Halloween Countdown: Our picks for the best killer events in theme parks and beyond to end the spooky season

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With Halloween just three days away, this weekend is the final chance to partake in the eerie entertainment produced in haunted attractions nationwide. To help choose from the hundreds, if not thousands, of special Halloween events planned this weekend, I’ve selected a handful of favorites below, from my own personal experiences in recent years. There are certainly many more worth visiting, but these are the spooktacular events I can recommend.


Halloween Horror Nights

The ultimate scare-fest to prepare for October 31 is Halloween Horror Nights, both in Florida and California. Since late September, Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood have put on the country’s best Halloween event for 2011, offering a mix of Hollywood-quality make-up, sets, and special effects with plenty of screams. Anyone following me on Twitter and Facebook will know this is easily my favorite Halloween time event, which I have been frequenting for weeks and will be returning to at least one more time before the weekend is over. Plan on lines being longest tonight and tomorrow with Sunday and Halloween night offering far fewer people in the parks. Tickets are available at HalloweenHorrorNights.com.

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  • Howl-O-Scream

    For 2011, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has rolled out one of the best Howl-O-Scream events they’ve ever had. Zombies lurk around every corner, with no street safe throughout the theme park. Three new haunted houses show off some of the most effective scares and unique scenes this event has ever produced. But lines for those three experiences stretch far longer than those for the three mazes that return this year, so be prepared to wait for something new. And unlike Halloween Horror Nights, the last Howl-O-Scream for 2011 is tomorrow night, Oct. 29, not open on Sunday or on Halloween night. Tickets are available at www.HowlOScream.com/Tampa.

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  • Mickey’s (Not-So-Scary) Halloween Party

    Disney holds similar fright-free events at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California. In Orlando, it’s called Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. In Anaheim, it’s simply Mickey’s Halloween Party, part of Halloween Time at Disneyland. Both after-hours, separately-ticketed events offer Halloween fun for all ages without any worry about being spooked. A special parade, fireworks show, character meet-and-greets, and plenty of trick-or-treating opportunities to grab bags full of candy are the highlights of the evenings. In Orlando, the updated Villains Mix-and-Mingle show now features a great opening number by Dr. Facilier from “The Princess and the Frog.” Tickets are still available for Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland for Halloween night only. At Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, the party takes place tonight, Sunday, Monday, and even one last Halloween hurrah on Tuesday night, Nov. 1, with tickets still available for all nights.

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  • Old Town and Terror on the Lake

    For those looking for Halloween fun outside the theme parks of Orlando, Old Town (located just south of Walt Disney World on Highway 192) is presenting a nightly happening that includes live entertainment, wandering characters, and “haunt zones” – all for free. There’s also the Haunted Grimm House, a short walk-through experience, that requires a ticket and is open year-round. It’s not quite up to the caliber of haunted mazes seen at Halloween Horror Nights or Howl-O-Scream, but should offer a solid startle or two. Down the road near the intersection of 192 and 27 is Terror on the Lake, a haunted house experiences that’s new for 2011. Tickets are available on their web site.


    Terror Behind the Walls

    Outside of Florida and California, the United States is filled with other haunted attractions and experiences, a favorite of mine being Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s the location that makes this attraction special, set inside the nation’s first true penitentiary – a spooky place even in the daytime that’s rumored to actually be haunted by the spirits of the many inmates who died there over the years. New this year are Gauntlet and Break Out, two experiences that bookend the haunted mazes that run back-to-back-to-back. Tickets are available on the Eastern State Penitentiary web site.

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  • The Haunted Hotel

    When I visited the San Diego Comic-Con in July, I also had a chance to experience Haunted Hotel, tucked away in San Diego’s downtown streets, amidst restaurants and shops. This lengthy haunted attraction is open for Halloween season, bringing a variety of scares as visitors descend through scenes featuring familiar and new environments and characters, some entirely disorienting. The moving subway is definitely a highlight. Tickets are available at HauntedHotel.com.


    ScareHouse

    I haven’t personally visited the ScareHouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but their online videos, web site, and creative director’s Twitter account make me want to. It’s an example of how the Internet can work wonders for an independent attraction. It also helps that the haunt receives rave reviews. ScareHouse features three haunts, with Delirium 3-D featuring a truly bizarre sense of humor. Tickets are available at ScareHouse.com.

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    Fright Kingdom

    Another haunt I haven’t yet had a chance to visit, Fright Kingdom is located up in New Hampshire, offering three haunts for one ticket price. I include it here simply because its owner, Tim Dunne, is a friend of mine and fellow Disney Dream Job contest winner. So if you’re in the Nashua area, be sure to check out it out – and tell Tim that Ricky sent you! Tickets and more information are available at FrightKingdom.com.


    Do you have a favorite Halloween experience? Make a recommendation in the comments below!

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