Pirates of Emerson
4501 Pleasanton Avenue, Pleasanton, CA 94566View All Details
Paid Parking, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, “Old-School” (Low Tech), “Hi-Tech” Attraction, You will NOT be touched, Original Characters, All-Indoor Attraction
Team In-Corpse-A-Rated reviewed this attraction on October 22, 2016.
Final Score: 8.75
In the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a haunted attraction with a long-time success record. Pirates of Emerson started 25 years ago as the home haunt of Karl and Patty Fields with their son, Brian, in the city of Fremont. Its instant success eventually made them go professional and that continued success and growth has moved them to larger pastures – to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. With its Silver Anniversary, Pirates of Emerson Haunted Themed Park is the Halloween answer to an amusement park. Upon purchasing a general admission ticket, a guest is entitled to enter four main haunts: Laboragory, Holiday Horror, The Hack Shack, and The Pirates of Emerson signature haunt, as well as The Dark Gauntlet chain-link fence maze and two other small haunts. These small haunts offer 1 to 2 scares and they take a minute to walk through. The layout of the themed Park is much like an amusement park, but the four main haunts are in giant tents. Pirates of Emerson features a stage for entertainment, games, concession stands, a souvenir stand, a carnival funhouse converted into an oddities museum, scenic pieces for photo ops, and mascot actors for selfies. Just as Disneyland has its Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, Pirates of Emerson has its own original cast of ghoulish, zombie pirates wandering through the Park and interacting with guests. Overall, we enjoyed Laboragory, Pirates of Emerson and the Hack Shack the most. Holiday Horror was shorter than the rest and not as scary.
We found the cast of Pirates of Emerson to be very believable, enthusiastic and intense. The actors were very verbally interactive in The Hack Shack, where hillbilly cannibals threatened to kill and eat us. There wasn’t much dialogue in the other haunts; most of the time they either screamed or growled at us. For the most part, the cast was very good at startling us from behind different corners; Holiday Horror made good use of this. The Pirates of Emerson signature haunt had a thick layer of fog throughout and their actors used the limited visibility to great effect. One of their actors startled me right in front of my face because I couldn’t see past a 5 foot radius. There were plenty of actors in all of the haunts and side haunts; we didn’t find any “dead zones” at all.
Pirates of Emerson is known for the elaborate costumes that their actors wear. The best costumes were worn by the pirate actors outside the haunts; each one had an individual outfit with their own personal touches, stylized makeup and contact lenses, which made these characters distinctive from one another. The next best costumes were those worn by the ticket takers outside the entrance of each haunt. These actors have a full costume that is relevant to the respective haunt at which they are stationed. Inside each haunt, the actors are dressed appropriately for each theme and particular room that they occupy. Laboragory features nurses in traditional uniforms covered in blood, doctors in scrubs and patients in patient gowns. Holiday Horror has the actors in the bedroom and play room in pajamas and those in the candy cane room as scary elves. The Hack Shack has their actors in the typical, redneck, hillbilly attire and The Pirates of Emerson signature haunt has their actors in 1700’s pirate clothing. Most of the actors wore makeup, but a few did have masks as well. Overall, the actors in the haunts were dressed well; not spectacular like the pirates outside, but sufficient enough. There were no blatant gaffes in costuming.
Customer Service: 9.25
Pirates of Emerson has sporadic lighting throughout the Park. It’s not dangerous, but it can be difficult to navigate at times. The restrooms (basically porta-potties and foot pump, hand-washing units) could use a little more illumination. The individual haunts were safe to walk and the handrails were sturdy. My only note was there was a small crate on the floor in the signature haunt that I almost tripped over and the thick fog played a factor. All of the haunts are wheelchair accessible. The Park is very easy to find. Since it’s located at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, there are plenty of street signs on the freeway and in the city of Pleasanton that will point the way. Once you arrive, there are fairgrounds staff members who collect for paid parking and direct you to where to park. Once you get out of your car, the black walls, flood lights and Pirates of Emerson banner make the location very obvious. There is queue entertainment while you wait in line and the pirate’s ship in the center doubles as the performance stage. The two main acts are the Serpent Sirens belly-dance troupe and Richie B’s Freak Show. Between the two acts, the D.J. plays classic rock. The Pirates of Emerson staff members were friendly and open to answer any questions. One of the ticket takers in front of a haunt got a little testy with us when we asked to take his picture, lecturing us about haunt policy on lost cell phones, but other than him, we were very pleased. The Park has restrooms, a souvenir stand, a concessions stand, carnival games, small haunts that charge extra to enter and the pirate actors who walk outside (and also double as security). Pirates of Emerson offers plenty of tables and places to sit throughout the park. There are several scenic pieces in multiple locations to take fun photos.
