By Sally French
Is Halloween canceled this year? It might be in your neighborhood, but it’s not canceled everywhere.
Sure, some popular, annual Halloween events at theme parks are off the table this year. With Disneyland still closed, that means the park’s annual Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween party is out. The Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights are known for scare actors getting close in your personal space, so that’s not happening either.
But that doesn’t mean all the ways to celebrate Halloween at theme parks have been canceled. In fact, some theme parks and festivals have completely revamped their offerings in line with COVID-19-minded safety procedures. And in some ways, 2020’s Halloween events have become better than they were before.
Here’s a guide to the best spots around the nation to travel to if you still want to celebrate Halloween, even if it’s a little different this year:
Walt Disney World – Orlando, Florida
While its West Coast counterpart is closed, Walt Disney World /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -2.47% is open this year with modifications to its usual Halloween offerings.
The annual Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been canceled for 2020, but it’s not all bad news. While that event was popular for being one of the only times that adults could wear costumes in the Magic Kingdom, right now all guests can wear costumes (as long as they adhere to Disney’s costume guidelines) between Sept. 15 and Oct. 31, 2020, at the Magic Kingdom Park.
You’ll also find Disney characters dressed in their Halloween costumes riding around in unscheduled cavalcades (basically a small parade) in lieu of the usual meet-and-greets.
What’s on the menu? Disney has added a slew of pumpkin-themed items to its menus, including a pumpkin spiced waffle sundae, a “Little Mermaid” inspired Poor Unfortunate Souls Float (made of cream cheese soft-serve, black raspberry syrup and Coke /zigman2/quotes/209159848/composite KO +0.31% ), a pumpkin spice milkshake and a pumpkin spice soft-serve sundae.
At the Magic Kingdom’s sister park, Epcot, the annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is still going on. There, food is globally inspired, in theme with the park’s World Showcase section, which is made up of 11 pavilions themed to various countries. You’ll find Canadian cheddar and bacon soup served with a pretzel roll in the Canada pavilion, and pork tostadas or rib-eye tacos in the Mexico pavilion. In the Japan pavilion, get your Instagram ready to photograph the Chirashi Sushi Flowerpot, which is made of salmon, salmon roe, and spinach served over sushi rice with furikake and topped with poke sauce.
Dates: Sept. 15 – Oct. 31.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: To visit, you’ll need to book your ticket in advance via the Disney Park Pass reservation system. Expect to undergo temperature screenings, and face coverings are required for guests 2 years and older.
Don’t expect your theme park experience to be the same as usual. Some hotels, restaurants and attractions are closed, and the theme parks are operating with reduced hours. That means no more fireworks, and no more hugs with Mickey Mouse.
Get there on points and miles: Orlando has two airports to pick from: Orlando International Airport and Sanford International Airport. Orlando International Airport is a major operating base for JetBlue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -4.46% and Southwest Airlines /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -3.51% . If you’re looking for a cheap way to fly to Disney World and don’t mind budget airlines, the airport also has flights for Spirit Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205782179/composite SAVE -4.01% and Frontier Airlines.
As for lodging, most hotels on Disney property are owned by Disney, but there are a couple of exceptions. Stay at either the Walt Disney World Dolphin or Walt Disney World Swan, both of which are Marriott /zigman2/quotes/200170042/composite MAR -4.01% Bonvoy Category 6 properties, and you’ll owe 50,000 points per night (or 40,000 if you book during off peak days, which includes Halloween weekend). The two hotels are adjacent to each other, and walking distance to Epcot.
Universal Orlando’s Halloween Seasonal Experiences – Orlando, Florida
While some theme parks have axed their usual haunted house offerings this year, Universal Orlando added two new ones. Guests can visit the “Bride of Frankenstein” and “Revenge of the Tooth Fairy” themed haunted houses, both included with the cost of theme park admission. A big difference in this year’s haunted houses: You’ll wait in a “virtual line,” which you can access via the Universal Orlando Resort App.
Before you go, read: 6 things you should add to your pandemic travel kit
Trick-or-treating is still happening at Universal Studios’ sister park, Island of Adventure, and costumes are encouraged at both parks.
What’s on the menu? Limited-time food offerings include a Frozen Candy Corn drink and pizza fries.
