DOSWELL, Va. — King’s Dominion’s Halloween Haunt, now in its 16th season, transforms the thrill-ride theme park into an homage to horror offering on select nights a packed evening of frightening entertainment for visitors.
This year, victims are subjected to seven haunted mazes; five scare zones; three live, roaming shows; and, for the right price, five Skeleton Key rooms that will challenge the puzzle fan in the family.
First, here’s a quick rundown and ranking of each haunted maze (best to least favorite) that involves about a 10-minute walk-through.
Cornstakers — Walk through rows of real decaying corn stalks (the smells are amazing) and avoid gunnysack-wearing lunatics who are practically embedded into the terrain in one of the longest mazes of the night as well as the most claustrophobic and entertaining.
Blood on the Bayou — New for 2017, and replacing the ever popular Club Blood, this maze is a stroll through a creature-infested Louisiana swamp, after first surviving a beautifully decorated 19th century plantation mansion loaded with ghouls and even a few dead bodies roasting of a spit.
Zombie High — Pass a full-sized crashed bus before wandering the halls of a school overrun by the undead. Visitors pass through a room of rotting jock straps and even navigate a gymnasium holding a really grisly prom. As in past years, it was again a highlight for Count Zad, thanks to many of the teen creatures’ passion for delivering terror.
Tollway of Terror — Everyone remembers as a child taking a rail-guided drive with antique cars around a track at their favorite theme park. Well, now add fog, darkness, roaming chainsaw-wielding freaks and some very cool werewolves ready to pounce around every forested corner. Yes, the lines will be long, but this trip is worth the wait.
The Inn at Darkside Manor — Park guests who appreciated the TV show “American Horror Story: Hotel” will find much to scream about in this dilapidated hostel that contains some highly grotesque moments. How grotesque? Wait until you run into a freak using a pair of pliers to rip the eyeball out of a guest while sitting on a bed.
Trick or Treat — This halfway house for witches on Hemlock Lane finds the evil, often-cackling conjurers on the hunt for souls of unfortunate visitors wandering into their lair. Detailed rooms, plenty of witches as well as a few homicidal clowns will not disappoint fright fans.
Blackout — Those afraid of the dark will find this lightless maze a true asylum of horror. Visitors not afraid of the dark will find this attraction frustrating to navigate and a distraction to quickly get through.
Lockdown — Take a walk through the Doswell State Penitentiary and avoid the zombified prisoners. Formerly the home of the far superior “Outbreak,” an Area 51 homage loaded with Alien-esque creatures and masked madmen, Lockdown was just not as immersive or impressive as its former iterations.
Equally frightening during a recent evening visit was a maze employee explaining the rules so fast that I thought her head was going to explode ala “Scanners.”
Now, a word about the mysterious Skeleton Key rooms situated around the scare zones.
The quintet of conundrums are basically mini-escape rooms that involve a small group of guests solving a puzzle to get out of a shack or small shed-sized enclosure.
The variety of puzzles that exist might require reaching into a dead body to find the correct organ to satiate a ghoul, using a black light and reading cryptic messages on mirrors to discern a code to unlock a door, or correctly weighing bags of gems to convince a gatekeeper to be let out.
Now, considering it may take some time to solve the puzzle, expect lines to get very long for those willing to attempt the extra challenges.
Here are a few tips for a visit to the Halloween Haunt.
• Take the time to savor the mazes and scare zones. They are the bread and butter of the evening and do not feel the need to rush. As the mazes get more crowded, that strategy may be difficult, but Kings Dominion does a pretty good job with line control and the mazes are definitely worth the inspections.
• Kings Dominion is an expansive theme park with lots of real estate to cover in one evening. Expect to walk a minimum of three to five miles to see everything, including getting on few of the open rides. Have a strategy on which mazes to visit by using a map or downloading the park’s app. A recent visit found Blood on the Bayou and Zombie High were the busiest and might be a good starting point.
• Tollway of Terror is not part of the optional purchase of the Fright Lane Pass to skip the maze lines. Be aware because the Tollway line gets very, very long as the evening progresses, especially on Saturday nights.
IF YOU DARE GO
Where: 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, VA, 23047
Fear factor (out of 5): 3.5 for those 12 years and older.
Price range: “Halloween Haunt” is free with a general admission ticket price (starting at $41). For those thrill-seekers with some extra coin in the pocket, purchase a “Fright Lane with Skeleton Key” pass (starting at $32 extra) to not only skip the long lines but gain access to the Skeleton Key rooms. The pass allows for a one time, front of the line access to seven of the mazes. Parking is also additional and starts at $15.
Hours: Friday, 7 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (open through Oct. 29.).