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A Fun-Size Portion of Horror with a Side of Cartoons

// Travel

An eerie mist swirls over the lake and I suddenly realise there is nobody around. The street is deserted. Perhaps we shouldn't have wandered so far from the main walkway.

'Where did the others go?' says my friend, nervously looking behind. Maybe they didn't make it.

I can still feel the hot breath of the zombie that had sidled up to me just moments ago and quickly check to see if we've lost the machete-wielding, pumpkinheaded creature that gave chase near The Simpsons ride, where earlier in the afternoon I had enjoyed some rather more lighthearted entertainment. It's just an hour since Universal Studios closed its doors to families, and the park has been transformed into the stuff of nightmares.

Popcorn vendors have been replaced by demon nurses selling bags of 'blood', a creepy soundtrack has been piped across the park - heightening the feeling that I am unwittingly starring in a horror movie - and giant spiders appear to have been at work, weaving webs over everything.

America has always embraced Halloween with enthusiasm and nowhere more so than in Orlando at Universal Studios' annual Halloween Horror Nights.

Beyond the decor, ominous fog, wandering phantoms and even Death himself (whose scythe nearly took my leg off), there are six themed 'mazes' that plunge visitors to new levels of terror.

Some take their inspiration from horror films such as Silent Hill - with deformed nurses and disturbingly mutilated residents - and American TV zombie shows like The Walking Dead.

Another maze has been dedicated to rocker Alice Cooper and his twisted album Welcome To My Nightmare, while American magicians Penn and Teller have been brought in to create a nightmarish, post-nuclear-fallout Las Vegas.

I am as far from being a horror junkie as you can get. I couldn't even watch Scream the whole way through. So I clutch my friend's hand, digging my nails into her palm, as we gingerly shuffle through black curtains into parallel worlds where horror reigns and the undead and 'scareactors' - enthusiastic human role-players - wait to prey on the weak.

Gargoyles, tortured souls and bloody hospital patients jump out from corners, swoop just above my head and stagger towards me as I scuttle through the mazes and collapse in a fit of mild hysteria as I emerge into the outside world.

When we go back the next morning, all evidence of the undead has been replaced by bright sunshine and excited children begging to try the new ride that opened this summer, based on the animated film Despicable Me. 

There are also more than a few adults queuing up to join the adventure and become one of the little yellow, banana-loving creatures - the Minions - tasked with helping Despicable Me's supervillain Gru take over the world. The only way to celebrate our eventual triumph is to have a Minion disco, and we emerge from Gru's house bopping away and having photos taken with the bespectacled blobs from the film.

By the time I've had the happiness sucked out of me by Dementors on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, teamed up with Bart and Lisa to save The Simpsons from Sideshow Bob and done seven loop-the-loops on the Hulk rollercoaster, I barely have the energy left to cope with evening entertainment as well.

But I am tempted by Rising Star karaoke bar, where wannabes cover songs with real backing singers and a live band.

I'd rather face zombies than sing in public, but my friend heads for the stage for a rendition of Sweet Caroline. Belting out the chorus, the walking dead seem a world away and, as the song goes, the good times never seemed so good.

Travel facts

Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859, virginholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights room-only at the Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando, from £1,185 per person, with return flights from Gatwick and car hire. A Universal Two Park bonus ticket costs £95 per adult and £85 per child. A Three Park ticket costs £109 and £99. Horror nights run until October 31.

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