Chills and things that go bump in the night – Live!

Calling all Halloween aficionados: there are all kinds of places that are happy to creep you out around the world.

I really got into this kind of travel a few years ago when I discovered that Sleepy Hollow is a real place! The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a classic eerie tale by Washington Irving, has always been my favourite Halloween-season story ever since watching Disney’s delightful animated version called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Washington Irving was inspired by a real ghost story in what was then the wilds of Tarry Town, New York, along the Hudson River, where Irving had spent some of his youth.

Irving became arguably the most famous American writer of his day. He was a multi-talented man — architect (he built his own house, Sunnyside), diplomat for the American government, mentor to many other contemporary writers. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which you can tour, and his memory is so revered in that area that his headstone gets rubbed constantly by visitors and has had to be replaced more than once.

Montgomery Place Estate, Hudson River Valley

The Hudson River Valley was the summer recreation spot for the wealthy of New York City, as well as a hub of the American Revolutionary War and the inspiration for the Hudson River School of painters, so there’s a lot of history to be visited. The entire area has also embraced Irving’s gothic legacy and becomes a Halloween-themed playground every autumn. One of our favourite places is the Headless Horseman theme attraction, rated one of the best in the U.S. There’s a 20-minute hayride through monster-filled woods, a dark and creepy corn maze, several haunted houses, several shops full of Halloween treasures (the first time we went, my hubby took one look at the shops, parked himself on a hay bale and gestured for me to go and knock myself out), cafes, magicians, music, stilt walkers — this place is truly amazing!

Of course, Disney always does a bang-up job of Halloween. We particularly liked Halloween at Disneyland in California. It’s not nearly as big as Disney World in Florida — if you stay at one of the onsite hotels at Disneyland, you walk out the door into essentially a giant street party that extends into the two parks, plus you get to dress up in costume and enjoy adult trick-or-treating, photo ops with your favourite villain, dance parties and all the rides.

However, last fall we did the Howl-O-Scream evening at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg Virginia, and I liked it even better. During the day you can see all the wonderful spooky detail throughout the park…

… but as dusk starts to fall, fog begins to creep through the air, and the park turns into something delightfully eerie.

Each zone of the park has its own creatures, from the medieval French version of creepy clowns,

to Jack the Ripper in England, who held a wicked knife to my throat, and responded, “Possibly” in a charming British accent when I asked him if I was going to survive my photo op.

Giant menacing pumpkins oversee shadowed cemeteries,

and walkways become murky trails into the unknown.

Howl-O-Scream is a wonderful combination of fun for kids and eerieness for adults, and there’s no extra admission for the event — you enter any time with your day ticket and you’re good to stay as long as you want.

For all of us Halloween enthusiasts, there are many places, both in North America and abroad, to enjoy some pretend terrors. Watch for details about a new spooky adventure in Ireland next week!

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright…

Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night - photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night – photo by E. Jurus

Entrance to Disneyland Hotel - photo by E Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel – photo by E Jurus

If you’re thinking of spending a Halloween with Disney, now’s the time to start planning! Tickets will go on sale next month, and they go quickly.
My husband and I went to Disneyland for October 30 & 31 two years ago, and we had a blast. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which overlooks Downtown Disney. In California everything’s accessible by foot – we walked out from our hotel into the thick of the shops, restaurants and entertainment ‘downtown’, and a further 10 minute walk brought us to the gates of both Disneyland and California Adventure.

Shop window on Main Street USA - photo by E Jurus
Shop window on Main Street USA – photo by E Jurus

Signs of Halloween were everywhere – hay bales, pumpkins both real and faux (including a giant pumpkin-head Mickey at the entrance to Main Street USA, Halloween treats for sale in shops and restaurants, and lots of creepy/cute merchandise in the shops.

On Halloween, Disneyland closes to the general public around 3pm, and re-opens at 6pm for people with tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. These tickets must be reserved in advance and are an additional cost over and above your park-hopper passes, but they’re well worth the extra cost! During the late afternoon on October 31st there’s an air of excitement – people dressed up in costume ( both children and adults) begin heading for the park, street entertainers come out, and the lights at the entrance to Disneyland start to glow. The atmosphere is like a big street party.

