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Great America’s Halloween Haunt 2016 Proves It’s Still The Best in the Bay Area

Northern California’s marquee morbid event, Halloween Haunt, returns to California’s Great America in 2016 with a few tweaks and added shrieks.

I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow review of each and every maze – you really should go out and explore them for yourselves. However, I will be giving you an overall picture, with some detailed insight.

The marquee attraction for 2016 is “Fear:VR” a virtual reality experience using Samsung phones and the Oculus headset. They are the same headsets used by Six Flags for their VR coasters – but that’s where the comparison ends.

Fear: 5150 seat

The seats used in “Fear: 5150.” NOTE: Photo taken with park representative present. Photos inside mazes and other attractions are NOT ALLOWED.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

Guests of Fear:VR experience a simulated hospital – and lose all sense of the real world for a few brief, terrifying minutes.

Fear:VR (the name was changed due to complaints from mental health advocates) uses 8 stationary “wheelchairs” set up in one of two rooms, dressed just like a doctors office. The “nurses” allow you to get comfortable, then quite literally strap you in. The “Nurses” then place on the VR headset and earphones. The simulation (they call it an ocular exam) proceeds and uses several extra-sensory tricks, similar to a 4D theater in addition to the VR screen.

Overall, it is a fascinating, psychological trip that shows the potential of VR without having to strap you into a moving coaster. But, it will also set you back $10 per person. Normally, I’d be against this – but once I saw the slow capacity, I understood the necessity of making it an “upcharge” attraction. The ability to schedule your “doctor’s appointment” and realistic looking ID wristband you get to take with you are very nice touches.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

It’s been a bad day at the hospital…

One of the biggest changes that Haunt fans will notice is the separation of the Skeleton Key rooms from the mazes. Now they are in their own, individual sites (mostly stores). This has alleviated one of the chief criticisms of last year’s Haunt, in which Skeleton Room patrons waited LONGER to experience the maze than those who had not purchased an upgrade.

This separation keeps the uniqueness of the rooms, while preserving the Fast Lane that comes with it. The five rooms are: Bone Crusher, Dominated, Vanity, Sorority Slaughter and Hoarder House. Their experiences vary from standard “walk-though” maze to full-on “escape from the room.”

Cornstalkers received a much-needed refresh – and it paid off nicely. Great to see the older mazes get some love here, too.

However, the event is not without it’s wrinkles to iron out. For example, the Fast Lane entrance for Insanitarium was difficult to find – and when I did find it, it wasn’t separated from the other guests, which led to some confusion. Thankfully, crowds were very light for a Friday night.

Also, the area around “Fear: 5150” is quite bleak – and not in the good, “Haunt-ish” sort of way. It’s actually quite difficult to FIND or even SEE the attraction as you’re walking past it. With Planet Snoopy completely dark, I struggled to see the sign for the attraction – and many guests probably walked right past it without even realizing it was there. Maybe some extra “nurses” could be stationed around the area, and used like carnival barkers to ask if people have made their appointments” to see the good doctor.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

It’s easy to miss “Fear:VR” if you don’t know it’s there. The area is very dark and the signage is nearly impossible to see.

Now, I know I’ve written at length before about this last gripe, but it bears repeating: How can a park, with a ride themed after a demonic creature, not do ANYTHING to plus the ride during a Halloween event? Of course, I’m referring to “The Demon” – and it befuddles me each and every Haunt to ride it, only to find nothing has been added, changed or put into it. Heck, at least the other Demon at Six Flags Great America brings back the kitschy theme song that used to play in the queue during their Fright Fest! Here’s the complete soundtrack, in case anyone at the park is reading this:

The event still suffers from a lack of talent, both in the scare zones and mazes. Hopefully, it will fill out as the event progresses.

Finally – this is something that I’ve watched become more and more of an issue with each Haunt season: parking control.
While I realize that security is more focused on the guests inside the park, it may be time to address the parents picking up their kids outside the gates.

You see, this isn’t the line to get into the park for Haunt – these are all parked vehicles, blocking the entrance to the parking lot. It extends all the way onto Great America Parkway. If I were a guest who didn’t know better, I’d assume it was the line to get into the park – and promptly change my mind about going that evening:

Haunt Parking Mess 1

This is a line of parked cars, blocking the entry to Great America – they’re all waiting to pick up their kids, when the drop off spot is less than a block away.

