Category: Attractions

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Preview: “No Escape” Escape Rooms

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This is a guest article written by Kara Dennison.

Escape rooms escape rooms escape rooms. I’m not sure what cause the surge of popularity in escape rooms over the last handful of years, but I can’t say I mind it. I’ve sadly never actually been to one, although not for lack of trying — my closest experiences are either attending Then She Fell or playing those Flash games online. So Busch Gardens getting two as part of Howl-O-Scream excited me.

Our group attended Media Night recently, where we were promised a “modified experience.” No one was entirely sure what that meant, but we went along with it.

Now, the things you need to know first off. The escape rooms are across from Land of the Dragons in Germany. Each room holds a group of six, who have half an hour to track down clues in order to solve a mystery and escape from the room. You have two to choose from: one Jack the Ripper themed, one themed to Mr. Karver and his creepy dolls from this year’s overarching ‘Evil Encore’ branding. Oh, and yes — they do cost extra ($30 before 4 PM, $40 after), but the price includes a group photo at the end.

Now, for the modified experience.

There were approximately 30 people in attendance for media night, and they wanted us to be able to see both rooms. So, rather than sending us in in groups of six and locking us in until we found our way out, we were split in half and invited to look around each room with the doors still open, and after a time we’d swap rooms.

My group saw the Jack the Ripper room first.

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Without giving too much away, the idea is that anyone who comes through Jack the Ripper’s apartments is helping the London constabulary find out his true identity. As the constable put it, ‘Clues will lead to other clues, which will lead you to his identity.’ The room was full of drawers, cabinets, hidden items, and even some hidden areas that went largely unsearched until the end of our time. I was pretty sold on this one right away, as even with the quick-and-dirty walkthrough we were able to start piecing apart bits of the mystery and how one would go about putting the clues together. It was well constructed, with plenty of things to delve into, and rewards of clues (or occasional silliness) for people like me who pick up literally everything.

Then came Mr. Karver’s room, and I was super excited about this. The Evil Encore branding has been so prevalent, and creepy dolls are kind of my jam, so I was really ready for this.

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And… well. While the look of the room, the props, and especially the gentleman playing Mr. Karver were all especially creepy and unsettling and wonderful… I had absolutely no idea what we were meant to be doing. I had to go to the website just now to find out that the point of the room is finding out where Mr. Karver’s workshop is. Does that mean you’re locked in there and don’t know how you got there? Or is there a second, freakier workshop that you’re trying to find your way into? Even a poke around the room with about the same diligence as the Jack the Ripper room didn’t turn up much by way of what we’d be doing if we were actually meant to be in there.

The Mr. Karver room honestly felt more like a theatrical experience/display of the branding than a preview for an escape room. I know who the character is, I know why we’re meant to be afraid of him, but I have genuinely no idea — to put it bluntly — why I’d want to spend $30 to be locked in there with five of my friends. Again, as an experience, it was very cool. And the actor was amazing. But for what it was, the preview was fairly unsuccessful.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced that an unsuccessful preview means a bad attraction. If the two rooms are designed by the same people, then there are good odds they’re of equal quality. And admittedly, Jack the Ripper needs no introduction, where Mr. Karver and his dolls are a new IP.

The size of the venues, while not great for our preview group, would be ideal — snug but with enough room to explore — for the advertised group of six. Things were easily accessible from their various drawers and shelves, though there were a lot of dark areas that I wouldn’t have had a chance in without the flashlight on my phone (a thing to bear in mind especially for the Jack the Ripper room). And it goes without saying that the attention to detail was fantastic — not only because it has to be in an escape room, but also because the atmosphere of Busch Gardens’ various haunted attractions usually does have intricate details to it.

Final thoughts? I love the idea. It’s smart of them to jump on the escape room train, especially as a way to give park attendees a jumpscare-free alternative that’s still immersive. The ticket price is surprising, but not horrendous. I do, though, feel that they could have done the left-hand room a bit better service on their preview night.

For more information on No Escape and to book a time, visit the official website.

2016, Attractions, Food, Guest Post, Reviews, Theme Parks, Virginia

GUEST POST: Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Fest 2016 review

This is a guest post by contributor Donika Haddock.

Memorial Day weekend has several significant meanings to many people. For most people it marks the end of the school year, beginning of summer. For Busch Gardens, it’s also the beginning of their annual Food and Wine Festival.

In its fourth year, the Food and Wine Festival is back again, with its mix of foods and wines from various countries from around the world. It’s a great time to introduce yourself to foods you’ve never tried before, plus it’s a nice change of pace from the same theme park foods we’re used to at Busch Gardens (not that their food is bad, but something different is good once in a while, right?).

This year the park switched out two old booths for two new ones. Gone are the Scandinavia and Scotland booths. While I miss the Swedish meatballs from Scandinavia that is probably the only thing I miss from that booth. In its place, the park brought in Hawaii. What is a common food most people think of when they hear Hawaii? SPAM of course!! The Hawaii booth serves Spam sliders, with sriracha mayonnaise and grilled pineapple with a side of pineapple-coconut coleslaw.

