(Photo by: Chris Wakefield)
This is really a tale of two parks. We all know that Universal and Disney are two separate parks who target two separate demographics. But there is a shared audience in the Orlando theme park Venn diagram. To be a bit vague and obtuse about it, we could say that Walt Disney World is designed for little kids and their grandparents, and Universal Orlando is designed for thrill seeking teens and twenty something troublemaker’s right? While this does hold some water, we as smart fans know that this is not the entire picture. Universal, recently at least, has been thriving when it comes to getting families, including those with little kids, into their parks. This is thanks to, for the most part, the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. On the other hand, Disney seems to be just fine in only courting little princesses and their grannies. Again, as smart fans, we know that this over generalization of wimpy Disney fans and rambunctious Universal fans is somewhat of a stereotype. But there is a time of year where this stereo type is perpetuated and all but encouraged from both sides. Since there is such a massive contrast between the type of Halloween entertainment at the dueling Orlando parks, lets not take a look at a apples for apples comparison of which is better; instead lets take look at which event gives you the most bang for your buck.
The first thing we should do is examine the atmosphere at each park. One thing that is common for both resorts is that they only go all out in one park. Universal tends to only decorate and hold Halloween Horror Nights at their “Studios” park, and Disney only decorates (for the most part) and holds their Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. There is no mistaking that it is Halloween time at the Kingdom, and this is no more evident than when you approach the parking lot. You are greeted by two gigantic Mickeys shaped pumpkins floating atop the parking lot attendant terminals. This does a great job at setting the atmosphere for Halloween at the Magic Kingdom. Disney also does a great job at decorating Main Street for Halloween, and notice I said Main Street, not the entire park. Disney places several scarecrow like figures in the Main Street hub. These scarecrows are well dressed, and have a lot of personality. From a farmer to a 50’s era debutant, the figures are as close to alive as you could possibly get. Always the great photo opportunity, the scarecrows are playful, and innocent introduction to the Magic Kingdom’s Halloween festivities. Their smiling pumpkin shaped heads are all smiling and not the least bit threatening, well, unless your afraid of pumpkins I guess. These stationary and lifelike temporary citizens of Main Street do a great job at setting the mood for day. But even on this highly themed and well decorated Main Street we run into our first issue Disney, an issue that is the overall crux of Disney’s Halloween problem. The issue we run into however, is that Disney has used these came pumpkin people and the same Mickey shaped pumpkin street light decorations for the at least the last 5 years. Even the castle is bathed in the same lighting scheme year after year. No, not just the same idea or theme, they have literally used the same figures year after year. So if you saw the Main Street Halloween decorations last year, you wont see anything new this year. and yes, i know that Disney turns the lighting down once the sun sets and adds a little bit of a fog to the park, but the lighting is set at the same level as any other night, and the fog is only added to parts of Adventureland and Frontierland.
(Photo by: Chris Wakefield)
The only saving grace for Disney’s well themed, but static and stale Halloween environment is that Universal has almost none, zero, zilch Halloween decorations. Now part of this is because when they have Halloween Horror Nights, each haunted house at the Universal Studios Park is separately themed. There are some good things though about the Halloween atmosphere, or lack thereof, at Universal Studios. When you are making the walk from the Universal parking garage to the front of either park there really is a lack of decorations and atmosphere. Save for maybe the occasional seasonal store front on City Walk, Universal has all but given up on setting the Halloween mood for its guests. However, this does change a little bit when you reach the Studios front gate. Typically, there is a giant poster above the Studios arched entrance promoting Halloween Horror Nights. Ok, well that’s a start. If you are there for a Halloween Horror Nights event, there is a dramatic change in atmosphere once you enter the Studios gate. Universal has almost unintentionally set one of the most ominous and frightening moods I have ever experienced in any haunted house or Halloween themed environment. Once you enter the park for Halloween Horror Nights, you almost immediately know you are not safe. Even with the lack of overhead decorations and blaring Halloween (the film) music, the atmosphere at Universal turns into an eerily quiet and unsettling one. This is the quiet chill that all true thrill seekers look for. There are no monsters jumping in your face, there is no screaming loud grunge rock music behind you warning of your impending doom; there is just silence; the kind of silence that scares you. The kind of silence that you feel in your bones and your body screams begging you to turn back and eat a nice peaceful dinner at the NASCAR Café (on second thought, id rather take a maniac with a chainsaw. Ick!) Even if this is your first time at HHN, for these first few painfully quiet moments, you know the shit is about to hit the fan! That is something that is hard to replicate and produce.
SO WHO DOES IT BETTER?
This is a true and obvious tossup. It really depends on who you are and who you are with. The conclusion is more than obvious. Kids and wimps = Disney. Adults with guts and guys who wear MMA shirts thinking they look tough but really look like goobers = Universal Halloween Horror Nights. For what its worth, and no I don’t wear MMA shirts, I enjoy the atmosphere at Universal. The sameness of the Halloween decorations at magic Kingdom gets old, and kind of depressing. Disney can do better.
Next time we will look at Who Does it Better: Halloween Streetmosphere
(Photo by: Daniel Bennett)
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