Category: Reviews

2016, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

Pennsylvania – Plymouth Meeting Haunted Attractons: Lulu’s House of Horrors final year of operation, 2016

For an in depth review of Lulu’s House of Horrors in Plymouth Meeting, PA click here and read this. The heart and execution of this haunt has not changed much from that year to this year. You’ll still get a mix of high and low tech scares in a real house that has been altered for your haunting pleasure in Eastern Pennsylvania.

What has changed is that this is their last year of operation. I highly recommend that you go to this haunt and see what is a classic, small scale, charity haunted attraction. It is one of the delights of the world and I am sad to see it go.

Click here for more information and to buy tickets – before it is gone for good.

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Thank you for an amazing run to everyone involved with this haunt!

DO THIS ONE.

2016, Attractions, General, Georgia, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

Atlanta, Georgia Haunted Attractions: Netherworld 20th Anniversary 2016 Review

My opinion on Netherworld has changed a little from last year when I sang their praises from here to hell and back. (Read that review here.)

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Last year they were very good such that I did not think it could get any better. This year they took what I thought was the best anyone could achieve and blasted that expectation through the ceiling. JUST LOOK AT THIS:

They have created an entirely new definition of visual fear that succeeds on every level. BELIEVE IT. This is only my second time going to Netherworld. If this is any indication of what I can expect year to year I am going to have to start taking up drinking or something. OMG.

I enjoyed looking at and walking through all of the creepy custom designed sets and seeing the amazing makeup on their actors. The craftsmanship, lighting, staging, and positioning of each actor in each room is over the top. Forget what you know. These guys don’t just have the game on lock – these guys have THEIR OWN GAME. Very few of their animatronics inside the haunt appear to be off the rack. It’s all altered/custom. The only noticeable off the rack animatronics are the ones outside for photo ops but the actors out front still all have amazing custom costumes.

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“NEW horrors and scares abound at NETHERWORLD Haunted House in 2016! The massive Soul Eater swoops over your heads in MONSTERS our upstairs haunt at NETHERWORLD! Get Your Tickets Now at http://bit.ly/NWHH2016 and join us as we celebrate our 20th Season of Screams!.”

They made that, you guys. This will not be anywhere else. Here’s some more:

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Most haunts have similar props and animatronics throughout. If you don’t go to as many haunts as I do you will not notice this. But I do. This place is the only place that I have seen so far that seems to be operating on another level far higher than everyone else I have ever encountered. This is why I don’t compare all haunts to each other for my awards. It’s just not fair to compare various scales of haunted attraction together. If I did, these guys would always win every single year.

I know of 3 places worthy of a plane trip for haunt fans. Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights / Howl O Scream / Disney, Eastern PA for Hotel of Horror, Halls of Horror, Reaper’s Revenge, and the Freak and Funhouse, and Atlanta for Netherworld. (Read my reviews to get reviews of all of these places. If there’s no review for this year, use last year’s. Use CTRL or CMD+F to search the page. If i have skipped a haunt this year it usually means that it has not changed enough to warrant a re-visit.)

Notice how all of my other recommendations are clusters? You don’t even need any other haunts to make this one worth the plane trip. BOOM.

The sheer scale, organization, and custom nature of Netherworld’s rooms are off the charts. They have rooms in here staged and positioned such that you get a peek of a later room. It’s like a jenga accordion puzzle from hell that never falls over. They do work to make the walls and floor do things while you go through and you can tell the amount of love put into this haunt – they dig deep into the Lovecraft universe and other places and have handcrafted several monsters from his works.

FINALLY!!!! Someone got Lovecraft right in a haunted house! If you are a fan of ORIGINAL CREATIVE WORK go here. This is the place.

This year they ABSOLUTELY BLEW US AWAY. Last year we enjoyed it but they didn’t scare us that hard. That’s normal – we are very hard to scare. This year they scared us several times. This year they went from very good to VERY GREAT. (Is that even a phrase? It is now because I say so.)

