2013, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, New York, Reviews

Ulster Park, NY: Headless Horseman Hayrides 2013 review

Argh! I am in a situation right now where I have to do all of these posts with my phone. I with I had a mobile hotspot!

Anyway, let’s talk about haunted houses.

Headless Horseman is located in Ulster Park, NY. It’s about 2 hours away from where we live in Central Jersey. When we had visited this attraction several years ago we were not pleased with what we had experienced. Since then, things have changed. We returned to take another look at Headless Horseman on Saturday Sept. 28, 2013.

Hi hi.

So what can you expect this year? The event consists of a lineup of attractions starting with a hayride, haunted houses, and corn mazes. They also have a large midway which is more like a medium sized park, complete with sprawling gardens that are decorated with tasteful Halloween decorations and lights.

The Midway

They always have had the absolute best midway I have ever seen. This year is no different – in fact it is bigger and better. A store called “Coffee Cauldron” is opening this coming weekend.

That’s like the best thing ever guys. OMG.

When you enter (after going through a metal detector) the midway is the first thing you’ll see. There are many jewelry, food, and Halloween decor shops. Its not cheesy decor, either. It’s the kind of decor that Martha Stewart would even approve of. If I had a house I would have probably bought out the store. I especially loved the Halloween tree with glass rat ornaments.

Everything is in wooden houses. They have numerous food concessions that are also housed in cute wooden houses. You will not find the usual metal trucks that most attractions have. In addition to that the food is second to none. I was told that the food is fresh that day from local bakeries. We got to sample coffee, hot chocolate, pumpkin nut brownies, and apple cider donuts.

I am a food snob. I refuse fast food and can’t eat pre-packaged baked goods without a minor but annoying allergic reaction. All of the food items were the best I have ever had. I could also tell that they were made from real ingredients because I did not have an allergic reaction to anything. It was like if you were at an Amish market. It was that good.

When you arrive you’ll see signs that cameras are not allowed. I recommended that they clarify this policy on their site because the reality is that photographing the midway is OK – just not in the attractions. I think this is perfectly reasonable. One big reason is that not only does it blind the actors but they use real horses. Camera flashes can cause the horse to freak out and potentially throw the rider. I think saying that on the site would make more people understand how serious it is.

So do not be a jerk and photograph inside the attractions. Unlike other haunts who may be lazy about enforcing the rules they are not lazy here-they will speak to you if you try it. So don’t.

I actually didn’t understand the scope at first and didn’t photograph many of the shops for you. Trust me, it’s epic in there.

The Attractions

Going through all of the attractions took at least 45 minutes to an hour. You can see their full lineup of attractions here.

The hayride has a lower scare factor and a higher narrative flow than the following attractions. This is intentional because they’d like the folks who are too scared to go further to be able to opt out after that. This is a great idea. I think they should incorporate this into their website because I think if I hadn’t been told this I would have wondered why there weren’t that many dudes running up on us to scare.

I actually think that their Hayride as it is this year is one of my favorites. They have a gypsy on the cart with you speaking to provide context to the scenes you will see. Each scene is very theatrical. The gypsy protects you with the tarot cards until things go a little wrong.

They had one scene which was particularly impressive – a giant handmade boiler robot man. You will see this no where else, I promise you that! This kind of ingenuity is what we love to see at haunts!

Normally the back of the cart is the best on hayrides. In this case I recommend that you try and get the middle of the cart to get the best view.

After you finish off the hayride you are deposited into the queue for the next attraction. You can’t choose which order you do the attractions in – it’s a linear chain that you all must pass through. We aren’t normally a fan of this format and mentioned that in our prior review. However if the attractions are strong it negates our feelings about the format because the point is to have a good time. Was it worth what they charge for admission? Yes, we did feel that the attractions were strong this year and worth the price of admission.

So many positive changes have been made since our last trip to Headless Horseman. When we went here last the first haunted house was in total darkness. We don’t generally like these types of attractions unless they are dimly lit so that there is some theming and such visible.

This year this haunt was amazing! They totally redid it, lit it, and themed the heck out of it! You’d see great scenes, some rooms even had complex water fountain based scenes that we’ve not seen anywhere else and other crazy illusions. There was even a story that you could follow. The detail was impeccable.

The corn maze section used to be a simple affair. Not any more! They went all out. They used animatronics in the right way – in tandem with actors. I actually got startled by a few of the props because the distraction scares were done properly. Simple props were used in really cool ways that made them seem less simple. We loved the high flying bat/demon with the light up face. It looked like it had ascended from hell or something. Yeah it was an animatronic, but I hadn’t seen that one anywhere else. You could also see him in the distance which gave you a small clue about what you were in for – in a good way.

We love when worlds are created. When you can look out and say, “Well this is gonna be nuts!”, that is the best. Make no mistake-no surprises were ruined. It was just a proper setting of the tone.

They had a great circus sideshow area. It was funny, scary, and detailed very well. The Alice in Wonderland section was one of my favorites. I also loved walking under the “roots” in The Root Garden.

The final bits of the experience did not fail to deliver. They had some very well executed endless hallway illusions and, true to their word, the scares increased the further we went through.

So we can definitely say that Headless Horeseman is back in our rotation and should be a part of any haunted attraction fans tour this year.

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