Dates: Sept. 26 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: Everyone in the park, including scare actors, have to wear face coverings. In some cases, scare actors will work behind plexiglass shields, and everyone is required to use hand sanitizer before entering each haunted house.
Get there on points and miles: You’ll likely fly in and out of Orlando International Airport, which is a major operating base for JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. But you’ll also find flights on major airlines including Alaska, Delta /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -3.68% and United. /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL -8.53%
Plus there’s more good news: Next to Las Vegas, Orlando is considered one of the cheapest places to fly, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Current deals in October include $47 flights from Atlanta on Frontier, $117 flights from New York-JFK on Delta and $102 flights from Washington-IAD on United.
Silver Dollar City’s Harvest Festival – Branson, Missouri
2019 was the inaugural year of what was set to be Silver Dollar City’s annual Harvest Festival, and it’s hanging on to that “annual” moniker. The festival, which is included in the cost of theme park admission, takes place inside the 1880s-style theme park, which is operating largely as usual — aside from some modifications including a mask requirement and limited attendance.
Expect to see some fancy pumpkins designed by pumpkin artisans. Some are intricate carvings in single pumpkins, while others are full-on sculptures made of dozens of pumpkins. At night, thousands of pumpkins light up in the park’s Pumpkin Plaza.
What’s on the menu? Silver Dollar City is serving limited-time, fall-themed food including pumpkin Whoopie Pies and pumpkin pie kettle corn.
Dates: Sept. 23 – Oct. 31 (Wednesday through Sundays only).
Additional safety procedures you can expect: The park is limiting capacity, and some attractions may not be open. All employees and guests are required to wear masks and will also have to undergo a contactless temperature screening before entering. Guests with a fever exceeding 100.40 Fahrenheit will not be permitted entry. Hand-sanitizing and portable hand-washing stations have been added throughout the park.
Get there on points and miles: Though the closest airport is the relatively new Branson Airport and serves Frontier Airlines, you might also consider flying into the Springfield-Branson National Airport, just 50 miles north of Branson. Four airlines serve Springfield: American /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL -5.48% , Allegiant, Delta and United.
When you fly with American Airlines , flights under 500 miles can be redeemed for as little as 7,500 miles in economy and 15,000 miles in business/first class. Plus, if you have an American Airlines credit card , you can get a discount on round-trip MileSAAver awards.
Six Flags St. Louis’ Hallowfest: St. Louis, Missouri
The annual Six Flags Fright Fest has been replaced this year with a pared-down Hallowfest, which means no more indoor mazes or haunted houses. Instead, expect to find only outdoor “haunted trails” and scare zones. You’ll still see the usual scare actors, but this year the actors (and you) are required to wear masks, and the scare actors will stay at least 6 feet away from you.
You’ll still spot the usual spooky characters, but you’ll have to take a socially distanced selfie this year, and kids can still wander through a candy trail, but this year they’ll collect their treat at the end.
What’s on the menu? Spice lovers should look out for the Scareacha Boneless Wings. Funnel cakes get fancy with flavors including pumpkin spice and Snickers.
Dates: Oct. 2 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: Masks are required for everyone in the park over the age of 2, and everyone will have to undergo a temperature check. And don’t expect to show up and buy your ticket when you arrive; Six Flags has implemented a web-based reservation system. To enter, you’ll have to book tickets online for a specific date, and you’ll present tickets at the gate.
Get there on points and miles : St. Louis Lambert International Airport has two terminals, and the second is devoted almost entirely to Southwest Airlines. You’ll also find flights from American, Delta and United.
Cedar Point’s Tricks And Treats Fall Fest: Sandusky, Ohio
Cedar Point’s annual HalloWeekends, which includes The Great Pumpkin Fest and Haunt, is off this year. Instead, it’s been replaced with a new Tricks And Treats Fall Fest.
Trick-or-treating is still on for 2020, though this time kids will pick up treats at socially distanced trick-or-treat candy stations, with some featuring mechanically driven contraptions.
Aside from that, expect to see Halloween décor, live entertainment, and a new fall food and drink tasting menu.
What’s on the menu? For an additional $30 you can purchase a Tasting Card, which allows you to choose six items from the event’s Tricks And Treats menu. Choices include a Dragon’s Leg (that’s a turkey leg soaked in Thai chili sauce), a bacon-wrapped hot dog called “The Mummy,” and maple-butter-coated corn-on-the-cob. Boozy options include Jack-O-Lantern Juice that is made with apple juice plus pumpkin purée, apricot, vanilla and a shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey.
