Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has offered Halloween for many years, but they made a massive expansion this year with Dark Nights at Hersheypark. Billed as an immersive haunt experience, Dark Nights expands Hersheypark’s Halloween offerings...
Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has offered Halloween for many years, but they made a massive expansion this year with Dark Nights at Hersheypark. Billed as an immersive haunt experience, Dark Nights expands Hersheypark’s Halloween offerings with four haunted houses, three scare zones, themed food, and merchandise. Guests can still enjoy the Halloween entertainment as normal and can purchase wristbands that allow entry into the haunted houses. Adding Dark Nights makes the Halloween programming more multi-generational, but it’s a balancing act adding something scarier to a traditional family-friendly park. Today, we’ll learn about the event and how the team maintains that balance. Featured in this episode are Quinn Bryner (Director of PR), Chris Brown (Director of Planning and Design), and Rob Gordon (Managing Director for Food & Beverage). Follow along to our Hauntathon: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Quinn: Quinn Bryner, Director of PR. So, Hershey Park Halloween is a long-standing event that we've offered for years, more weekends than ever this year, seven weekends, September 17th through October 30th. But all new for this year is Dark Nights, which is our immersive haunt experience, includes four haunted houses and three scare zones, the largest investment that we've ever made in the seasonal event here at Hershey Park.
We've got four haunted houses. Each has a really unique theme and story that's unique to us. So, you'll want to explore all of them and decide which one is your favorite. So, we have Creature Chaos, we have the Haunted Coal Mine, we have The Descent, and then we have Twisted Darkness, and that's one of the favorites of our guests already because it's by the Midway of Misery, which you'll know instantly from a pyrotechnic arch and some incredible scare actors. We actually have a hundred scare actors throughout Hershey Park this year.
So, I think At Hershey Park we're always really closely attuned to what our guests are asking for, and they've been asking for haunted attractions and experiences for a long time, but we wanted to make sure we did it well, but also that we did it big. So, the team spent 18 months planning, they went to 50 different events all across the country, tried to assemble the best of everything with what we had to offer, while still recognizing that people come here for the amazing Hershey Park Halloween that we've already, right? So, lights out on coasters, trick or treating through the park, you know, all those classic experiences, character glow parties, things like that.
We were very thoughtful in making sure that this was an addition to, instead of something that families had to choose, one or the other. So, we're thrilled to be able to say that whether you want to get your thrills on coasters or in haunted attractions, you now have that here at Hershey Park.
Philip: You mentioned making sure that it was in addition to, you wanted to make sure you maintained your regular Halloween experiences, tell me about the traditional and how you are making sure that is still intact.
Quinn: Sure, so, Hershey Park Halloween is bigger than ever this year because we're doing it for seven weekends, which is the most we've ever offered to families. People love coming for this time of year because there are experiences you only get during these seven weekends. So, we've got more than 50 rides open, we do lights out on three of our coasters, so Comet 76 years old, Lightning Racer, as well as Candymonium, which is our longest, tallest, and fastest coaster. We do lights out the last hour of operation. Then laugh track, our indoor glowing coaster is actually pitch black for every hour of operation, which is a completely different experience. So, a lot of coaster fans love to come and get those night rides and coastal credits during this unique season.
Then for families, we've got characters dressed in costumes, of course, we do a character glow party every night at 8:30, and then you can trick or treat, here at Hershey Park. Right behind me is the entrance to Treatville. So, that has 10 stops full of Hershey candy, of course, and then three across the street at Hershey's Chocolate World. So, no better place to celebrate Halloween than here in Hershey, you get chocolate.
We also do Creatures of the Night at Zoo America. It's the only time of year that the zoo is open after dark. So, guests get to explore it by flashlight and learn about all these amazing nocturnal animals. So, those are our experiences that are only offered in the fall. So, guests will want to come during these seven weekends to get that experience.
When we were looking at how to seamlessly combine these experiences. It was important to us. Non scary paths so that families could still find their way to Treatville. In fact, we switched the entrance so that you enter Treatville and then you're actually weaving your way away from any of our scare zones just to ensure that no one would be exposed to something that they weren't interested in experiencing. So, it's important to us to think through what families might enjoy, create those safe paths for them.