So what is happening for Netherworld’s 20th Anniversary year?

Monsters

“Horrors released from the unknown threaten our world and only the return of ancient MONSTERS can defeat them! Celebrate 20 years of NETHERWORLD Haunted House with a nightmarish adventure you will never forget!

This Year Featuring: The Flying Angel! The Lair of The Sea Witch! The Feasting Vampires! The Goloth Invasion! The Attacking Harpy! The Transformation Chamber! The Cavern of The Werewolves! The Blood Beast of the Arena! The Boogeyman’s Return! The Chapel Of The Gargoyles! The Cyclopean Soul Eater and The Doom Stone Unearthed! Experience an incredible avalanche of never ending horrors sure to shock during NETHERWORLD’S 20th year celebration! “

Vault 13: Meltdown:

Can You Escape a Nuclear Meltdown?

The crazed artificial intelligence PROTEUS demands that the Mangler create him a “bride” or he will destroy the world with the massive arsenal of VAULT 13! Can the chaos be stopped or will mutations, aliens, robots and nuclear destruction be unleashed on an unsuspecting planet?

This year featuring: The Xenomorphic Terror! The Collapsing Missile! The Blast Off Inferno! The Bride of Proteus! The Melting Core! The Radioactive Roach Infestation! The Mega Slammer! The One Million Volt Tesla Coil! The Spinning Kill Floor! Machine Gun Zombies! Crazed Automatons and the return of the Toxic Foam Room! Total Terror and SCI-FI Thrills Reign during NETHERWORLD Haunted House’s 20 Year Celebration!

They also had a fun escape room–that was actually designed for you to do things within the room, not just solve some random number or word puzzles. They had a great set up that prompted you through it if you got lost–or you could just go crazy and jump in and mess with everything (you’ll need some purell afterward though….you do touch some squicky stuff).

Conclusion:

Netherworld made significant changes this year which took their always great haunt to a level way above that. They achieved beyond what Harknell and I could have ever expected. We particularly liked how deeply they delved into the Lovecraft world and the Sea Witch with her pet hell fish. They took great care to construct and manipulate the world around us which created a sense of dread that no one else has ever achieved in this unique way. The walls move. The floors move. They use fog and lasers STRATEGICALLY and PRECISELY which greatly add to the narrative flow of the scares in each room.

Guys, they have me so hyped up I am making words in all caps in this post. That rarely happens anymore.

These things I am listing are not gimmicks as they so often can be in the haunt industry if not used well – these are tools used in the right place at the right time. The concepts executed with such precision in each room are nothing short of revolutionary, astounding, and totally immersive.

That’s what these guys excel in – doing LEGIT horror with a true creative vision. You never feel like you are being pandered to by a stupid boogity boogity chainsaw chase that someone bought 2 for a dollar at the trade show because starting a Quik-E-Mart was too inconvenient for them.

Netherworld. Is. Art.

Netherworld is where you go when you want to see TRUE ART. They don’t just create a haunted attraction – they redefine and lead the entire industry every year that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. They will be one of my first primary targets next year. I don’t care how brutal the drive is for us.

DO THIS ONE. OH MY GOD. Call out of work or something. Get in the car now.

Click here for details and ticket info.

2016, Attractions, Florida, General, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theater

Tampa, Florida: Interactive Theater Review: The Vault of Souls

Thankfully Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit where I was in Orlando directly, so general pre-hurricane chaos, losing a couple of haunt days, and having to drive 20+ hours out of my way (OMG) to get home because 95 North was flooded was the maximum impact we experienced.

Yeah – my back still hurts days later. :( This is why the reviews are coming out slower. The hurricane really impacted us.

Orange County lifted the curfew just in time for me to get to Tampa on Friday, October 7th, 2016 to see The Vault of Souls for their second year of operation. Time to go haunting!

