TWO AREA THEME parks have transformed into scream parks this month.
The fear factor is extreme at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., and Largo's Six Flags America, which are holding frightening family spooktaculars this weekend in a last Halloween hurrah before they close for the winter.
Both parks have embellished their existing rides with ghoulish, macabre decor and added such grisly attractions as haunted houses, spooky scare zones and morbid mazes that run exclusively during their October scare fests, which end Sunday.
Once night falls, headless horsemen, undead zombies, decaying mummies and other costumed "stalk-abouts" jump out at unsuspecting guests. To distinguish between visitors and costumed characters, adult park guests may not wear costumes. Children, however, are encouraged to dress up. (At Kings Dominion, that includes kids 12 and younger; at Six Flags, it includes kids less than 54 inches tall.)
Neither park releases attendance figures, but spokespeople for both parks say their October crowds continue to grow.
"Amusement parks attract thrill seekers, and the spooky, scary elements take it up a notch," said Karin Korpowski, public relations manager at Six Flags.
Susan Storey, public relations manager at Kings Dominion, explained the growing popularity of the park's annual Fear Fest. "It's a unique, safe, enclosed environment that allows everyone to let loose and have a good time," she said.
Not all the attractions are suitable for young children, however.
Six Flags tries to offer kid-friendly activities day and night. Signs outside each venue list the recommended ages for each exhibit.
On the other hand, Kings Dominion encourages younger guests to go home when the sun goes down. According to Storey, the park features "fun in the sun" for young kids and "fright by night" for teenagers and adults. The scary attractions open at 6, just when the kid-friendly ones close down.
Six Flags America's Fright Fest festivities include Looney Tunes Spooky Town with a "not-so-scary hayride" and a Trick-or-Treat Trail that will open from 6 to 9 for little monsters. New this year is Brutal Planet, a high-tech haunted house that combines special sci-fi effects with raucous rock 'n' roll. It costs an extra $5 per trip (tickets can be bought only inside the park) and is not recommended for kids 10 or younger. Children up to age 16 should be accompanied by an adult.
Kings Dominion's Fear Fest offers a kooky rather than spooky venue for smaller ghosts and ghouls in their KidZVille area. Kids can trick-or-treat with such Nickelodeon characters as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.
Making its debut this year is the Curse of Sleepy Hollow scare zone based on parent company Paramount's 1999 horror film starring Johnny Depp. First, guests will try to survive the Blood Shed, a labyrinth of stalls and animal pens housing the gruesome victims of the Headless Horseman. Guests can then brave the Headless Hollow, an outdoor maze haunted by woodsmen driven mad by the Horseman's butchery.
None of these thrills come cheaply. But you can save significantly by purchasing tickets online rather than at the parks. Remember, this is the last weekend of both festivals. If you dare to be scared, you must do it before Halloween.
PARAMOUNT'S KINGS DOMINION FEAR FEST -- Interstate 95 south to Exit 98 at Doswell, Va. 804-876-5000. www.kingsdominion.com. Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10:30 to 9. $47.99 at the gate, $39.99 purchased online (for ages 7 to 59), $31.99 for children (ages 3 to 6).
SIX FLAGS AMERICA'S FRIGHT FEST -- Capital Beltway to Exit 15A, five miles east on Route 214 in Largo. 301-249-1500. www.sixflags.com/america. Friday 5 to 10, Saturday and Sunday noon to 10. $39.99 at the gate, $32.99 online for adults, $28.99 for children less than 54 inches tall.