We also have a scare meter on our website and on our maps that give families a sense of, if you want to try some of our experiences you can head towards The Hollow, which is our least intense kind of area as you're on your way to family-friendly coasters, like SooperDooperLooper or Comet. It's more of a carnival environment there, so we love the idea of people building up their level, kind of, thrill and fear, just as they do building up to bigger and better coasters every year as they grow. So, trick or treating, for example, is guests 12 and under. The haunted houses that we added as part of Dark Nights are generally parental guidance for kids who are under 13.
Philip: Let's talk a little bit more about Treatville. Those that have been coming multiple years will notice that the past few years it's been in a different location and the footprint is larger. So, tell me about that.
Quinn: It absolutely is. So, in 2020 we were carefully following all guidelines for COVID. We wanted to ensure that families felt safe and could social distance, so we moved the traditional Treatville footprint to the boardwalk, which is our water park. Of course, too cold to operate during Pennsylvania fall, so we were actually able to expand that offering. So, now guests have more room to spread out and it allowed our team to really be creative about how they could come up with different themes for each location.
So, you get candy, a different kind of Hershey treat at each location, but then there's also incredible photo opportunities. So, whether that's skeletons, witches’ hats, or areas completely covered in spiders, that's the kind of stuff that our guests love. It's open two to eight. So, guests love to go through it in the daylight, but then it also transforms at night when it gets a little darker, we've got incredible lights as well. The team loves to really get into the action and hand out the candy to our guests.
Philip: Tell me why that is important, like why is the trick or treat experience important for Hershey Park?
Quinn: Sure. So, we are known as the place where fund meets chocolate, so it would be strange if we didn't offer our guests some sort of chocolate as a memento of their visit. But I think it's more about the overall tradition of Halloween, and there's no better place to trick or treat than in an amusement park. So, what we love, and what we hear from guests, is that they get to trick or treat, then ride some great family, enjoy some limited time food offerings, get on some lights out coasters. So, all of that is a seamless experience, which sets us apart from other amusement parks.
Philip: Next, let's learn more about the specific design choices and how the team landed on this product mix for year one. (TRANS to Design)
Chris: So, my name is Chris Brown. I'm the Director of Planning and Design for Hershey Entertainment Resorts, and my involvement in the Dark Nights project has been from concept to completion.
Philip: How did you determine what to bring to Dark Nights year one?
Chris: So, after spending all that time traveling to all the other attractions, we saw great food and beverage, we saw great retail, we saw great experiential retail houses, scare zones, and we really felt that with the 110 plus acres of Hershey Park We needed to be able to fully integrate folks in that experience. We wanted to bring back the best of the best and give our food beverage team, our retail team, our maintenance team, give everybody a chance to have a piece of this experience. So, that's why we have the Dark Night Emporium, to let people actually have an experiential retail space, to let the food and beverage speak for itself, we have our little destination food spots, our, specialty cocktails. We really wanted to make sure that we stepped into the market this year and provided offerings for the entire demographic of the family.
Hershey Park's got a legacy of multi-generational visitors, and we want to make sure those folks that want a little bit of thrill, we have that, they want a little bit more Halloween, but maybe not the thrill could be in the scare zones. If you want to pick up a souvenir to take home that's distinct and different, we offer that this year. If you're just here because you love the food and you want a great cocktail, we're hitting that this year also. So, we wanted to make sure that, for us, a successful event was the sum of all the parts. It couldn't have just been one or two, it had to be a little bit of everything this year for us to really step into the market with the right sort of experience.
The thing is, here in central a Pennsylvania, and particularly here at Hershey Park, we're blessed with something really unique, which is history, right? So, the park opened in 1906, so we have a lot of history to pull from and a lot of authentic Pennsylvania stories to pull from. So, the stories were easy for us, but it was how to bring them to life in a haunt experience. So, really, we were looking for practical, thoughtful effects that really wowed us from a scenic perspective. We wanted places to be entertaining, and then have the actors be able to make that even scarier as the night goes on. So, we were thrilled to see some great physical scenic treatments in houses at Knotts and houses at Universal, and really see how we could bring that to life with our stories that are authentic and distinctly Hershey.