Food is available in the parks in the evening, but we chose to fortify ourselves at one of the restaurants in Downtown Disney first, then went back to the hotel to change. If you’re going, please note that the temperature can drop considerably at night even in the sunny states, and our night was no exception. I had on a long-sleeved costume and was still chilled by the end of the party.

Once inside the park, there are loads of things to do. All the day’s rides are open, but there are also dance

Main St USA on Halloween Night - photo by E Jurus
Main St USA on Halloween Night – photo by E Jurus

parties in different locations, the opportunity to have your  photo taken in front of the giant pumpkin Mickey (the professional photographer will use either his own camera or yours, or both – you pick) trick-or-treat stations that were patronized just as much by adults as kids when we were there, the opportunity to meet and pose with your favourite Disney villain (very popular and they rotate shifts, so if this is a must-do for you line up early before your character leaves for a break), shops galore, fireworks and a Halloween parade as the finale.

Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon - photo by E Jurus
Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon – photo by E Jurus

Glowing ghostly Mickey heads light your way around the park, an eerie blue fog billows across the lagoon and haunting music makes your feet itch to dance. It’s a night to celebrate all that’s dark and creepy, Disney style. Lest you think this party is just for children, let me tell you that at least half the people there that night were adults, and most of them were in costume. Although I’m not a fan of the commercialism that has crept into the Disney parks, nobody does parties like they do! This was an item on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint.

I haven’t been to Disney World for Halloween, so I can’t compare between the two, but there is

The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style - photo by E Jurus
The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style – photo by E Jurus

one significant difference: in Disneyland, for the Halloween season the Haunted Mansion is converted into The Nightmare Before Christmas both indoors and out – the plantation-style mansion drips with Spanish moss, special black & white-ribboned Halloween flower arrangements, pumpkins and Jack Skellington’s Christmas list, and of course Jack himself presides over the entire thing.

Inside, the ride has been transformed as well, into a spectacular multi-coloured journey tweaked with Jack’s special style – it’s so cool, even my hubby was impressed. Disneyland also sells a lot of Jack Skellington merchandise, so if you’re a fan, that might be an added incentive. My hubby bought a ‘Tall, Dark & Gruesome’ t-shirt that he wore under his lab coat as a mad scientist; I was his freaky-looking re-stitched and partially-revived creation.

photo by E Jurus
photo by E Jurus

Planning tips:

  • When I booked, tickets went on sale at the beginning of July for Disney club members, and later in the month for non-members. The online order system had gone down, so I spent a dedicated 45 minutes on the phone calling back repeatedly until I got a live person.
  • There are rules for dressing in costume at Disney: 1) you can dress as a Disney character but you’re not allowed to pose for photos with people you don’t know; 2) costumes can’t drag on the ground (tripping/ride machinery hazard); 3) your eyes must be visible (coloured contacts are allowed – mine were dead white); 4) your costume can’t scare small children. Most people do dress as Disney characters, but you don’t have to, although doing that will likely increase your chance of being selected to ride in the parade.
  • Daytime temps are quite nice but, as I mentioned previously, the temperature can drop quite a bit after dark, so be prepared – I saw quite a few women shivering in sleeveless outfits.
  • Buying an ‘all-inclusive’ package can save you some money. You get vouchers for meals that are supposed to be specific to certain restaurants and meals, but when we were there the serving staff encouraged us to use them for just about any meal.
  • Wear comfy shoes; even in Disneyland, which is more compact, you’ll still do lots of walking.
  • If you’re interested in doing the Disneyland version, there’s transportation between the airport (LAX) and Disneyland. In Los Angeles, there are tons of things to see, including the original Universal Studios park, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood, other movie studios, the fabulous Getty Museum…the list is practically endless. If you rent a car, you can drive up the coast to Malibu, visit beautiful Santa Barbara, and generally enjoy the wonderful California weather, scented with the ocean and eucalyptus trees.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party runs on selected nights throughout the Halloween season, so if you can’t make it for Halloween night itself, there are still plenty of other dates to enjoy it. The one on Halloween itself wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was afraid it might be, just a nice amount of people wandering around and enjoying the ambience. Please check this year’s dates and times on the Disney websites (Disneyland and Disney Worldfor the most up-to-date information.