2016-10-06 13:11:04
The Getaway: Fright Festivals and Other Chilling Reasons to Travel

Trick or treat? How about a trip instead?

Halloween has long since expanded from the childhood holiday of begging for Milky Ways and Smarties to include the adult celebration of costumed role-playing. Now, driven by theme park pop-up events, festivals and destination-worthy frights, it’s even become its own travel season.

“Halloween’s almost looking more and more like one of the most significant holidays of the year,” said George Aguel, president and chief executive of Visit Orlando.

Orlando, Fla., is home to the annual Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios and other frightful events including Spooky Empire, a horror convention featuring a zombie walk, costume contest and tattoo artists, to be held through Oct. 9 at the Orange County Convention Center.

Destinations like Hudson Valley, N.Y., and Salem, Mass., highlight their haunted associations during October. Home to voodoo legends and year-round cemetery walks, New Orleans is among those that naturally harmonize with Halloween, which also marks the return of cooler temperatures, and tourism, to the city.

“New Orleans is a city that loves to costume,” said Kristian Sonnier, a spokesman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, placing Halloween just behind Mardi Gras for dressing up. “People really turn up the volume on Halloween.”

The Haunted Attraction Association, a trade group, estimates there are more than 1,500 scary installations across the country this season. The following aim to attract fearless travelers.

Universal Studios Florida in Orlando began holding Halloween Horror Nights (halloweenhorrornights.com) 26 years ago, and the seasonal pop-up featuring haunted houses and “scareactors” employed to frighten visitors has since expanded to Universal’s locations in Hollywood, Calif.; Singapore; and Japan. In Florida, the event runs on 31 evenings through Oct. 31 (tickets, $105). This year’s iteration includes nine haunted houses with characters from movies including “The Exorcist” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” a virtual reality experience, and zombies and vampires that chase visitors between “scare zones.”

On the Gulf Coast, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Howl-O-Scream (howl-o-scream.com), running Thursdays through Sundays until the end of October, keeps the park open until 1 a.m. (tickets from $46). Visitors can ride the park’s roller coasters at night, visit seven haunted houses and flee roaming ghouls. A similar version of the event takes place at SeaWorld in San Antonio, Tex., and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va.

A number of vintage westerns were shot at Old Tucson studios in Tucson, Ariz. Now largely a theme park featuring film tours, dance hall musicals and train rides, the compound morphs into Nightfall (nightfallaz.com) on select evenings through Oct. 31 ($22). Billed as a haunted town, it includes mine tunnels, a town square populated by the undead and a zombie shooting gallery.

For the creepiest mise-en-scène, it’s hard to get more realistic than the Eastern State Penitentiary (easternstate.org) in Philadelphia. With crenelated walls, barrel-vaulted hallways and tall windows, the 19th-century prison was designed to enlighten its occupants, including Al Capone. Closed in 1971, it now offers tours, none as chilling as Terror Behind the Walls running through Nov. 5 (admission from $19). During the nighttime tour, the compound is broken into six haunted areas, from prison cells to an infirmary filled with demons and convicts lurking for maximum chilling effects.

In a similar vein of historic building-meets-haunting, the Dent Schoolhouse (frightsite.com) in Cincinnati opens in the fall as a haunted school with its legend of a homicidal janitor who killed several students and stuffed their remains in the basement. Enroll at your own risk through Nov. 5 (tickets from $10).

In Orlando, A Petrified Forest (apetrifiedforest.com) springs up weekends through Oct. 29, featuring two walking trails in a rural setting rife with creepy creatures (tickets from $15).

Fitness gets frightful in a series of zombie runs held across the country in which the able-bodied flee flesh eaters, usually over a 5K course. Runners get three chances to thread the ghoul-flanked course safely with flag-football-style strips attached to a belt during the Zombie Run at ACE Adventure Resort near Minden, W.Va., on Oct. 22 ($35).

In the Hudson Valley, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., (visitsleepyhollow.com), the setting for Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” capitalizes on its macabre fame each fall. Throughout the month, catch a cemetery tour, a circus show based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” or a telling of Irving’s short story in the Old Dutch Church.

In the Twin Cities area, BareBones Productions presents an annual pageant of puppetry, costumes, music and dance in its BareBones Annual Halloween Outdoor Puppet Extravaganza running Oct. 22 to 31 (barebonespuppets.org).

The Orlando Ballet (orlandoballet.org) contributes artfully to the horror season with its rendition of “Dracula” from the choreographer Michael Pink based on Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Oct. 28 to 30 (tickets from $35).

Salem, Mass., builds on its spectral past as the historic site of colonial witch trials with the monthlong Festival of the Dead (festivalofthedead.com). Events include psychic readings, séances, a Halloween ball, a mourning-themed tea and, on Halloween night, a witches gathering.

On the racier side of the season, Fantasy Fest (fantasyfest.com) in Key West, Fla., Oct. 21 to 30, draws a costume-crazed party crowd. The weeklong festival includes a Masquerade March and culminates in the annual Fantasy Fest Parade themed this year to the presidential election, or “Political Voodoo & Ballot Box Barbarians.”

Halloween is not all sexy nurse costumes and zombie makeup. Across the country, family-friendly Halloween events offer a gentle take on seasonal dress-up.

In Orlando, the Walt Disney World Resort holds Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (Disneyworld.disney.go.com) on select nights until Oct. 31 (tickets from $67 for children, $72 for adults). Activities include trick-or-treating, Disney character encounters, a dance party and fireworks.

Nearby, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular (seaworldparks.com), taking place every weekend in October, similarly offers trick-or-treating, Sesame Street character encounters and themed animal shows.

For visitors to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway Pumpkin Patch Train (thetrain.com) pulls out of Williams, Ariz., on eight dates in October ($20 for children, $25 adults). The trip stops at a pumpkin patch where families can pick out a pumpkin, and returns to the station, which has a hay-bale maze, arts and crafts and a haunted train car.

In New Orleans, the Krewe of Boo (kreweofboo.com), taking place Oct. 22, is a Mardi-Gras-inspired Halloween parade with floats devoted to themes like werewolves and vampires. Float riders throw trinkets to the crowd, including locally made candy. New Orleans hosts plenty of after-event parties, but the procession itself draws all ages in costume.

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