Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Wet and Wild Adventure at Dorney Park's Haunt

The date was May 2, 2009--the first day of Dorney Park's regular season. It was a drizzly day in Allentown, not unlike the entire month of October has been this year. Mike and I were on hand to celebrate the beginning of another glorious "on" season, chock full of coasters, screams, and ice cream cones [although the third item was mainly just me]. Yet somehow, in the midst of all the tangible excitement and midway hubbub, our conversation continued to gravitate toward one subject: Is it Halloween yet?

Enthusiasts by choice but diehard super mega Halloween buffs by nature, the leaves simply could not change fast enough to suit us. So when Mother Nature decided to put a "damper" on our favorite season--both literally and figuratively--we set out on a personal mission to prove that Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt celebration is not all washed up.

The raindrops in mid-flight which appear in all the photos that follow are not going to help our case! It's been yet another rainy, miserable weekend in eastern PA, much to the chagrin of Dorney Park and its fellow local Halloween event planners. Following on the heels of a less than stellar summer season that was punctuated by nationwide penny-pinching and even more rain, this is not the type of Halloween season that Dorney Park (or any park) was hoping for.

Think you know what fear is, punk? You don't know Jack!

Even for two diehard super mega Halloween buffs, it took several phone conversations, a few rounds of rationalization, and a heavy dose of wishful thinking for Mike and I to convince ourselves that spending a rainy Friday night at the park was a wise decision. Fortunately, we were right! Our rewards for braving the elements were light crowds and short lines, which enabled us to experience all that Halloween Haunt has to offer and, consequently, bring you this thorough and monumentally exciting report.

First, a glimpse of what our evening might have looked like had it not been raining cats, dogs, and circus animals...

Mike captured these photos of this year's master of ceremonies, the Overlord, earlier this month on one of the rare occasions that the sun decided to make an appearance at Haunt. [In case you've forgotten, the "sun" is that bright orb that appears in the sky every now and then.] We narrowly missed the Overlord's arrival this past Friday on account of the exhaustive security measures that are put in place during Haunt. As you might imagine, it takes some time to "clear" legions of guests who are dittied up in approximately seven layers of highly fashionable rain gear.

Dorney Park was a circus, alright. It immediately became clear to us that making it through this frightfully soggy adventure unscathed was going to require some teamwork: I would take the photos, and Mike would hold the umbrella over my head to protect the recently acquired fancy pants camera whose many buttons I have yet to fully understand. Fortunately, Mike and I make a good team. By this point in our friendship we communicate primarily via telepathy, which made it easy for him to anticipate my every move and scurry after me as I attacked every potential photo op with abandon. We are a well-oiled blogging machine. Now on to the haunts!

The circus theme that dominates the main entrance plaza was carried through to our first stop, Psycho Circus. There's no gore to be seen in this maze, and frankly, there's no need for it. If you hate clowns, you will hate Psycho Circus! (That's a compliment.) Chock full of all the Big Top staples you love to hate, this maze takes the seemingly universal fear of clowns to a whole 'notha level.

It also took our friendship to a whole 'notha level, as this was Mike's first taste of what it's like to visit a Halloween attraction with me. Personality-wise, I'm as non-girly as they come. But throw me into a haunted house amongst ghosts, clowns, and myriad undead miscreants and I am suddenly reduced to a skittish, cowering mess of a human being. [Read: Obvious prey for would-be attackers and bloodthirsty consumers of flesh.] I made Mike go first, yet somehow there was a clown in my face at every turn!

Clown encounters and personal humiliation behind us, we took a stroll over to everybody's favorite fright--er, night--club, Club Blood. The tongue-in-cheek "meat market" theme is immediately evident as you enter this maze by weaving your way through a hall of dangling sides of beef (or something of that nature--it was dark!). Hard as I try , I can't seem to make it through that hall without acting out my best Rocky Balboa impersonation. (I'd like to think that it helped me save face following my uncharacteristic display of weakness in Psycho Circus.)

This parade of the flesh doesn't end with slabs of meat. Inside this aptly named club were plenty of fang-baring "regulars" who swarmed us as soon as we entered. It was kind of like Cheers, only bloodier and without the calming force that is Norm. Club Blood has become quite the popular "night spot" at Haunt since making its debut last year, and I've been known to talk some smack about joining its vampire cast. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I could find some fangs, a pair of fishnets, and a black mini skirt (or two or five) somewhere in my house. But fishnets don't make very good boxing warm-ups, so I decided to pass.

By the way, if you visit Club Blood, do not use the bathrooms. Gross!

Ar! Ye landlubbers better turn over yer candy corn pumpkins, or ye be made to walk the plank!

Skeleton crew?

Fat chance, Blackbeard. Walking the plank is hardly a threat when I'm already soaked! Pirate Passage is a brand new scare zone for 2009 which cuts right through Camp Snoopy. I was understandably disappointed when I found out that neither Johnny Depp nor Orlando Bloom would be making a personal appearance, but the fine cast of captains and pirate wenches made it up to me by showering us with attention. Seagoing adventurers that they are, they were visibly amused by Mike's umbrella, which they referred to as a "contraption". How quaint!

