Fall is absolutely the most magical time to visit a theme park in the northeastern United States – and no park dazzles more than Hersheypark, bathed in vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow across its lush acres and rolling hills. But by night, Hersheypark transforms into Dark Nights, an all-new Halloween event that screams into the haunt scene in 2022.
By Ricky Brigante
With four new haunted attractions, three scare zones, and more frightfully good Halloween-themed treats than you can possibly devour in a single evening, this event has instantly become one of my annual Fall traditions.
If you were to judge Dark Nights from its early one-star Google Reviews, you might be hesitant to go. But whatever operational issues they may have struggled with early on have been replaced by a terrifyingly good evening, especially for a first-year event.
Dark Nights Haunted Houses
“The Descent” is easily the best of the haunted houses, convincingly feeling like you are descending beneath the park into the underworld below. “Twisted Darkness” presents a fun take on the classic carnival haunt, with some clever twists and turns that will keep you guessing. “Creature Chaos” is less a haunted house and more an outdoor trail – but no less captivating as a result, especially when surrounded by the ghostly fog-filled “skyline” of nearby sky buckets and coasters after dark. If there is a “lesser” haunt at this event, it’s definitely the “Haunted Coal Mine” – though even that has some rather explosive moments, literally.
Each haunt begins with a theatrical scene to set the stage with some storytelling. The actors give the dialogue their all to ensure all guests know exactly what they’re stepping into – a fun bonus that separates these experiences from many traditional haunts that simply throw you to the wolves, so to speak.
What also separates these haunts from most others are their spacious pathways. Rather than remaining confined to tiny hallways, most of the scenes throughout these mazes are quite wide. And with guests pulsed through at just a few at a time, it feels more like a living, breathing world to explore, instead of a conga line to rush through.
It’s well worth noting that since the event has just four haunted houses and they are pulsing the entry, the lines move incredibly slowly. Purchasing the upgraded Fast Track pass is well worth the cost to save downtime and focus on the thrills.
Dark Nights Scare Zones
Where Dark Nights has the most room for creative improvement is in its scare zones. The Midway of Misery is incredibly engaging, with high-budget scenic elements lined with pyrotechnics overhead. A menagerie of energetic carnival performers haunt the streets for a great time all around. But the other two zones, the Valley of Fear and Darkstone’s Hollow, are blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments, with not much going on.
Rather than attempting to develop the event fully in-house, Hershey partnered with several industry leading companies to create Dark Nights, and each of their contributions show off what they’re known for.
Epic Entertainment Group, Adirondack Studios, Zeitgeist Design & Production, Illuminated Integration, and TAA Group all worked to produce a wonderfully creative mix of scenic details and eye-popping surprises.
Dark Nights Food
The food at the event is all themed, for better or for worse. There are so many items that it’s absolutely impossible to try them all in a single night. Among the standout stars is the Descent Dog – a jalapeno cheese dog topped with “toxic” green mac & cheese, buffalo sauce, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It looks like heartburn waiting to happen, but is surprisingly delicious, with no stomach ache to follow. But not all of the food and drinks hold up as well. The Brimstone Bread is rather bland, as are the pair of sandwiches on the visually interesting Black Brioche Buns. And sadly, while the signature cocktails look great glowing in the souvenir cups, the drinks themselves taste more like sugary sports drinks than clever alcoholic beverages.
Beyond Dark Nights
Beyond the new Dark Nights event, Hersheypark also offers the opportunity for children of all ages (including adults) to go trick-or-treating as the park transforms its Boardwalk area into a colorful neighborhood of candy handouts. Naturally, Hershey offers nothing but the best in sweets.
The best way to experience all that Hersheypark Dark Nights has to offer is with a stay at one of Hershey’s incredible on-site hotels. The sprawling grounds of Hotel Hershey are never more gorgeous than during the fall months and visiting in early- to mid-October is the perfect time to be surrounded by gorgeous foliage across the resort’s rolling hills.
The Chef’s Market café in the hotel is the easiest place to grab a few Halloween themed sweet treats. It is Hershey, after all – so you can expect these to be nothing short of phenomenal.
Within walking distance of the hotel are the Hershey Botanical Gardens, a beautiful sight well worth exploring, and lined with pumpkins this time of year.
All in all, Hersheypark Dark Nights may have faced a few operational issues early on, but as the Halloween season evolved the event reached full scream ahead offering a spooktacular time in its first year.
Hersheypark Dark Nights runs through Oct. 30. 2022. For tickets and more information, visit hersheypark.com/darknights.
Disclosure: For the purposes of this piece, Hershey provided a one-night stay at Hotel Hershey, access to the Dark Nights event, and a $50 gift card to sample their themed food and drinks.