Halloween is one of those holidays that lingers, isn't it?
Whether it's all of those decorations that are still out in
the yard (which you'll finally get around to taking down & packing away
later this weekend ... right?) or that bowl of leftover Treat-or-Trick candy that
you've been slowly make disappear one fun-sized bar at a time, while All
Hallows Eve should have been over at the stroke of midnight on October 31st ...
Well, just like that jack-o-lantern that the kids carved (which should have
gone in the trash days go, but is still proudly displayed out on the front
steps), this holiday somehow always manages to hang on a few extra days.
That's certainly what happened this year at the Universal
Orlando Resort. Universal Studios Florida's Halloween Horror Nights went into
extra innings (Just like the Chicago Cubs did in Game 7 of the World Series. Go
Cubs!) with that super-popular after-hours hard ticket seasonal event
continuing on through tonight.
Photo by Jim Hill
Mind you, this was all Matthew's fault. You remember that
hurricane which happened in early October, right? The one that - at one point
-- achieved Category 5 status while it was out in the Atlantic basin, gathering
strength. And when the National Weather Service's computer models showed that
there was a very high probability that Matthew would come barreling out of the
Caribbean and then send torrential rains & hurricane-force winds Central
Florida's way, Universal Orlando officials swung into action.
"Given what this Resort has to do in order to prepare for a
hurricane, we knew that Matthew was going to impact at least two days of this
year's Halloween Horror Nights event," explained Alyson Lundell, the director
of Public Relations for Universal Orlando. "Once we made the decision to close
the parks on Friday, we were in constant communications with our Guest Relations
team. Who were ultimately going to be the front line when it came to dealing
with that closure. We were also fortunate that - out ahead of Matthew - our
call center was properly staffed and ready to deal with all of the people who'd
now be looking to exchange or reschedule their Halloween Horror Nights
Unfortunately, what with both of Universal Orlando's theme
parks & CityWalk closing at 5 p.m. Thursday (so that the Resort's team
members would then have sufficient time to get home safely and begin their own
preparations for Matthew's arrival), that meant that UO's call center also had
to shut down.
Copyright 2016 Universal Orlando. All rights reserved
"But that's what's great about having a partner like Loews.
When we were forced to temporarily close our call center in Orlando, Loews was
able to jump in and help us with a call center that they had out-of-state that
could then assist us with answering guests questions until our own call center
team could get back up and running the following day," Lundell continued.
Speaking of teams ... While first Universal Orlando's call
center and then Loew's call center was helping Halloween Horror Night fans
exchange or reschedule their tickets, out ahead of Matthew's projected arrival,
Universal Studios Florida was a veritable bee hive of activity. As the HHN tech
& décor teams scrambled to dismantle all of this annual event's temporary
stage spaces. Not to mention all of that gruesome décor, those thousands of
carefully constructed props & set pieces which are placed throughout this
theme park to properly set the scene for this seasonal show.
"I definitely have to give credit to our tech & décor
teams -- and honestly almost every discipline or division at UO -- in their
ability to react to this situation," said Patrick Braillard, who's a show
director with Universal Orlando's creative development department. "This was
the first major hurricane to even come close to us in - what? - the last 12
years. And while the theme parks themselves, wherever you go, they're all
hurricane-rated as far as their infrastructure is concerned. But as for all of
that Halloween Horror Night décor, that had to be quickly & carefully
struck and secured. Largely because - as soon as this storm passed - it was
then all going to have to go back up again."
"That's the thing that truly amazed me about the teams here
at Universal Orlando. They were able to strike every temporary element for
Halloween Horror Nights in just 12 hours and were then able to get everything
back in place 24 hours after that," Braillard continued. "Just the fact that
they were able to navigate through the logistics of doing all that, getting our
parks back in full operation so quickly, just amazes me. Our teams really went
above & beyond the call here in terms of trying to figure out how exactly
to do that."
But even so, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew's passing,
Universal Orlando was then facing a huge HHN-related challenge. The 2016
version of this after-hours hard ticket had originally been scheduled to run
for a record 31 days. And since tickets had been on sale since June, there were
now thousands of people who'd been impacted by the Resort's decision to cancel
those two Halloween Horror Nights which had originally been scheduled for
October 6 & 7th.
Using social media (as well as other media outlets in &
around Central Florida like the Sentinel & local television stations),
Universal Orlando quickly got the word out that
that tickets purchased for the October 6th & 7th dates of the event
would be honored on any other night of HHN 26.
"But even then, we knew that we'd really need to do more
here in order to give back to our guests what they'd lost. So pretty early on,
we decided to extend Halloween Horror Nights' run, tack on two extra days to
make up for those that had been lost to Matthew," Alyson stated. "To be honest,
it didn't take all that long to get everybody on the same page and get this
decision made. The only real hold-up - and it was really a brief one - was in
getting this new ticket product online so that people could then actually book
those dates. But this decision was made literally on the heels of that
hurricane passing us by."
Which brings us back to Halloween Horror Nights extending
its run into early November. Which might confound those who work in retail
(Which -- according to what I witnessed in our local Target this past Wednesday
- there was a one day-long post-Halloween sale. Which was then immediately
followed by a store-wide "deck-the-halls" effort in order to get that place
ready for the holidays). But according to Braillard, adding two extra days to
HHN 26's operating schedule is really Christmas-come-early for horror fans.
"This extension now gives them the opportunity to reexamine,
reexperience this event. Do a deeper dive on the nine mazes, five scare zones
and 2 shows that we've staged at Halloween Horror Nights 26," Patrick enthused.
And speaking of shows, given that this year's HHN features
the 25th anniversary edition of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween
Adventure," the very last presentation of this live stage show is sure to be
something that pop culture fans really don't want to miss.
"Traditionally, the final show of the season for Bill &
Ted -- because so many Halloween Horror Night fans have already seen this live
show multiple times over the course of the event, they're now screaming the
lines along with the actors onstage because they now know this show so well -
can get pretty wild," Braillard said. "Especially when you get 2000 people in
the stands doing that."
But as much as Patrick is looking forward to that
Rocky-Horror-meets-rock-concert moment at HHN 26, he and his team are already
hard at work on HHN 27. In fact, just before getting on the phone with me to
talk about Hurricane Matthew's impact on this year's event, Braillard had been
down in the lab with his colleagues at Universal Creative discussing concepts
for mazes for next year's event.
"We are literally knee deep - or should I say neck
deep? - in what's going to be happening
at the 2017 edition of Halloween Horror Nights," Patrick concluded. "That's
truly where our focus is right now."
So while you're spending your week actively looking for excuses
to put off pulling this year's Halloween decorations out of the front yard and
then putting them away, Universal Creative team members are already hard at
work designing mazes & decorative elements for Halloween 2017. Doesn't that
make you feel lazy / ashamed?
Here. Eat a fun-sized Snicker's bar. It'll make you feel
Copyright 2016 Mars, Incorporated. All rights reserved
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post
on Saturday, November 5, 2016
Naive to think that Matthew was solely responsible for Universal extending Horror Nights in Orlando, Jim.
Hollywood Horror Nights advertised Nov 4 and 5 from the very beginning. Orlando does not operate in a vacuum.
They had everything ready to go, waiting to extend the event at a push of a button.
The great attendance they were getting this year would have been reason enough to extend the event; Matthew just pushed it over the edge.