Haunt Parking Mess 2

If I were driving on GAP and saw this line of cars headed to the park – I’d promptly keep driving, assuming the park was packed.

What’s more frustrating, is that in addition to all of that roadway being a red zone, the drop off / pick up area is right across the way, designed for easy entry and exit. It was only about half-full when I took these photos. But, come peak Haunt season, it will be full and overflowing. It would be nice to see the park and city come up with a better, higher capacity waiting area, so that more people would use it. Where’s Stanley Roberts when you need him?

So is Halloween Haunt a good bet for you and your friends in 2016? Absolutely.

Should you pony up a few extra bucks for the unique, Skeleton Rooms and Fear:VR? Yes. You probably had a Gold Pass anyway, so why not spend a few bucks every now and then to “plus” your experience? I know I’ll be returning to the fog…

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REVIEW – Halloween Haunt 2012 at California’s Great America

First off, my apologies for the delay in updating lately. Unlike some others in the theme park fandom community – I actually hold down full-time employment in a separate career…

In only it’s fifth year of existence, California’s Great America has taken their “Halloween Haunt” from a paltry offering that used “long retired” mazes from other parks – to a bona fide, macabre extravaganza worthy of a separate gate admission.

After parking the car and meeting up with my group for the night, I immediately noticed the attention to theme and detail. Carousel Plaza was lit up (and so were the teenagers I was surrounded by).

In Hometown Square my fellow “scared-y cats” and I gathered, awaiting the Overlord (the de facto leader of the monsters) to rise up from the depths and “plug” all the fun activities for the evening (literally as if he was plugging a product on the Howard Stern show) as well as command his minions to go forth, “…and terrorize!” The ropes were dropped and the night of fright officially began.

HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS:

Figuring the front mazes would be crowded at first, I made my way to the back of the park, where the familiar sounds of “Toy Factory” could be heard.

“Toy Factory” is set in it’s namesake – a not so abandoned factory inhabited by deranged dolls and other toys, who were more than willing to help unsuspecting guests join their ranks. Some of the best effects are found in the the strobe rooms, but if you’re claustrophobic – this is not the maze for you.

“Werewolf Canyon” was sadly at the bottom of my list this year, mostly because it was practically empty by all standards. While most of the mazes will will up nicely as we get closer to Halloween, I didn’t get one good fright out of the entire attraction – which is a sharp contrast from last years maze in the same location.

Next up was arguably the best of the mazes at this event, for several years now, “Cornstalkers”. Set in the back of the park, through the Picnic Grove and under the Grizzly, this maze had the best scares of the night, by far.

Not only does it feel like the longest of the mazes, but it’s use of open air and lack of soundtrack gives you the false sense of safety – which the talent in the maze use perfectly to their advantage. The addition of actors blending perfectly into the corn maize walls towards the end of the attraction adds to the suspense and fright.

“Madame Marie’s Massacre Mansion” is a new addition to the maze lineup this year. Built into it’s own building (ironically next to First Aid) “Mansion” is one of the best themed mazes I’ve walked through in quite some time. It also commanded the longest line of the night.

It was clear there was attention to detail at every level – it truly made you FEEL as though you were in a 1920’s (or so) mansion, that is, if you didn’t look up to the ceiling and see the shed you were actually in! This is in sharp contrast to most of the mazes at events like this, where it’s just painted particle board.

The effects were nothing short of impressive and the costumes were excellent, to boot. It’s clear that this maze took some serious investment to get it right – and in my opinion it was well worth the time and effort put into it. One can only hope we see it return next year.

Vegans beware! “Slaughterhouse Annihilation” just might make you sick. Based around an abandoned meat processing facility, this maze is one of the more gruesome of the bunch – and rightfully so. Expect to be thrown in a meat grinder in this maze at some point – and whatever you do – don’t show the pigs any fear!

“CarnEvil” is the reigning patriarch of the mazes at this event. Originally a maze down at Knott’s Berry Farm, “CarnEvil was the first maze to make it’s way to Great America when the Halloween Haunt debuted five years ago.