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I reviewed them last year and was very impressed at that time. I felt like it was an amazing start to an innovative show. I was extremely pleased that they did it again. Did I mention that they they won an Innovation award from us? Yep.

What was it like this year?

This year they took the concept up to the next level with some great alterations and additions. First, let’s talk about what The Vault of Souls is if you haven’t read my previous review. It’s Interactive / Immersive Theatre; a haunted experience located in a Tampa landmark that also draws upon the local history.

“The Exchange National Bank opened in 1923 to protect the worldly possessions of Tampa’s High Society. The founders of the bank soon discovered that there was also a desire to protect their clients’ “other-worldly” possessions as well. After consulting with the most prestigious psychics and local native Shaman, they were able to invoke “The Vault of Souls”. This paranormal purgatory was constructed in the basement of the bank and became the safe haven for carefully selected souls. To this day, Tampa’s elite gather in October, when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest, to enter this mysterious vault. For some it is a brief visit. For others, it is an eternity.”

This is not a startle scare chainsaw fest. There are no startle scares in here whatsoever. If you enjoy theatrical haunts OR don’t care for scary things but enjoy theatre, this is for you. Yes, even your friend who hates haunts will like this as long as they enjoy fun.

Harknell and I love it.

You start off in “The Arrival”, which is a bar area with live music, dancers, and people serving small bites of food. The food is included with your admission, the alcohol is not.

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Shepherd’s Pie and Shrimp and Grits:

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The Vault Ventilator, their specialty drink:

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You wait here until your name is called. Characters will interact with you up here, which is new this year and a great addition. I encountered a clown, fortune teller, researcher, and at least 1 other from the time period. They have added enhanced effects and animated ghost projections on the wall.

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When your name is called you enter “The Ritual”. Before you enter you get to watch 2 ghosts do a waltz, and then you enter in small groups. You have the ability to wander around for as long as you want, exploring, solving puzzles, and piecing together the story. Remember adventure video games in the 90s? This is that in real life. I freaking loved those type of games.

You get to go deeper into the story of Lucy, whose soul was kept in the Vault by her parents. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee to join her there so you run into their ghosts looking for Lucy. A particularly unsettling scene added this year was Lucy’s Mom done with a Pepper’s Ghost effect. Mad props to that.

They don’t cram people inside. We were in there for over an hour and didn’t get to everything that we could have done – this year there is so much more that you can do inside. You”ll notice some similarities with last year’s show but they have expanded almost everything. There are now several quests you can complete in order to find out pieces of the story. I didn’t complete all of them but I did ask Creative Director Scott Swenson if they could all be completed if we had stayed longer. He told me that yes, every quest has an ending and something that happens. Cool!

After you choose to leave you go upstairs to the Gin Joint, just like last year. I’m told that they may make the Gin Joint a year-round thing. This makes me happy because it’s a gorgeous space. This year they had a couple of (amazing!!!) live singers and several more folks in costume. I didn’t want to interrupt the actors’ work, but here are some shots of the Gin Joint decor, which I loved:

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Upstairs they also had the gelato, coffee, and fortune tellers like last year in “The Readers’ Clearing”. They upgraded that space with …well…look:

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When you leave you get to keep your mask and you get a book of poetry written by Scott Swenson. The book is the second volume, so it is new for this year. Women get roses:

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I particularly liked that they alter your mask depending on what quests you do and how you interact with the actors. I interacted with the dentist and the seductress. I hope they add more to the mask alteration and really go nuts with it next year. That would be cool – and majorly appeal to my love of wearable, fluid, performance art.

If you require glasses to see I highly recommend that you wear contacts when you go here because of the mask. I thought I could get away with having my glasses under the mask, but I wouldn’t do that again. Because after surgery I now require progressive lenses which can’t be done in contact lenses easily I’ll just wear my single vision contacts and bring a magnifying glass to be able to read with next year. :D (I am still learning how to interact with the world after my eye surgery.)

