Halloween: How Parks Get Scary for Fall

By Greg Curling

Halloween is big business. From costumes to candy to party favors, Americans spend just shy of $7 billion per year on the favored holiday.  According to the Haunted Attraction Association, haunted houses alone generate more than $300 million annually. While theme parks do not report specific event revenue, it’s a safe assumption that their share of the Halloween trick or treat bag is far more than the average neighborhood kid’s take of treats.

There is no disputing the popularity of the holiday, nor the efforts the large parks are making to capitalize on it. From costumed small children toting their trick or treat bags around Disney parks to menacing chainsaw wielding zombies chasing frightened guests around Busch and Universal attractions, Halloween takes over during the Fall at the large parks. And, we are seeing a growth trend, as more nightly parties are added and park officials are bringing in some big names to up the ante on the frights.

Halloween Decorations


Halloween Horror Nights

In 1991, Universal Studios Florida applied their film-making skills and recruited their legacy of horror movie creatures to bring the scare to people.  From just a few nights at its inception, Halloween Horror has grown to a month and a half long event. In 2015, the event began in mid-September and ended on November 1. A walk up ticket on one of the event’s more popular evenings commands a sticker-shock inducing $102 price tag. Universal takes an extreme approach to their brand of nighttime horror. The park gets filled with haunted houses and guests are ushered through scare zones, and along the way live entertainment dots the frightening landscape. The current version of the event is a far cry from its humble beginnings as just a single haunted house on what was billed as Fright Night. In addition to the Halloween-themed offerings, a partial list of attractions remain open throughout the night to assist in handling the large crowds of event goers. In 1997, Universal rolled out the event to its sister park in Hollywood, Calif.


Howl O Scream

Following the success of the Spooky Safari in 1999, Busch Gardens Tampa launched their own park-wide Halloween event the following year. Howl O Scream is similar to Halloween Horror Nights, with a heavy emphasis on scaring the guests. Haunted houses, scare zones and live shows punctuate the event. For 2015, Busch enlisted The Blair Witch Project producer Robin Cowie to amp up the show in hopes of attracting more guests to the event which was losing the popularity contest to its rival in Orlando. In hopes of bringing Cowie’s knack for generating frights in movie goers into the theme park experience, last year’s event featured more interactive elements and an experience that began outside the gates, before guests made their way into the park. Busch is banking on increased attendance to help overcome the losses suffered in the wake of the negative attention the Sea World parks received in the wake of the Blaskfish documentary on their handling of Orca whales. The gate price for Howl O Scream is $89, but as is the case for the Universal event, discounted tickets can be obtained in advance online.


Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 

It’s not all terror and fright at the large parks. Down the street at the Magic Kingdom each year, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party offers a completely different brand of Halloween entertainment. No chain saws, no zombies, no scare zones or haunted houses, instead Disney relies on the charm of its corps of characters to spook guests. The nighttime event has grown to 25 nights stretching from mid-September to Halloween night with ticket prices ranging from $63-$68. The party ticket gives access to the select attractions that are open for the night, and while the party does not officially kick off until 7 p.m., ticket holders are granted admission at 4 p.m. to begin enjoying rides. The party is highlighted by a parade that runs twice during the evening and an expanded fireworks show. But the unique feature of the Disney event is park-wide trick or treating for all guests in attendance. Of course, Disney’s characters appear throughout the park, most in special Halloween costumes of their own, available for photographs.

Halloween is indeed big business at the large parks. And it continues to grow. In fact, at the Magic Kingdom, there is now just one week between the final Halloween party and the first Christmas party, stretching the two holiday events from September 15 to December 18. This strategy significantly boosts what was once a slow period for the large parks, and generates a great deal of additional revenue during the day as well.

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