How to Do Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights Without Express Pass

HEY Y’ALL IT’S SPOOKY SEASON (and I finally have a new blog post…)!

It’s not only spooky season but after the longest two years ever, Halloween Horror Nights is back at Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood! I spent the first weekend of the event staying on-site and checking both nights at Universal Orlando – it was fantastic. This is not a year to miss.

And it’s not one that many are missing – both of the first two nights sold out, and they had to temporarily stop selling frequent fear passes. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando is back and demand – meaning crowds – is higher than ever.

With higher crowds comes what you’d expect to be higher wait times and less of a chance of doing everything you want to do in a single night. That certainly does complicate things, but I’m here to help you do as much as possible – and do it without paying for express passes or an RIP (VIP) tour for the night.

So you want to do all ten houses in a single night?

First tip: Make sure you daytime admission to the Universal Studios park and then do stay-and-scream. If you have a Universal annual pass, you’re set. If not, you need a day ticket – it’s a lot cheaper to add this on to your HHN ticket than express and you can make a whole day out of it (get the rides done early and not waste time on them during the event).

What exactly is Stay-And-Scream?

Stay And Scream is simply the term Universal uses for the group of guests who are in the park during the day, at the time of park closing, and who also have HHN event tickets that night. Those guests don’t have to leave the park when the park closes, and instead go to a holding area while security clears out the park. The perk of this is these holding areas open up to house queues and the houses themselves earlier than the front gate.

There are three stay and scream holding areas for 2021 (which is one more than in the past):

  • Finnegan’s Bar / New York area
  • Duff Bar / Simpsons area
  • Central Park / Kid Zone area

Each of the three holding areas opens up to a specific house or houses that open early, before the event start time. I’m confident in saying that doing stay and scream in any area will allow you to do at least 2 houses before HHN officially starts at 6:30 pm, if not more.

Finnegan’s / New York is at the front of the park, and will open up to houses like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and possibly others. They are subject to change, and could be 1 or more than 1, depending on the night (it depends on which house is ready, when team members are in place, etc. and these are the popular houses up front).

Duff Bar / Simpsons opens up to the SCarey house early by Men In Black, and then you can immediately go join the queue for Wicked Growth followed by Puppet Theater in the same Men In Black back area.

Central Park / Kid Zone opens up to Beetlejuice and Haunting of Hill House houses early, both opening at the same time and both being very popular (and phenomenal) houses. These two houses are over by E.T. and the (former) Barney show / new DreamWorks character experience.

How do you “do” Stay And Scream?

The straightforward answer to this: you scan in with your event ticket when the holding areas open around 4 pm or slightly before at the entrance. You’ll see barricades and tents start to go up around 3 pm to mark off the holding areas and the entry points for each. Plus, you’ll see lines start form as early as 3:30 pm (or potentially even earlier on busier nights).

Finnegan’s / New York area is going to scan in behind the Finnegan’s bar, on the street that leads to the Christmas store and Transformers. And Simpsons and Central Park areas will both scan in at the entrance to Central Park across from the La Bamba restaurant and NBC Media Center (you’ll immediately split off into the two separate holding areas depending on your choice).

How do you “do” Stay And Scream the best way though?

Okay, so this is more complicated and it ultimately comes down to what houses you want to do. You can go multiple nights and do each holding area a different night, and get most if not all the houses done by doing them all early. That method is simple enough – I’d recommend getting in line to scan in to the holding area around 3:30-3:45 pm so you’re towards the front and then you wait to be let in (see timing below).

Now, if you only have one or a couple nights to go to HHN, my recommendation for you or for anyone who just wants to try to do all the houses in a single night is to start in the Simpsons / Duff Bar area and start in the back and work your way forward.

Starting in the back has a few benefits:

  • First, there’s 3 houses you can easily have done back there before event start time (I tested this on night 2 of 2021 and it was a breeze). It’s the most houses to do in the shortest time of all three holding areas.
  • Starting in the very back and working your way forward all night means you’re doing the opposite of everyone else, especially those coming in the front gate at 6:30 or after, and will help keep your waits as low as possible. You’ll still wait as you work your way to the front of the park, but monitoring wait times and being strategic can help reduce that for sure.
  • Finally, while you also have this at Finnegan’s, you have access to a full bar at Duff inside the holding area and it’s right there at the front of the line that will start to form (not the case at Finnegan’s which is inside). Keep your pre-game going and build up that liquid courage!

