Forget summer vacation or Christmastime — September and October are actually when theme parks explode with festivities. Beloved characters wear too-cute costumes, pumpkins go on parade and rides bring autumnal thrills in the daytime, while pop-up mazes, haunted houses fill the space between theme park attractions at night, offering eerie extravaganzas at special ticketed events or even free with park admission.
Between the 1,000(!) horrifying creatures unleashed at Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags' power-outage rides and real trick-or-treating at Disneyland, there are plenty of All Hallow’s Eve celebrations to appease your slasher film obsession or candy corn addiction, whichever way you choose to spend the holiday.
Skip that one night of door-to-door knocking and celebrate the season starting now. From coast to coast, here are the most frightening — and delightfully tame — ways to ring in Halloween throughout the country:
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida
Known for its tie-ins with popular TV and cinematic frights that change annually, elaborate haunted houses and “scare zones” have deemed Universal Orlando Resort the front-runner of fears for the past 28 years running. “Halloween 4”’s Michael Myers, “Poltergeist,” and a joint “Happy Death Day” and “The First Purge”-themed house are set to be among 2018’s highlights, while the much-anticipated “Stranger Things” haunted house will bring the Netflix favorite’s Upside Down and demonic demogorgons to life. (Eleven’s most-favorite food will be on display as well, with a themed menu offering — what else? — fudge-dipped and sundae-topped Eggo waffles.)
Held on select nights through early November, HHN28 also offers multi-night tickets for repeat visits, “R.I.P” tours for front-of-line access and special daytime house tours for the fear-averse.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood
This West Coast companion to Orlando’s shiver-inducing spectacle offers the same level of spooks and die-hard fandom, but with slight thematic variations. In addition to Halloween 4, Poltergeist and Netflix’s Stranger Things mazes (with demogorgon-inspired delicacies for sale as well), Universal Studios Hollywood makes use of its studio tour, twisting the famed backlot into a Terror Tram through nightmarish bedtime stories including cannibals, clowns and “a merciless torture factory”. Additional Halloween Horror Nights mazes tied to old-school frights — like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and other classic Universal baddies — and recent blockbusters “The First Purge,” “Truth or Dare” and “Unfriended” provide extra scares.
Even better? A variety of daytime and nighttime tickets, “frequent fear” passes and R.I.P tours are available on event nights through November 3, whether you’re deeply committed to being spooked or just want to swing by after work.
Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland
See Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and the gang in their festive best, meet Disney villains up close and hear the Cadaver Dans harmonize as both kids and adults join in on the fun, donning costumes and trick-or-treating throughout the park at this special ticketed event. The Frightfully Fun Parade and Halloween Screams Fireworks, which are exclusive to party nights, bring revelry to Main Street, U.S.A. on select nights from mid-September through Halloween. Party admission also allows guests to enter a few hours early, giving them extra time to enjoy Halloween happenings offered daily to the public including the “Nightmare Before Christmas” takeover of Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain’s Ghost Galaxy theming and plenty of seasonal souvenirs and stunning decor.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World
Similar to Disneyland’s ticketed event, Disney’s Magic Kingdom is overtaken by supernatural thrills that are fun for the whole family on select nights through October 31. See the Headless Horseman ride through Frontierland during the Boo-To-You Halloween Parade, enjoy Happy HalloWishes fireworks above Cinderella Castle and catch the exclusive Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular, heralded as one of Disney’s greatest live shows.
Even the rides are haunted: by special effects on Mad Tea Party, on-ride character appearances within Pirates of the Caribbean, and a spooky soundtrack on Space Mountain. With all-ages trick-or-treating, character meet-and-greets, and exclusive snacks and treats for sale, it’s one of the best ways to celebrate the season.
Zombies, ghosts, ghouls, clowns — this autumnal institution has all the classic spooks and then some at its terror-inducing evening events, offered on select nights at all 11 Six Flags locations nationwide through October. Prepare to encounter deadly scarecrows in a haunted maze, demonic doctors in run-down hospitals and even a “sewer of souls” at the parks’ many walk-through experiences, scare zones and live shows from coast to coast — if you dare. Don’t expect to find respite on those roller coasters, either, because Six Flags goes as far as to operate them without the lights on, plunging you deep into pure darkness on some of the nation’s most thrilling rides.
Halloween Spooktacular at SeaWorld San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio
This kid-friendly take on fall’s most haunted holiday is offered on weekends throughout September and October at SeaWorld’s Texas, California and Florida parks. Each event is slightly different — San Diego’s boasts a Sesame Street Halloween parade and spooky theming on Manta roller coaster, while others have a Sesame Street stage show and San Antonio’s offers a hay maze — but with daytime trick-or-treating for kids, singing pumpkins and guests roaming about in costumes, it’ll provide loads of festive joy for little effort, since all activities are included with standard park admission.
Brick-or-Treat at Legoland California and Florida
Dress your family in their Halloween finest and prepare your Instagram feed for massive LEGO displays honoring the holiday, character meet-and-greets with LEGO Frankenstein and plenty of whimsical toy decor. Brick-or-Treat festivities at both theme parks include trick-or-treating for kids, entertainment and fireworks as well as fun festive live shows.
Knotts Scary Farm at Knott’s Berry Farm
The mazes at this annual Southern California event are famous for featuring sinister frights in hyper-detailed surroundings, including an abandoned carnival home to demented clowns and creature-hunting within dark, deep caverns. Knott’s Berry Farm takes Halloween so seriously that realistic experiences are kicked up an extra notch; a haunted hospital maze features aerialists and stunt performers while an interactive zombie maze mixes laser tag with deathly haunts to bring video game-style thrills to life. Brave attendees can check out the scare zones, thrill rides and heart-pounding attractions on nights through October or as often as possible — Knott’s Berry Farm offers a season pass that’ll let guests enjoy each night of terror-filled mayhem for just $95.
Harvest Festival at Dollywood
This seasonal celebration at Dolly Parton’s Tennessee amusement park boasts Halloween happenings with a southern flair from September through early November. Dolly’s Southern Gospel Jubilee brings over 500 concerts to the theme park — all included with park admission — as well as country artisans, awe-inspiring autumnal decor and the holiday’s highlight: Great Pumpkin LumiNights. The evening extravaganza turns the park into a colorful array of pumpkin decor, oversized displays and moonlit surprises for a fear-free take on All Hallow’s Eve you won’t find anywhere else.
Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld San Antonio
Along with its family-friendly weekend celebrations, the Texan theme park offers a frightening festival of haunted houses, scare zones and entertainment once the sun goes down on select nights between September 28 and October 28th. Be chased down by zombies, enter a nightmare-filled woods or brave the too-real-for-comfort Ripper Row, themed to London and its most sadistic villain, Jack The Ripper — it’s all free with park admission. And, if the realistic sights prove to be too terrifying, the Halloween stage shows, vampire bar and zombie watering hole should provide enough distraction.
Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Williamsburg
Frights and ghoulish delights of all shapes and sizes triumph at this Busch Gardens event catering to adults with a high tolerance for fear. Busch Gardens Williamsburg unleashes over a dozen nightmares upon its guests with seven horror-packed mazes and scare zones filled with jesters, axe-wielding Viking warriors and creepy clowns, while Busch Gardens Tampa’s terrors come by way of mazes themed to a haunted asylum, cursed bayou and deserted motel, along with festive live entertainment at both. Offered on select nights, Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is included with admission and runs between September 15 and October 28; Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s horrors reign between September 21 and October 28 and separate admission is required.