Reflections of Fear is the theme for this year's haunted event. The preview event last week showcased what Universal does best every year: creating incredibly detailed themed environments and impressive storylines that play into the fears of guests.
Just ask Andrea Rodriguez of Nassal, who joined me at the event. Somehow she seemed to attract all the monsters and ghouls, all night long.
There wasn't any one house that really stood out for me. I thought they were all meticulously crafted...even the "recycled" houses from years past were given a fresh overhaul and seemed new. The signature house (Reflections of Fear) brought the parks' detailed website to life, but my group noticed that the event's icon, Bloody Mary, made an appearance in several of the houses. Has anyone been able to find her, or references to her, in all of the houses?
Other highlights include the clever scarezones this year, including the Skool area, which has hundreds of jack-o-lanterns that glow, until "Bloody Mary" is whispered three times, and they all extinguish simultaneously. Be sure to wait for it. Also, at the end of the night, the "Principal" gathers all of the "Skool" children and the board the "Skool" bus to "leave" for the night. It's those little touches that make a difference.
The park is also offering text message updates and games you can play while waiting in line, as well as a supposedly "secret" interactive game that we didn't have time to investigate.
Finally, I really enjoyed talking with HHN creative mastermind TJ Mannarino, who consistently outdoes himself every year. Did you know he came to Universal to work on Nickelodeon productions like Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple? I'm not sure which is more impressive, to be the genius behind HHN, or to have helped bring the Shrine of the Silver Monkey to life...