Friday, September 19, 2014

[Haunt Review] Amazing Food and Innovative Scares from Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt VII

This past Saturday we had the opportunity to check out Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt for the first time. After a long 6 hour drive, we finally made it and we really had no idea what to expect. From the get go, we quickly realized that this event was not your typical amusement park haunt. With a collection 7 mazes (8 with Fright Lane), 4 scare-zones and the inclusion of the insane Skeleton Key rooms on top of the Mansion Meal experience...just wow.

There's so much to see and do, if you include the operating rides, that if you're anywhere near Dorney I can't recommend this event enough. Just remember, that if you leave the park after 6pm on Halloween Haunt nights, you can't get back in. So either go on a Friday just for Halloween Haunt or make a whole day out of it!
  • Date Visited: 9/13/14
  • Review Team: +Carrie H.C. and +Kitsune Hazard 
  • Rating: Mazes/Scare-Zones: Really Damn Good -- Food: Excellent
  • Recommendation: Go if you're in the area, even if you're not you have to check this one out!
  • Likes: Love the Skeleton Key rooms, the food in the park and for the Mansion Meal were insanely good as well.
  • Dislikes: Nothing really, a few mazes and scare zones could've used a little more population here and there, but it was only the second night. Other than that? Maybe add a 5th scare-zone somewhere, just a thought!
  • Pro-Tip: Get the Fright Lane with Skeleton Key option, at $35-$40 per person it's worth it and adds a whole new level to things. Also, if you can, you have to do the Mansion Meal experience. Not only is the food incredible, but you get Fright Lane and admission included in it's $99 price.
Disclaimer: We were invited Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt VII as part of their media/blogger event. Due to this we were comped admission, dinner and a few other things so that we could experience them. This in no way has influenced our opinions of the attraction as a whole.

Now, let's get on with the review and our first stop is once! (Seriously, food is awesome.)

One of the most interesting and unique offerings of any haunted attraction in the US is the Mansion House Meal experience that Dorney Park offers. This is where we started our night and let me tell you, there's amusement park food and then there's what Executive Chef Jan Giejda has put together, but more on that in a minute.

The Mansion House Meal is held within the Mansion House Hotel haunt, yes, that's right you get to eat in the dining room scene of a haunted house. How cool is that?! The only other park I know that's doing this is Cedar Point, so it really is a unique experience. But wait, it gets even better, not only are you and up to 23 other lucky folks dining within the haunt, but also interacting with the cast of it as well.

It's really something else to behold and the macabre atmosphere is a great way to start the night off. I have to give some serious credit to the cast as they stayed within character throughout the entire time we were in their presence, which was about an hour or so.

All four courses of my meal, from left to right.
Now, the food. This is not just a burger or fries or a quick slice of pizza. There's nothing wrong with that, but don't go into expecting anything like that at all and it's why I'm here to tell you all about it. I don't normally do this, but Dorney Park's Executive Chef, Jan Giejda, has put together an amazing menu selection for this event and it's definitely worthy of a description.

From the moment my appetizer of oven dried Heirloom Tomatoes with fresh Mozzarella, roasted garlic and basil oil appeared, I knew that this was something special and we were in for a real treat.

The salad course, consisting of my choice of a baby greens in a honey fig vinaigrette with toasted almonds and pear tomatoes, was a great way to follow things up and the vinaigrette was an amazing addition. So, what about the main course, well more of the same here. For me it was the Petit Filet Mignon with parsnip puree and a candied shallot burgandy sauce. Holy crap, it was amazing. Not only was the meat perfectly prepared, but the parsnip puree was a perfect pairing with it. The burgandy sauce just pulled the entire entree together.

Now, with all of that out of way...unfortunately, it was time for dessert and I had opted for the  Parisan Apple Tart with carmel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. Yeah, I don't have to tell you that it was delicious, but I will. It was phenomenally good. The entire menu was just something that you don't expect and should put every amusement or theme park out there on notice. Fact of the matter is, it's probably the best food I've in that setting (or anywhere for that matter), pretty much ever.

This is how you do it folks and I hope that Dorney Park and Chef Jan continue to make this not only a great haunt themed event, but also an amazing food experience. Hat's off you to Chef and it was a privilege to not only break bread with you, but also to meet you, and I look forward to seeing what else you have in store in the future!

Now that I'm hungry and with that out of the way, let's get on with the review of the rest of the event, shall we? As part of the Mansion Meal experience you also receive Fright Lane passes that come with Skeleton Key, this puts you in the front of the line and access to unique and interactive rooms within 5 of the mazes for you to figure out or survive. I won't reveal all the secrets of Skeleton Key, but I will say that they will challenge you physically and psychologically. If you're a serious haunt fan, do NOT pass this up!