Tickets are $100 plus a $5 service fee. Our tickets were complimentary, but even if I weren’t a writer I would have paid to go see this show. Arrive about an hour early so that you can properly eat, drink, and interact with the actors in The Arrival. The cost includes the food – and the food is extremely good. If you show up just before your arrival time I feel that you will probably not get all that you should be getting out of the experience. This is a high end elegant night out and every year they keep setting the bar higher and higher. This is where I am seeing true innovation and creativity thrive.

Since Tampa may be my future home I am very happy that the arts are thriving in Tampa and elevating the city’s history and capabilities. I feel that too many people just go to the theme parks in Orlando and fail to look just an hour southwest at the city of Tampa. Tampa has so much to offer, is always the place I have my most memorable vacation days at, and The Vault of Souls is solid proof of that.

You really should…DO THIS ONE!

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, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews

HAUNTED ATTRACTION REVIEW: Rye, New York: Rye Playland’s Gallery of Horrors and Rye Playland 2016

I received a tip that a new haunted attraction had opened in Rye Playland in New York so Harknell and I drove out there a couple of weeks ago to check it out. I went to write the review about Gallery of Horrors but realized partway through that I can’t review it fairly without reviewing the entire park, so first I am going to talk about the park and then the attraction.

Rye Playland already had several dark rides that you can view here. They have 2 ride-through haunted houses called Zombie Castle and The Flying Witch. They aren’t really themed (Correction! Zombie Castle is – thank you George LaCross for pointing this out), so don’t expect a witch story in The Flying Witch. I enjoy them both and ride them every time I come.

Zombie Castle:

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Flying Witch:

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Flying Witch car:

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Ye Old Mill is the best ride that they have. It was designed by Sally Corporation and Rye Playland gave them a good budget so that they could actually do a very good ride. Normally Sally’s best rides are in Europe and elsewhere because US parks do not generally want to pay for anything besides coasters. Ye Old Mill is a gem. It’s a shame I didn’t get to ride it this time. More on THAT later.

Ye Old Mill:

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They also have a House of Horrors which is an old-fashioned mirror-based fun house. I respect these old classics but mirror houses bore me so I don’t go on that one.

I would not have ever gone to Rye Playland if it were not for the high number of dark rides they have. Their customer service just plain stinks. I’ve had bad experience after bad experience here and this visit was no different.

On this visit the Old Mill ride was down. It was not listed on the sign that posts ride closures before you paid $30 each under the pretense of being able to ride everything in the park. When we asked when the Mill would be up, the response we got from the folks working on the ride was similar to this asshole in the Pop Copy skit from Chapelle’s Show. They were less inflammatory, but of the same IDGAF style. Imagine this guy, but a really sleepy version of him who shrugs a lot at you:

I digress slightly away from a single attraction review, but this is important for my conclusion later in this post.

So how is the new Gallery of Horrors?

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Rye Playland’s Gallery of Horrors is a short walkthrough with no actors. They say this up front so none of this was a surprise to us. What was a surprise was how short it was and that we got charged an extra $3 per person to enter. Walking slowly through this attraction may not have lasted more than 3 minutes, tops.

At this point you can’t help but feel ripped off.

If this were a tech demo at the Transworld haunted attraction show of someone’s design and staging capabilities it would be great, but it’s not. It’s being sold as a standalone attraction worthy of an upcharge from your $30 admission that purports to include all of the rides in the park but doesn’t. The park doesn’t even list it on it’s website.

From a customer’s perspective, I paid $30 to ride 2 5 minute haunted house rides and had to shell out $3 more to go through a 3 minute walk through haunted house and the biggest ride I wanted to ride was down and not listed that it was down and never came back up.

This is a fucking joke.

I am aware of how park / attraction relationships work and I realize that the attraction owner probably has no control over this and that the park may be operating in a way that forces them to upcharge and excludes them from the wristband program. I see this happen frequently in parks that rent out their space to haunted attractions and it’s pretty terrible for small business.

