Got your costumes ready? Halloween is more than a month away, but theme parks, zoos, resorts, haunted houses — and hotels — are already welcoming your little (and big) ghosts and ghouls with fall events.
Organizers promise these popular events are back and better than ever, and you should be able to visit safely. COVID-19 protocols, like reduced capacity and mask-wearing, are in place, and you’ll need to book reservations in advance.
Boo at the Zoo events are everywhere, from the Denver Zoo and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to the San Diego Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, Little Rock Zoo, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina, among others.
Search for a zoo or aquarium near you on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website. Book your reservations in advance, as capacities are reduced.
If you’re brave enough, look into a haunted hotel like the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, made famous by Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.”
The historic Jekyll Island Club Resort in Georgia offers Macabre Tales tours all October; many believe the hotel is haunted by long-ago guests and workers.
Some events are an annual tradition — like San Antonio’s Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos, the largest celebration of the cultural tradition outside of Mexico. Events across the city last all of October as families celebrate departed loved ones.
Orlando certainly is geared up. And fall typically offers some of the best hotel deals of the year. Celebrate with Spooky Science Month at Orlando Science Center, seasonal crafts at Crayola Experience, a year-round Halloween bar (Cocktails & Screams features scenes from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, with themed cocktails to match), and swamp things at Gators, Ghosts and Goblins at the popular Gatorland.
Stay socially distanced outdoors at botanical gardens touting amazing displays of pumpkins and gourds. The Chicago Botanic Garden features more than 1,000 lighted jack-o’-lanterns, while autumn at the Dallas Arboretum has a bona-fide Pumpkin Village with four 20-foot-tall decorated pumpkin houses and displays made from more than 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash. There are also bugged-out pumpkin houses and gourds transformed into art.
For those with younger kids (and indoor-water-park aficionados), Howl-O-Ween is back all October at Great Wolf Lodges around the country.
On the West Coast, the popular Terror Tram, featuring “The Ultimate Purge” and scary “Halloween 4,” is back at Universal Studios Hollywood. If you can’t get in all the scares in one night, spring for a multiple-night ticket.
Plaza de la Familia at Disney California Adventure Park celebrates the spirit of Dia de los Muertos through Nov. 2, plus decor and entertainment inspired by Disney and Pixar’s “Coco.” There’s also Oogie Boogie Bash, transformed Halloween-themed attractions, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Guardians of the Galaxy and sightings of favorite Disney villains.
Every night until Oct. 31, Disneyland guests will enjoy “Halloween Screams,” a supernatural projection and special-effects show. No wonder a visit this season is a tradition for many Californians.
Southern California’s largest Halloween event is at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park, which transforms itself into a haunted attraction for the season “where nightmares never end,” complete with 1,000 horrifying creatures. (There is a not-so-scary Knott’s Spooky Farm daytime event for the under-12 crowd with trick-or-treating and costume-contest weekends.)
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort, which started before Labor Day, is celebrating its 30th year with even more terrifying Scare Zones and haunted houses. “Beetlejuice” returns as the supernatural star of a haunted house based on Tim Burton’s Academy Award-winning film. There are new mazes inspired by Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” among other attractions. Don’t bring kids who you don’t think can handle the frights. I was scared out of my mind the year I visited.
Despite the pandemic, there are new events. For the first time in Orlando, Howl-O-Scream, popular at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Williamsburg, promises plenty of scary thrills, rides, a live show and even an interactive bar. SeaWorld Spooktacular invites younger kids to come in costume on weekends.
Walt Disney World has got an all-new Halloween-themed event, too, including on select nights Disney After Hours Boo Bash. This one started in August and lasts through Halloween with special performances by the Cadaver Dans, trick-or-treat stations around the park, Halloween decor and more.
The new LEGOLAND New York Resort will have Brick-or-Treat October weekends, very popular at LEGOLAND Florida, while LEGOLAND California Resort invites families to join Halloween in Miniland, complete with socially distanced character meet-n-greet weekends in October.