As the night wore on and the rain continued to fall, the sounds of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive" wafted through the air. It was the perfect backdrop for our next haunt, Terror Square. This ghost town is brimming with western props and gunslinging outlaws, and I'm willing to bet that the bartender at its saloon makes one heck of a Bloody Mary. There's also an execution scene at the end that's simply to die for.

Oddly enough, this attraction also features the only tunnel we encountered during our Haunt experience. It's an optional activity, and Mike and his "contraption" (closed at the time, but arguably still an impediment) wisely chose the high road. I, on the other hand, wanted the full (or is that foolish?) Terror Square experience, so a-crawling I went. Between my camera-stuffed coat and the backpack full of essentials (i.e., all the extra rain gear I had so Type A-ly packed beforehand but which we would never touch because we preferred the "fashionably wet" look) strapped securely to my back, I came dangerously close to becoming permanently lodged in that tunnel. But before I became the first real victim of a Dorney Park Haunt, I managed to wriggle my way through and emerge on the other side, at which point I realized that my knees REALLY hurt! Seriously, if you decide to follow in my knee-steps in Terror Square, bring knee pads. There's your exclusive NPN Haunt tip of the day.

The lack of crowds on the evening of our visit, coupled with the unfavorable weather, made for an even spookier experience. The near empty midways were like a scene out of Scooby Doo. At one point I issued the universal distress signal of "Raggy, relp!", fully expecting to see a gang of vagabond, non-fashion-conscious teenagers emerge from the fog.

"And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids and your blog!"

Instead, we were greeted by one of Treebeard's cousins. Seriously though, I must pause and give props to the many talented actors and actresses who braved the elements with us to deliver an authentic and truly spooktacular Haunt experience. It can't be easy getting into character when your audience is so small, but all of them did a fantastic job and they deserve a lot of credit.

Look, Mom--No line!

On the bright side, there was no wait for the Magical House on Kill Hill! This maze's "after hours" name betrays it, as it really is a lighthearted haunt. But that didn't stop me from clasping my hands nervously as we navigated through the "ball room", or using Mike as a human shield as we struggled to fend off the "polka dot people".

By this point in the evening I had also developed an involuntary and somewhat embarrassing "tick" where I responded to every scare, startle, and stalk with an exclamation of, "Oh geez!" This is not an expression I use on a regular basis, which makes it that much more confounding, but at least it entertained the heck out of Mike. It took me a while to pinpoint why it sounded so strangely familiar, but then it finally came to me: I sounded exactly like the drunk in The Twelve Pains of Christmas.

Voodoo Glow Skull? Scratch that. Possessed Glow Skull?

Turns out the "kill" theme that was so notably absent from Magical House on Kill Hill could be found, tenfold, in Death Trap. This is another new haunt for 2009, and I will tell you right here and now that it scared the bejesus out of me. Upon entering Precinct 13, you're informed that a maniacal, Jigsaw-esque serial killer who had been captured previously is now on the loose, and could be lurking anywhere within the building. The young deputy who delivered this horrifying news was quite convincing, and really set the stage for the terror that was to come.

As you make your way through the precinct, you have the misfortune of meeting many of the killer's victims who aren't quite dead yet. For a person such as myself who can't even bear to watch horror movies, finding myself inside of one constituted total sensory overload. My newly adopted catch phrase was temporarily replaced by "I don't like this", which I continued to repeat over and over again until we finally exited--at which point I immediately proclaimed how much I did like it! This maze is very well done (from what I managed to see when I wasn't hiding behind Mike) and has some nice thematic touches that really give it that good old-fashioned horror movie feel. A+!

FIRE! FIRE! Heh heh heh FIRE!

Speaking of death traps, there are actually human beings on this planet who enjoy nearly engulfing themselves in flames sheerly for our entertainment. I've heard of playing with fire, but this is ridiculous! At multiple times throughout the evening, two supremely talented young men with a penchant for pyromania set Center Stage ablaze--literally. I'm telling you ladies (and gentlemen), this was one hot act. I shuddered on more than one occasion as, in the words of Goldmember, they came dangerously close to having "an unfortunate schmelting accident", but fortunately these brave young chaps made it through the show unharmed (and unmutilated) thanks to their mad fire handling skillz. Bravo!

An oldie but goodie, Headstone Hollow returned this year with an entirely new route and an even more immersive experience. This new and rather lengthy maze was littered with the usual array of tombstones, caskets, and crouching ghouls. [The "oh geez" returned with a vengeance.] It was definitely a positive transformation, and it would have been that much better if that pesky precipitation and those wily winds hadn't prevented the fog from setting in. I'm still hoping for a chance to experience this one in all its glory before the season draws to a close!

Another transformation has occurred at the end of the midway that used to serve as Laser's lair. The former ScreamWorks has been converted into The Asylum, where the guards are crazy and the inmates are even crazier. You can get a haircut there, or even score some food, but you might get more than you bargained for.

