On Friday night, I headed to Canada’s Wonderland for Halloween Haunt with the Theme Park Canuck crew. It’s the biggest Halloween event in Canada and it was my first time going. I figured visiting near the end of the event would be best as all the kinks would be worked out by then. The only other Halloween events I’ve been to are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom (which is for little kids) and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando (which is aimed at an adult crowd). The events in Orlando are on a different level than anything here in Canada, so I made sure to keep that in mind at the event. Here’s my review of Halloween Haunt 2011 at Canada’s Wonderland:
We got there just before 7pm, as we wanted plenty of time to visit every attraction. The lines to get into the park were non existent at that time, but the ticket booths were pretty busy. I always wonder why people don’t take advantage of buying their tickets before the event to avoid the lines. Regardless, we headed into the park and the first thing I noticed was the creepy scare-actors milling around the front area of the park. The big fountain was lit up with fantastic coloured floodlights, and they had projections on Wonder Mountain of ghosts, shadowy figures and the like. It’s great to see how some spooky lighting, scary music and lots of fog can change the atmosphere of Canada’s Wonderland. The cold weather and wind blowing through the trees is also great for adding to the Halloween atmosphere.
We took a quick tour of International Street before heading into the only scare zone we found all night. It was located on the path between the Wonder Mountain bathrooms and International Showplace. It wasn’t marked on the map, and to be honest seemed like an an afterthought. With a graveyard theme this area featured some tombstones with graffiti on them, the usual fog machines and creepy zombie type characters running around scaring people. Not very scary but great potential.
Our first house of the night was brand new for the 2011 Terror of London. Themed to London in 1888 during the Jack the Ripper murders, this was by far the best house of the whole night. It was set up in a tent around the Splash Works change rooms. It started by having people wander through an English style pub and into the streets of the city. Then through a few English style houses, back alleyways and into a brothel type building. Finally back out to the streets for the finale. The scare-actors did a great job of being in character and having fun with the guests. The sets were richly detailed to the point I wanted to stay inside just to look around. The street scenes were so real with the cobblestone and atmospheric fog. You could tell a lot of thought and creativity went into this house.
Next up was Corn Stalkers. In quite a unique concept, it was set up in the forest around White Water Canyon. It required following a path through corn and overgrown fields through the woods and past tons of scarecrows, some that were fake and some that jumped down off their pedestals for great scares. It was very hard to tell the difference until it was too late. One problem that I had with this maze was the music being way too loud to the point that my ear was ringing afterwards, plus the fact that the sound loop would stop to reset every few minutes, resulting in silence. I did however get a great scare the second time through the maze, which caught me by complete surprise.
Miner’s Revenge was our next maze. This was set up through part of the woods around White Water Canyon, then into a cavern set up in the ride path. The idea is that the trapped souls of the buried miners are trying to seek revenge upon anyone who enters the caves. This was one of the darkest mazes and it was very difficult to actually see any of the scare-actors for most of the maze. The theming was very detailed in the parts I could see. I liked the fact you had to duck down in some areas to move onto the next cave. I expected scares in these parts, but they never happened. The end was a little uncomfortable because of the bright light in my eyes so I couldn’t see well and almost ended up tripping over something.
We headed over to the picnic tents for the next 3 mazes. This setup was great because once you left one tent it was a 10 second walk into the next house. Kingdom of Carnage was themed to medieval slaughter and torture. It had body parts hanging from the ceiling, scary Court Jesters and Knights, as well as torture devices in every corner. This was our first house that was really busy, meaning the conga line of people to follow through the maze. Although I’m not going to lie, it’s nice to know what’s coming sometimes!
Next up was Mother Noose. Themed to twisted Grimm fairy tales, this was done in black-light paint and you could buy 3-D glasses to enhance the effects. To be honest, I didn’t see a single person wearing them. The usual Alice in Wonderland, Goldilocks, Big Bad Wolf and other storybook characters were present. The house looked very worn inside, and at one point a supervisor came pushing through the crowd in her yellow Wonderland jacket, ruining any tension the house attempted to create. I did however like the theme and the actors were great.
Red Beard’s Rage was ripped right out of Pirates of the Caribbean and I loved every minute of it. There were ghostly pirates throughout, uneven planked floors to walk across and even an underwater effect with scary sea creatures outside the ships windows. This was one of the darkest houses, it was actually so pitch black, at one point the security team member had to use her flashlight to help us find our way. It was also very easy to trip over barrels on the pathway due to the darkness. The best part of this house was actually after we left and watched the pirates chase screaming girls out of the house and around the exit area while the Pirates of the Caribbean music played.
