Halloween has become a profitable scare season oozing well into September and past November. That means more time to meet grim, grinning ghosts, get your pants scared off by nightmarish clowns and fill your treat bags to the brim.
It has also ballooned in cost as haunts get more elaborate, with some events putting guests inside their favorite horror films and TV shows. Not-so-spooky attractions for the littlest ones have taken a big leap in quality as well — way beyond the standard pumpkin patch and trick-or-treat stations.
As we tiptoe into Halloween season, here are our picks for five Wild and Mild attractions lurking around the corner, not to be missed — plus one that's a little of both.
Halloween Horror Nights: Ever wanted to stay the night at the Overlook Hotel or fight your way out of one of Jigsaw's gruesome traps? Universal Orlando's annual fright fest feeds horror junkies like no other with iconic film and TV sets. Get chased by the infamous Bloody Face. Come face-to-face with the insidious Bride in Black. The 27th year brings brand-name horrors from The Shining, Saw, American Horror Story, Trick r' Treat and films from the Blumhouse studio. The park also boasts original mazes with vile vampires, sadistic scarecrows, disturbing demons and one angry voodoo queen. Open now, select nights through Nov. 4. 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando. $59.99 and up. (407) 363-8000. halloweenhorrornights.com.
Howl-O-Scream: The Tampa theme park is all cuddly animals and coasters during the day but at night it transitions to Howl-O-Scream, with roving spooks, haunted mazes and scare zones. The park offers seven haunted houses, five scare zones and the chance to ride coasters in the dark. Insider's tip: The party starts at 7:30 p.m., but a Howl-O-Scream ticket includes early access to the park at 5 p.m. Open now, select nights through Oct. 29. 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. $39.99 and up. (813) 884-4386. buschgardens.com.
Scream-A-Geddon: This seasonal horror park is set up at the end of a two-lane road in rural Dade City, a spot your car would definitely break down in a horror movie. Unlike the big theme parks, this one allows you to don a glow necklace too alert scare actors that you are open to them grabbing you. This year's Infected Ground Zero theme makes guests a part of the story and challenges them to stay alive. Open now, select nights through Nov. 4. 7:30 p.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday. 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City. $19.95-$39.95. (813) 452-5412. screamageddon.com.
Chamber of Terror: The local haunt moved its scares to the American Victory Ship in Channelside last year. Creator Courtney McIntyre has crafted a new gruesome story in and around the supposedly haunted World War II merchant ship docked in Tampa Bay. Once on board, guests will be at the mercy of Captain Berwick and his heinous crew, who lurk in the ship's dank depths. You'll encounter lost souls in the living quarters and undead crew members on the weather deck. The nautical nightmare, which takes almost a half hour to complete, returns Friday on select nights through Halloween at 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $25 with $5 re-entry tickets available on select nights. (813) 375-9712. chamberofterrorfl.com.
Vault of Souls: Evenings of elegant fear are back for a third year at the Vault in downtown Tampa, the former Exchange National Bank built in 1923. Former Howl-O-Scream designers have used the chic architecture to give it a Jazz Age vibe, perfect for paranormal experience the Vault of Souls. This year, guests can make reservations to be a part of a Release Room in the bank's basement, where they'll interact with spooky actors and solve puzzles similar to an escape room to "release a preselected soul." They'll also get to imbibe in cash bars at the third floor Spirit Bar and the first floor Gin Joint. Open weekends from Oct. 7-28. $50 for adults 18 and older includes valet parking, unlimited entry to performances and a group experience in one of the Release Rooms. 611 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 591-3327. elegantfear.com.
Sesame Street Safari of Fun Halloween: New this year at Busch Gardens is Halloween fun during the day for the little ones. And for the first time, guests can dress in costume when visiting the park every weekend in October. You'll find a parade of Sesame Street characters, trick-or-treating, photo ops, crafts, games and activities from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The DJ will be playing the entire time, too. All guests are welcome to dress up in costumes, but only those 12 and younger are allowed to wear masks. Character parades, which end with a character dance party, are at 11 a.m., 2 and 3 p.m. each day. Included with admission. $99, $79 ages 3-9, 2 and younger free. 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. (813) 884-4386. buschgardens.com.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: As the name implies, it's not a scary event. But it does embrace kooky Disney villains with acts like the Cadaver Dans Barbershop Quartet and a parade led by the Headless Horseman. There are treat stations all over the park so you can load up on free candy (even the adults). A stage show is hosted by the Sanderson sisters from the movie Hocus Pocus with other Disney villains like Oogie Boogie and Maleficent. The parade is one of Disney's best, as are the fireworks. The Headless Horseman makes a grand entrance, and the march of The Haunted Mansion grave diggers is the highlight, with sparks flying from scraping shovels. And this is the one time of year you can show up in costume. Open now from 7 p.m.-midnight but you can get in as early as 4 p.m. at the Magic Kingdom. $88-$110 through Oct. 31, getting most expensive later in October. (407) 824-4321. disneyworld.com/halloween.
Creatures of the Night: Returning for a second year, Lowry Park Zoo has created a kind of date night with kids in tow. The dance party and haunted attractions are more Beetlejuice funny than nightmare-inducing shocks. While the kids boogie with stilt-walking zombies, Mom and Dad can head to the wine and beer garden for pretzels, fall snacks, pumpkin beer, fall cider or other drinks. Activities include the Knock Knock: Trick or Treating With the Animals show, scare zones, Pumpkin Palooza, trick or treating, night time animal encounters and the ghoulish dance party. Opens Oct. 6 and runs weekends through Oct. 28. Included with admission, or $22.95 after 4 p.m., 2 and younger free. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 935-8552. lowryparkzoo.org.
Harvest Moon Corn Maze: We don't exactly have fall weather but we do have a five-acre corn maze that features more than 3 miles of twists and turns along with a petting farm, Maize-O-Poly, 70-foot jumping pillow, cow train ride, pumpkin bowling, games and a pumpkin patch. Opens Saturday and runs weekends through Nov. 5. $11.95, 2 and younger free. Harvest Moon Farm, 15990 Stur St., Masaryktown. (800) 373-4811. harvestmoonfl.com.
Legoland's Brick-or-Treat: The Winter Haven theme park clicks with trick-or-treaters along a special trail lined with creative Lego sculptures from giant pumpkins to skeletons made of bricks. There's also a scavenger hunt, Halloween-themed fireworks and meet and greets with Lego Vampyre, Lego Mummy and other spooky characters. Children with costumes can also participate in a special Creepy, Crawly Costume Parade held throughout the day for different age ranges and everyone who joins in on the fun gets a special gift. Opens weekends Oct. 14-29 and on Halloween at 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven. Included with admission. $75, $65 seniors/ages 3-12, 2 and younger free. (888) 690-5346. legoland.com/florida.
A BIT OF BOTH
Blood District: A new haunted attraction by St. Petersburg's Warehouse Arts District is recommended for ages 13 and older, so this falls between mild and wild. The 16-day event with a midway area will have a haunted maze of linked shipping containers filled with different scenes. In an old rail car, watch actors perform the legend of a local woman who murdered a train driver, causing it to crash and kill many passengers. Some say they see ghosts from the wreck roaming through the Arts District. The midway area will have food, beverages, vendors and scary entertainers. It runs on select nights from Oct. 5-31. A costumed launch party on Oct. 6 starts at 8 p.m. and includes access to the attraction. $15 online, $20 at the door. $39 for the launch party. 2338 Emerson Ave. S. blooddistrict.com.