Dorney Park Halloween Haunt VII Review


On the Saturday that Hurricane Joaquin was barreling up the East Coast, I decided to brave the elements and the monsters at Dorney Park’s Halloween Haunt VII.

Once upon a time, I lived relatively close to Dorney Park, but I never attended their Halloween event. I was definitely excited to see how Cedar Fair had adapted their other successful Haunts for this small, often forgotten park.

We arrived at the gates around 5; the park was open all day but the haunts wouldn’t open until 7pm, so we decided to get everything else out of the way first. Talon, Steel Force, and Hydra were all running incredibly smooth and fast with virtually no lines in sight. Stinger, Thunderhawk, and the Wild Mouse were all closed, though the latter two seemed to open later in the night. No one but me wanted to wait for Possessed so we skipped it in favor of finding food.

The park itself was, well deserted would be a little generous. There were maybe twenty or thirty cars in the entire parking lot when we entered, and we were encouraged by ride-ops to enter rides through Fast Lane lines whenever possible to get us up to the station faster. Luckily, things started picking up a bit as the night went on and the monsters came out.

As a whole, Dorney’s Halloween Haunt was a fun experience, but not a fantastic one. While most people prefer to not have crowds, I think the lack of people really hampered the atmosphere in the whole park. Scare zones were empty, mazes seemed lightly staffed (more on that later), and the whole park was just lacking in screams until we left around 9:15. While things could have picked up later in the night, we weren’t the only ones leaving the park before 10 so I didn’t hold out much hope.

I may be complaining a bit, but I still had fun at Dorney’s Haunt, which is more than I can say for a few others I have been to. The decorations were great, the few actors there were really seemed to care about their roles, and plenty of the houses had some awesome potential that can easily be built upon. As my first experience with Skeleton Keys, I came away a bit less impressed. However, I might have been jaded by hearing stories of other Skeleton Key rooms at Knotts, King’s Dominion, and Cedar Point; all parks with a much higher Haunt budget and more experience with those rooms.

Fitting 10 haunted attractions in this small park and keeping each one up to the visual standards that Cedar Fair offers at the rest of their marquee parks is quite the impressive feat, and I would definitely recommend Dorney’s Halloween Haunt to those in the area. However, I do think there is quite a bit of room for improvement for the rest of the season, and for any future Haunts at the park.

Mazes:

Blackout- This was definitely my most anticipated maze from what I heard about the King’s Dominion version. Because of this, it was also the most disappointing maze of the night. Upon entering, our group was given a rope we were told to hold on to, the lights went out, and we were ushered forward. Unfortunately, there was enough light leak (from both outside, and the initial “light room”) that the maze was very far from the Blackout we were promised. Our guide into the darkness neglected to tell us to use our hands on the right wall as we explored the maze. A lot of work seems to have gone into the walls by building in textures and other experiences as you moved through the maze, so it was a shame almost everyone in our group missed it. Rumor has it, there are actors within the maze too, although I never saw one and only ever heard one or two as they, apparently, tried to scare the front of our group. Overall I wouldn’t say it is worth the upgrade to a Fright Lane/Skeleton Key ticket for just this maze unless they retool it before the end of the season.

Chamber of Horrors- Themed to a wax museum that has temporarily reopened to showcase a collection of fearsome murders, criminals, and villains in wax form, this maze offered a fun, if small twist on the normal Halloween tropes. The atmosphere inside the maze was great, and I had a fun time looking at all the very detailed wax models of Hannibal Lector, Charles Manson, and others. Plenty of actors roamed the halls of this twisted museum, and many more stood on podiums, lying in wait, disguised as the tortured souls of wax figures gone wrong. The highlights of this house were a disorienting strobe-light mirror room where many figures were covered in sheets, and a very dedicated actor who skipped through multiple rooms singing “London Bridge is Falling Down” before showing us just how new “figures” are brought into the museum.

