For $19 at Reign of Terror, you can enjoy a 25-minute Halloween horror experience. For $59+ at Halloween Horror Nights, you’ll get…just about the same.
An ongoing concern at Hollywood Gothique is avoiding apples-or-oranges comparisons – though the analogy would be more on-point if it were phrased “single-apple-to-barrel-of-apples.” How can one weigh the relative merits of a stand-alone attraction like The Reign of Terror Haunted House against a theme park like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood? This is why we make a distinction between theme parks and haunted houses: the difference between the two is so vast that any comparison would seem obviously unfair – weighted in favor of theme parks, with their myriad mazes, rides, and shows.
However, our recent experience with lines at Universal Studios Hollywood has us wondering whether the advantage always is on the side of the theme parks. In practical terms – say, wait times, ticket prices, and quantity and quality of entertainment – how do Halloween Horror Nights and Reign of Terror stack up? Let’s take a look at the numbers…
First, how much do they cost, and what do they offer?
- Reign of Terror offers a single walk-through; regular admission is $19.
- Hallow Horror Nights offers seven mazes, a tram tour, a few scare zones, four rides, and some shows; general admission starts $59 but is higher on most nights, ranging from $64 to $89.
Halloween Horror Nights costs at least three times as much, but in theory, it sounds as if it offers more than three times the entertainment value, making it worth the ticket price. However, this perception is misleading for two reasons:
- Although Reign of Terror is a single walk-through, it is actually divided into eight sections, so it’s comparable to eight mini-mazes – with the advantage of waiting in line only once.
- Because of long wait times at Halloween Horror Nights, it is impossible to see all the attractions on the Universal lot with a general admission ticket. Depending on luck and which attractions one is willing to wait for, five mazes is about the maximum that one can expect to see.
Thus, realistically, it is possible to enjoy:
- Eight mazes at Reign of Terror for $19
- Five mazes at Halloween Horror Nights for $59.
Suddenly, Universal’s numbers no longer look so favorable.
Of course, it’s not just the number of mazes that counts; it’s how long they last. Reign of Terror lasts 20-25 minutes; Universal’s mazes run four minutes or so. So walking through five mazes at Universal will take 20 minutes – the low-end of Reign of Terror’s estimated length. To be fair, let’s assume that variation in walking speeds results in both events offering 25 minutes of walk-through scares. In terms of cost per minute that works out to:
- Reign of Terror: $0.76 per minute
- Halloween Horror Nights: $2.36 per minute
Reign of Terror costs one-third as much per minute, making it the better deal. The numbers look even worse for Universal if one factors in the $89 general admission price on peak nights, which works out to $3.56 per minute.
To be fair, Halloween Horror Nights also has scare zones, which one can experience without waiting in line, and the Terror Tram, which is quite a bit longer than the mazes. If one managed to squeeze in these attractions, it would nudge the numbers in Universal’s direction, but even doubling the entertainment time would not be enough: to match the minutes-per-dollar ratio of Reign of Terror, Universal would have to offer 75 minutes or more of actual scares (as opposed to walking around or waiting in line). Even at a very generous estimate, this is so unlikely as to be virtually impossible.
So in terms of cost-to-benefit ratio, regular admission at Reign of Terror offers more screams for your buck than Halloween Horror Nights.
One could argue that minutes-per-dollar fails to tell the whole story, because quality is more important than quality, but in fact Reign of Terror’s Victorian haunted mansion offers a simulated environment as convincing as anything at Halloween Horror Nights, making qualitative distinctions somewhat nebulous. In addition, Reign of Terror sends visitors through in small groups, avoiding the continuous conga line approach and increasing the intimate quality of its scares.
One might also argue that, whatever the cost per scare, Halloween Horror Nights is such a huge event that it’s worth the money. We certainly do not disagree: it is worth the money. But is it worth the wait?
At Halloween Horror Nights, general admission wait times can exceed two hours; some go up to 140 minutes. Compare that to the Reign of Terror, where regular admission wait times reach 90 minutes during the peak nights (the last weekend of October and Halloween Night).
That doesn’t sound like a huge discrepancy until one factors in the actual length of the mazes:
- At Reign of Terror, guests spend 90 minutes waiting in line to walk through a maze for 25 minutes.
- At Halloween Horror Nights guests can spend up to 140 minutes waiting in line to walk through a maze for 5 minutes.
If we runs these numbers to calculate the ratio of time waiting in line versus time walking through the maze, we get these results:
- Reign of Terror – 18:5
- Universal – 140:5
The waiting-to-walking ratio at Halloween Horror Nights can be nearly eight times more than that at Reign of Terror. To put it another way:
- Guests at Reign of Terror wait in line 3.6 minutes for every one minute they walk through the maze.
- Guests at Halloween Horror Nights can wait in line for up to 28 minutes for every minute they walk through the maze (depending on the maze and when they get in line).
That’s a huge difference.
In addition, waiting in line at Reign of Terror is half the fun; the queue area is almost a maze in itself, loaded with decorations and mechanical effects that set the scene for what happens inside. (Universal does something similar with their Walking Dead attraction – the one place where the wait to get in is not totally enervating.)
To be fair, not every line at Halloween Horror Nights exceeds two hours. With luck, it is possible to get into some mazes after waiting less than an hour – maybe only 30 minutes during the early admission time from 6pm to 7pm. But if you’re planning to go to Halloween Horror Nights to see the Freddy vs Jason maze, you should ask yourself whether it’s worth waiting over two hours for a five-minute experience, as opposed to waiting 90 minutes at Reign of Terror for a 25-minute experience.
Needless to say, fast-pass admission changes the calculations, but only by so much. A $30 VIP Express ticket at Reign of Terror cuts the wait down to one-third – say, half-an hour on busy nights. This gives us the following ratios:
- Waiting-to-Walking – 1.2:1.
- Dollars-to-Minutes – 1.2:1.
Not bad! How does Halloween Horror Nights compare? Their front-of-the-line ticket goes for $209 – nearly seven times as much as Reign of Terror’s. Is it possible to get seven times as much entertainment?
Well, maybe. To enjoy seven times as much entertainment as compared to the Reign of Terror’s 25-minute length, tourists at Universal Studios Hollywood would need to spend 175 minutes – nearly three hours – doing fun stuff. With the park open seven hours (eight, counting early entry at 6pm), this seems like a rather tight schedule; we think that 90-120 minutes actually experiencing mazes, rides, shows, scare zones, and the Terror Tram Tour is more likely.
Which is worth it, because Halloween Horror Nights is amazing! Our point is not to talk you out of going.
Rather, our point is that, although the massive scope of a theme park like Halloween Horror Nights seems to dwarf that of a stand-alone haunt, Reign of Terror is actually surprisingly competitive when one considers the time spent actually being scared versus (1) the price of admission and (2) the time spent waiting in line.
In the final analysis, not only does Reign of Terror provide good value for your dollar; for general admission guests, it provides as many minutes of actual scare time as Halloween Horror Nights offers for over three times the cost.