Halloween Parties: Sweet or Scary?


(c) 2011 Universal Studios

Marjie Lambert, The Miami Herald, September 18, 2011

This is the time of year when some theme parks turn to blood and gore.

Others lay on the cute and sweet so thick you can taste it -- or does that sweetness come from real trick-or-treating loot?

Between now and Oct. 1, four theme parks -- Universal Studios, Disney's Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay -- will open their haunted houses and scare zones, parties and parades to celebrate Halloween. As usual, Universal and Busch will go the ghoulish route, while Disney and SeaWorld return with trick-or-treating, kid-friendly entertainment and characters that don't drip -- or draw -- blood.

This year both Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay have added haunted houses that bring the madness of Edgar Allen Poe to life.

Beating hearts, swinging pendulums and a raven's cries are part of the Gothic horror at Busch's haunted house inspired by Poe's poem Lenore. Also new at Busch's Howl-O-Scream -- or "The Dark Side of the Gardens" -- are the Zombie Mortuary and a Vampire Casino (beware the All-They-Can-Eat buffet). Returning are the Nightshade Toy Factory, Death Row Vengeance, Deconstruction: The Doctor Is Out of Control, and for an extra fee, Alone, "a personal experience in horror" in the labyrinth of the deranged Master Alexander Daedalus.

At Universal, known for its elaborate and scary Halloween dramas, the house called Nevermore is one of eight haunted houses and six scare zones that will be featured in Halloween Horror Nights, presided over by the bloodthirsty Lady Luck.

Some of the other houses are The Forsaken, in which the mythical fourth ship in Christopher Columbus' fleet and its cursed crew return from their watery grave; The Thing, in which a horrifying creature from another planet infects a group of isolated researchers; and Saws N' Steam: Into the Machine, with spinning blades and crushing pistons threatening around each corner.

At Magic Kingdom, Mickey hosts his annual Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade is led by the Headless Horseman, followed by Disney characters in Halloween garb and the stars of the Haunted Mansion (don't pick up hitchhikers!). Also at Magic Kingdom: the "Happy HalloWishes" fireworks show, ghostly apparitions on Cinderella Castle, and trick-or-treating.

SeaWorld's family-friendly Halloween Spooktacular features Count Van Count, Elmo, Zoe and Telly in Sesame Street's Countdown to Halloween Show, a live musical stage show. Other highlights are the underwater-themed Penelope's Party Zone, trick-or-treating, and, for an additional fee, family sleepovers amid the floor-to-ceiling aquariums under the Manta roller coaster.

Except for SeaWorld's activities, all the Halloween events are after-hours parties requiring separate admission. Most rides and attractions will be open. Universal and Busch caution that their events are intended for mature audiences. Prices listed are basic general admission; most parks offer multiple-night tickets or packages with daytime park admission.

Here are details, in order of opening:

-- Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party opens Tuesday at Magic Kingdom and runs from 7 p.m. to midnight on 23 select nights between then and Nov. 1. Guests are encouraged to wear costumes. Tickets range from $53.95 to $67.95, depending on the night (closer to Halloween costs more) and whether the ticket is purchased in advance; kids (ages 3-9) $47.95-$62.95. Information: disneyworld.com/halloween or 407-W-DISNEY (934-7639).

-- Halloween Horror Nights run 25 nights Sept. 23 though Oct. 31 at Universal Studios. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.; closing ranges from midnight to 2 a.m. No costumes or masks allowed. Tickets: $81.99 (Florida residents can save $15-$40 with a UPC code from a Coca-Cola product or specially-marked cups from Burger King). Information: 888-HORROR-7 (467-7677) or www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando.

-- Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens opens Sept. 29 and runs Thursday through Saturday nights through Oct. 29, with "Freaky Preview" nights Sept. 23-24 at a discounted price. Hours are 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. depending on the night. No costumes allowed. Tickets are $77.99, but discounts are available through Publix Supermarkets and other partners; check website for details. Information: TheDarkSideOfTheGardens.com.

-- SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular takes place from noon to 8 p.m. weekends in October. Costumes are encouraged, but masks are not allowed. Most Halloween events are included in regular park admission; there are additional fees for apple-dipping, arts and crafts, the family sleepover and Count Von Count's Spooktacular Breakfast "Boo"-fet. Information: www.seaworldparks.com.