Philip: Why did you need that level of fabrication and that level of storytelling for a year one event when there's not much competition around you?
Chris: Quality of craftsmanship is something that is paramount to Hershey Park, it is ingrained in our maintenance team and our tradespeople here on property, it is the most often commented source of pride for Hershey Park attendees, how well we keep the environment clean, safe, green. Those are paramount to Hershey Park's identity. So, we wanted to make sure that the fabrication and the quality of the house is measured up to our own very high standard.
We wanted to work with a great builder and Adirondack Studios is a great builder. They were in the running to help us with Chocolate Town two years ago, their schedule was a little busy with some other big projects on their plate, so we couldn't get them in on Chocolate Town. But we got them in on Dark Nights, and we couldn't be more thrilled with that team and their ability to bring our authentic stories to life in that scenic environment. The scenic painters have been here for three weeks’ time, touching things up and adding layers upon layers of detail so that at 6:15 when it's still a little bright outside, you get to see some of that work. Then as the sun sets and the darkness comes, other things start to come alive.
Philip: And talk to me a little bit about special effects.
Chris: So, we are blessed, again, here to work with a company like Illuminated Integration, a local team here. We brought them first in on Candymonium when we opened Chocolate Town to do some of our DMX control effects, which was a little bit new for us. Then we brought them into Jolly Rancher Remix, which was the rebranding of a really great old coaster in the park, and they brought new life to it with lighting. They were the obvious choice to implement the vision for the lighting in these houses. Just, again, knowing that as the sun sets and things get dark, we have the ability to bring stuff to life. Mike and that team, their ability to add the fog, the special effects, the UV lighting, it's tasteful and appropriate, it's not overdone, it's not underdone.
Philip: Give me the top line of the stories for each house.
Chris: Sure. So, we'll start with Creature Chaos. Historic Hershey Park amphitheater has been here for a long time. There are lots of folks that have been coming to the park for many years that have seen shows there. We thought it was great to bring it back to life with this Halloween event. So, what better way than to curate a collection of mythical beasts from across the state of Pennsylvania? Again, Pennsylvania's got some fun folklore to draw in on, and so we brought that to bear, and our design partner Zeitgeist Production out in Pasadena, thought that story arc was really great. What if Professor Dark Stone made a stop here at Hershey Park, for a limited time only it brought the creatures on display, what would that look like in our amphitheater?
The Haunted Coal Mine, obviously coal mining is part of our legacy here. It's actually part of the original 1970s era master plan for Hersey Park. That's why we have the coal cracker, right? So how do we wrap that coal heritage back in? Why not discover a coal mine hundreds of feet below the surface of Hershey Park and what would it look like to explore that? So, that's what you're getting into. You're understanding, you're walking into that coal mine, descending down, and exploring that coal miners that have been trapped there for years.
Here we are in the Midway of Misery with this great scare zone, what if you got behind stage and found an old school fortune teller set up on the fringe of the Midway? What would that experience be like if you got into her tent, and into sort of a nightmare carnival of carnival experiences and attractions? So, that's Twisted Darkness.
The Descent, Hershey has a legacy of tunnels. When Mr. Hershey built all the buildings downtown, they're all connected. The steam plant, the power plant that's powered the factory, powered all the other buildings. So, there are underground tunnels that connect our buildings, the designers at Epic Entertainment Group loved that concept and how to bring that to life. They were in the Hershey Story Museum and found a Veriscope, which is a artifact that was brought back for the 1893 World's Fair, and the marriage of those two concepts was like, "what if that had some mythical powers that possessed its keeper to chase you through those underground tunnels?" So, that's the inspiration for The Descent.
Philip: Everything is scary, it's creepy, but it's not gory.
Chris: So, we're going to be competitive in this market if we differentiate ourselves, so we have no blood, no guts, no gore. I'm sorry, no chainsaws, not in our Midways, not this year. Everybody else does that and they can do it really well, and they can execute it really well. We want to be different, so we gave them those bumpers and said, "How do we be entertaining, and really scary and avoid those typical easy hits?" And I think we've achieved that this year.
Philip: And of course, themed food is a big part of the event, and the menu is extensive. However, since it's tough to translate food on audio, I've asked Rob to give us some specific examples of his favorite dishes.