Now it’s time for a break down…

To make things as simple as possible, I’m going to end with my own timeline breakdown to show how things played out for me on nights 1 and 2 of HHN 2021.

Friday, September 3rd (opening night)

  • 3:30 pm – got in line at entrance to Simpsons / Kid Zone holding area
  • 4:00 pm – started scanning into holding area, scanned in right away
    • Split off to the Kid Zone (Beetlejuice/Hill House) area for tonight
    • Waited at the Back to the Future car spot where Central Park ends
  • 5:00 pm – moved further into Kid Zone area, over by Animal Actors stage
    • It started to pour down rain and we all got soaked…
  • 5:45 pm – moved into queues for Beetlejuice and Hill House (choose one)
    • I chose Beetlejuice first, knowing he’d be popular
  • 6:00 pm – started going into Beetlejuice, and went through the house
  • 6:10 pm – exited Beetlejuice house and went straight over to the Hill House queue
    • Hill House queue was a posted 45 minute wait (it wasn’t)
  • 6:30 pm – went through Hill House house (at event start time)

Due to the rain and being absolutely drenched, I chose not to do any more houses and ended up leaving fairly early Friday night. Even so, I got two major houses done so I was happy!

Saturday, September 4th (my recommended approach)

  • 3:45 pm – got in line at entrance to Simpsons / Kid Zone holding area
    • I got in line a bit later, but was at roughly the same spot as Friday night
  • 4:00 pm – started scanning into holding area, scanned in right away
    • Split off to the Simpsons / Duff Bar area tonight, for the SCarey house
    • Stopped at the same Back to the Future car spot for a moment again, but on the other side of barricades this time for the other holding area
  • 4:15 pm – moved into Simpsons land and stopped up next to Duff bar (they move this queue up further earlier since you’re going further back, and they have that bar side already roped off)
  • 5:45 pm – moved into the queue for SCarey by Men In Black
  • 5:50 pm – went through SCarey house
  • 5:55 pm – exited SCarey house and got in line immediately for Wicked Growth house
  • 6:10 pm – went through Wicked Growth house (it opened at 6, queue was open before then)
  • 6:15 pm – got in line immediately for Puppet Theater house
  • 6:25 pm – went through Puppet Theater house
  • 6:30 pm – exited Puppet Theater house at event start time, three houses done!

After that on Saturday, I checked the house wait times on the Universal app. I saw Case Files Unearthed was the lowest at 15-20 minutes, so I made my way there (it’s over on Hollywood street by Bourne Stuntacular so it was a straight path from Simpsons too). It was up to 45 minutes posted wait by the time I got there, but it was more like 30 actual.

By just after 7 pm, I had four houses done Saturday night (plus two the previous night). I took a break to eat some pizza fries (don’t forget to eat the food, it’s so so so good this year!) and catch my breath / sit down after that whole experience at this point. I then went on to Revenge of the Tooth Fairy, followed by Icons Captured right after that. Wait times for both were around 30 minutes actual wait, despite posted waits being more. I did all that before 9 pm, when I headed back to the Fear Factor stadium to see the new Halloween Nightmare Fuel show – also highly recommended. After that show I ended, I headed out for the night at 10:30 pm.

And with that, I had 8 of 10 houses done – 6 in one night. I could have easily done the others had I wanted or needed to, especially on a 2 am close night (which most nights are). I was especially pleased to see actual wait times so low even on a sold out night. It gives me hope that the rest of the event will be like that – and shoutout to the House Ops team members for managing the queues so well!

I’ll be back for the second weekend of HHN and plenty more nights after that through the season, and I’ll be updating this post with more timelines below as I go. Follow along on my Instagram for stories live at the event too and drop any questions on my latest HHN posts on my IG feed.


Thanks for reading! I'm an avid theme park fan, frequenting Disney World and Universal as an Orlando resident. I love sharing the latest news and tips to help you make the most of your next theme park vacation on a budget!