Dates: Sept. 12 – Nov. 1 (Saturdays and Sundays only).
Additional safety procedures you can expect: Reservations are required and you’ll need to show your online reservation info via a mobile device at the gate. Everyone in the park is required to wear a face covering and undergo a health screening and temperature check. Additionally, hand-sanitizing stations have been added throughout the park.
Get there on points and miles: The closest major airport to Cedar Point is Cleveland International Airport, though it’s still about an hour away from the theme park. The good news: It’s a focus city for budget airline Frontier, where one-way flights within the continental U.S. start at just 10,000 miles, plus taxes and fees.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Halloween Harvest – Williamsburg, Virginia
The usual Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream is taking a break this year, replaced with the Busch Gardens Williamsburg Halloween Harvest. A portion of the park, including some rides, will be open for the event. During the day, the activities are more family-focused with contactless trick-or-treating and a pumpkin scavenger hunt. The nighttime event is a bit scarier with roaming ghouls and goblins (though don’t expect any haunted houses or mazes this year).
What’s on the menu? Fall and Oktoberfest-inspired menu items are up for grabs this year, including caramel apples and German meatballs. There’s a big emphasis on Halloween-themed alcoholic drinks too, like Creepy Coladas and Bloody Daiquiris.
For an additional fee, you can purchase a tasting card ($30-$55, depending on your ticket and how many samples you want) or buy items a la carte.
Dates: Oct. 1 – Nov. 1 (Tuesdays through Sundays only).
Additional safety procedures you can expect: All guests are required to make an online reservation prior to visiting. Before entering, everyone in the park must undergo and pass a temperature screening, and everyone over 2 years of age must wear face coverings at all times aside from when they’re eating and drinking, or when they’re in designated relaxation areas of the park.
Get there on points and miles: The closest airport is Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, just a 15-20 minute drive from the park. The airport is served by Delta and American Airlines with daily nonstop flights to Philadelphia, Charlotte and Atlanta. For more flight options, Norfolk International Airport and Richmond International Airport are both about 45 miles from downtown Williamsburg.
Hersheypark In The Dark – Hershey, Pennsylvania
Candy is always the main attraction at Hersheypark, but there’s even more candy to be had during this year’s Halloween event. A 13-stop Trick Or Treat Trail is still on this year, though face coverings are required.
What’s on the menu? While there’s plenty of fall-themed Hershey’s /zigman2/quotes/202765576/composite HSY +0.75% sweets to be had such as doughnuts topped with warm apples, Hershey’s caramel sauce drizzle and graham cracker crumbs. Expect some savory items too like pot roast fries (that’s fries, shredded pot roast, shredded mozzarella and brown gravy). Other sweets include a pumpkin pie milkshake served with caramel, whipped cream, two chocolate covered pretzels and a slice of pumpkin roll, or a caramel apple açaí bowl.
Dates: Select dates Oct. 2 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: The event is operating on a reservation system, so you must buy your ticket in advance. All guests must undergo a touchless temperature screening prior to entering, and guests over the age of 2 are required to wear face coverings.
Get there on points and miles: The closest airport is Harrisburg International Airport, though the theme park is about 1.5 hours from Baltimore and 2 hours from both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
If you’re looking to road trip or simply avoid traditional hotels, Hersheypark has an intriguing lodging option: camping. The Hersheypark Camping Resort offers tenting sites, or — if you’re renting an RV — full hookup and pull-through RV sites.
Six Flags Fiesta’s Hallowfest – San Antonio
In lieu of trick-or-treating, snag individually packaged candy at a Looney Tunes-themed photo op as part of the Six Flags Hallowfest, which replaces the park’s usual Fright Fest. There won’t be any indoor mazes, haunted houses or indoor shows this year, but you can still find some haunted trails and scare zones operated outdoors (with social distancing strictly enforced). And you’ll still find the park’s famous scare actors, but this year they’ll wear masks and remain at least 6 feet away from guests and one another.
Six Flags has a similar Hallowfest at its Six Flags Over Texas park in Arlington.
