This year I went to Ulster Park, NY, a little further up the Hudson River (okay, a lot further) to visit the Headless Horseman Hayride & Haunted Houses. I've heard a lot of great things about this attraction and I set my expectations bar pretty high, but the actual event simply blew them out of the water. This is a ridiculously detailed haunt, and while $32 a person sounds high-priced, with some of the best props around it is well worth it.
Headless Horseman is actually a haunted hayride on top of a series of haunted house walk-throughs. They say there are 7 houses, and maybe some of them ran together so I didn't realize I was actually in separate haunts, but I did see three distinct areas.
If anything, the hayride was maybe the "worst" of the lot, but that could be because I just don't like hayrides. I don't find them scary (admittedly I'm not scared by much) but they just don't have many startles or me. Of course, the rest of the hayride participants seemed plenty startled by a lot of the scenes, so don't let my word sway you.
The sets were richly adorned and perhaps I was distracted looking at all the props. Funny, but as we would pass by a graveyard I spent a lot of time looking at the tombstones to see if they were Styrofoam or not. Some of them were so real looking I would have thought they were real.
The trail you ride along is a mile in length and it was very dark. Living in an area with lots of light pollution, I forget just how many stars there are in the sky. But that gave the actors plenty of opportunity to hide in the shadow and jump out for scares, which was effective for many on the trip. The props were well done (they could have spent a little more time on the train engine) but even by itself the hayride was worth it. Your are brought through a number of sets of small village scenes and various vignettes which tells the story of an old, abandoned jail and the convict that still haunts it.
The Haunted Houses
At the end of the hayride you're let off at the Lunar Hotel, a creepy looking motel, even from the outside. When I saw the line waiting to get in I though it was going to be an arduous wait, but the line was kept moving and was at most 20-30 minutes long. Not bad at all.
From there, you moved into the seven haunted houses and it's simply one terror after another. To be honest I can't remember how long it took us to go through it, but for the two young teens I had in tow, it must have seen like an eternity. They were thoroughly terrorized by the experience and the 14-year old was reduced to a sobbing mess who actually peed her pants at the scares that were unleashed. The 13-year old was hyperventilating from fear.
The set designs were awesome. They were rich in detail, fully thought out, wonderfully acted, and even gave me a startle or two. Of course, I was going through trying to absorb as much detail as I could but it was sensory overload. There was just way too much to take in.
After what might have been 3 or 4 of the haunts, you're given a brief respite as you exit and have to walk about 10 yards into a haunted corn maze. Here some of the props could have been beefed up as the actual mechanics were completely visible and no attempt was made to hide them. But people jumping out of the corn provided some good scares.
Soon enough, though, you were back inside what looked to be a greenhouse of sorts and some science experiments gone awry. And the terror started again. It wasn't long before the 14-year old was sobbing again with her head buried in my coat. Hey, at $32 a pop, she was going through all the haunts!
Unfortunately I didn't get to see the last haunted house because it was about this time that my wife realized she lost the car keys. Having ridden a mile long hayride and walked through a maze of haunted attractions, she had no idea where she lost them. While police and security at the attraction were excellent and beyond helpful (they even walked with my wife back through some of the haunts to try and locate them -- I was jealous since I would've gone just to get another look at the props, the hell with the keys!), it was of little use. So a $200 cab ride back down the New York State Thruway later, I found myself heading back up there with a spare key to pick up the car.
The story had a happy ending (of sorts). As we pulled back into the lot, security informed us they had actually found the keys. They were in the corn maze and my wife realized that was where she had pulled out her cellphone to call her cousin and tell him what a chicken his daughter was. Well the joke was on her (me) I guess.
Regardless, it was a haunt well worth the trip and the cost (minus the cab ride). Now haunters would be familiar with a number of the props Headless Horseman had. If you've seen any of the Transworld videos posted on the forums, you'd quickly recognize a couple of them. For example, the Pale Night Productions zombie attack was there as were some of the werewolves feeding. Cool stuff nonetheless.
From what I understand of the haunt, the owners invest heavily in their props each year from the proceeds they make. You can definitely see it.
If I can provide any tip (other than hang onto your keys), it would be "go early." When I attempted to buy the tickets online, it showed the date (October 2) was unavailable. So I called up and found out that they still had tickets available, but it was around the 9:00 p.m. time frame. Innocently enough I asked about walking around the midway while awaiting our start time and the woman said we could do that and if we wanted to get on the ride early we could probably do so as well. I then asked about getting there early enough for the 7 p.m. opening, and she said yes we could probably do that too.
So we ended up arriving around 7:00 p.m. and it took about a half hour to get the tickets, but we made it through security quickly and went right over to the hayride and got on without any problems. The lines were very short then. When we came out around 9:30 or so, which would have been around when we would've picked up our tickets, the lines were exceptionally long at that point. I wouldn't have wanted to wait then.
Security is tight at Headless Horseman (the signs say to leave your weapons in the car!). They have security patting you down and wanding you with metal detectors and the local constabulary there as back up. No flashlights, cameras, lighters, cigarettes, or backpacks are permitted in the attraction and they make you take your offending items back to your car if you try to get in anyway. I saw that happen several times.
That makes for a safe environment to enjoy the haunted rides and houses. So I can't recommend this attraction highly enough. For all that you get, and considering what other haunted houses charge in comparison, $32 a person is very cheap. Now I need to go back again to fully enjoy the show -- but I'll hold onto the keys.