Universal Halloween Horror Nights Vs. The 13th Gate- Haunted Review Showdown

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

Recently we took a trip to Orlando. We decided to try out the Halloween event at Universal Studios: Halloween Horror Nights. Then, tonight we checked out Baton Rouge’s own 13th Gate. I was absolutely stunned at how much our own local haunted attraction blew Universal out of the water- so I decided to do a side by side review.

First off, pricing.

Universal’s event can be as cheap as around $30 a person if you are both buying it as an add on to a daytime park ticket AND going on an off-peak night. Of course that price is deceptive because you then have to pay $16 for parking. Prices go up from there considerably if it is a busier night or if you aren’t also doing one of their parks during the day. They have some prices for annual pass holders and Florida residents but I didn’t look into that in detail (since none of that impacted me). They also sell expensive express passes and EVEN MORE expensive VIP tickets. Oh and they sell a boat load of alcohol at insane prices. Far more expensive alcohol than the prices for the same beer at Disney..  And they are shoving a ton of people into the event. We were there on an off peak night and it was pretty crowded. So you would think they would have plenty of budget to make for a very impressive event.

13th Gate actually has two attractions; the 13th gate as well as necropolis- a cemetery themed area. The ordinary combo tickets for both attractions are $35 and they offer VIP skip the line passes for both attractions for $60 ($55 if you buy in advance online). The night we were there they had a blood donation bus and were offering $5 discounts to anyone who donated.  And while they get pretty busy- they obviously don’t see the sheer volume of people universal does nor are they shilling $10-$15 alcoholic beverages. So you would think they wouldn’t be able to outdo a mega park because of budget reasons but you would be very very wrong.

Now the walk throughs areas..

At Halloween Horror Nights, there were eight houses to walk through. Because lines started to build to insane levels, we only made it through five of them- and we selected the five I had read the best reviews about. The houses we made it to were themed to Walking Dead, a legend about a woman who killed her children, Resident Evil, American Werewolf in London, and Evil Dead. The themes were pretty well executed- especially in the Resident Evil and American Werewolf houses. However, the houses were short (well under 5 minutes each) and by the time we did Evil Dead the line was topping an hour per house. (I hear it can get to being a 2 hour+ line on some days and that sounds horrid) And they load you in extremely tightly packed so that you feel a bit like you are in an ant farm- and as a result miss at least half but probably more of the scares because you see them jump at people in front of you. And at times the houses felt a little sparse monster population wise. As well as very predictable, I am not sure there were really any scares in their houses that didn’t end up being super easy to anticipate.

Thirteenth Gate had quite a bit of a line but nothing too unbearable- and you just have to wait in line twice. Once for the gate and once for necropolis. The attractions are pretty long. I think (I didn’t time it) around 30 minutes + for the gate and 20 + for Necropolis. And I had thought before I went there that universal had done great set dressing. Now I know that Universal did okay set dressing. This was great set dressing. From the super realistic swamp area, to the underwater world, to the amazingly real feeling cemetery (our friend went “this is a stupid question, but did this used to be a real cemetery?”) the sets were all breath-taking in their details. The makeup and costuming also completely destroyed how impressed I had been by that at Universal. There were actors done to look like they were set pieces with such detail that it was hard to tell unless you happened to see them come at someone. The actor enthusiasm was a huge part of what made the event so much better than Halloween Horror Nights. The acting was far better and the areas were much more densely populated. I also really preferred their more natural approach to universal’s obnoxious canned screams with actors sort of lip syncing. I really enjoyed the non shock type characters- the ones who talked to you like the lady vampire commenting on your neck or the women attempting to attract you in the Jack the Ripper area. And best of all, while I wasn’t screaming (I don’t scare easy), they managed to make me jump with some very inventive scare tactics. Coming at you from above is genius! And the people who did scare easy behind and in front of us were nearly in tears at points.

The most I wanted to get out of an area fast because it gave me the heebie jebbies was the doll room.. And my least favorite part was squeezing through the giant air bags because I couldn’t help but think about all the germs on all the people who walked through in front of me…  My single favorite area in the 13th gate side of it was easily the Jack the Ripper zone. And I really loved necropolis- likely because of a weakness I have for vampires.

Now the other stuff.

One thing that made me not as annoyed with Halloween Horror Nights despite the lack luster houses was the free- roaming zombies in the park. They were easily better at shocking you than anything in the houses and my only real jump moment there was when one of them caught me by surprise. Plus it was awesome seeing them sneak up on people through the crowd. They also had a quite good rocky horror picture show musical tribute which offered a nice way to get off our feet after hours of line waiting. And really, one of the big benefits is the open rides. We didn’t ride the rip ridin’ roller coaster since it got stuck with people on it for hours the night before, but we did enjoy checking out the other rides since we weren’t doing a day ticket at that park. Not everything was open but most of the major attractions were. Now the big general terrible downside, people were drunk. Really drunk. Universal sold alcohol in all the lines and a lot of it. They had beer stands and women in … sexy zombie nurse??.. outfits selling some blood bag jello shot-esque abomination everywhere. It made for an obnoxious unruly crowd.

We unfortunately missed the fire show at Necropolis- we were in the 13th gate half of the attraction during it.. There was some line entertainment with actors roaming the queue which Universal lacked, but the real excitement was all inside. The lack of drunken asses was a huge plus after our experience at Halloween Horror Nights.

All in all- my total feelings are basically this:

FOR SHAME UNIVERSAL! FOR SHAME! You have so much money to spend and so many resources at your disposable and you got the pants beaten off you by the thirteenth gate. If it wasn’t for the rides, your event would have just left me annoyed at having paid to go to it. FOR SHAME!

And thirteenth gate, you are pretty astoundingly well done. I may not have been screaming but I had a blast.