What’s on the menu? Limited-time Hallowfest food offerings include cheese curdling-scream cheese curds, pumpkin spice funnel cake and a spicy mac and cheese stuffed devil horn.
Dates: Sept. 18 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: Everyone in the park, including scare actors, are required to wear face coverings. Most indoor activities (including indoor mazes and haunted houses) have been called off, and Six Flags says all rides, restraints, handrails, and dining and restroom facilities will be cleaned and sanitized regularly. To account for reduced park capacity, all guests are required to make an online reservation ahead of time.
Get there on points and miles: The closest airport, San Antonio Airport, serves over 40 airlines, including Southwest, Delta /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -3.68% and United.
SeaWorld Spooktacular: San Diego
The rides at SeaWorld are closed, but the park is otherwise still open for the theme park’s SeaWorld Spooktacular. That means guests can still see the animals in their exhibits, as well as during shows with physically distant seating. Specific to the season, there’s a costume contest, cookie decorating (you’ll craft them at single-party tables) and a Dia de los Muertos dance show. For an additional cost, kids can participate in trick-or-treating, where physically distanced candy chutes drop candy straight into treat bags.
What’s on the menu? SeaWorld rolled out a Taste of Fall BBQ and Brew menu with seasonal items including maple-glazed salmon served with toasted pumpkin seeds, a butternut squash BBQ chicken quesadilla, fried Brussels sprouts with sriracha agave glaze and bacon bits, plus a Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin Ale.
Dates: Oct. 2 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: All guests and employees must undergo and pass a temperature screening, and everyone 2 years of age and older must wear face coverings. Animal viewing spaces have been modified with markings to indicate where you can stand, and all coasters and rides are still closed.
Get there on points and miles: San Diego International Airport is a focus city for Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Trips less than 700 miles on Alaska start at 5,000 miles for main cabin or 15,000 for first class.
Knott’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween: Buena Park, California
Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween event is pretty much all about the food this year, considering theme parks cannot currently be open in California. Instead, the theme park is operating as an outdoor food and entertainment venue.
As part of your event admission, you’ll receive a tasting card with five food tastings that can be used at food locations around the park. Besides that, there’s a trick-or-treat trail plus Halloween décor throughout the park.
What’s on the menu? The Southern California theme park is often credited with developing the boysenberry, so among the food offerings are boysenberry beer, boysenberry sangria and boysenberry smoothies. Savory items include cheeseburger mac and cheese, deep-fried cauliflower and pastrami Tater Tots. For pumpkin lovers, there’s a pumpkin spice pecan crumble bar, a deep-fried cinnamon roll with pumpkin icing, pumpkin cider, and pumpkin spice churro sticks.
Dates: Sept. 25 – Nov. 1.
Additional safety procedures you can expect: Tasting cards must be purchased online for a specific day and are limited to reduce theme park capacity. Face coverings must be worn at all times, except when dining at a table or bench, or when inside one of the park’s designated RelaxZones. Guests will go through metal detectors and temperature checks prior to entering.
Get there on points and miles: You might immediately look to booking a flight to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) if you’re headed to Knott’s Taste of Fall-O-Ween, but you might find it much more pleasant to fly out of either of these two smaller (and closer) airports: John Wayne/Orange County Airport or Long Beach Airport. Long Beach Airport is tiny, with just nine nonstop destinations served by four airlines (Southwest, Delta, Hawaiian and American). John Wayne Airport, which serves airlines including Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit and United, is a lot larger than Long Beach, but less overwhelming than LAX.
The bottom line
Many theme parks, including several not mentioned here, have shifted their offerings this year to account for social distancing, while still celebrating Halloween.
While every theme park in this guide was chosen because it has adopted enhanced health and safety measures including mask requirements, an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists anywhere people are present. If you opt to attend one of these (or any) Halloween events, it’s still prudent to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, including maintaining greater social distancing while screaming and not substituting a costume mask for a protective cloth mask. Of course, according to the CDC, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
If you do opt to visit a theme park this month, it might not be as scary as you think, given all the additional safety precautions. Couple that with some big improvements, including a focus on better food (no more frozen chicken fingers), plus lighter crowds due to new capacity limits and reservation requirements, and you could be in for a pretty sweet Halloween.
More from NerdWallet:
Sally French is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SAFmedia.