NOT be shown an itinerary for their evening. Rather, the app will tell them where to go based on what they input for preferences. The goal is to get as many groups into their top choices as possible. In addition, they can control the flow of traffic in the park essentially breaking the park into various zones and sending groups to various parts of the park by spreading them out. Let’s say that Jack sends you to the Beetlejuice house first.

You arrive at the “standby queue” for Beetlejuice and a Team Member will scan the app allowing your group to enter the queue. There will be no such thing as walking up to a queue and being able to wait for a house or attraction without using the app. Don’t worry, that will be true all summer at Universal Orlando for most attractions, so guests will have started to be used to that concept.

Once your app is scanned (it generates a unique QR code for your group after you choose a “scream name”), then you will be placed into a short queue. Naturally, it will be spaced out for social distancing. After a small wait, your group will then enter the haunted house.

Now let’s say that once you exit the house, the park is pretty crowded and there is no space for any of the activities on your wish list. Letting you roam the park and form a crowd with another group is no bueno. Thus, the app will recommend one of several options. Maybe a nearby ride has space in their virtual queue? The app would suggest that. Perhaps it will recommend a bar or restaurant that you can visit. Or even better, what if it sends you on a unique quest designed just for this year’s 2020 Halloween Horror Nights?

I’ve given you enough to think about as it is. Just know that the quests will be similar to what we’ve seen in the past events. Think of these quests as more scavenger hunts or interactive adventures that are designed to kill time so guests don’t linger/congregate in certain areas.

We will go into those quests and so much more in future posts (Halloween Horror Nights icon masks, anyone?), but for now: what are your thoughts? Will this increase your chances of going to Halloween Horror Nights in 2020? Do you want an app controlling your evening? Could this be the start of a change in how we see the park run for future Halloween Horror Nights beyond 2020? Time will tell.

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