Pirates of Emerson is located at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, so from the parking lot, we saw a large, black compound. At the front was a large banner with a picture of a zombie pirate and the name of the haunt: Pirates of Emerson Haunted Themed Park. As we got out of the car and approached the entrance, we could hear two distinct songs: spooky organ music and AC/DC’s Back In Black. The message it sent was clear; this place is part scary and part fun. There was a line for the ticket booth and customers were being expedited by two actors dressed as grey-faced pirate ghouls. They handled the crowd in an orderly fashion. Upon entry, we see a festive theme park with an emphasis on haunted houses. One thing Pirates of Emerson offers is an ample amount of visual stimulation, from a pirate ship and metal art pieces to performances and animatronics. It seems that, every year, they add something different to see or do.
Special Effects: 8.75
The haunts of Pirates of Emerson were sufficient in sound effects. The most noticeable sounds were the crickets chirping in the swamp at the Pirates of Emerson signature haunt and the organ music in Holiday Horror. Also noteworthy were the electricity sounds in the shock therapy room of Laboragory. There was no awkward silence in any of the haunts. One thing you have to give Pirates of Emerson is their fully-detailed scenery. At no point will you see any plain walls or open ceilings. The haunts of Pirates of Emerson make you feel enclosed within the theme. Laboragory, PoE and The Hack Shack all come to life with elaborate rooms that are full of props. Holiday Horror starts off with elaborate scenery, but loses some detail as you enter the candy cane-striped rooms. The Laboragory had an impressive vortex tunnel, but its claustrophobia tunnel was partially deflated during our visit, thus decreasing its effectiveness somewhat. In one of the smaller haunts, a giant boar emerges from the darkness and its sheer size is intimidating. The signature haunt had an alligator emerge from the swamp and, in the tavern, skeletons moved their heads, bent over and stood up at various intervals. There are also video monitors, used as the façade of windows, to show vignettes of psychos committing murder. In one memorable scene, we saw a psycho crushing the head of his victim and, as the head cracks open, water is sprayed on the viewer, giving the impression of splattered blood. This year, Pirates of Emerson has taken liberal use of fog machines… providing haze for Laboragory, but going full bore in the signature haunt. Lighting was used in a very artful way in the signature haunt. The blue lights gave the swamp a moonlight appearance and the warmly-lit candles stood out in the foggy hallways. The Hack Shack used flickering lights in the hillbilly house for dramatic effect as well.
Pirates of Emerson Haunted Themed Park has an overall, encompassing theme of an amusement park, but each haunted house at the Park has its own unique theme as well. Laboragory is a hospital gone mad with the staff covered in blood and patients ripped to shreds. Holiday Horror is a scary Christmas theme with spooky children and elves. The signature haunt, Pirates of Emerson, features ghostly pirates emerging from swamps and caves. It reminded us a lot like Disney’s Pirates of The Caribbean, but only scarier. The Hack Shack is a hillbilly slaughterhouse theme where they don’t discriminate between slaughtering pigs or humans. The final attraction that comes with the price of admission is The Dark Gauntlet, a chain-link fence maze. The Park always has a chain-link fence maze with strobe lights and dramatic Hollywood action music. But, this year, they added touches of moss and skeleton forms on the fences as well as multicolored flashing lights, which added a refreshing touch on an old standby. Each haunt’s theme is well executed and there was nothing out of the ordinary in any of the haunts that would have conflicted with its theme. To be brutally honest, all of the themes presented were not original. We’ve seen variations of these themes at Pirates of Emerson in previous years and in other haunted attractions. The theme of the signature haunt, Pirates of Emerson, is the only theme that no one else in Northern California uses. It’s safe to say that Pirates of Emerson has a monopoly on the “Pirate Theme.”
Fright Effect: 8.25
All four of Pirates of Emerson’s main haunts generate scares. Laboragory and The Hack Shack were the scariest, the signature haunt was the next scariest and Holiday Horror was not as scary as the rest. Most of the actors targeted the middle of the group (where Debbie was) since she was the squeamish one. A few targeted me, since I was at the front of the group. The majority of scares came from actors jumping out from behind corners to startle us. A few of them used chainsaws in The Hack Shack and the smaller haunts. One actor used electric sparks in the shock therapy room at Laboragory to startle us. Most of the scares caught us off-guard, but a few were predictable.
The time it took to walk through Pirates of Emerson’s four main haunts, The Dark Gauntlet maze and side haunts was about 30 minutes. At a general admission price of $30, we figure that is about an average value for a haunted attraction. The Park is very open and spacious, but even though it’s roomy, there are no “dead spots.” Everywhere you go, there’s something visual to catch your eye. Pirates of Emerson is both a scary and festive place and it’s a must-see for anybody in the Northern California region.