Fiendishly Frightening Halloween Festivities in the Theme Parks

Halloween is big business for theme parks, and no longer just an excuse to extend the summer season.  Elaborate sets, costumed characters, movie properties, and transform theme parks into a devilish den of macabre.  If you’re the type of person who loves a good scream, then continue reading for five of the most frightening Halloween celebrations in the theme parks recommended for teens and adults.  If you’re more into treats than tricks, check out these five family friendly Halloween festivities in the parks.

Universal Studios Hollywood American Werewolf Halloween Horror Nights

An American Werewolf in London, image courtesy Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights

Knott’s Scary Farm – Buena Park, CA

At 43 years old, Knott’s Scary Farm, is one of the oldest theme park haunts in the country.  Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm dials up the creepy and transforms the park into a forbidden zone with over a dozen different haunted houses, scarezones, and shows.  Notable attractions include Elvira, Mistress of the Night stage show; Special Ops: Infected – Patient Zero interactive zombie hunting game; and a new haunted hospital called PARANORMAL, INC.  Knott’s Scary Farm runs on select nights September 24 – October 31 with tickets starting at $39.99 when purchased ahead of time.


Photo Courtesy of Knott’s Scary Farm

Halloween Horror Nights – Universal Orlando, FL and Hollywood, CA

Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” is one of the nation’s most extreme Halloween events, and Universal Orlando celebrates their 25th anniversary by bringing back some of their most feared characters – such as Jack the Clown.  At both Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando, guests walk through multiple movie-quality mazes themed around film and TV including: The Purge, The Walking Dead, and Insidious.  In-between the mazes are numerous scare zones meant to provoke and terrorize guests throughout the darkness.  Halloween Horror Nights runs on select evenings from September 18 – November 1 with tickets starting at $49.99 with advance purchase.

Howl-O-Scream – Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA; Tampa, FL and SeaWorld San Antonio, TX

Howl-O-Scream Unearthed is the theme at three theme parks: Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and SeaWorld San Antonio.  Howl-O-Scream Unearthed’s back-story was created by independent horror film producer Robin Cowie, best known for his 1999 film The Blair Witch Project.  The tale centers around Scarlett, a scornful woman brought to life after a construction crew digs too far, and set on punishing visitors with her dark, unmerciful magic.  Prices for Howl-O-Scream Unearthed start at $45, and it runs on select nights from September 25 – November 1 (dates vary depending on park).

Howl-O-Scream Unearthed Scarlett

Howl-O-Scream Unearthed Scarlett 2015© SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Six Flags Fright Fest – Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ

Six Flags Great Adventure promises its biggest, scariest Fright Fest with 22 Halloween-themed attractions including three new haunts and four new shows.  At 6pm, the zombie-filled “Fright by Night” begins with 200+ zombies released into the midways during “The Awakening.”  Other new haunted houses include Big Top Terror 3-D, Demon District, and Blood Shed.  Fright Fest runs for seven weeks, September 19 – November 1, and is included with general theme park admission.  Many of the park’s roller coasters and thrill rides such as: El Toro, Kingda Ka, Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom, and El Diablo also remain open during the Halloween event.  Similar Fright Fest nights can be found at other Six Flags amusement parks all across the country.

Great Adventure Fright Fest - September 5, 2013

Six Flags Fright Fest, photo by Frank H. Conlon, courtesy Six Flags Great Adventure

Phantom Fright Nights – Kennywood, Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh’s historic park opened in 1898, and is recognized as one of the best examples of a traditional preserved amusement park.  However, Kennywood also keeps up with the times, and for the past 14 years has offered a terrifying Halloween event called Phantom Fright Nights.  Even their classic Noah’s Ark (built in 1936 and the last remaining walk-through Ark in the world) turns off the lights and tempts guests to find their way out of the “Haunted Ark” in total darkness.  Phantom Fright Nights offers 10 different houses with zombies, pirates, vampires, and more, while many of the thrill rides and roller coasters continue running in total darkness – so you never see what’s coming.  Kennywood’s Phantom Fright Nights takes place every Friday and Saturday in October, and tickets cost $29.99 when purchased in advance online.

Kennywood Phantom Fright Nights

Kennywood Phantom Fright Nights, photo courtesy Kennywood

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About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.