Our first stop of the night was, the Mansion House Hotel. Surprise, surprise, right? Still daylight, we were ushered directly into the Skeleton Key room, which forced us to figure out the secret that would let us escape and then go into the house proper.

Once inside, we ran into our familiar cast of characters from dinners and a few others. The fun part for us was that we had a little more insight as we had learned the history of the haunt as well as a few things to look out for too.

Overall, the actors were great and the huge wide open spaces within this maze really made it something interesting. There's also quite a few interesting ways for the cast to interact with you in multiple ways as well, you feel lost within the halls of the Mansion House Hotel and the banter and scares make you feel that it's more "alive". This isn't just a quick in and out kind of affair either, it takes a good 10 minutes or so to get through depending on your speed. That said, it would've been nice to see a little more actor population here, not many more are needed but maybe we caught them before everyone was in place. Either way, still a great haunt.

Next up, we headed on down towards the back of the park and Asylum, but before we made it there we had to navigate our way through the twisted world of Head Hunters. 

This scare-zone, framed by fog and the unknown had a lot going on and a ton of actors just waiting in the shadows. Not too long, nor too short, it was just the right size as well. I can't say enough for this one, I was definitely impressed and love how the actors were working with the environment that the Dorney Park creative team put together for them.

So, once we had survived the melee of Head Hunters, we made our way down a seriously foggy and eerily blue lit path towards Asylum. It really was just the perfect night for good fog, love when that happens!

Seriously, how cool is that?!
So, we finally made it to Asylum and once again we were presented with another Skeleton Key room. Unlike with Mansion House, the room was somewhere inside the haunt and we would only find out where when signaled to enter.

So what about the rest of the maze? The actors in here really were going crazy and have a ton of fun with the scares. They were everywhere too, definitely no lack of them anywhere as they seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny.

Sure, asylums are done to death, but these guys really brought it home and added some very unique touches to the whole process. The Skeleton Key room? Definitely was interesting...and don't freak out too bad if you think the walls are closing in on ya and remember...that toy is really loved and special. Amazing pair in the room too, you two were awesome!

The third maze that we hit was another really unique take on things, Gravewalkers. Easily one of the coolest starts to a maze I've ever seen, it's a "choose your own path" kind of thing as you're literally walking into a cemetery that they've created and it's completely open. Very cool stuff.

Everything from shambling corpses, a funeral taking place and other undead creatures are wandering about, just waiting to pounce. And then you go inside one of the crypts and into the underbelly of the beast.

The Skeleton Key room within Gravewalkers was also easily one of my favorites, if not the best one out there. Again, I won't spoil it but you're gonna go on helluva ride and it's not what you're expecting at all to get out of that madman's domain. The rest of the house after that? Just great and none of us in our group could stop talking about what just happened in the middle of it. Big shout out to the folks working the Skeleton Key room here, you were amazing!

Gravewalkers is also mostly outside, so definitely want to save this one for after the sun goes down and it's over uneven terrain, so keep that in mind as you're trying to escape everything that you encounter within the walls of Greymatter Cemetery.

Up next we had to cross the park, and that meant surviving the Age of Darkness scare-zone. Again, another great theming job and full of surprises around every corner. Every kind of medieval torture is here and apparently no one told these folks that we don't do that anymore...

There was a ton of stuff going on and if we weren't pressed for time, definitely would've spent some more time here to check it out. The actors just weren't everywhere here, they were effective too.

Like Head Hunters, the actors here were doing their best to put on the scares and we even witnessed a sword fight towards the end of it! So far, if you're doing scare-zones and are a theme/amusement park, give Dorney a call, I'm sure they'll give you a few pointers.

Before we made it to our next scare zone, we got the chance drop in on the last few minutes of one of the Blood Drums shows. Now, we've seen this at other Cedar Fair Halloween Haunt events, but it's always fun to check out and the percusionists at Dorney Park are really something to watch! Definitely plan some time to check it out.

From here we made our way over towards Hydra and were met with one of my least favorite things, mostly because it's never done fully quite right.

However, I'm gonna give Dorney Park a pass on this one. It's a staple within the Cedar Fair park family and I can now see why, at least in Dorney's case that is.

The clowns have taken over for CarnEVIL. Once again, actors everywhere! Seriously, they were all over the place. Sliders, hoopers, jugglers, even one on a bicycle.

Can't say it enough, I'm not a huge fan of the clown thing due to it being overdone, but if you're gonna do it, here's a good way to go about it. I just wish maybe they were a little more energetic and spread themselves out a little bit more to cause even more chaos.

