The National Retail Federation predicts Americans will spend over $12.2 billion on Halloween this year, smashing last year’s spending record of $10.6 billion. While most of that amount can be attributed to candy and costumes, theme parks across the country are counting on some of that cash to come their way.
Halloween is big business for theme parks. While modern advertising may skew perception in favor of larger theme parks like Disney and Universal, it's actually the “little guys” that have become the talk of the spooky theme park circuit. According to rankings from by JeffBet, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio blew the competition away with a score of 6.9 out of a possible 10. Factors including amenities, attractions, availability of their Halloween event, crowding, price, seasonal popularity, spooky theming, and value for money were all considered as part of the ranking system.
Bigger Scares, Smaller Parks
Karyn Locke, a travel writer and theme park aficionado isn’t surprised by Cedar Point’s high ranking for their Halloween event. “Living close to Cedar Point is a bonus, but even if I had to drive hours to get there, I’d still do it for the haunted mazes and houses alone. The theme park ups its proverbial haunt game each year, and thanks to affordability, especially for annual passholders, I can make the visit different each time I go. Additionally, the scare actors are top-notch and really make the event memorable,” Locke says.
Following right behind Cedar Point in the rankings is the originator of the modern theme park Halloween event, Knott’s Berry Farm. In 1973, Knott’s Berry Farm developed an event around the promotion of Larry Vincent’s popular tv show Fright Night called “Knott’s Halloween Haunt. This laid the groundwork for what is now known as “Knott’s Scary Farm,” an immersive event with ten mazes, five scare zones, and four live shows.
Interestingly, Disneyland Park in California came in at number three while its sister park, Disney California Adventure, barely made it into the top ten even though Disney California Adventure is actually the host park for the Halloween event “Oogie Boogie Bash.” The cost of the event, coupled with fewer amenities and higher crowds, lowered Disney California Adventure’s score so significantly that it fell behind Hersheypark, Kings Island, and Six Flags Magic Mountain.
“Kings Island fully embraces the Halloween season. In addition to keeping their marquee thrill rides open, nightfall brings Halloween Haunt front and center,” shares Jake Valentine, Kings Island enthusiast and Operations Manager for Wealth of Geeks. “Kiddos are able to enjoy trick or treating during the day and can even meet their favorite Peanuts characters. Adults aren't left out, either, as Kings Island has plenty of seasonal food and drink options available, including alcoholic mixed drinks and seasonal beers from local breweries.”
Universal Parks and Resorts are well-known for their annual Halloween Horror Nights, or HHN, event on both coasts. However, only Universal Studios Hollywood made the top ten, and, shockingly, Universal Orlando fell to the bottom of the list, just ahead of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando scored third highest for availability, meaning there are plenty of dates to choose from to attend the event, but the overall score was brought down due to cost, amenities, and available attractions during the specially ticketed evening.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Halloween event, Howl-O-Scream, may be an inexpensive ticket, but there are only 27 dates to choose from and eight hours to spend at the event. Universal Orlando’s event tickets start at $82.99 and have over forty dates to choose from. That price may seem reasonable until you add in all the extras that make the night a worthwhile endeavor.
Every year, popular haunted houses can see wait times in excess of three hours or more. Considering HHN is just shy of eight hours long, spending almost half of that time in line for one haunted house may seem like a waste of money. A skip-the-line pass for the haunted houses starts at $139.99 per person, or a $40 per person “Scream Early Ticket” that allows entrance to a special holding area in the park prior to the event aren’t required, but may be necessary to maximize limited time, thus negating the seemingly inexpensive admission you initially purchased.
On the west coast, Universal Studios Hollywood was the only theme park in the top ten to score a perfect rating for theming. Its score was negatively affected by the amount of attractions open during the event (0.1 out of a possible 10) and the amenities it offers (1.3 out a possible 10).
That doesn’t bother fans like John Dealbreuin from Financial Freedom Countdown. “While the tickets may seem like an investment, the sheer diversity and quality of the activities and attractions during Halloween Horror Nights justify the cost. It's a chance to immerse yourself in a world of horror and entertainment, and the memories created make it a valuable and worthwhile experience for anyone seeking an adrenaline-pumping adventure during the spooky season,” he points out.
Two Six Flags parks made the top ten list, with Six Flags Magic Mountain in California coming in at number four and Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey coming in at number eight. Across all Six Flags properties, the event is called “Fright Fest,” but it can differ in price, date availability, and scare zones just to name a few. Over the years of Fright Fest, Six Flags has licensed intellectual properties to serve as scare zones and haunted houses including The Conjuring films and Saw franchise.
Whether you enjoy frightful fun or a tamer Halloween experience, theme parks across the US are ready to spook you with what they’ve got. The only question is, which haunt will you head to first?
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Sarah Gilliland is a travel journalist and managing travel editor for Wealth of Geeks with over ten years of experience writing, editing, and producing content related to family travel. She freelances for other online outlets in addition to her role as the managing travel editor at Wealth of Geeks. Sarah's beats include theme parks, family travel, cruises, and road trips. When she isn't traveling or writing freelance columns, Sarah can be found on her website, On the Road with Sarah, or binging the latest geeky thing on Netflix or Disney+.