This maze is by far, the most light-hearted of them all, which attracts the multitude of fans to it. That is, of course, if you’re not afraid of clowns.

Built into the Rue le Dodge bumper car arena, “CarnEvil” is also a 3D maze – used to brilliant effect in the opening room. Just don’t walk too quickly or you just might run into a wall or three.

Herein again, I found the lack of talent inside to be the only disappointment. At previous events, it would have been impossible to throw a pie and NOT hit a homicidal clown. Instead, I was hard pressed to see more than 7-10 actors inside!

“Club Blood ReVamp’d” was sadly the one maze I was unable to get to in my time at the park. Though, from the scantily-clad zombie and vampire ladies that were going inside – I’m certainly regretting not making the time to get in!

As the night progressed and the temperature dropped, the scare zones (and the fog) only warmed up in terms of action. The purposely dimmed lighting certainly did its part as well. Nothing beats walking through the arbor arch at the back of the park and seeing about three feet in front of you!

ENTERTAINMENT:

“Blood Drums” is a high energy, outdoor show that’s best described as “Stomp” meets “zombie apocalypse.”

Set in the premium venue at the park (directly behind the Carousel Columbia) “Blood Drums” is a 3-4 member band in full zombie attire that uses metal objects and “industrial tools” to create music.

If you’re into loud, ear-splitting music – this is definitely the show for you. If you’re not – steer clear, hombre. Many times, I found myself reaching to plug my ears, as the volume was up so high it physically hurt – and I was standing about 100 feet away from the stage. How the guests standing at the front of the stage are not deaf today, is beyond me.

In fact, the best music the team played during their set, again in my opinion, was when they TURNED OFF the backup bass and drumbeats – and simply played live.

“CULTure Pop” is in the Showtime Theatre – and can best be described as “The Hanging” without the blood, stunts or punch of the actual hanging.

Cedar Fair Entertainment certainly seems to have a fascination with pop culture, to the point of being painful to watch. Expect to see pop culture “icons” appear throughout the show, with many of them that just don’t work. Cedar Fair also seems to have a fascination with effeminate men playing the supporting role to the “straight man” in the show…go figure.

There were some good moments though, including a cameo by a hairy “Honey Boo Boo” and a dismissal of the band, “New Direction.”

But the lack of a “finale” (I.E. someone has to die at these types of shows) and several VERY adult themed dance numbers (We’re talking full on groping and humping!) really hurt the overall entertainment value, especially for an event marketed to kids ages 13+. Have your scantily clad ladies, that’s fine – but tone down the sexual overtones – it’s shock value and really does not add to the show.

But what REALLY shocks me, is something that’s completely out of the parks’ control – the lack of understanding about what these events are all about. I’m talking about how I lost count of the number of STROLLERS and CHILDREN who were clearly too young to be at such a mentally-intense event as this.

The park certainly does their part to curb this; warnings abound on park literature and signage. Heck, even the security guards were warning parents – but it didn’t seem to dissuade the “Parents of the Year” from continuing their march towards the inevitable child psychologist appointments.

So, overall – I see nothing but good things for this event in the future. While it may not have the star power of the original Halloween Haunt at Knott’s Berry Farm, if it continues on this path that it’s on, I see no reason why it should not have the same staying power and clout as it’s namesake does.

If you have not already purchased a Season Pass for this park, what exactly are you waiting for? In addition to admission to Halloween Haunt (depending on the level of pass you purchase) you can receive free parking, free admission to Gilroy Gardens, as well as merchandise and food discounts in-park. (We saved $20 collectively on our dinner!)

Oh, not to mention Gold Striker, CGA’s first roller coaster in over a DECADE (yes, it’s been that long, people) and second wooden coaster!

Top Tips:

  • If you don’t like being scared – save yourself the trouble and don’t go.
  • Friday nights tend to be a younger crowd than Saturday nights.
  • Arrive at the front gate at opening to maximize your stay. You’re going to need as much time as possible to experience everything.
  • Take on the outdoor mazes AFTER the sun sets, focus on indoor mazes during the twilight.
  • Try to find the pockets of people and then avoid them – to keep lines to a minimum.
  • Go in late September or early October to avoid the expected, larger crowds as Halloween approaches.

For more information, visit: www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt2012