Home » 6 Reasons the Last Night of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2014 was an EPIC Fail

    6 Reasons the Last Night of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2014 was an EPIC Fail

    Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are Lisa’s and Lisa’s alone – we know that there are many conflicting viewpoints on how Universal handled this situation.

    As usual, Universal Orlando put on a spectacular event for Halloween Horror Nights 24. Blending houses and scare zones based on existing movies and television with some of the most creative original content in a long time, the month-long horror fest was exciting, intense, and full of surprises. Well-known brands such as the Walking Dead packed the park with members of the general public, while treats such as the Legendary Truth game, played out during the final weekend, kept super fans coming back over and over again.

    Yet everything changed on the last night of the run, November 1. For the decade that season-long Frequent Fear passes have been available, the last night has always been the time for loyal fans to say goodbye to their favorite actors and experiences. The night always culminates with the last performance of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, in which the show goes off the rails with both planned and improvisational changes in front of a packed house of super fans screaming every line in tandem with the actors.

    On the night of November 1, 2014, however, the streets of Universal Orlando were quiet. Wait times rarely exceeded 20 minutes at even the most popular haunted houses. Much of the time, houses had no wait at all. And that final Bill and Ted show, which normally hits capacity more than an hour prior to show time? It never completely filled. Informal polling performed by people who were there found that the majority of people who did attend were Universal employees, who did not have to purchase a ticket.

    So what went wrong? Why was the last night of the event so dead? The answer to that is both elegantly simple and highly complex. The simple answer is that, for the first time in a decade, Universal made the decision NOT to allow Frequent Fear and Frequent Fear Plus passholders to use their passes on the last night. Instead, they were encouraged to pay the full Florida Resident/Annual Passholder Saturday night event rate of $72.99 to attend on that night. The people voted with their wallets, and elected to stay home or go somewhere else that night.

    Why this resulted in an almost empty park, and why Universal made that decision in the first place, are much more complicated. As a former employee, long-time HHN super fan and Frequent Fear Plus passholder, I can make an educated guess as to what happened. I do not, however, have access to confidential company documents or records, so only Universal can answer definitively. I genuinely hope that they will reach out and make things right with their fans. As they have been silent up to this point, however, here is my best guess at what factors might have been in play that night.

    1. Overconfidence

    Typical Walking Dead Queue

    It is true that Halloween Horror Nights was extraordinarily popular this year with the general public as well as fans. Many nights sold out, with wait times exceeding two hours at many haunted houses. Historically, Saturday nights are among the busiest of all, which is why Saturday night is the only night not included with the Frequent Fear Plus pass. This year appears to have been no exception, with the Saturdays leading up to Halloween bringing huge crowds.

    In numerous telephone and in-person conversations with Guest Services, I and other members of the fan community were repeatedly told that they expected high attendance on that last night, which happened to be a Saturday. We were also told that this projection was largely based on attendance the previous Saturday. It appears that Universal became overconfident about the popularity of this year’s event and its ability to translate into ticket sales for November 1.

    2. Misinformation

    Bayou of Blood

    When we called Guest Services during the day on November 1, hoping for a last-minute addition, we were told repeatedly that Express passes were sold out for that night. Yet people who were in the park that night reported that Express passes were being sold in the holding areas, where day visitors were corralled until the park reopened for the event. According to Facebook reports, this misinformation was repeated even to those who had tickets in hand for that night, resulting in an actual loss of Express pass sales for the evening.

    It is unclear what happened in that situation. Were Guest Services employees instructed to give false information? Did the information they were given conflict with reality? Did Universal artificially cap advance Express sales at an absurdly low number? Was there a genuine mix-up in communication between Guest Services and their higher-ups? Only Universal knows for sure, and they aren’t saying.

    3. Failure to Learn From History

    Bayou Stage

    While it is true that the Saturday before Halloween was extraordinarily busy, a quick peek into Halloween Horror Nights history reveals the reason why. A combination of school holidays in several states and the traditional excitement of the run-up to Halloween has given the week before the holiday the moniker of Hell Week, with the Saturday before Halloween traditionally the busiest night of all.

    However, history also reveals that Halloween night and any nights in November generally sell the fewest tickets of the entire run. Halloween night offers a plethora of entertainment options that are only available that night, while Halloween Horror Nights runs for over a month. The general public usually chooses to visit HHN earlier in the run, and then do something else on Halloween night. In November, Halloween is over and the general public is ready to move on. Ever since Frequent Fear passes were introduced, passholders have been the ones to keep the event popular on Halloween night and beyond.

