These parks offer more treats than tricks
Some Halloween events walk on the mild side
Also in this edition: I was a contestant on the Theme Park Trivia Show. See more details at the end of the post. Hey! All of you paid subscribers! Please join the “What’s the Attraction?” discussion thread this Friday, September 23, starting at 10:30 a.m. ET and share your story about your first major roller coaster ride. What? You’re not a paid subscriber? What’s up with that?
Most theme parks go for the jugular this time of year with walk-through haunted houses and scare zones designed to startle and creep out visitors. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, for example, features a Blumhouse-themed maze in which a high school girl who has switched bodies with a serial killer is shown taking a chainsaw to the groin of an unfortunate victim. Consider me creeped out.
Many parks, such as Carowinds in North Carolina, temper their after-dark shenanigans by also offering daytime events geared to younger children. But a few keep all of their fall season programming G-rated. Some are parks that are geared to the under-12 crowd. Others appeal to a broader audience but nonetheless tone down the Halloween happenings. The most famous example is Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Disneyland Resort counters with Oogie Boogie Bash and other chainsaw-less seasonal fun.
Let’s explore what some other parks are doing this fall.
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The Legoland parks in California and Florida have been presenting Brick-or-Treat events for a number of years. This year, however, they are rebranding it Brick-or-Treat Presents Monster Party and adding the New York Legoland to the fold. All the parks will screen the new “The Great Monster Chase 4D Movie,” host a Lord Vampyre dance party, re-theme their Dragon coasters as Disco Party coasters, and of course, give away massive amounts of candy. Legoland is estimating a total of 100,000 pounds of the sweet stuff will be distributed. The New York park will also launch the first Legoland haunted maze.
“We are not going to scare the bejesus out of you,” assures Jeremy Pancoast, entertainment director for Legoland Parks North America, in reference to the maze.
Costumes are strongly encouraged at the events.
“Especially after all of the pandemic disruptions, kids and adults want to dress up,” says Julie Estrada, public relations director for Merlin Entertainments North America. “Kids get to interact with their parents in a goofy way.”
The two Sesame Place parks in Pennsylvania and California are offering The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular. Activities include scavenger hunts, parades, and trick-or-treating. Costumes are also de rigueur for families heading to Big Bird’s block, and the parks will be staging costume contests.
It’s always Christmastime at Santa’s Village, the delightful park for families with pre-teens in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But on select weekends in October, the park will also celebrate Halloween with its Merry Trick-or-Treating event. Likewise, Santa is the big honcho at Indiana’s Holiday World. But the park also features a Halloween land that includes two wild wooden coasters, Raven and The Legend. Starting this Saturday, it will offer Happy Halloween Weekends complete with mazes that dial down the scares. According to the park, the SCAREbnb (great name!) maze will invite visitors to tour “Marilyn’s Mansion” (another great name!), which I’m guessing will not feature snippets of a certain goth rocker’s songs. There will also be hayrides, corn mazes (this is rural Indiana after all), and shows.
Pennsylvania’s Dutch Wonderland targets families with youngsters and will be presenting Happy Hauntings starting October 1. It will include a nightly dance party and themed rides such as a spooky excursion aboard its miniature train. Oddly, the park says that its trick-or-treat trail will not be offered this year dues to “supply shortages.” Maybe if it asks nicely, the nearby Hershey factory would supply the park with some candy. Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Idlewild will kick off its family friendly Hallowboo this Saturday with costumed characters such as Daniel Tiger, shows, and a dance party. The park has apparently successfully accessed the supply chain as it will include a trick-or-treat trail through its Story Book Forest.
Located in Gilroy, California’s garlic capital, Gilroy Gardens is inviting families to its Halloween event, BOO Alley, starting October 1. The park will be decked out in seasonal lights and create a pyramid out of pumpkins. Vinnie the Vampire will lead passengers aboard the Boo Train through a haunted forest. There will also be shows, storytelling, and yes, trick-or-treating.
Thousands of illuminated, intricately carved pumpkins and towering pumpkin sculptures are the focal point for Pumpkins in the City, part of the Crafts and Harvest Festival at Silver Dollar City in Missouri. There are also giant pumpkins (as in north of 1,000 pounds) on display. If you go, consider taking, as I once did, a life-altering, lights-out, nighttime ride on the park’s wild woodie, Outlaw Run. Sister park Dollywood also offers a Harvest Festival, which begins tomorrow. It too features glowing pumpkin sculptures and carved squashes at its Great Pumpkin LumiNights. Known for its incredible shows, Dollywood will feature bluegrass, country, and gospel performers on its many stages during the festival.
Chuck E. Cheese locations across the country are getting in on the fall fun as well with Halloween Boo-tacular. Every hour, the namesake character busts a move and invites guests to join him on the digital dance floor at Chuck E.’s Haunted House Party. In the evenings, he helps distribute complimentary candy. Guests can also munch on themed delicacies such as Pumpkin Pepperoni Pizza (to be clear, that’s a pizza in the shape of a pumpkin, not one that’s–ew!–topped with pumpkin) and Slime Cookies.
“This is the most exciting time in our calendar,” says David McKillips, CEO of CEC Entertainment about the Halloween event, which is now in its third year. “It’s a magical time for kids to pretend and to wear their costumes. There aren’t a lot of places where kids can go that’s family friendly and have a Halloween experience.”
To that end, the places where gazillions of kids celebrate birthdays are also offering Halloween parties for groups of 10 or more that include pizza, game play in the arcade, and a costume contest. When I interviewed him, the playful McKillips was apparently trying to win his own contest by wearing a skeleton mask and a sport jacket that would make Beetlejuice proud.
Do you have younger children? Are you planning to celebrate Halloween with them at a park? Are you an adult who prefers park Halloween events without all the blood and gore?
A few weeks back, I wrote about the wacky, wonderful, wildly funny, and incredibly niche “Theme Park Trivia Show.” Guess what? Creator, producer, and affable host Ryan Ritchey invited me on to be a contestant on the YouTube game show. I was up against E.B., cohost of CoasterRadio, the “original theme park podcast” (on which I have the pleasure of being an occasional guest). Who won? Well, you’ll just have to watch the show. But let’s just say I know a thing or two about the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.