Hersheypark’s Dark Nights is back for 2023 and even better in its second year, offering a devilishly delicious array of food offerings to complement its enhanced line up of spooky scares. Between the event’s new dinner buffet and tasting pass, expanded themed menu items, and a seemingly endless supply of classic Hershey candies along their trick-or-treat trail, everyone will find something to satisfy their most monstrous cravings this year. Here’s our review of Hersheypark’s Dark Nights.
By Ricky Brigante
Before we dive into all the best fiendish foods to feast on throughout the park, it’s worth noting that the event’s newest haunted house is a stomach-churner in all the best ways.
Dark Nights Best Fiendish Fun
Auntie Mortem’s Abattoir is an all-new maze for Dark Nights this year, centering around a gruesome story about a second-generation meat processor running the family business – where farm to table puts you on the menu. This is a richly-detailed haunted walkthrough that will leave you hungry for another trip through. It’s exciting, surprising, and sometimes perfectly silly. (We lovingly got called a “pork chop” by a menacing pig-man monster.) Be prepared for your party to get split up at some point during the twisted maze. This new adventure is easily Dark Nights’ best this year and rivals some of the country’s top haunted attractions.
The rest of the haunted houses have been updated since their debut in 2022. All of the actor-driven performance prologue scenes have been cut this year in favor of getting people in front of the scares faster. Twisted Carnevil is still among the event’s most inventive, while The Descent and Haunted Coal Mines are the ones that create the most (and loudest) screams. Creatures Uncaged remains more of a scare zone than a haunted house, but is well worth a quick trip through.
Speaking of scare zones, the newest addition – Fallout Zone – seems to have inherited the giant flame towers from the Midway zone last year. Overall, the mood of Dark Nights’ scare zones is fun to walk through, but the scares are quite few and far between. These zones add a lot of ambience to the event, but perhaps would be better appreciated as opportunities to interact and take photos with characters more than with the hopes of getting startled.
Dark Nights Best Fiendish Food
There are more than 75 limited-time cocktails, treats and savory eats offered during the seasonal event. The best best for an all-around good time that will leave you stuffed and entertained is the new RIP Dinner Buffet at Great Scare Catering.
Even those normally hesistant about amusement park buffets will find something to love about this one. I entered skeptical and left absolutely delighted by everything Hersheypark has put together here. The entrance feels like you’re stepping into a haunted house, but an elegant one where you are personally welcomed and ushered in by a stately staff member wearing a suit. It gives you the feeling of stepping into an exclusive club.
Once inside, you’re immediately overwhelmed (in the best way) by all the food, colorful decor, and roaming characters. Once led to your seat, it’s up to you to decide how you want to enjoy your time inside. There are separate sections for all-you-care-to-eat appetizers, entrees, and desserts.
Among the best apps are the Grilled Cheese sandwiches served with “Bloody” Tomato Soup Test Tubes – honestly one of the best offerings out of the whole buffet. The “Dead Man Walking” Taco Dip is delicious as well, though be wary that the black food coloring used to create the spider web on top does seem to want to stick around on any skin it touches, leaving you looking a bit like a zombie. (Kinda fun.)
Onto the entrees, surprisingly the Chicken Breast is the standout option thanks to its Sous Vide preparation. It’s moist, juicy, and packs a punch of flavor with its Cranberry Poultry Sauce. (Skip the pork chops, which sadly are majorly dried out.)
And for dessert, the Coal Miner’s Dirt is absolutely the most fun. It’s Chocolate Dirt Pudding with Gummy Worms and Eyeballs served out of a wheelbarrow by a friendly demon.
Speaking of characters – be ready to interact. Three to four characters will be out and roaming at any given time throughout your meal, eager to come up to your table and make chilling chit-chat. The more you play off their vibe, the more you’ll enjoy every improv-laden second of it. It truly is a frightfully good time with some wonderful laughs (and a few gross-out moments).
It was a wonderful relief to find healthy and delicious dinner options inside an amusement park. The Pumpkin Spiced Honey Roasted Carrots and Balsamic-glazed Brussel Sprouts are both perfectly prepared and warranted going back for seconds.
For introverted types (like me) who need a little liquid courage to help break the ice with the characters, there is a bar inside the buffet. Alcoholic and themed drinks are not included, but well worth indulging in. The pumpkin punch with a shot of rum did the trick to liven my spirits.
Booking the earliest buffet time at 5:30 p.m. is a great way to kick off the event, especially since the scare zones and houses don’t even open until 6 p.m.
It’s not hard to spend at least an hour inside the buffet, getting lost in the endless food and entertainment. But every guest receives a Single-Use Fast Track that’s accepted at any of the five Dark Nights haunted houses as an enticement to get back out into the park’s streets and enjoy the rest of the event.
Beyond that included single pass, investing in additional Fast Track passes definitely makes the entire event much more enjoyable, especially with the ability to ride the park’s newest coaster, Wildcat’s Revenge, after dark without the lights on. Such a thrill!
Throughout the rest of the park, there is no shortage of themed food stands. The new Dark Nights Tasting Pass is a fun way to enjoy a choice of up to five specialty items among the 35 options available. With that said, all items can be individually purchased, so it might make more sense to simply by them a la carte as you encounter them, unless you plan on purchasing only the most expensive ones. And even then, not all of these options are worth getting – and it can be a bit cumbersome to be constantly be checking the map to find enough stops that are enticing to make sure you get your money’s worth of the pass.
Among the best options are the Mini Donuts (both S’mores and Apple Cider), Toxic Pizza (which tastes a lot better than its intentionally ghoulish appearance might suggest), and Pulled Pork Sandwich. But the very best of them all is at the park’s entrance/exit, in Milton’s Ice Cream Parlor, where the delectable Dark Nights Cone can be found. If you only get one sweet treat, this is the one to get.
Those who are health concious or have dietary restrictions should definitely be cautious while tasting around the park. Many items are greasy or extremely salty, with no nutrition facts available. For these reasons, the buffet is easily the best way to eat a solid meal while enjoying Hersheypark’s Halloween festivities.
Hotel for a Hersheypark Stay
The best and most comfortable way to enjoy Halloween time at Hersheypark is to stay on site. Last year, we covered Hershey Hotel. This year, we enjoyed a night’s stay at Hershey Lodge, the cozy hotel around 10 minutes from Hersheypark itself.
The rooms at the Lodge are quiet and comfortable, and enjoying a complimentary Hershey bar on the way in is always a sweet treat to kick things off right. This is definitely a family-focused hotel, with an indoor water park, arcade, and packed schedule of lobby activities that include crafts and character meet-and-greets. Adults might find more quiet enjoyment at Hershey Hotel while families with little ones will discover plenty of opportunities for children to get all that sugar energy out of their systems.
If you can, we highly recommend taking your own car to, and from, Hershey Lodge. While there is shuttle service available, it only runs every 15-30 minutes and the morning line can be overwhelming.
It’s quite remarkable that all of the Dark Nights added entertainment is included with park admission this year, not an extra charge. That means that season passholders can go as often as they please. While a trip to the RIP buffet with every visit would certainly add up (starting at $45 per head), any unused punches on the Tasting Pass can be rolled over to a future visit, enabling it to be a great way to easily grab a snack each time.
All of the above only just barely scratches the surface of everything Hershey Halloween, so don’t miss our full breakdown of all the sweet and sinister additions, which continue through Oct. 29, 2023.