It's that time of year again, when the best way to get your sweeties to hold your hand is to scare the bejeezus out of them with Halloween horrors at Florida's theme parks and attractions. Some go for movie-quality scares, and some go for gags over gore at these separate-ticket events set up just for the coming six weeks. Here's a look at what's in store this year, starting this weekend.
Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream
The Tampa theme park is infested with zombies starting Friday, with two new haunted houses and the return of five others for this year's "unlucky 13th" year of Howl-O-Scream. The new houses are called Blood Asylum, with a bloody serial killer on the loose in a mental hospital, and Circus of Superstition 3-D, with crazed circus clowns challenging you to survive 13 superstitions. Also new this year are roaming hordes that will keep guests watching their backs as they explore the park's 335 acres, and a live entertainment dance party. To celebrate its 13th year, the haunted houses and scare zones of years past will be brought out in an ultimate "best of" scrapbook of scares called Faded Memories. Returning houses include Condemned, an abandoned casino, the Nightshade Toy Factory and Zombie Mortuary. There's also Alone, a house that requires an additional fee and reservations because you travel this house alone or with a small group for some cool effects that can't be done with large groups.
Admission and deals: General admission is $79.99, but there are lots of discounts online and at some retail outlets. This weekend is a Freaky Preview, so there's a price break for Friday of $34.99 if you buy tickets in advance online. Some of the better deals online are the Thrills & Chills Weekend Pass that lets you choose any weekend for unlimited daytime admission and three nights of Howl-O-Scream — all for $79.99. The Twisted Thursday 4-Pack lets you get four people in for $24.99 each on Thursdays only Sept. 27-Oct. 25. See howloscream.com.
Universal's Halloween Horror Nights
The Orlando theme park is embracing AMC's hugely popular zombie show The Walking Dead this year. The series about a deputy sheriff trying to muddle through a zombie apocalypse will be central to the scares starting Friday. The TV show has lent the park authenticity by sharing the molds used to re-create masks and props for iconic scenes from the show.
Guests will enter the maze through the hospital Rick wakes up to in The Walking Dead pilot. They will also walk through the Sheriff's Office, Hershell's barn and many more key moments. The maze may be populated with more than 20 actors at any given time.
Being a studio-based theme park, there are also haunted houses conceived with the cooperation of other show biz characters, such as Penn & Teller and Alice Cooper. Themed houses include the Dead End House, Gothic Cathedral and Universal's House of Horrors, a salute to movie monsters. New this year are free-roaming "scare actors" on the loose.
Admission and deals: The scare zones rise from the dead on 25 select nights between Friday and Oct. 31. A one-night ticket is $88.99, but there are discounts available for multiple nights, Florida residents, annual pass holders and online purchases at HalloweenHorrorNights.com/orlando.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Walt Disney World brings more fun than fright to the Magic Kingdom, with two parades, fireworks and multiple candy locations. It starts at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays through September, then multiple dates through Nov. 2. Some dates have discounted prices and annual passholder or other discounts may be available for advance purchases. Costumes are allowed for kids and adults. $50.95-$69.95. See disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Lowry Park ZooBoo
The zoo's family friendly Halloween event with haunted houses and trails for older zoogoers, boo houses and seasonal lights for little ones will have unlimited zoo rides in the dark. It's $10 the first weekend Sept. 28-29 and on select weekends until Oct. 29, it's $17 adults, $14 children at the zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa.
Fantasy of Flight's Haunted Hangar
The aviation attraction off Interstate 4 in Polk County has a Haunted Hangar Oct. 1-Nov. 14 where you can take a walk through the spooky side of Fantasy of Flight with eerie stories of aviation lore such as the famous Lost Squadron and Lindbergh's phantom companions. Included with admission to Fantasy of Flight, $28.95, $14.95 children, ages 5 and under free; 1400 Broadway Blvd. SE, Polk City, fantasyofflight.com.
Legoland Florida's Brick-or-Treat
This spooky, kooky event is included with regular admission from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays in October at the Winter Park theme park. It features themed treat stations with candy, a scavenger hunt, a Lego pumpkin model activity and costume contests. See florida.legoland.com.
SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular
The Orlando marine theme park lets kids dress up and trick-or-treat among friendly sea witches, mermaids, octopus, pumpkin fish and more. Plus, they can play in an assortment of Halloween and aquarium-related activities, catch silly spooky shows and help Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby find her magic wand in the 4,000-square-foot maze. All events included with park admission from noon to 8 p.m. on select dates starting Oct. 6-7.
Weeki Wachee Wild 'n' Wicked Nights
The mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park will again host their annual Halloween festival with a "Happily Never After" show performed by the world famous mermaids, hay rides, costume contest, scream contest, a crazy carnival, kids maze and more. It runs Oct. 19-20 and 26-27 from 7 to 11 p.m. each night. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for kids ages 6-12.
Florida Aquarium Guppyween
On Oct. 28, kids can trick-or-treat throughout the Florida Aquarium. There will be entertainment for the kids, lots of goodies and all the galleries will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. Kids in costume are $2, those 12 and older get in for $12; flaquarium.org.