Being the sensitive, kindhearted person that I am, I couldn't help but feel sorry for these tortured souls. Why, there was one becoming young inmate who dropped his soap in the shower and couldn't even pick it up, the poor thing! He implored us to help him, but we collectively (and without discussion) decided that this was one good deed that would remain undone. If any of you kinder patrons decide to help him, let us know how it turns out.

Gauntlet is the other new scare zone for 2009. It is an adventure in medieval mischief which begs the question, do suits of armor rust? Still lookin' shiny so far...

Like most scare zones, this one consisted of costumed crazies who don't take kindly to visitors invading their territory. I jumped and screamed and told them all how cute they were, just like a good little Haunt victim, but they would have been wise to be equally afraid of me. With the big fancy camera hanging around my neck and zippered securely (and dryly) beneath my coat, I must have looked like I was packing at least 15 concealed weapons. ("You call that a knife?") Before they could call my bluff, we made a hasty escape and narrowly avoided being beheaded.

The last new haunt of 2009 is Backwoods, which is aptly named as it has taken up residence in the wooded area behind Steel Force. Our adventure began in a school bus (stationary, but still a nice touch), where we were given our marching orders as new arrivals at Camp Cudie. As we commenced our trek through the campgrounds, which resembled a cross between a camp, an abandoned trailer park, and a junkyard, we fantasized about how cool it would be if this whole "haunt" thing was just a massive cover-up to enable the park to prep this land for a shiny new wooden coaster installation. Hey, Halloween is all about make-believe so let us have our fun!

Our thoughts turned more serious when we noticed that we were the only "campers" who weren't covered in blood or otherwise mangled. We were directed toward one of several possible paths through the camp (Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken comes to mind), where we would be practicing bow shooting. Suffice it to say I was stoked. My hand-eye coordination is bar none, and I was licking my chops at the prospect of smoking Mike and the rest of my fellow campers in an all-out bow shooting throw down. Imagine my disappointment when we discovered that we were the hunted, as opposed to the hunters! One of our companions expressed an interest in harvesting my body parts, but I simply don't have any to spare so I had to kindly refuse. Aside from the ensuing chainsaw pursuit, I think he took it pretty well.

I proclaim Camp Cudie a most excellent haunting ground, and I hope to see it return next year, barring the appearance of a shiny new wooden coaster installation in the interim (doubtful). But if that were to happen, Dorney could simply combine this maze with Death Trap and give it a catchy title. Like, oh I don't know--Death Trap for Cudie. [Just a little Halloween humor for my fellow alternative music fans out there.]

Finally (and in record time), we came to our last maze: CornStalkers. This is consistently one of my favorite haunts, and it did not disappoint. Lined from floor to imaginary ceiling with cornstalks and bales of hay, it is a quintessential fall fright zone. The goblins who await you here have plenty of good hiding places amongst all the old farm equipment.

"Hey--Hey blonde girl? Dude, there's a walking, talking cornstalk RIGHT BEHIND YOU..."

This is not your garden variety corn maze, my friends. This corn is alive, and it will stalk you. Case in point, when I finally broke out of the intense focus I had to maintain in order to snap this inspirational shot of a fake dog eating a fake bird, I found myself face-to-stalk with one of said children of the corn. I can't remember my exact reaction, but I'm guessing it went something like, "Oh GEEZ!!" (Just a hunch.) But then, just as quickly as he had appeared, he vanished into the night. (You seriously can't see these people. I think they really are part cornstalk!)

They say you are what you eat, and sure enough, at the stroke of nine o'clock I turned into a pumpkin. (I'm pretty sure that this sudden and rather dramatic act of shapeshifting scared Mike more than anything we had experienced in the previous three hours.) Truth be told, we would have loved to stay at Haunt until the bitter end to savor the madness all over again. But Mother Nature had other plans (she's really landed herself on my you-know-what list lately), and we were forced to cut our evening short lest we drown in the continually rising waters of the newly formed Lake Dorney. Soaked but satisfied that we had completed our mission, we bid adieu to our stalking, bloodsucking, chainsaw-toting friends and parted ways to seek dry clothing and nice warm mugs of hot chocolate.

Like all NPN adventures, our official blog visit to Halloween Haunt 2009 was a courageous mission which we undertook with gusto. I only wish there were more brave souls in Allentown who were willing to put up with a little sprinkle in return for a LOT of seasonal fun. Dorney Park and its many talented actors and actresses have put a lot of work into this event, and it shows. While we can keep our fingers crossed for good weather to close out the season next weekend, I encourage you to visit either way. After all, you only live once, but Dorney's Haunt affords you 13 unique ways to die! You do the math.


Unknown said...

This was a nice review of the Haunt at Dorney Park

Unknown said...

I would love to have known if the coasters were running due to the wet weather and if so, was there anyone riding them?

Sabrina said...

Most of the rides were indeed running, including the coasters. I definitely saw Steel Force, Talon, and Possessed running. I believe I *heard* Hydra, although I didn't actually see it; perhaps Mike can confirm that one.

We didn't hit any coasters ourselves, so I can't tell you how many people were actually on them. Attendance was pretty light, so I'm willing to bet that everything had little to no line. That was definitely true of the haunts.