Coming out of CarnEVIL we found ourselves up against another house and another Skeleton Key room challenge. This one, as we were informed before entering, the actors inside likely would be touching us. Fun!

Desolation is a military themed haunt where some kind of experiment has gone wrong and now a mutated civilian and military population is out to claim their next victim.

Overall, it was well done and again, actors everywhere. There was some really great set ups in here and the set design was really great as there was no shortage of things to look at or places for actors to hide. The photo op at the beginning of the haunt was a little strange, but if ya have fun with it, it's definitely a unique touch.

Alright, still with me here? Good...still a lot more ground to cover and the next stop on our whirlwind tour of Halloween Haunt was something that not everyone will get to experience. I say this because it's exclusive to Fright Land pass holders. Yep, that's right, not only do you get front of the line and Skeleton, but an additional maze as well.

Blackout is exactly what it sounds like, it's a pitch black haunt. The only thing you have to guide you is a very unreliable flashlight and rope for your group to hold onto.

Now, for me, this was actually the weakest offering of the line up. It was a bit too bright and it was easy to navigate by looking in certain directions. I understand that there are some safety concerns and all that, but it could be a little darker to make it more effective.

It's an interesting experience, but can definitely be improved upon in order to make it a little bit better.

Next up on our list was the Chamber of Horrors. Another new addition to this year's event and definitely a worthy one. You really don't want to miss this one.

This former wax museum run by Madame Plarr has definitely seen better and more innocent days. The build up within this one is great and while it may start off looking a bit odd, it definitely turns up the terror dial as you enter into the inner workings of the museum.

There's some really great and surprising scares in here that you just won't see coming. Mostly due to the fact that you're looking around at everything, there's a ton of detail and the actors are definitely using that to their advantage.

So, another win for Dorney on this one and it's great to see something new having such an impact right off the bat. Now, we're getting close to the end of our tour and only a couple more houses were left, along with one more scare-zone.

Making our way back to the front of the park, we quickly found ourselves over in Wildwater Kingdom and preparing to enter Blood Shed. 

Something has gone wrong on the farm and the insane inhabitants of this place are lurking everywhere. They're not quick to suffer trespassers and you're in luck...cause you are one.

Again, great scenery and some really great acting in here and the Skeleton Key room was something right out of Saw.

Yes, you heard that right. What you have to do in here is definitely one of the more gross out moments and really will make it hard for some folks but it's one of the more interesting of the lot too!

Now, onto the last maze of the night, never thought we'd get here did ya? I wish I could say that I saved the "best for last" but it definitely the longest!

CornStalkers is a staple for Halloween Haunt events and I can definitely see why. This huge, meandering corn maze brings you face to face with the ghosts of Solomon's Farm that have come back to wreak havoc.

Busted up, old farm equipment is everywhere amgonst your path and you never quite know where things are lurking. There's even a couple of points where you can choose which direction to go which does a good job of disorienting while making your way through.

Seriously, this thing is huge and takes a good 15minutes to get through, especially if you have the Skeleton Key option as well. One thing I do wish here, was a bit more population, the maze is so large that some points were really empty and the scares could've been a bit better in other places.

The Skeleton Key room that's in CornStalkers will definitely test you physically a bit so keep that in mind, but it's really a fun way to to get through things and adds an interesting twist to this seemingly straightforward corn maze.

CornStalkers releases you far away from where you began and this gave us a chance to take a more leisurely stroll through the Cut Throat Island scare-zone.

A huge ship and dozens of pirates were all over this place and while some were more in it for the tongue-in-cheek, others were definitely more sinister. It was a weird mix, but it worked for the most part and just looked really damn pretty to look at. That said, it wasn't all rum and wenches here.

A couple of issues that I had here were the fact that some of the actors were congregating together, it was a slow night due to the threat of rain, but maybe they should stay in character a bit more. Overall though, not a bad job and while not as good as some of the others still better than what most amusement parks offer.

Wow, you're still here? Kudos to you, we're finally at the end of this huge, rambling review!

Overall, Dorney Park's Halloween Haunt VII knocked it out of the park and set the standard for what myself and +Carrie H.C. will be looking for in other parks during this year's Haunt Tour. Everything from the incredible dining experience from the masterful hands of Chef Jan Giejda to the overwhelming numbers of actors in the scare-zones and mazes and the attention to detail, it just all worked. It feels really good to be able to say, if you haven't done Halloween Haunt at Dorney Park, you're crazy and need to experience this!

Be sure to follow along with all the madness with us all throughout Haunt Season and during Haunt Tour 2014 on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and even Facebook for all the latest!

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