Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida and HowlOScream at Busch Gardens Tampa are both well-rounded events, with haunted houses, scare zones, and shows. Out of all that's going on, the haunted houses are the highlight for most people, including me.
Sometimes, who you're behind in the line can make the difference between a great haunted house experience and a pointless one. I was reminded of that yesterday, when the couple who I was behind constantly stopped in the house and stared as though in a trance in almost every room. Obviously, this threw off the scareactors and ruined the experience for everyone immediately behind them because there were no scares and we missed most of the special effects.
Luckily, I go to the Halloween events several times in the course of the year, so my bad walk-throughs are balanced out by good ones. If you only get to go once, who you're behind can mean the difference between a great event and a waste of money.
Often I can recognize potential problems while standing in line. When I do, I simply let a few people go ahead of me to build a buffer. You can't always tell, but here are some warning signs to watch out for:
1) Don't get behind loud, unruly, obnoxious drunks. If they're acting that way in the line, they're doing to do it in the house, too. Usually this manifests itself in touching everything, verbally (and sometimes physically) harassing the scareactors, and sometimes even going behind the scenery. I guarantee you won't get any scares, although sometimes you have the amusement of seeing escorted out by Security.
2) Don't get behind "macho" types. Like drunks, these types like to point out and harass the scareactors to prove their dubious bravery. Apparently they don't realize that every knows it's all fake, but we want to enjoy it so we use suspension of disbelief the same way we do at the movies. Finding every scareactor before they can do their job shows that you're an idiot, not a manly man.
3) Don't get behind small children. Every year, some idiot parents bring small, terrified children to the event. Sure, there are some young kids who can handle it, but they're in the minority. More often, if you get behind a family with small children, your whole walk-through will be spend watching the kid cry and scream and freak out while their parents try to force them through.
If you're lucky, the parents might take the kid out through an emergency exit, but that's not common. More often, it's a textbook case of child abuse as they insist the child tough it out because they paid for a ticket and they're darn well going to get their money's worth.
4) Don't get behind a gaggle of giggly teen girls. Teenage girls have a penchant for over-exaggerating their reactions to the scares. That's fine if they don't impact the guests around them, but more often than not they'll run backwards and slam into you and crush your feet several times throughout the house.
I learned this the hard way when a group trampled my foot and left it sore for the rest of the season one year. Now I avoid such groups, and I also carry a water bottle and one of those tiny umbrellas at all times. I make sure one of those implements is in my hands, with the end facing forward, if I get stuck behind one of those groups. They hit the end before they make contact with my body, and once it jabs the small of their backs, they miraculously can contain their terror enough to never come near it again.
5) Don't get stuck behind a clingy female or a terrified train. Most scareactors go after the people from whom they'll get the biggest reaction. Unfortunately, if you're behind a girl whose face is buried in her boyfriend's shoulder or a train of people clinging desperately to each other, you'll end up watching all the scares happen right in front of you instead of getting any yourself.
It's an interesting spectator sport if you go to the event a lot, but it sucks if it happens during your one and only visit of the season. It's avoidable if you spot what's happening before you go into the house and hang back to let a few braver types get in front of you.
You can't always predict how the people in front of you will react when they get into the haunted houses, but you'll see a few clues. If you recognize any of the five types discussed in this article, make sure you're not behind them and you'll have a much better time.