Rob: I'm Rob Gordon. I have the pleasure of being the Managing Director for Food and Beverage here at the Hershey Park Entertainment Complex, and me and my team had the pleasure of creating all these cool specialty items for Dark Nights focused around the scare zones and the cool haunted houses we created for the event. Down at Dark Stones Base Camp, we're actually selling the drink that I have at hand. The Dark Nights Inferno, it's a cranberry fireball, cinnamon concoction that you'll definitely enjoy. So, we also have different drinks throughout at all the other bars.
But for food options, we actually have some cool things that we created with the corn and crab fritter available. It actually comes with a syringe of cocktail sauce that you could inject inside of it. That's what I certainly recommend to blast that flavor. Then we also have Terror Tots, where we're taking tater tots, tossing, fresh garlic, Parmesan, a little pepperoni, then we put mozzarella over there, melt that down and hit it with some fresh marinara sauce, and that's absolutely to die for.
Philip: So, there's a lot of food items. Pick one that you didn't think was going to work out, but then you were like, Oh my gosh, that actually works.
Rob: Yeah. I will say the one thing that we're really excited about is we were definitely, kind of researching and developing, the Dogs of Doom at Berks. Then it's where we created the Descent Dog, and we were kind of playing with flavors and thinking about toppings, and we had a bunch of different hotdogs we were looking at and kind of having options. At the end of the day, we wanted kind a little bit of variety, so instead of having just different hot dogs topped, we have a jalapeno cheese dog that we put inside the hot dog that has toxic green mac and cheese with buffalo sauce and crumbled kettle chips.
But then to really take it to a different level, we found these little miniature corn dogs that we're tossing and hot honey and then with flaming hot Cheetos. I think that's like a big kind of trend that you see right now, and certainly it's very tasty. It's kind of cool popable treat as you go down and you're headed out towards The Descent and the Midway of Misery.
Philip: And tell me a little bit about something that maybe is underrated.
Rob: I will say this. I have real quick answer to that question, because we have this amazing treat that I didn't see it going very well and I really wanted the people to know about the Brain Freeze. It's available out at the Turkey Hill I-Scream Parlor, which is in the dead head of Midway to Misery. We're actually making house made black blood orange sorbet, and we make a sundae with vanilla ice cream, and we're swirling raspberry sauce inside a light up crystal skull mug, in which we actually put on top of it this brain meringue, and a little bit of raspberry sauce that you have to break through to actually enjoy that sundae. We put it in the deep dark darkness of the Midway of Misery, so you got to be committed to go find it. It's a little bit of a chase, but it's definitely worth the find.
Philip: When you're making these things in house, too, that's always has that extra layer of exclusivity.
Rob: Yeah. Agreed. Yeah, because like I said, I definitely had a bunch of friends in the industry who were asking about, where do I get that black bun? And you aren’t going to find it anywhere because we're actually making that in house, and we have an amazing culinary staff with Chef Cher and her culinary team making everything in the bake shop.
Philip: Okay. Now that we've learned about the event as a whole, and what all went into it, what's next? Let's catch back up with Quinn to hear about what Hershey Park has planned for future shoulder season events.
Quinn: So, our team is always thinking 5, 10, 15 years, kind of into the future, and I think a great example of that is Hershey's Chocolate Town, which was $150 million investment, our largest, tallest, and fastest coaster Candymonium with some signature elements like the Kisses Fountain, or entrance ways that can only exist here, over the top restaurants like The Chocolatier. Hershey Park Halloween has expanded to seven weekends because our previous three weekends were so popular, given the unique offerings.
Then we're not too far away from Christmas. So, Christmas Candy Lane has been around for 25 years, we continue to add to that every year, we're now at 5 million lights, we're the only place to have reindeer, more coasters that can run in colder temperatures.
So, we're trying to build and envision things that will last for years to come, while allowing our team, the space to do to evolve and grow. So, with something like this, we're really anxious to get guest feedback and think about what worked well and what we can improve upon, because that is what we love to do. So, we're a park that treasures our history. Everything we do goes back to Milton Hershey's legacy. So, looking at ways that we can preserve our history while continuing to add new things for our guests is what we think makes Hershey Park such a one-of-a-kind destination.