Top ten Halloween theme park events

Theme parks around the United States are getting in on the Halloween fun this week, with special events featuring everything from horror-filled haunted houses to magic shows to trick-or-treating for kids. Here’s a look at our top 10 Halloween theme park events:

1. Halloween Horror Nights: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida
Universal’s Halloween scarefest, which tops lists of horror attractions year-after-year, is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. But rather than make it solely a look back, Halloween Horror Nights XX blends new with the nostalgia. There are eight haunted houses, six streetside “scare zones” and two shows. Be sure to catch a glimpse of Fear, the towering character Universal says is the creator of all the scares of the past 20 years. Tickets are $74.99, with discounts available for Florida residents.
Scare level: This event is geared toward adults and older teens. Trust me, it’s not for children.

2. Halloween Haunt: Knott’s “Scary” Farm, Buena Park, California

Now in its 38th year, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt is the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween event. Unlike many theme park events where rides are open, but don’t differ from the rest of the year, Knott’s re-themes 13 of its rides and turns the ride queues into “walk-through mazes.” There are also seven live shows at Knott’s “Scary” Farm and more than 1,000 monsters, mutants and goblins standing in the shadows waiting to jump out and scare. Tickets are $50 in advance, with several discount packages available.
Scare level: This event is for adults and older teens. Knott’s Berry Farm also offers “Snoopy’s Costume Party” during the day for the younger set.

3. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida
Mickey, Minnie and all their friends don Halloween costumes for this special event at the Magic Kingdom on select nights each year. Families are allowed to come in costume and there are trick-or-treating stations set up throughout the park. Highlights of Disney’s Halloween party include Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Parade that features a pre-parade appearance by Sleepy Hollow’s Headless Horseman, and the Hallowishes fireworks show. There’s also a live show at Cinderella Castle featuring many of the Disney villains, including (new this year) Dr. Facilier from “The Princess and the Frog.” Tickets are $59.95, with discounts available for passholders.
Scare level: This one’s for just about everyone, though children who fear Disney villains or the Haunted mansion ride could be in for a few mild frights.4. Fright Dome: Circus Circus, Las Vegas, Nevada
Every year, the haunted houses at Las Vegas’s Circus Circus offer some serious scares, and this year, there are three all-new houses including My Bloody Valentine, Flesh Feast and a house that pays homage to the “Saw” horror movies. Fright Dome is also known for its live shows featuring cutting-edge magicians, and for its celebrity visitors – Paris Hilton, Holly Madison, David Copperfield and other frequent Vegas visitors tend to visit Fright Dome each year. Tickets are $34.95.
Scare level: Definitely not for kids or the faint of heart – this is one of the scariest events around.

5. Howl-O-Scream: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, Florida
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment holds Howl-O-Scream events in Williamsburg, Virginia, San Antonio, Texas, and Tampa, Florida, but we choose the Florida event for this list. The Tampa event typically adopts a back story that adds some edgy fun. This year, the protagonist is Sylvie, the lead singer of a rock band known as My X. Sylvie is out to get revenge on, well, her ex, and just about anyone else that stands in front of her. Besides the eight haunted houses and five scare zones at Howl-O-Scream, you can also see a concert featuring Sylvie and her band. It’s that follow-through with the back story that puts Howl-O-Scream on our list. Tickets are $74.95, with discounts for Florida residents.
Scare level: Teens and adults only for this one.

6. Hersheypark in the Dark: Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Where better to get a sweet Halloween treat than in America’s favorite chocolate town? Hersheypark opens its “rollerghosters” and other rides at night for a Halloween celebration each year. Kids 12 and under can trick-or-treat at eight stops in the park, and there are three family-friendly shows, including one by Halloween band “Bunsen and the Burners.” Hersheypark’s eateries even update their menus for the fall, offering soup in bread bowls, turkey legs and autumn-inspired desserts. Tickets are $38.95, with several discount packages available.
Scare level: This one’s truly for all ages.

