Category: 2015

2015, 2016, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

OniHaunts 2015 Awards = Oni’s Most Loved Haunted Attraction Recommendations for 2016

Most people do their awards at the end of the season. I think that’s pointless in my case because:

1. At the end of the season I’m tired of doing this and tired of everything except sleep.

2. Awards are essentially my list of your best bets for the following year.

3. If I still like a haunt a year later, that means my recommendation was solid.

I announce my awards at the beginning of the next season. The 2016 haunt season has begun, so here we go.

How I Choose Haunts:

It’s unfair to compare a large haunt to a small haunt or to compare a theatrical haunt to a startle scare haunt. They are apples and oranges. I simply look at everyone I visited that year and highlight who is doing some Next Level Shit that deserve attention on a national stage. After the season ends, who am I still thinking about that blew the doors off of Halloween?

This means that there’s a lot of great haunts that I am not honoring in this post. This doesn’t mean they weren’t stellar – it just means that my awards are supposed to be guides to who is really shaking the scene up for the better. And my awards aren’t easy to get.

In the past I’ve given awards named for what the haunt is doing. For example, if a haunt was innovating beyond the norm, I may design an “Innovation Award” for them. If I feel they are legendary, I may design a “Legendary Award”. The “Brutality Award” is always reserved for the haunt that can get Harknell and myself so riled up that tears might come out of our eyes. Again – not easy to do. We’ve seen it all. Or so we thought.

2 haunts obliterated us last year and 1 redefined the genre. For the first time ever I’m giving out 2 WELL-EARNED Brutality Awards in 1 year. Sorry, rest of the country – Pennsylvania is criminally insane and apparently the nation’s capitol of kick ass haunts. No other state (so far) comes close to the intensity and quality that I see so much of in Pennsylvania.

OniHaunts 2015 Awards:


Vault of Souls – Tampa, Florida: Read my review here.

Vault of Souls has no startle scares so those who do not like haunted attractions will also like this one. You partake in an elegant evening out where you somehow end up socializing with several ghosts. You get to put together the puzzle of what happened. This is not an escape room – more like a living interactive theatre experience. It’s spooky, innovative, and proving to the world that you don’t need to be “X-TREEEME” to be good. The most memorable attractions ever created are theatrical in my opinion. Anyone can chase someone with a chainsaw. Not everyoen can create a world that you can walk into and explore.


Halls of Horror – Palmerton, PA: Read my review here.

One Brutality Award goes to Hall of Horror and that should be no surprise. They are now the only haunt to have won 2 Brutality Awards from me. SERIOUSLY. They are always just THAT MUCH CRAZIER and THAT MUCH more …well..brutal than the rest. Read my review to see why. These guys are a definite jewel in the haunted attraction industry’s Holy Shit crown. What the HELL is wrong with you guys?!?!! OMG.


Reaper’s Revenge – Scranton, PA: Read my review here.

I’m genuinely shocked that Reaper’s Revenge is not as popular as Bates and Pennhurst.

More people NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS ONE HOLY SHIT. If you haven’t gone here I feel sorry for you. Genuinely sorry that you are so incredibly deprived. RR almost got an Innovation Award because THEY ARE INNOVATING THEIR ASSES OFF in there, but that does not encapsulate the sheer scope and precision with which this haunt is executed. The staging is beyond anything I have seen anywhere else. They build upward and around you in all directions – even in the hayride. A year later I still remember that and the eerie eyes throughout the forest. I still remember the usage of vintage recycled carnival rides. Its just insane. Perfection.

These guys have the best hayride I have ever been on in my life. Period.

Do not be fooled by the modest front end of this one. You will get SMASHED in here if you aren’t prepared. All of the other haunts in the country should come here and pay attention. RR can teach the entire industry a thing or 2 about innovation, staging, and just plain terror. The had a house that was lights out. Darkness. Those always suck.

NOT HERE. That one almost had me past the hyperventilation point – and it’s because they used darkness as a tool, and not as an excuse to be cheap.

