Halloween just isn’t the same this year. But thankfully, theme and amusement parks are doing their best to find ways to channel the spirit of the season in safety-conscious ways.
Fall is typically packed with special ticketed events at theme parks, but this year Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World, Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland Resort, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal parks on both coasts have all been canceled due to COVID-19. Theme parks have enacted new social distancing and safety protocols in addition to capacity limitations, which means that the days of crowds packing in to see the Headless Horseman ride down Main Street, U.S.A., or filing through terror-filled Scare Zones are just unfeasible given the circumstances.
Parks around the country are grappling with the vast differences among state-mandated coronavirus protocols — especially in regard to theme parks — which means that some parks are open and operating while others, including Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, currently remain closed.
Many autumnal events may have been scrapped, but parks across the country have found creative ways to provide safety-enhanced trick-or-treating, jaw-dropping pumpkin creations, and even some socially distanced scares.
No matter where you plan to visit, be sure to purchase tickets in advance — many parks are now limiting admission, and some are requiring dated tickets, park reservations, or sometimes both. (Note: All of the events below have social distancing and safety procedures in place, and masks are required for attendance. We recommend checking with each location directly for specifics.)
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT
What’s a theme park destination to do when their banner celebration, largely considered to be the best Halloween event in the country, is canceled? Re-invent itself in a safe way, naturally. Halloween Horror Nights would have celebrated its 30th year this fall, but Universal’s two Florida theme parks are still bringing some of the best parts of the fright-packed celebration to its haunt-obsessed fanbase.
Two haunted houses — Bride of Frankenstein and Revenge of the Tooth Fairy — have been amended with modern safety protocol to allow them to bring their famed scares to life during regular park hours. Once guests are properly scared out of their wits, there’s plenty of horror-themed food at seasonal carts (don’t miss the Twisted Tater and Electrofried Skin & Guts!), within the fully decked-out HHN Tribute Store (complete with beating heart gummies!) and drinks for sale at the pop-up Skeleton Bar.
Not only can guests wear costumes, but there’s trick-or-treating for kids at Islands of Adventure and a more grown-up version of it at Universal Studios Florida with its Skeleton Stalk within its many stores. Even better? All seasonal offerings are included free with theme park admission. It’s a thrill on its own to see some of the most cherished parts of Halloween Horror Nights return in a safety-focused, socially distanced way.
WALT DISNEY WORLD
While the show will not go on for Magic Kingdom’s famed annual Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party event in 2020, Disney is still bringing themed food, entertainment, and experiences to the park during regular hours through Oct. 31.
Characters like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore appear in the parks in themed costumes, fan-favorite a cappella group Dapper Dans transform into the Cadaver Dans, and seasonal foods, like pumpkin-spiced waffle sundaes and a Haunted Mansion-inspired mini wedding cake, are for sale. Better yet? For the first time ever, all guests are allowed to wear costumes during the day at the park. And, for guests heading to Disney's Hollywood Studios, Minnie's Seasonal Dine is a sit-down Halloween experience featuring Minnie, Goofy, and other characters in special themed costumes.
From carved sunflowers and pumpkin frogs to a towering 40-foot tree display, Great Pumpkin LumiNights puts thousands of illuminated and unique pumpkins on display at Dollywood through Oct. 31. Watch the leaves change color as you ogle massive pumpkins (including one weighing 1500 pounds!), take in live music, and indulge in a slice or two of pumpkin pie. Once the sun sets, the fun of Great Pumpkin LumiNights begins — bringing seasonal cheer to life through a multitude of displays.
SEAWORLD SAN DIEGO
At SeaWorld's family-friendly Spooktacular, held Fridays through Sundays until Nov. 1, kids can enter a costume contest, participate in a scavenger hunt to identify animal-themed pumpkins throughout the park for a prize, and visit a treat trail for festive candy — delivered through a themed chute for contactless delivery. Rides and roller coasters are currently non-operational, but there's plenty of entertainment too, including a Día de Los Muertos celebration, Sesame Street Halloween dance party, and cookie decorating with Cookie Monster.
The Spooktacular event at their sister park in Orlando (there's another in San Antonio, Texas) also has trick-or-treating, cookie decorating, and a costume contest on Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 30, but adds a family-friendly Halloween maze and craft beer festival as well. Select rides are open, but for those who prefer an even more distanced option, SeaWorld also has a drive-in film series dubbed Flicks & Frights.
Hersheypark obviously brings the heat when it comes to sugary Halloween indulgences, but its seasonal events take the candy-packed season up a notch. There are “chocolatey trick or treat adventures” boasting 13 stops for kids, costumes encouraged, and themed food for sale on weekends through Nov. 1, all of which is included with admission. And, for added thrills during Hersheypark in the Dark, the park is offering “lights-out rides” on the classic wooden Wildcat coaster and double-track wooden coaster Lightning Racer, Indoor spinning coaster Laff Trakk, and family coaster Comet.
The Central Florida spooks are back this Halloween season at a somewhat unexpected site: Gatorland. The, well, self-explanatory park and wildlife preserve is hosting Gators, Ghosts, and Goblins on weekends through Nov. 1. Costumed characters, a scavenger hunt, photo opportunities, and a trick-or-treat trail are all included with admission; family-friendly costumes are encouraged. Plus, Gatorland will boast Oktoberfest live music and German beer and food onsite.
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY
Weekends are for families — and fear-seekers — at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay through Nov. 1. Sesame Street Kids’ Weekends brings outdoor Halloween entertainment with contact-free trick-or-treating, Halloween character meet-and-greets, and a themed Sesame Street stage show, while Howl-O-Scream brings the scares with a fright-filled outdoor stage show, expansive scare zones to allow for social distancing, themed food and cocktails, and the heart-pounding experience of riding its jaw-dropping coasters after sundown.
BUSCH GARDENS WILLIAMSBURG
The East Coast park is hosting its Halloween Harvest on select dates through Nov. 1, and while it's not business as usual — each reservation isn't for a full day but a 4-hour event window — there are plenty of amusements to experience while inside the Virginia park.
Family-friendly rides and roller coasters are among the 15 attractions are available, along with a pumpkin scavenger hunt, contactless trick-or-treating, and even nighttime frights at select times throughout the month. Oh, and then there's the food: Oktoberfest delights, seasonal specialties, and Halloween Harvest tasting cards to make an adventure out of it.
Fright Fest is back at Six Flags' parks nationwide, with family-friendly events during the day with treat trails and creepy photo opportunities, and after nightfall fog and fears fill the park with outdoor Halloween zones, trails, and rides with seasonal spooky overlays. Details vary from park to park, so visit Six Flags' website for more information.
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