7. Halloweekends: Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Cedar Point tries to balance fun and scary during their Halloweekends. While there are plenty of scares in four haunted houses and five scare zones, but much of the rest of the park is filled with pumpkins, sweet treats and family-friendly Halloween fun. All the scary sections are marked so that those not wanting quite the fright can stay away. Cedar Point puts a heavy emphasis on shows – with nine Halloween shows during the event. And for the kids, there are Peanuts shows, a costume contest and the Monster Midway Invasion Celebration Parade. Tickets are $45.99, with discount packages available.
Scare level: There are plenty of frights for horror fans, but just as much fun for small frys.

8. Brick or Treat: Legoland, San Diego, California
Legoland offers Halloween fun for little ones at Brick or Treat, with a costume contest, dance party and fall-themed Lego building activities. New this year at Brick or Treat is a live stage show where kids can find the secret to turning scary monsters sweet, and a new light show, “The Spirits of Halloween.” There’s also plenty of trick-or-treating action at Brick or Treat, with seven-themed trick-or-treating stations along a trail. Tickets are $30.
Scare level: This one is all treats for little ones, with no tricks in sight.

9. Fright Fest: Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois
Six Flags puts an emphasis on shows and music at this year’s edition of Fright Fest, with a new “Full Moon Rocksplosion” show and parade, as well as a new “zombie dance party.” There’s also “scary-oke” (which is what they should call it every time I take the stage), and the classic “Love at First Fright” show is back for a 20th year. Fright Fest also offers four haunted houses, as well as kids activities including trick-or-treating and a Halloween-themed “The Wiggles” show. Tickets are $36.99 online in advance.
Scare level: There’s something at Fright Fest for everyone.

10. Count’s Spooktacular: Sesame Place, Langhorne, Pennsylvania
The preschool set can have a frightfully fun time with Sesame Street characters with one very famous vampire (and no, his name isn’t Edward). The Count von Count hosts a Howl-o-Ween radio show, as well as an “un-haunted” maze at Sesame Place theme park. There are two additional Halloween shows starring Sesame Street favorites such as Elmo and Big Bird, as well as hayrides and trick-or-treating. Tickets are $33 online in advance.
Scare level: Only for the little pumpkins.

Six Flags Magic Mountain to add two roller coasters, bringing total to globe-topping 18

Six Flags Magic Mountain will add two roller coasters and alter an existing coaster in 2011, bringing the park’s total to 18. That gives the Valencia, California, theme park the most roller coasters of any theme park in the world, dethroning Ohio’s Cedar Point, which has 17.

The first addition is the Green Lantern, is a spinning coaster on a vertical track. It’s the first of its kind in the United States, though the builder, Intamin, has a similar model called the Comet Express at Lotte World in Seoul, South Korea.

The Green Lantern’s cars can spin on a vertical axis. The ride starts with a 107-foot lifthill, after which riders will zig-zag through more than 800 feet of track on the way back down. Check out the video at the bottom of this post to see a rendering of the Green Lantern in action. Six Flags says the new roller coaster will debut in the spring.

The second 2011 coaster addition at Six Flags Magic Mountain is an as-yet-unnamed kid’s coaster that will be adjacent to the theme park’s Bugs Bunny World children’s area. It will be 679 feet long with a 28-foot lifthill and top speeds of 21 miles per hour.

Finally, the theme park’s Superman: The Escape roller coaster will get its name changed to Superman: Escape from Krypton, along with a pretty major makeover. New cars will allow riders to shoot up the 41-story tower at 100 miles per hour backwards.

The Superman coaster has two tracks. Six Flags says following the ride’s alterations, both tracks will operate with the backward-facing cars at first. After a few months, one of the cars will be turned around, allowing riders to choose whether they want to ride forwards or backwards.

Superman’s new ride cars will also have lower sides for a more exposed feeling, and new over-the-shoulder harness restraints. Six Flags says the Superman alterations will be completed early next year.

Roller coaster crash injures 10 people at Knott’s Berry Farm

Two roller coaster cars collided Thursday night on the Pony Express ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, sending 10 riders to the hospital.