NEXT. LEVEL. SHIT. And they aren’t just pretty and well-staged – they are god damn fn TERRIFYING. They got both James and myself to the hyperventilate point where I was almost glad to be through with the attraction. THAT INTENSE. Enjoy your Brutality Award, you crazy, insane people.

Read my haunted attraction and immersive theatre reviews for more info about haunts in the eastern, southeast, and midwest USA.

2015, Oni's Life

Medical leave, thank you, and a quick, update for people who donated

Hi guys. As you know it has been tough for me lately. I’ve posted before that I have lost much of my vision. When I did that I received so many messages from you guys demanding to know where you all could donate to help me pay for the surgery that – if all goes well – will save my sight.

Actual picture of my eye surgery procedure (not really):


Prismacolor colored pencils and gamsol wash with a q tip ^

I wasn’t planning on taking up a collection, but I received so many emails and complaints from you guys demanding that I do one that I was all like


So I let people know that the tip jar on this blog goes directly to me. Within hours we had very much exceeded the $5000 cost of my surgery and I had a PO Box full of cards and stuff from my Amazon Wishlist.

It took me some weeks to write this post because I honestly didn’t have words and needed time to process it. Most of my life has been pretty tough so I’m not used to kindness. I’m used to being the one who is being kind.

So thank you – all of you. It means a lot.

My first surgery will be on 13 January. They will tell me when the second one is on the 14th, but both will be done within 7 days. My vision is so bad that if they only do one eye I will have large images in one eye and small images in the other. I will not be able to live a normal life between each operation. I’ll post updates as I can on this.

Specifically for donations related to this eye surgery time period I am creating a password protected page for you guys. On that page will be a selection of new art, formatted in wallpapers for you to use on your various devices or computer desktops – and anything else I can think of to give to you to show my gratitude. I had to stop making art due to my medical situation and because of you all I will be able to do it again. If this works out I may just figure out a system to do this for donations all year that grants time frames to people who contribute amounts. But anyone who contributes anything will get in for now. :)

In fact, for EVERYONE here’s a previously unreleased sketch of a 1 page comic I did before I retired from cartooning. This one never got produced and it makes absolutely no sense as usual. Click for larger:

unreleased comic

I personally like to bypass 3rd party crowdfunding sites and keep it as close to my self-hosted site as possible because 3rd party sites take a cut of what you receive.

You can still and always contribute to my work via this blog to get access to the secret page. Please note that I am working right now with only about 1/4 of my vision left and so it may take until January/February for me to get all of this new art together. If you haven’t donated but want in on this you can still contribute:

1. My mailing address is:

Oni Hartstein
PO BOX 1392
Highland Park, NJ 08904

2. My Amazon wish list is here.

3. If you’d like to donate at any time you can use my Tip Jar link:

The extra money over my medical costs will go to the community and not to my wallet. It will be used to help me bring more to the community by helping fund the humanitarian events that I produce.

For 7 years now I’ve been working for free creating events that truly elevates artists, held mentor sessions with all who ask at my events for free. In many cases I’ve been in a situation where I have to pay out of my own pocket in order to work on these projects, but I believe the impact we have had is worth it. We get people going to college, and help people who have a need for it find their own community and family. The best part is that we do it all with a focus on Art and Technology, so there’s really no limit to what we can accomplish.

This is why donating is still relevant. Not only will you get some cool art that no one else has, but you will be supporting things like the new Children’s Track at (Re)Generation Who this year and the educational workshops at Intervention.

For new readers – (Re)Generation Who: The Doctor Who Convention (takes place this March 18-20 in MD so register now) and my awesome multi-genre artist art / tech makerspace and festival Intervention (takes place this August 16-18 in Rockville, MD, registration goes up in January for Intervention.)