The park is also not communicating to the customers properly on what is and is not included in the wristbands as well as which rides are down for that day before you pay to enter. The typical experience with Rye Playland is that you just get rude surprises and treated like shit once you enter the park in a way that makes Six Flags look like Disney World. You will not get what you pay for at this park. I never have and I have been here at least 3 times.

The last time I was here I was kicked off of a carousel because I had a mini backpack and not given a refund. I double checked and no signs were posted that bags were not permitted on that ride. That time I had paid per ride and didn’t buy the “all rides” wristband. It wouldn’t take that much to hand my tickets back to me. (NOTE: They don’t even list the tickets on the website but still offer them – another example of poor communication to the customer by this park.)

Conclusion:

As you can see, Rye Playland is a fiasco. If you are a haunted house dark ride fan the Old Mill is worth the trip. It’s designed by Sally Corporation and is one of the few rides that gave them the budget to make some very awesome magic. Ye Old Mill is a gem and one of the examples of the great work that Sally does that most parks won’t pay for – but Playland actually did. (I guess a broken watch is right twice a day…) The catch is will that ride actually be running? No one knows. Pay first and find out.

I can only recommend Rye Playland to the die hard haunted house and dark ride enthusiast because of how the park is being managed. Gallery of Horrors was well-designed but it was the shortest haunt I have ever been through in my life and quite sterile. The rooms were staged well but it was very basic. There was no payoff, no story, no real interaction between the customer’s brain and the attraction and it left us with the “dafuq did I just pay for?” feeling. The biggest shock was exiting because it felt so short.

How it’s being positioned in this park is poor. I cannot recommend it to anyone. If it were free I wouldn’t go back through because nothing in there calls for a second viewing. If it were a room staging class it would be a great teaching tool, but the sterility of it all – you’ve seen everything the first time just like how once you’ve seen the inside of a Chipotle you know what the restaurant looks like and won’t forget.

It is not worth an additional $3. It is not worth $3 on it’s own without being at least double the length it is and adding at least 1 room that has some sort of “big” concept happen in front of you, like a chain reaction or any sort of psychology being used in any of the rooms.

Gallery of Horrors was just your basic scares laid out from the best LCD screens and other items purchased probably from Transworld or some other haunted attraction show that I have seen in every haunted attraction in the eastern seaboard. Even in larger attractions I find these types of pre-purchased props to be never something that should be a main focus to the overall design unless you are a company trying to sell these props to other haunters and you are at a trade show. If that’s the case – don’t charge for it.

It seems that whoever built this may be working on a haunted house for this Halloween. Across the park they had a display of props set up advertising their website and the full haunted house with actors which is supposed to open in October. It seems it may have already happened for a year or so – so if anyone actually went to this please let me know how it was.

scared-by-the-sound-demo

Again – this display has a reliance on purchased technology. The focus of this display was this monitor which put a zombie face on you. Cool stuff, and completely appropriate for a marketing display – but that plus the house we paid for both had a reliance on tech over story. Purchased tech shouldn’t be the main focus inside an attraction in my personal opinion so this makes me concerned that it will be the focus in their full haunted house this Fall.

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I am sad to say that Gallery of Horrors does not advertise their next project positively to potential customers unless the marketing message is that you will feel ripped off afterward. I feel bad for whoever put this together because they clearly are talented and know what they are doing. I feel like the park may have handicapped them and created a situation in which the product they have now was forced to be priced in such a way that it set custumers up for disappointment.

I hope that Playland gets it’s management act in gear and fixes how it handles it’s vendors and how they handle customers – otherwise I won’t be back. I actually can’t see myself returning to this park unless this haunt gets in touch and tells me that they rock and to please come out. Every time I go to this park I feel like I paid for a bad experience where I didn’t even get to ride what the ticket promised due to the park management’s poor communication and customer service.

Read the rest of my haunted attraction reviews and get hyped for Haunt Season 2016!