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Nightmare time in Orlando

LUCKY enough to be going to Universal Studios this season? You're in for a scream, says Siobhan Norton

The New York streets were crowded, as usual. People hurried past – groups of revellers heading out for the night, workers bustling past, tourists exclaiming at everything they saw.

In the gathering darkness, as mist swirled through the streets, I was quite content to be one of those tourists, sauntering past Finnegan's Bar, snapping pictures. But when I turned to point something out to my companion, he was gone. In his place, a zombie leered. And I nearly dropped my camera.

This was no ordinary New York, but New York in Universal Studios, Florida. I had left the sun-scorched theme park only hours before, and on my return for one of its Halloween Horror Nights, I found it transformed.

Now roaming the streets were chainsaw-wielding prison escapees, blood-stained nurses and any number of monsters.

There was no escape by running into shops or bars either – if you'd been spotted as a target, these ghouls followed relentlessly. So much so, I nearly found myself falling into a bin when cornered and threatened with a very realistic chainsaw. Why my companions, obviously, fell about laughing.

If the streets were scary, the haunted houses were blood-curdling. There are seven in all, each with a theme, and some very committed actors. Fans of The Walking Dead, on passing the bunny-slippered girl standing at the entrance, will know what’s in store.

Silent Hill is an ash-strewn wilderness where all the laws of nature have been broken.

Alice Cooper's Welcome to my Nightmare is a wild journey through the head of the goth god. House of Horror is a pitch-black escapade, with the true horrors only revealed in flashes of lightning.

Gothic is a walk-through a castle where gargoyles come to life, and effects make you believe you are walking from ground floor to its turrets in a mind-bending way. Penn & Teller's Naked Las Vegas is a radioactive-coloured world.

Dead End (my favourite) is the house where nothing scary actually happened. Until, by the end, all your nightmares rolled into one.

So far, so utterly terrifying. The actors are fantastic in every house and don't seem to get jaded with jumping out at queues of people every 30 seconds or so for the entirety of their shift.

Shows, including the 20-Penny Circus and Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure, provide some respite for your increasingly hoarse throat.

As do the food stalls, shops and bars. Sitting over a cool beer in Finnegan's, I was finally able to let my guard down, and graciously accept my ‘biggest screamer' award from my chuckling cohorts.

I even made a crack about blood as I splodged ketchup on my chips. Until I saw that the hand reaching out to steal one looked a bit pale.

It belonged to yet another grinning zombie, and the screams started afresh.

Universal's motto for Halloween Horror Nights is 'Once You're Inside, There is No Way Out'. Mine is once you're inside, never let your guard down.

And I dare you not to scream.

THE LOWDOWN:

• Get your Halloween Horror Nights Frequent Fear Pass for only €68, which lets you explore up to 15 nights of Halloween Horror Nights so you can relive the horror again and again (select dates apply).

• Or why not experience everything that Universal has to offer for 14 consecutive days plus enjoy admission on select dates to the Halloween event from €168. See attractionticketsdirect.ie for more info.

• Aer Lingus operates three times weekly to Orlando (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). Fares from €279 each way. aerlingus.com


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