    Even if Universal did not care to review historical attendance data, they only needed to look at the figures from Halloween night to foresee what would happen on November 1. For the first time ever, Frequent Fear passholders were not admitted on Halloween, which happened to fall on a Friday. However, Frequent Fear Plus passes are valid on Fridays, so people with those passes were allowed in.

    I had a Frequent Fear Plus pass, so I attended on Halloween night. As a long-time passholder, I was able to see the effects of blocking Frequent Fear that night. Always a slow evening, Halloween night was even quieter than usual. We had Express passes, but they were barely needed. We experienced no wait at all for food or drinks at restaurants and carts, easily got into both Bill and Ted and the Rocky Horror Tribute by walking up at show time, and had highly personal interactions with scare actors in both houses and street scare zones.

    As every ticket is scanned for admission, it should have been easy enough for Universal to look at the balance of Frequent Fear Plus passes versus general admission tickets that night, consider the decline in attendance versus Thursday night, when Frequent Fear passes were valid, and calculate the projected effects of blocking all passes on the last night.

    4. Refusal to listen to fans

    Face Off

    In the days leading up to the final night, the fan community flooded Guest Services, both in person and by phone, with repeated pleas to allow passholders to attend on that night. Many long-time passholders and passionate fans repeatedly explained traditional attendance patterns, the reluctance of the general public to attend in November, and even the likely effects of the upcoming cold front. At every turn, we were rebuked, told that we didn’t know what we were talking about, and invited to pay $72.99 to experience the last night. It was as if we couldn’t possibly know what we were talking about, and Universal knew better.

    5. Alienating the most loyal consumer base

    Legendary Truth Gargoyle

    Many in the fan community took Universal’s refusal to provide entry to passholders as a highly personal slap in the face. The company has spent years cultivating a fan culture based around the last night. As few members of the general public attend that night, it has always been structured as a sort of thank you to fans and actors alike, providing the opportunity for the people who love the event the most to give it a proper sendoff. Being denied that opportunity was extremely hurtful, as the outpouring of emotion on the official Halloween Horror Nights Facebook page clearly shows.

    Even worse, Universal continued its tradition of allowing company employees to attend for free. Many people were angry that they had already paid money for season passes and were now being asked to pay more, while employees who had not paid a dime were allowed to enjoy the “last night” traditions.

    Possibly the final straw for many members of the fan community was the decided lack of communication. Traditionally, that last night is added at the last minute, typically within 1-2 days ahead of time. Yet this year, no official word was ever handed down. Guest Services kept saying that an official decision had not yet been reached. So the fans continued to wait and hope. Even on the morning of November 1, in the middle of the misinformation about Express passes being sold out, more than one Guest Services employee stated that no official word had come from the company. So rather than being able to process our disappointment and make other plans, we were kept dangling on a string.

    6. Underestimating the power of social media


    On Friday night, when no official word had come down regarding Saturday night, the fan community began to get nervous. Conversations across social media began to turn to the question of what to do if that night was not added. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, a movement began. Many felt that the company was playing chicken, trying to see how many would cave and purchase tickets. Whether accurate or not, the fans largely felt that if we bought tickets this year, the “last night” tradition would be gone for good. So the fan community fought back. While a few individuals did decide to buy tickets, the vast majority did not. Many flooded the official Halloween Horror Nights Facebook site to explain why. What began as a questioning conversation and discussion between a few fans morphed into a semi-organized boycott that led directly to a vastly empty park.

    Many fans are hurt and angry. Many have lost trust in the company. Not only do Frequent Fear holders attend the event night after night, spending money on food, drinks, and merchandise, but they also serve a public relations function that even the best marketing team cannot match. Frequent Fear holders sing the praises of the event across social media and they act as boots on the ground, bringing members of the general public for their first visit. Some portion of these new attendees convert to passholder status, and begin bringing their own friends and family members.

    What Universal failed to account for, however, is that Frequent Fear holders expect a certain return on investment for their support. While it is true that the last night of the event was never guaranteed, Universal spent a decade cultivating it as a special bonus for the fans. They created an expectation that fundamentally changed the perceived value of purchasing a pass, and then removed it without warning or even communication. One only needs to study the 1985 New Coke debacle to realize that alienating your core group of most loyal fans can give a company a black eye that can take decades to recover from.

    What happens next is for Universal to decide. It is sometimes known as “The Little Park That Could” for its remarkable ability to recover from its disastrous opening day. Fans have shown a willingness to forgive the company for its missteps, provided they are treated with respect. Next year, the last night of the event, which is Halloween night, happens to fall on a Saturday. A simple acknowledgment that the company messed up, combined with an announcement that Halloween night will be officially included in next year’s passes, would go a long way toward restoring trust with the event’s most ardent supporters.