First Trip Report! I will do my best to avoid any real spoilers.
Last night I was given the great opportunity to experience HHN during the employee preview (thanks to doublestufforeo). There was a rather large turn out for the event, but I still managed to squeeze in a walk through of every house at least once, three of them I got in twice. A couple of the houses were rather bland, but 4 of them immediately stand out as being some of the best houses I've seen.
Can't talk about the attractions without first giving my input on the event itself. Universal once again managed to give every inch of the park an amazing atmosphere that just oozes terror. They cut back a bit on fog this year as compared to last, but it doesn't really detract much from anything. The level of detail they put into everything is Universal's usual extravagance with sets and special effects that left my jaw on the floor. This was only the employee preview though so some of the effects in some houses and scarezones were not working yet, but even with these small detraction, my overall opinion of the event is that it is better than last year and I can't wait for my next visit.
Now, onto the houses. I will list them in the order I visited them.
Winter's Night is one of the three houses in the soundstages and right off the bat it blows you away. Walking in you have an amazingly beautiful set showing the entrance of the cemetary, also sporting a real snow maker (not the soap stuff you get everywhere). This house is gorgeous all around with some of the best set designs this year. It might not have the best overall scares, but it is worth checking out for the sets alone. Warning, it is cold in there! I think they have it set around 55 degrees. Not something you'd want to view if you are soaking from rain or another attraction. Overall this is one of my top 4 for the event and earns a solid 8/10.
Nightingales is another of the three houses in the soundstages, with the last one being The Thing. This house is amazing. Everything is pretty much flawless with some really effective scares, brilliant set design, and a few awesome special effects. This house throws you directly into the trenches of WWI, and I mean it really feels like you are there. I don't want to say much more about this house as this is probably going to be the underdog hit of the event and I would hate to spoil it. A perfect 10/10.
The Thing really disappointed me. How can you take an idea as awesome and creative as The Thing and create something so bland and somewhat boring? The sets are rather boring minus the entrance which uses a snow maker just like Winter's Night, and the space ship which only takes like 2 minutes to walk through. Also the ending of it is very anticlimactic. I really feel they dropped the ball with this one. One of the weakest of the event 4/10.
Holidays of Horror:
The comedy maze for this year, Holidays of Horror, is quite effective at giving comedy, or at least I laughed a lot through it. The idea is great and quite humorous in and of itself, but I wish it had been explored better, having only a small room for each of the holidays presented and no real scares to be found. I can't help but say this is the event's other weak maze, 4/10.
Awesome set designs and great material to work off of made this one a very fun house. I am a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe, so walking through these scenes and trying to figure out which scene eluded to which of his stories was a lot of fun. Sadly this maze feels rather short and doesn't include many of his works, so the potential is there, but it falls just short of glory 7/10.
The In Between:
As far as 3D mazes go, this is a good one. Very disorienting and with a couple good scares along the way. Some of the rooms seem rather cheesy though or are lacking in decoration. Overall it's just fun 7/10.
One word is best to describe this house, EPIC. The sounds, the effects, and the sets all add up to what is the most epic maze I've experienced. It is of a very large scale with details a plenty. Seriously one of the best of the event, 9/10. (It lost one point because of the conga line it forms that likes to come to a dead stop, killing several of the scares.)
Saws and Steam:
Once a scarezone, now a house, and a bloody good one at that. Walking in, only one thing popped to my mind, "Holy crap it's Bioshock!" Seriously, the theme of this maze is probably the closest we will end up getting to having a Bioshock themed house. This house had some of the best props and effects out of any of the houses, some of which were quite gruesome. This is in my opinion the best house they have this year and everyone should check it out! Perfect 10/10.
I'm not really going to talk about the scarezones as I was only able to check out three of them while the actors were still in place, but Grown Evil has a really cool theme to it and is just fun to walk through. Acid Assault had a really cool effect to it that made it stand out, but once again, no spoilers
The last thing really for me to talk about is this year's Bill and Ted. It's hilarious! They have some better material to work with this year over last and some real guts in the jokes they present. There were a few jokes that I could tell were intended solely for the employee preview, but the majority of the really good ones should still be present during the normal run. An integral part of the HHN experience and definitely worth a watch.
Just keep swimming...