From our friend Dewayne Bevil and Gabrielle Russon from the Orlando Sentinel

Universal Orlando has canceled Halloween Horror Nights for this year. The popular after-hours scare-fest, held for nearly three decades at Universal Studios theme park, is the latest event to be scrubbed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Universal Orlando Resort will be focusing exclusively on operating its theme parks for daytime guests, using the enhanced health and safety procedures already in place,” the resort said in a news release sent via email Friday morning. “We know this decision will disappoint our fans and guests. We are disappointed, too. But we look forward to creating an amazing event in 2021.”

HHN was scheduled to operate on select nights from Sept. 10 to Nov. 1. It would have been the 30th edition of the event, which has cultivated a reputation for elaborate haunted-house mazes, some of which are tied to film and TV horror franchises.

The event at Universal Studios Hollywood has been called off as well. The California theme park remains in shutdown mode due to the virus.

Universal Orlando had not released details about its planned 10 houses or scare zones of the 2020 event. Plans normally are in the works for more than a year ahead of opening date, and Universal trickles out themes and tidbits through the summer.

HHN devotees were awaiting updates and might have been encouraged by recent developments, including visible preparation of the Tribute Store, which is normally filled with Horror Nights merchandise; vague social-media items; and Universal’s posting for auditions for “scare actors,” the workers who populate the haunted houses.

For its Halloween season, Universal typically employs hundreds of seasonal workers, some of which are transformed into zombies, mangled monsters, aliens or choreographed chainsaw-wielding maniacs who are charged with frightening folks who paid admission for the experience.

In mid-June, Walt Disney World canceled its Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, a milder multinight after-hours event at Magic Kingdom. That was slated to begin Aug. 13. SeaWorld Orlando’s Halloween Spooktacular, a kids-driven event that’s included with regular admission, is listed as beginning Sept. 13 on the park’s website.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted a three-month shutdown of Universal Orlando, starting in mid-March. That effectively abbreviated Mardi Gras, another annual celebration at Universal Studios, including its concert series. Universal Studios, the neighboring Islands of Adventure theme park and Volcano Bay water park reopened to the public June 5 with limited capacity and new health and safety guidelines, including a face-covering requirement for visitors and employees.

In April, Universal cut many of its employees’ pay 20 percent as the parks remained closed. In late June, about two weeks after reopening, Universal Orlando laid off an unknown number of employees “in anticipation of the tourism industry taking time to fully recover,” a spokesman said.

Comcast, Universal Orlando’s parent company, has said that work on Epic Universe, a theme park planned near the Orange County Convention Center, was being suspended. Original plans called for that park to open in 2023, but a revised opening date has not been announced.

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