We next walked over to the Kingswood Music Theatre area to take in the two houses in those parts.Club Blood was the most fun and energetic house. The concept was that you’re invited into a nightclub that has been overrun by vampires. You start by walking through the alleyway outside the club, then inside through the coat check where on either side of you they have the coats hanging and you expect someone to jump out. After you head to the massive dance floor with pulsating music and vampires hissing while you walk past. Then it’s into to the VIP area (or is it RIP area?). This part is very creative as the door frames are outlined in lights to look like coffins. After the VIP area, you make your way through the back parts of the club. This wasn’t a super scary house, it was simply a lot of fun with the pulsing music and club-style lighting.
Blood on The Bayou was located inside Kingswood and had one of the longest lines. It was a New Orleans, zombie & voodoo themed house. You entered through a manor with a possessed woman with freaky eyes, then out onto the wooden walkways of the bayou. You could actually feel the wooden planks move as you walked, and there was real water on either side of the walkways. As you wound your way through different gazebos and shacks, zombies would pop out and even walk through the crowd of people. Very well themed and different from the other houses, with great sound effects and music.
The Asylum was our next house, themed appropriately to a mental institution where the patients have escaped and killed all the doctors. These kind of houses freak me out because they are much more realistic than the ghost and killer scarecrow themes. This was located in a backstage area behind the season pass processing building. The whole tent was themed to look like the outside of the hospital, with intense music playing to set the mood. At the entrance, one of the scare-actors would run out and mess with people even before they entered the house. They used a lot of strobes here, and had many of the usual freaky mental patients aroud every corner. It had some nice set pieces, such as theguy chained in a straight jacket pulsating on a table and body parts galore. One of the more intense houses.
The last house of the night was Clowns At Midnight. I kept putting this off because clowns freak me out, and the idea of an entire maze dedicated to these freaky creatures was not appealing to me at all. Regardless, I sucked it up and went through. It was located where the bumper cars are, with the building decked out to look like a circus tent. You could buy 3D glasses for this house too, meaning it was another glowing house. This house, like Mother Noose, also looked very worn inside. It must be something to do with blacklight paint. There were tons of freaky clowns, creepy circus music and goofy props through the maze. The one scare I got here was actually from one of the security people pushing a stuffed tiger my way. Pretty funny. The one part of this house that tripped me out was a room full of plush toys, floor to ceiling. I kept expecting someone to pop out and scare me, but that never happened. Overall not as scary as expected, but that was fine with me!
Once we finished the houses, we decided to watch a the shows. We saw both The Hanging and Beyond The Grave, but decided to skip the Skeleton Crew which didn’t look that great, plus we were running out of time.
The Hanging took place in Arthur’s Baye on the tower they use for the dive show. It was supposed to be the trial of a witch, and she was going to be hung. She tries to plead her innocence, then turns out to be a real witch and lights the hangman on fire and some pyrotechnics go off. That’s it. Seriously, it was a total letdown. We asked one of the employees why it was so simple, and he told us the show used to be better but there was an accident so they cut the it short. The horribly lip-synced dialogue didn’t help either.
Last up for the evening was Beyond The Grave. It was a random mix of sexy dancing zombie girls griding on poles, and thrusting across the stage to Guns & Roses, Ozzy Osbourne and Muse. A Mind Reader appeared for the in between segments. He would call someone from the audience to participate in some Halloween themed mind trick, then he would be finished and more singing and dancing from the zombies would occur. The dancing was good, but the singers were off-key and the music was way too loud. The show really had no storyline, and there was no connection between the Mind Reader and the zombie dancers. With that said, it was much better than The Hanging. All it needed was some pyro to get extra points from me.
A few observations and suggestions
- The main issue with many of the houses was the fact they were too dark in a lot of the areas. At times it was hard to tell if it was another person standing near you or a scare-actor. The lack of individual sound effects for the actors also hurt the mood. Instead of a noise to startle and scare you, the actors would thump on the floor in the attempt to freak you out. At times this was effective but got old really fast. The music also never changed in the houses and you could clearly hear the sound loops repeat.
- The 3D in the mazes was pointless. I’m not buying glasses for some cheesy effect. Keep the themes, just make them normal houses minus the 3D.
- Add some real scare zones throughout the park. There are so many great areas that would work for really freaky scenarios or extensions of houses.
- Focus on the small details. Add decorations, lighting and fog to all open areas of the park or don’t have them open. Some areas of the park had no Halloween themeing or connection to the event at all.
- Utilize best practices from other parks and please improve the show quality! Knott’s Scary Farm does great shows, as does Cedar Point and World’s of Fun. You’re the same company, so borrow from these park
- Overall, I had a great time at Halloween Haunt. It wasn’t crazy busy with 2 hour lines like other Halloween events, and the houses were for the most part very well done. The scare-actors were great and very into their roles. The atmosphere was spooky and I always felt safe due to the ever present security and police. I was surprised to find they didn’t sell any alcohol, which I think was for the best. The crowd was mainly comprised of teenagers and some families, so adding alcohol into the mix wouldn’t be a good idea. With a few tweaks, this can definitely be the best Halloween themed event in Canada. Great job Wonderland!