Choosing which theme park to visit during Halloween is like picking a sauce for your buffalo wings. You can play it safe with something mild or go for the one that'll leave you crying for mercy. Here's this year's menu:
Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream
The cojoined Raven Twins, who have separated themselves to take revenge on unsuspecting men, are the mascots of this year's collection of haunted houses, which feature the bonus of getting to hit the park's signature rides after dark. No costumes allowed.
New this year: Besides the scare zones, which showcase roaming zombies and monsters while you traipse from house to house, two shows — One Wild Night and Killer Klownz — have been added to the roster. New haunted houses Reconstruction, about surgery gone wrong, and Death Row Vengeance, full of executed inmates, join past favorites.
When: Freaky Preview this Friday and Saturday; Oct. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, 30, 31 and Nov. 1. Freaky Preview and Thursdays 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Details: 10001 N McKinley Drive, Tampa; (888) 800-5447, raventwins.com. General admission is $64.95. Advance online tickets for Florida residents are $29.95 for the Freaky Preview, $36.95 for Thursdays and Fridays and $54.95 for Saturdays. More details on discounted tickets are online. Lowry Park Zoo's ZooBoo Shriek Peek Weekend
This family-friendly festival rates its 12 main attractions according to scariness, so everyone can have fun. Animal shows and exhibits are ideal for little kids; older ones can enjoy attractions like Unearthed! Secrets of the Museum, which features Victorian-era mannequins strewn with cobwebs. Admission gets you unlimited zoo rides in the dark, including the Gator Falls water log ride.
New this year: The zoo is reaching out to braver guests with two attractions that get the maximum scariness rating: Sinister Shadows simulates a black hole full of evil creatures, while at Declassified: Project Alien, guests investigate a genetic experiment gone wrong. For the first time, the zoo features a comedy carriage ride instead of a spooky one; it's an additional $4 per person.
When: This Friday and Saturday, and Oct. 3, 4, 9-12, 16-19, 23-26, 29-31 and Nov. 1. Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursdays and Sundays 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Details: 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa, (813) 935-8552; lowryparkzoo.com/zooboo. General admission is $17 for ages 12 and older, $14 for ages 3 to 11. During Shriek Peek Weekend Friday and Saturday, admission is $12 for all ages.
SeaWorld Orlando's Halloween Spooktacular
Costumes are encouraged at this family-friendly extravaganza, where kids get a treasure map that leads them to the trick-or-treat stations. In addition to 2 million pieces of candy, the park will offer bananas as a healthy alternative. Expect interactive games and stage shows featuring Sesame Street's Count Von Count and Elmo. Also meet Gummy Worm Wanda, Salt Water Taffy, Swedish Fish Suzy and other creatures. Families may also attend the Spooky Spectacular Sleepover or Count Von Count's Spooktacular Breakfast for an additional fee.
New this year: The theme is Underwater FantaSea. Between noon and 4 p.m., the Dolly Dolphin Sing Along and Wild Things will rotate at the Seafire Inn.
When: Oct. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 24-26 and 31. 11 a.m. to close.
Details: 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando 1-800-327-2424, seaworldspooktacular.com. Spooktacular is included with admission. For Florida residents it's $59.95 for all ages if you order tickets online. At the gate it's $69.95 for ages 10 and older $59.59 for kids 9 and under.
Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights
The event's three most popular shows are back with some updates. Catch Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure and The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute. And illusionist Brian Brushwood returns with his own act full of edge-of-your-seat stunts. Select rides and attractions will be open. No costumes, stage makeup or masks are allowed.
New this year: Pretty much everything, because Universal creates its haunted houses and scare zones from scratch. There are eight haunted houses, including one based on the movie Doomsday. There also are 10 scare zones. Leave the kiddies at home. In fact, to discourage parents from bringing kids, there are no child ticket prices available.
When: This Friday and Saturday, and Oct. 2-5, 9-12, 16-19, 22-26, 29-31 and Nov. 1. Event starts at 6:30 p.m. Closing times vary.
Details: 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando; (407) 363-8000, halloweenhorrornights.com. Tickets are $69.99 and include admission to most CityWalk clubs. (A daytime park ticket does not include Halloween Horror Nights.) Florida residents can save $10-$33 when buying in advance with a Coca-Cola proof of purchase. See halloweenhorrornights.com.
Walt Disney World's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
As the name implies, this one's aimed at younger children. Most guests wear costumes, including the adults, and kids receive a trick-or-treat bag for Disney cast members to fill as they stroll the Magic Kingdom. Be sure to catch Mickey's Boo-to-You Halloween Parade. The parade lasts an hour and runs twice a night. Throughout the night, the Haunted Mansion and most other popular rides are open. Because this is an after-hours event, the wait time is refreshingly short.
New this year: Catch the Happy HalloWishes fireworks display, which features Disney villains trick-or-treating in the sky. Also be sure to compliment Mickey and Minnie on their new costumes. They've traded in their scarecrow and witch ensembles for purple and orange evening wear.
When: Remaining dates are Sunday and Tuesday; Oct. 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30 and 31 (sold out); and Nov. 2. Runs 7 p.m. to midnight.
Details: The party is at Magic Kingdom, 3111 World Dr., Lake Buena Vista, (407) 824-4321; disneyworld.com/halloween. Advance tickets are $42.95 for ages 3 to 9 and $48.95 for ages 10 and older. At the gate, tickets are $49.95 for ages 3 to 9 and $55.95 for ages 10 and older.