According to KTLA-TV, a ride car leaving the boarding station “rolled back,” slamming a second car car inside the station that was boarding other guests.

The crash happened during Knott’s “Halloween Haunt” event about 8:15 p.m. on Thursday. Authorities said the injuries were minor.

The Pony Express was built at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2008. It launches from zero to 38 miles per hour in 3 seconds and reaches a top speed of 40 miles per hour, relatively tame by today’s roller coaster standards.

Rollbacks, while not common, are a regular occurrence on roller coasters. They happen when a ride car is not launched fast enough to make it to the top of the first lift. This can be caused by a number of factors, including wind gusts, cold weather and ride cars that don’t have enough passengers and therefore they don’t have enough momentum.

Most coasters have a chain lift or other device to prevent rollbacks, as well as a braking system to stop a car if it does roll back.

There’s no word yet as to the cause of the Pony Express roller coaster rollback.

Another roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm, the hydraulically launched Xcelerator, is known for having rollbacks. On the Xcelerator, a car that rolls back is stopped by magnetic fins before it re-enters the boarding station.

Two other U.S. roller coasters based on the Xcelerator’s design – Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure and Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point – are also known to have more frequent rollbacks.

Here’s footage of a Kingda Ka rollback:

[Image credit: Flickr user Magic Madzik]

Cedar Point named best U.S. amusement park

Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards were announced this weekend, and Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, nabbed the top spot as the best amusement park in the United States.

The theme park industry considers the Golden Tickets a top honor. Industry mag Amusement Today surveys experienced, well-traveled theme park enthusiasts from around the country to determine the best theme parks in a variety of categories.

Here’s a complete list of the winners:

  • Best Amusement Park: Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
  • Best Waterpark: Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, New Braunfels, Texas
  • Best Children’s Park: Idlewild and SoakZone, Ligonier, Pa.
  • Best Marine Life Park: SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best Seaside Park: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, Calif.
  • Best Wooden Coaster: The Voyage at Holiday World, Santa Claus, Ind.
  • Best Steel Coaster: Millennium Force at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
  • Best Kids’ Area: Kings Island, Kings Mills, Ohio
  • Friendliest Staff: Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.
  • Cleanest Park: Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.
  • Best Halloween Event: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, Orlando, Fla..
  • Best Landscaping: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Va.
  • Best Christmas Event: Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
  • Best Food: Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pa.
  • Best Shows: Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
  • Best Outdoor Night Show Production: IllumiNations: Reflections of the Earth at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best Water Ride: Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best Waterpark Ride: Wildebeest at Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.
  • Best Dark Ride: Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best Indoor Waterpark: Schlitterbahn Galveston Island, Galveston, Texas
  • Best Funhouse/Walk-Through Attraction: Noah’s Ark at Kennywood, West Mifflin, Pa.
  • Best Carousel: Grand Carousel at Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pa.
  • Best Indoor Roller Coaster: Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Orlando, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best New Ride of 2010 – Amusement Park: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Fla.
  • Best New Ride of 2010 – Waterpark: Wildebeest at Splashin’ Safari, Santa Claus, Ind.

There was also a poignant tribute to late Holiday World president Will Koch, who died suddenly this summer at age 48. Holiday World won a record number of Golden Tickets this year.


[Image credit: Flickr user daveynin]

Cedar Point delays opening of new water coaster Shoot the Rapids

Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, has delayed the opening of its big splash this year, a water ride called Shoot the Rapids.

Cedar Point opens for the season on Saturday.

The ride was scheduled to open for a media preview on Friday, but that event has been canceled, and Cedar Point now says Shoot the Rapids will open on May 29.

Engineering problems are behind the delay. The ride cars (in this case, boats) for the ride were too long and did not fit the ride. Crews are having to alter them on-site.

“The manufacturer made the flume, and he contracted out the boats. When the boats came together, the boats didn’t fit the flumes,” Cedar Fair president Dick Kinzel told the Sandusky (Ohio) Register.

Shoot the Rapids is the park’s third water ride and its biggest investment in one, with a price tag of $10.5 million. It uses a steel track and has two lift hills. The tallest is 85 feet.