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To be honest here, I still can’t bring myself to try it……yet. But I HAVE tried the Huli Huli chicken, a soy BBQ chicken served with a side of sweet potato salad.

Unfortunately, this is one dish I would pass on trying again. I’m not one for potato salad to begin with, but I was curious about the sweet potato salad, and thought that would add an interesting twist with the orange and purple potatoes. Interesting is the key word. The potatoes were barely cooked (still crunchy), making the sweet potato salad unpalatable to me. While I can’t wait to go back each weekend, I have to admit, I have yet to make it through to the Hawaii booth to try everything I want, due to being too full from the other booths. Friends and other park guests have told me the root vegetable chips with Maui onion dip and the tune poke (pronounced pokay) are must tries. The dessert that’s offered is the Haupia Tart, a sweet coconut mousse with Kona coffee ganache. Mmmm…coffee….

The second new booth this year is Virginia, located in the former location of the Scotland booth. (Editor’s Note: Aaaah! Scotland was my fav booth! – Oni)

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This is new booth has two of my favorite offerings this year. If you were a fan of the Scottish toffee, you’ll want to try the pecan, bacon, chocolate bars. The only way I can describe this dessert is toffee meets pecan pie meets bacon and chocolate. Seriously, I don’t like pecan pie and this dessert I can’t get enough of. Can’t make it to the park to get your hands on it? You can find the exact recipe (and others) here.

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The Virginia booth also offers pork rinds with a variety of Southern dips (deviled ham, pimento cheese), bacon and cheddar hushpuppies, She-crab soup, and my second favorite, the Smithfield Ham Tasting. The tasting consists of three varieties of ham, Red eye country, hickory smoked, and applewood, paired up with apple butter, raspberry jam, and whole grain mustard, finished with a honey biscuit on the side. Sure to please the Southern in everyone.

I did venture out this year and finally tried the ratatouille. While I have to admit I’ve been curious about this, I hadn’t been brave enough to try it until this year. From the France booth, the ratatouille parfait is roasted veggies served in a cup with a twisted parmesan cheese stick. This is a change from previous years as the ratatouille used to be served as a tomato stuffed with the roasted vegetables. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the parfait style. While the presentation was nice, the initial layer of chilled veggies with the drizzle of balsamic vinegar tasted good, the bottom layer lacked flavor and seasoning. Should’ve stuck with the stuffed tomato. If this is how they will present the dish for future Food and Wine Festivals, I’ll definitely be passing on it again.

My biggest disappointments for this year comes from the France (again) and Caribbean booths. Besides the ratatouille, France also serves up Steak Au Poivre, or peppered steak.

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I tried it twice this year, and both times I couldn’t eat it. The peppered over powered any flavor of steak, and actually made it spicy. From two people who love steak, neither of us could eat this. So disappointing. If they were to cut down on the amount of pepper, even slightly, it would be close to edible. From the Caribbean booth, the Jamaican Jerk Chicken was second on my list of disappointments for this year.

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Last year, the jerk chicken was grilled, nicely charred, and full of delicious smoky, sweet bbq sauce. This year, the chicken was served up buried under its grilled pineapple salsa. Once the chicken was uncovered, it wasn’t grilled at all. Cooked, yes, but not grilled. The drumsticks this year looked and tasted as though they were boiled. No char on the outside, as the skin was still chewy and rubbery, and the bbq sauce was served on the side in a cup. If they can learn one thing from this, GRILL THE CHICKEN!!!!

The park has added several features to the event that have been long awaited and much needed. First off, as the Food is mostly small servings, it gets to be an expensive way to eat and indulge very quickly. The park finally added an option to purchase a food sampler pass. For $35, you get to try ten helpings of whatever food items you want, from any of the booths. $50 will get you fifteen samples. These passes are pure gold, and if you do it right, the average cost drops to around $3.50 per sampling. Perfect for spending the pass on the higher priced items like the bacon wrapped scallops in Spain, which runs $7 per order.

But what about the wine? You can’t have a Food and Wine Festival without wine, right? The wine tastings, located throughout the park yearly, run about fifteen dollars per tasting. The park added a wine tasting pass (wine tasting trio), that allows you to sample three wine tastings of your choice, for the price of $29.95, with a savings of around $15. This is another great deal for the event.

Along with the foods and wines, the returning food artists are a huge hit as always. It’s fun to watch them create masterpieces out of fresh cut melons, cakes, and fondant, and the displays change weekly. There’s also an ice carving demonstration nightly at 6pm in Ireland just outside of the Abbey Stone Theatre, where two food artists compete to be the first to carve a masterpiece out of their block of ice in under twenty minutes.

All in all, the event, even with its highs and lows, is still a great event to check out, whether it’s with a group of friends or a weekend date. It’s the perfect time to try new foods, enjoy the food art, and maybe hit up a few shows and rides while you’re at the park.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.


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

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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:


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

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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.