Halloween season rides a shriek-filled draw for theme parks

Wed Oct 29, 2014 1:34pm EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - Chainsaw-wielding ghouls draw screaming crowds so large to Universal Orlando's "Halloween Horror Nights" that traffic snarls around the Florida theme park on fall evenings, just another nightmare in the industry's soaring thrill season.

U.S. theme parks have turned Halloween's shriek-filled haunted houses and bloodied zombies into one of their largest promotional events of the year. Universal warns ticket-buyers that it sells out some nights of what it stretched this year into a month-and-a-half-long season.

"It is just like everybody goes," said Steffanie Weisman, a horror buff who celebrated her 37th birthday this month at Universal's Halloween, the only time she and her husband visit the Orlando park, less than an hour from their home.

Such is the lure of parks with spooky thrills, especially for local and in-state visitors, invigorating what was once a slow season between the peak summer travel months.

Today, theme parks drawing mostly regional crowds look to Halloween for as much as 20 percent of their annual attendance, said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a global consultant based in Cincinnati.

“It’s a season maker and breaker in some cases,” he said. "A lot is riding for a lot of companies on Halloween."

At destination parks, such as Universal Orlando, Halloween events can draw as many as 600,000 visitors, Speigel said, making the holiday among the industry's top performers.

The Orlando theme park, which is owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corp, declined to release its figures to Reuters.   Continued...

A man reacts to one of the exhibits in the "Alien vs. Predator" haunted house at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida, in this undated handout photo provided by Universal Orlando.  REUTERS/Universal Orlando/Handout via Reuters