Universal Orlando announces Halloween Horror Nights details

It’s the 20th year for Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, a scarefest that routinely sells out the park on weekends in September and October.

Now in its 20th year of the horror-filled celebration, Universal is personifying fear:

Halloween Horror Nights XX is about Fear himself. He is the Master of everything Halloween Horror Nights has ever been and will become. His weapons: Chaos, Death, Sacrifice, Mythos, Vengeance. His pawns: a clown, a storyteller, an undertaker, a director, an usher…and you.

Ooooo. Scary.

Universal released all the Halloween Horror Nights XX details overnight. The special events will include eight haunted houses with names like “Hades: Gates of Ruin” and “Zombiegeddon.” There will also be six “scare zones” — street performances of sorts on the walkways throughout the theme park, and two live shows.

Fans of Halloween Horror Nights are heralding this year’s announcement as a move back to the roots of the event, when the theme park created original characters and plots for the haunted houses. In the past few years, many haunted houses have been based on characters and plots from horror movies. But this year, there doesn’t seem to be any movie promotion involved.

Halloween Horror Nights runs on 24 select nights between Sept. 24 and Oct. 31. Tickets are $74.99. There are discounts for Florida residents and package deals with area hotels. You can find those details at the event’s official Web site, www.halloweenhorrornights.com.

Since this is at a theme park typically visited by families, I should note here that Halloween Horror Nights is definitely not for kids. Universal Orlando says it is not meant for children under 13.

And now, a word from Fear himself:

Harry Potter ride hits 1 million riders

It has been just 60 days since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter threw open the gates of Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando Resort, and already, more than 1 million people have ridden the theme park’s centerpiece attraction.

Universal says the ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, has set a new record. The 1 million riders claim follows second quarter numbers released last week that showed Universal Orlando had its first quarterly attendance gain in two years.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is best described as a robocoaster. Riders sit in robotic arms that are held above a track that moves along through the ride. During this forbidden journey, riders fly around Hogwarts castle, meet up with a band of dementors and even get caught up in a quidditch match.

The ride is intense and features a tight over-the-shoulder harness system for safety. But riders of size don’t fit on the new Harry Potter ride, and that has caused some controversy. There’s also a long list of medical restrictions.

Even if you think you can’t ride for whatever reason, you should walk through the queue – it’s your only way to get inside Hogwarts Castle, and it’s some of the most immersive stuff in the Wizarding World. There’s a “chicken exit” before you board your enchanted bench for the Forbidden Journey.

To quell crowds, Universal halts liquor sales at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

It’s been almost a month since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, and folks are still waiting, and waiting, and waiting to see the new attractions at Universal Orlando Resort.

In fact, more than 500,000 people have ridden the Wizarding World’s centerpiece ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. (But rest assured, none of them were obese.)

As the Orlando Sentinel reported, Universal is having to get creative to handle the crowds. One of their more creative moves is halting the sale of liquor in the Hog’s Head tavern at the theme park.

Now you might think that liquor sales were halted to keep the crowds from lingering over another round, but that’s not the case. The prime culprit is butterbeer, the nonalcoholic brew described in the books as tasting “a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch.”

Apparently, the bartenders at Hog’s Head need to spend more time pouring butterbeer to keep up with the demand, so Universal has taken mixed drinks off the menu.Beer and wine is still for sale, and park officials say the liquor ban is temporary.

I can attest that the butterbeer is wonderful stuff – golden, creamy and smooth, and probably, probably, worth the wait.

Bonus trivia note about drinks inside the Wizarding World: Know what else isn’t for sale? Soda. Sodas are of course sold elsewhere in the Islands of Adventure theme park, but not inside the Harry Potter section.

By the way, it’s still weird to see photos of people dressed for the Florida heat walking around Hogsmeade with its snow-topped roofs. It doesn’t feel funny when I’m there, it just looks funny afterward in the pictures. Just me?

[Photo credit (top): Flickr user Digital Rampage]

[Photo credit (middle): Flickr user gordontarpley]

Wizarding World of Harry Potter souvenirs now available online

Universal Orlando’s online store is now selling some of the exclusive Harry Potter merchandise available in the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme-park stores.

Seven categories of Harry Potter merchandise are available: accessories (including this Gryffindor backpack – one of my faves – for $39.95), apparel, collectibles, headwear, home decorations, souvenirs and toys.

I’ve talked with a couple of Harry Potter fans who ran to the park specifically for the home decor available there. I was surprised to find that they were more interested in pillows and fleece throws emblazoned with the Slytherin logo ($24.95 each) than the new ride or restaurant.

And that Slytherin pillow is already listed among the online store’s best sellers, so who am I to judge?

The dozens of collectible wands for sale are sure to be popular, as well. They come in Ollivanders gift boxes. This alder wand ($28.95) is said to denote intelligence and strength.

The biggest benefit of this online store for travelers, of course, is that you can save the extra baggage fees on your return trip from Orlando by waiting to order your Harry Potter souvenirs and having them delivered directly to your home.

Win an exclusive Wizarding World of Harry Potter magic wand!

On Friday, the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens it doors to the public. As part of the opening celebration, we received a gorgeous boxed wand, along with a few other goodies.

To celebrate the opening, we are giving one lucky reader the chance to win the wand – you’ll need to be a die-hard Harry Potter fan, because this is a very special limited edition prize.

To enter, just tell us in the comments how thrilled you are that the park is finally open – it could be a one word shout-out, or a long essay on how long you waited to finally be able to visit the new park.

To enter, simply leave a comment answering the question posted above.

  • The comment must be left before Thursday June 24 2010 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One Prize Winner will be randomly selected to receive a special edition Wizarding World of Harry Potter magic wand box set.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, and the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.
  • The total value of the prize is approximately $50.
  • Click here for the complete official rules of this giveaway.