We know it’s the last thing on your mind in this heat, but the Halloween creep has already begun. From store flyers promoting their decorations to theme parks launching their annual Halloween parties as early as mid-August, the scary season is right behind you.
It used to be early Christmas promotions got all the eye rolls, but Halloween is gaining as a holiday with a long, icy reach. The reason, of course, is money. Scares sell.
Fall had been the slowest time of year for Florida’s attractions. But these days, elaborate haunted houses have become a bloody bank of profits for the theme parks, with crowds for Halloween-themed special events now dwarfing the spring break hordes.
Theme parks don’t release attendance or sales figures, but pre-pandemic industry estimates figured Busch Gardens gained more than 300,0000 people over the months of September and October to line up for gory haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream, said Dennis Speigel, president of the trade group International Theme Park Services of Cincinnati.
Universal Studios in Orlando, his studies showed, can expect to draw more than 600,000 visitors by Nov. 1 for its Halloween Horror Nights, easily more than twice the number of people who visit Universal in the March and April spring break season.
After taking two years off because of the pandemic, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom is getting its earliest start ever this year, opening on select nights starting Aug. 12. Tickets are already on sale, and Halloween night is already sold out. Tickets range from $109 in August to $179 closer to Halloween.
Also in the family-friendly Halloween camp is Creatures of the Night at ZooTampa at Lowry Park. Held every Friday and Saturday in October from 4 to 10 p.m., children 12 and younger will be allowed to arrive in costume. They will roam heavily themed areas with spooky decorations, lights, fog, mysterious music and sound effects. Admission has not been announced yet but in past years it has been included with daily admission ($44.95, ages 3-12 $34.95) or with a reduced admission after 4 p.m. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. zootampa.org.
For more ghoulish Halloween fun, Busch Gardens, Universal and SeaWorld have all begun making announcements about the haunted houses coming to the theme parks for their own separate-ticket events.
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Howl-O-Scream begins at Busch Gardens on Sept. 9 and continues select nights through Halloween. It runs Thursdays through Sundays, opening at 7 p.m., but the gates open at 5.
It will have roving scare actors, stage shows and several haunted houses. So far, the park has announced that “The Forgotten” haunted house (described as having vengeful vampires that lurk in the shadows), the “Witch of the Woods” and a holiday overlay of the “The Residence: Home for the Holidays” will be returning.
There is currently a limited-time Sinister Sale of up to 70% for tickets starting at $29.99 at howloscream.com/tampa.
SeaWorld, which is owned by the same parent company as Busch Gardens, did its first Howl-O-Scream last year and is bringing back some of the fan-favorite haunted houses. New houses announced include Sea of Fear and Cut Throat Cove and a new stage show called “Lurking in the Depths.”
SeaWorld’s Howl-O-Scream is on select nights Sept. 9 through Oct. 31. The theme park is also offering a sale right now with tickets starting at $29.99 at seaworld.com/orlando.
Universal, with its access to numerous classic horror movies and TV shows, is the most popular and most expensive of the theme park horrors. Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando starts Sept. 2 and runs on select nights through Halloween. There will be 10 haunted houses, five scare zones, a Tribute Store and themed food. Announcements so far have included the return of Michael Myers stalking guests in a “Halloween” haunted house, as well as “The Horrors of Blumhouse,” named after the studio behind the upcoming supernatural thriller “The Black Phone” and horror-comedy “Freaky.”
Tickets range from $73.99 to $104.99 at universalorlando.com/hhn/en/us.