Let’s just get this out of the way: When it comes to the battle between Halloween and the holiday season, I will choose the latter every single time. I mean, yeah, pumpkin everything and watching Practical Magic on repeat sounds like a grand old time. But if given the choice between that and decking the halls, I know where I stand.

That being said, I have always wanted to be more into Halloween than I am. Sure, I get terrified of scary movies, and the furthest I’ve ever gotten with spooky season decorating is getting a few orange pillowcases. Still, I’ve always envied those who really get into the spirit of the (spookier) season. And it’s because of that that I was able to pump myself up enough to do a Halloween rite of passage that I’ve always been too scared to do — Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando.

The annual theme park event features several incredibly immersive houses, as well as scare zones, Halloween entertainment, and themed treats. While Disney World offers its own family-friendly Halloween party, Universal’s option is far more intense, with lots of frights and hardcore theming. And, as someone who often has to sleep with the lights on after watching a moderately scary movie, the idea of a night full of scares was a lot for me to comprehend.

However, I’m here to say that I not only survived it, but I actually truly loved my first Halloween Horror Nights event. So, I’m sharing tips for my fellow scaredy cats who want to try out the event for themselves next year.

1. Research the houses ahead of time.

Each year, Halloween Horror Nights features a variety of different haunted houses, including some that are original and others based on known IPs. For example, this year’s event featured houses based on Strangers Things and Exorcist: Believer, as well as original houses like Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate, and YETI: Campground Kills.

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While I felt comfortable enough with the story behind Stranger Things that I knew what to expect, the rest of the houses I wasn’t as sure about. I ended up researching everything in advance, even watching videos on YouTube of others’ experiences so that I had an idea of what to look out for. While this might not work for those who want it to be a total surprise, it helped me get a better idea of where I could expect the biggest scares, so it ended up being more fun than totally frightening.

2. Stay on the sidewalks for the scare zones.

A major part of the event is the scare zones, which are specific themed areas of the parks where actors can get close to you and try to spook you. There’s lots of fog, and in the darkness, it can be especially unsettling.

While I got braver with the scare zones as the night went on, I was definitely nervous to explore them at first to get from each area of the park. I found that sticking to the sidewalks helped to lessen the scares, as most of the actors will stay off of them as you’re passing through.

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3. Buy the Express Pass.

This is advice for anyone going to Halloween Horror Nights, scaredy cat or not: Buy the Express Pass. For an additional cost, the Express Pass allows you to skip each of the regular lines for the haunted houses once. It’s not cheap — Express Pass can cost anywhere from $189.99 to $249.99, and that’s on top of the cost of your ticket.

However, if you plan on going into multiple houses, it can absolutely be worth it. I went on a random weekday night in early September, and even then, lines for each of the houses were reaching up to two hours. Purchasing Express Pass allowed me to go into eight of the 10 houses (I purposefully skipped two) at a leisurely pace, with plenty of extra time to eat, drink, and enjoy the entertainment for the night. We were even able to use the Express Pass to ride a few rides that were available as part of the event.

Plus, from a scaredy cat perspective, it helped keep my anxiety way lower. Instead of building up anticipation after two hours of waiting in line, we could walk in with a minimal wait.

4. Put the brave(r) members of your group first.

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I highly recommend going to the event with friends or family who have been before, or at least those who aren’t as scared of you. That’s what I did, and it ended up making my scares a lot easier.

Once you get inside the houses, you’ll quickly learn that there’s hardly any space between you and the people in front of you as you walk through. If you want to get seriously scared, leave a little bit of space. However, if you want to save yourself on the biggest frights, keep an eye on how the group in front of you is doing. I saved myself from a few major scares by using the group in front of me as guinea pigs to see exactly where someone would pop out.

5. Don’t forget the rules.

Whenever you find yourself getting scared, the most important thing is to not forget the rules: the performers cannot touch you. They can get close to you, they can try their best to scare you, but under no circumstance can they touch you.

During some of my scarier scare zone and haunted house moments, this is the mantra I kept repeating in my head, and it assured my pesky anxiety that I was never in any actual danger.

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6. Enjoy the other offerings of the night.

The silver lining for scaredy cats is that haunted houses and scare zones aren’t the only things offered at Halloween Horror Nights. While I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the haunted houses, my favorite part of the night may have taken place at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where there was a special Death Eaters experience for the event.

Whether you need a break or want to stop going into the houses full stop, take the time to enjoy some of the other things the event has to offer — and trust this scaredy cat… you’ll have a blast.

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