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Disney World's Top Rival May Not Be Ready to Give Up on Halloween

By Rick Munarriz – Sep 14, 2020 at 11:55AM

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Halloween Horror Nights isn't coming to Universal Orlando in its full-blown form, but there are some signs that it could be returning in some fashion.

It's been nearly two months since Comcast's (CMCSA -0.31%) Universal Studios Florida canceled Halloween Horror Nights, the lucrative event that it runs dozens of nights this time of year. The theme park closes early for day guests, only to return as a separately ticketed attraction featuring several walk-through haunted houses and scare zones.

A lot has changed in light of social-distancing norms mandated in the new normal. Full-blown after-hours Halloween events at the Florida theme parks owned by Disney (DIS -1.04%) and Comcast were nixed earlier this summer. This was never in doubt at the original California attractions operated by Disney and Comcast, since those resorts have yet to open, with no time line on a potential resumption since being shuttered in mid-March.

However, Halloween Horror Nights fans have noticed that, at Universal Studios Florida, metal frames have started to go up that the park routinely uses to mark queue entrances to the soundstage scare mazes it operates during Halloween Horror Nights. There's little chance that the iconic event is actually returning in all of its former glory, but the chatter is strong that a bite-sized taste of Halloween Horror Nights could be coming to Universal Studios Florida.

Halloween Horror Nights icon Chance and some of her minions entertaining guests at Halloween Horror Nights.

Image source: Comcast.

Fear madness

COVID-19 cases have been falling sharply since mid-July in Florida, shortly before Comcast called off Halloween Horror Nights. Disney World pulled the plug on Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party a month earlier. It's too late to reverse either decision, but the buzz on social media is that Universal Orlando may offer a couple of the walk-through haunted houses that it was planning for its event during the daytime. Reports of internal casting calls for temporary hires have only fueled the rumor, and the event's official Twitter account has been busy offering cryptic missives over the weekend.

There's a lot to unpack here, and it's just a matter of time before Comcast either confirms the chatter or pops the daydream bubble. Opening scare mazes during the day isn't without precedent. Two years ago, the park did make its Stranger Things walk-through house available to daytime guests for a single day after the event came to a close in early November. If one asks if a daytime event is possible this year, one can literally say that Stranger Things have happened. Universal Studios Hollywood in California has a year-round The Walking Dead attraction available to its visitors. 

There are some big questions that will need to be answered soon if this will happen. Will day guests have to pay extra to experience these haunted attractions? The Stranger Things and Walking Dead experiences were included with regular admission, but will making this an up-charge attraction help keep crowd levels in check? We're still deep in a pandemic, so the number of guests who the park will be able to funnel through these experiences will be limited. 

Will this be a diluted experience from the typical Halloween Horror Nights haunted house? There is definitely a different vibe between a day at Universal Studios Florida and an evening at Halloween Horror Nights. You don't want unsuspecting families to get into something that they didn't realize would be as intense as some of the best that Halloween Horror Nights has to offer. 

Financially speaking, this would cause an uptick in visits to Universal Orlando, but obviously, it will fall well short of the typical spike. Comcast makes a lot of money selling tickets, access to expedited queues, VIP tours, themed libations, and other keepsakes that don't translate to a daytime experience.

However, for an industry that's trying to lose less money than it would if the parks weren't open -- in the middle of a pandemic and recession -- it's the smart thing to do if Comcast can pull this off safely. Bring on the jump scares.  

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2020 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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