I’d also like to specifically thank:

Cat for sending me the Hamilton soundtrack

Missy and Gillian for sending me a Shure SM-58 mic each to replace the ones that went missing at my cons years ago

Brian for sending me Deathwish Coffee and a sweet Unicorn mask


I am mostly on medical leave now from the internet and can’t easily go out to cover events. My apologies to everyone who I had to turn down this year. I barely made it through Haunt Season and it seemed that every month the lights were noticeably dimmer and dimmer. I’ll still post here as much as I can and will return to normal after my surgery mid January. Please make sure to bookmark my blog and/or add this to your RSS. I’ll be posting quick updates on my personal Facebook which I use as a public fan page so you are more than welcome to check in on me over there. I don’t think I’ll be gone for long. I’m too much of an obsessive overachiever. :)

Thank you to everyone. Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may you and your family have an amazing end of the year. I care about you more than you know – even the people I haven’t met yet.

Why? Because the fact that you read what I write means we connect on some level. I appreciate that immensely. <3

2015, Attractions, Theme Parks

Williamsburg, Virginia Holiday Attractions: The food of Busch Gardens Christmas Town Pt. 1

This is a guest post by Donika Haddock.

In its sixth season, Christmas Town is open and in full swing, and as beautiful as always. There’s something magical about walking through one of your favorite theme parks at night, decorated from top to bottom, literally, in Christmas lights.

The sights, the sounds, the smells of the pine trees lining the pathways, always seem to bring life some peace to your day, even if it’s only for a few hours.

One of my favorite things about Christmas Town is the food. I’m such a food person. While everyone will agree that the majority of foods served at amusement and theme parks is overpriced and subpar at best, I find the food at Busch Gardens to be top notch for a theme park. While we’re used to the smoked chicken and brisket at Trapper’s Smokehouse, and sausage sampler platters at Das Fest Haus, the park ups their offerings a step above during Christmas Town and changes their menus almost completely. While I haven’t tried everything (yet), I have compiled a small list of what each eatery serves, and what my favorites are.

When you enter the park, the first eatery you see, is Dicken’s Tavern. Also known as Squire’s Grill during the regular season. While I have yet to eat here (seriously, in all the years I’ve been going to the park, I have YET to eat here), a simple peek at their menu leads me to disappointment. Why? Because it’s themed after Charles Dickens. The sign clearly states ‘Serving Traditional Christmas Fare’, but yet….they don’t? Unless you consider burgers, cheeseburgers, and Philly cheesesteaks as traditional Christmas Fare. I say pass on Dickens Tavern and move on to something better, and maybe more ‘traditional’.


If you head to the right, you’ll come to the first hamlet in the park, Ireland. Grogan’s Grill is their only eatery, and a small one, but tends to be pretty good when you want a quick meal. Their current offerings include a variety of soups and stews. While I haven’t eaten here recently, I can say in the past, Annie Grogan’s stew is one of my favorites, made like a traditional stew with lots of meat, potatoes, and veggies.


Passing through Ireland you’ll come upon Trapper’s Smokehouse. On my last visit, I forgot to get a picture of their current menu, but I’m going to go off of past years and say they are still my favorite eatery at the park. I love their smoked chicken during their summer season, but during Christmas Town, they also serve traditional turkey dinner with veggies and cornbread stuffing. Not going to lie, I’m obsessed with their cornbread stuffing. Seriously, it’s delicious!!

If you prefer to eat in Das Fest Haus, located in Oktoberfest, this is the parks only indoor restaurant. It’s also the largest eatery, and gets very loud and crowded quickly. I avoid eating here when I can, simply because the crowds are ridiculous, and it’s difficult to have a conversation with your group while you eat. The food though, is still good. They still offer pizza and sandwiches while also offering traditional Christmas dinners, and their sausage sampler platter, which is enough food to feed two people.

xmas favorites

Also situated inside Das Fest Haus is the ‘Tastes of Christmas Town’ dinner buffet. I have not done this yet, and honestly don’t know anyone that has, so I can’t rate the experience or the food. I will say though, the dinner is $30 per person. PER PERSON!!! Much more than what I want to spend on a meal at a theme park. It better be worth it though. Some of the items on the menu include a carving station, pastas, baked potato bar, soups, salad, rolls, drinks, and desserts.