Cornstalkers: Barn Bred and Blood Fed- As a hybrid of two houses from last year, Cornstalkers was an interesting treat. Without giving anything away, the Skeleton Key room for this house was the weakest of the bunch, but not due to any fault on the actors’ parts. The room at least set up a little of the story of the house, but the experience was lacking and the only “scary” thing was the threat of tasting something absolutely vile. The actual maze itself was another mixed bag. One part cannibal family living in a barn, one part slaughterhouse, and one part terrifying corn people, I had a decent time from beginning to end, but I noticed a distinct lack of “corn people” through the outdoor sections. The house had pretty decent theming and enthusiastic actors throughout which was a step up from what we had experienced so far. Unfortunately, the maze ended up fizzling out with the last scene unceremoniously dumping you back onto a sidewalk without any warning or climax to the story.

Desolation- The lackluster entrance theming of this outdoor maze didn’t impress me, but the overall experience more than made up for the poor first impression. Themed to a “viral or nuclear outbreak” in the town of Stillwater, PA, guests are told they have to make it through the town to the extraction point without becoming infected or they will never leave. Before the maze even started, we were taken out of the queue for the Skeleton Key experience and briefed on the situation by a military commander. He gave us all vials of “antidote” that we needed to carry with us and not let The Experimenter and his minions take them away. The Key room itself is found towards the end of the house and requires you to be actively looking for the sign, otherwise it is entirely possible to miss it. Lucky for us, there was an actor there who saw our Fright Lane lanyards and she ushered us in to meet “the doctor”…

The house was quite well done from start to finish and benefitted from its outdoor location. Generally I’m not a fan of “open-air” mazes due to my experience with overly bright, empty, and wide open spaces, but the use of props, lighting, some very good actors, and clever scares worked together to give this haunt an edge that I haven’t seen before. A lot of poor souls wander outside, interacting with military personnel, and the interior of the facility is crawling with all manor of deranged doctors, patients, and other monstrosities. I do think the Skeleton Key room makes you miss two or three rooms on the inside so keep in mind you may need to go through twice to really see everything.

Mansion House Hotel- The grandest maze of the night was also the most divisive within our group. I found the Mansion House Hotel to be one of the weakest mazes experience-wise, but strongest in terms of theming. With a 10,000 sq. ft. building to play with, the Mansion House Hotel definitely is the longest and most elaborate maze of the night. Guests are greeted at an impressive lobby by a bellhop and other hotel staff, and then are sent to wander through various residents, spirits, and an angry bride searching for her lost groom. The sets and scenery were all gorgeous, every scene was filled with incredible detail, and this maze had some of the most high-tech special effects of all the other houses. My main problem with the maze was that it appeared so empty. For a hotel that is supposed to be packed with angry spirits, it was staggeringly infrequent I encountered one of them. Unfortunately, on multiple occasions one of the ‘spirits’ was telling others to go on a break, go patrol a different area, or to reset something else in the maze, which really took me out of the experience. I think this house has some great potential, and it is entirely possible I hit during a shift change or some other problem, but it was underwhelming as a whole.

On another note, the skeleton key room here was really the only one that actually asked something of us and made us participants and not casual observers. We had to participate in a mini “escape the room” challenge that proved to be fairly enjoyable. Strangely, when we tried to enter the Skeleton Key room, we were held outside for almost 10 minutes as the hotel “prepared for our arrival” because, as they said, there had been a murder they needed to clean up. I am unsure if the actors weren’t ready or if there actually was a problem, but it was weird to be held out front as group after group from the standby queue passed through around us.

The Asylum- As our first haunt of the night, Asylum was entirely adequate if uninspired. I am personally a little over the Cedar Fair focus on insane asylums gone wrong, so I can’t say this maze really did much for me. The Asylum regularly boasted some of the longest lines of the night, though, so it definitely proves popular with the general public. The scenes inside run the gamut from padded rooms, to electroshock therapy/torture rooms, but the addition of a spinning tunnel partway through added a unique wrinkle the mix. The opening safety spiel from a disheveled asylum guard was also a fun treat and a great way to keep us interested. Like many other houses of the night, Asylum seemed to suffer from a lack of scareactors throughout its course, but those that were there seemed fully committed to their roles.

Trick or Treat- With a design that is extremely reminiscent of this maze’s namesake at Knott’s Scary Farm, it was obvious to see that Trick or Treat was the maze that got the biggest budget for Haunt VII. Located underneath Steel Force in the newly constructed permanent haunt/storage building, this maze was a bit off the beaten path and still had the only respectable line of the night. I won’t spoil anything about the Skeleton Key room, but it is a neat little skit that spills you out at the iconic jack-o-lantern stairs which have become the trademark of the Trick or Treat houses. Unfortunately, with the Skeleton Key room, you enter on the side of the stairs and never get to see the full effect of the stairs since the actors push you through the room quickly. The iconic Green Witch constantly appear throughout the house, and the actors playing both victim and tormentor seemed to really give it their all,. Each room was deliciously detailed (pun intended with the candy theme), and there is a fantastic effect with the Green Witch in the final room that should not be missed. My only complaints about this house were its length as the shortest of the night except for Blackout, and the disappointingly empty hallway after the final room that just funneled us to an exit door with no resolution.

Scarezones:

Age of Darkness- A scare zone that wants so badly to be a full on maze, this zone winds between walls and has a distinctive path to follow. Many scenes of torture, death, and even a dragon fill in the pavement between Steel Force and Thunderhawk to enhance your walk between houses. The zone even has a Skeleton Key room that was the only one to make me uncomfortable and a bit scared, despite the payoff not being as big as I had hoped. Actors filled the whole area, laughing, dancing, and enduring torture, and the most handsome king you ever did see ‘greets’ you as you enter. The whole area could have used a lot more fog, something we saw throughout the park, but I’ll blame that on the remnants of Hurricane Joaquin that were still blowing through.

CarnEvil- I’ve seen this scare zone done in many different, and decidedly better ways, but it was still enjoyable to see the delightfully deranged circus crew wrecking havok on the gathered guests. The zone itself was fairly sparse on props, but being located on the dramatically sloped path next to Hydra limits the amount of props they can install. Plenty of spinning lights and fitting music add atmosphere the area. Being located at the top of a hill makes any fog quickly get blown away, limiting the opportunity for surprise scares from the actors. The clowns and carnies themselves were all talented, and each actor had a unique costume/weapon/personality that they all channeled to great effect. Keep an eye on the giant Jack-in-the-box near the top of the hill, quite a few screams were coming from that area throughout the night.

Cutthroat Island- By far the smallest of the scare zonez, Cut-Throat Island is centered around a scuttled pirate ship on the midway by the swings and Wild Mouse. While we didn’t spend much time in this zone because of its small size, the place was absolutely crawling with pirates who seemed very adept at using their cutlasses, swords, and other weapons to generate some screams. The actors in this area worked exceptionally well together; once a pirate found some prey, two or three other pirates would immediately swarm in to provide extra scares to an unaware group. I have to give all these actors credit, for what little they had to work with, they did a phenomenal job.

Gravewalkers- Unfortunately this was closed due to flooding. I saw the sign, the whole line, and even most of the graveyard (thanks Steel Force!), but we were unable to enter the zombie infested field. I was understandably disappointed that we had to miss the final Skeleton Key room of the night, doubly so since I heard rave reviews of it from Haunt VI, but the weather just couldn’t be helped on this night.

Shows:

Skeleton Crew- We didn’t get to see the show for Skeleton Crew, but we did get to see the stage outside of Hydra and at the top of Carn-Evil. The stage is set up like the center ring in a circus tent, and apparently is host to an interesting “Cirque-style spectacle” but we weren’t even sure the show was running on such a windy and wet night.

Blood Drums- Do you like music? Do you like loud noises? Do you LOVE lasers? If so, Blood Drums is for you. We caught about five minutes of the performance before we walked through Carn-Evil, and everything looked relatively fun and high energy. Actors and musicians were bouncing about, lasers were flashing, and the stage had the most fog of any area of the park. If we had more time I would have definitely stopped in for longer as it looks like Blood Drums could be a fun little party for when you need a breather.