Just behind Das Fest Haus, located in the Black Forest picnic area is another buffet, the Black Forest Buffet. For $15.99 (much better pricing)

And includes traditional foods like turkey and ham, and veggies, as well as chili and French onion soup, and mac and cheese. I finally tried this buffest this year and let me tell you, it’s pretty darn good for a buffet. It’s tucked away behind Das Fest Haus, and is a bit of a walk, but I sort of enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds walking around. I recommend this buffet.


2015, Attractions, New York

New York City Holiday Attractions: Santastical: A Very Merry Twistmas is Christmas from the Nightmare NYC team

This is a guest post by Missy L of A Geek Girl’s Castle.

[I am out on medical leave. – Oni]

Today my friend and I went to Santasical: A Very, Merry Twistmas. This is a winter wonderland brought to you by Psycho Clan, the artists who bring you New York’s iconic Nightmare Haunted House and Full Bunny Contact Extreme Egg Hunt.

[I love these guys because they always have a unique, theatrical, out of the box take on holiday events. – Oni]

The description on the website had me a little leery at first. It sounded weird but interesting, using words like “distorted” when explaining what type of wonderland you’ll be wandering through. But honestly, it was cute and a fun time.

Creator Timothy Haskell says, “It’s as if the gaudiest Midwest Christmas lawn display exponentially exploded inside a NYC auditorium. This is nostalgic, irreverent fun for adults who remember fondly (or not, we don’t give a sh*t) taking pictures with Santa at the mall. Except this time you can choose from 6 different types of Santas to take a picture with and you’re now about 2 feet taller and a hundred pounds heavier than you were.”

The event is intended for adults but there were a few young kids inside who seemed to enjoy themselves nonetheless. Upon entering the big open space, you follow the red carpet around the room. First encounter is an option to purchase Santa hats for $3.


Next is the mistletoe area which has a giant piece of mistletoe hanging there for you and your loved one to stand under, with a curtain of string lights and strings of faux leaves to act as some romantic ambiance.




On your left, you see the karaoke stage which is “wrapped” as a big present. A few folks did participate in it. Like any karaoke night, some were better than others. :D


On the right, you see a tiny “skating pond” where you take off your shoes and slide around it.


Continuing on our red pathway, we came to a small display of blown up lawn ornaments of Santa on his sleigh and his reindeer pulling him.


Past this was some treats to entertain us with; brownies, cookies, and cider. We partook in some of these yummies.


After snack time, you can be part of a live nativity scene by putting on some robes or pieces of costumes like beards on sticks.


But the best part of the nativity scene is a headless doll sitting in the manger and you put your head there to be baby Jesus.


The big part of the show is the Santa photo op. There are six Santas to choose from: Bernie Santas, Sexy Mrs. Claus, Black Santa, Hunky Shirtless Santa, the evil Krampus and of course, Hanukklaus.




Black Santa was unavailable but all the others were there on the day we went. My friend and I opted for Bernie Santas and Hanukklaus. Sexy Mrs. Claus was dancing kind of seductively to the music playing and Hunky Shirtless Santa was laying on a chaise lounge waiting for you to come sit with him. Hanukklaus was dressed in an all blue Santa outfit.

There are professional photographers that take your choice of photo, which is included in the price of admission, $20 for the basic experience. While you wait for the photo to be printed, you can continue on the red pathway to another display of lawn ornaments and a
wall of emoji’s that you can stick your head into. You can choose to be a reindeer emoji or even better, a poop emoji! I chose both for the sake of demo. Haha:



Finally, there is one last, display of lawn ornaments all lit up of classic shapes and figures you might recognize from your own childhood.


This event is a walk through that took us about 20 minutes to see everything. Note that printing out the photos takes a while so you may want to go there first and then do the rest of the event while you wait for the photo to print. Santastical is a cute wonderland unique to NYC that is nostalgic enough to get you in the spirit of the holiday but also modern enough to be fun.

Tickets can be purchased @ $20 for General Admission which includes all of the attractions as well as a photo with one of the Santas. VIP tickets are $40 which gains you unlimited entry on the day of purchase, jumped to the front of the line, a Santa hat, one photo with Santa, and a digital photograph of you in the VIP Only skating rink e-mailed to you.

Follow Missy L over at A Geek Girl’s Castle.