Dark Nights Hersheypark – Full Review

Dark Nights Hersheypark is a Haunted Attraction located in Hershey, PA.

100 W. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA 17033
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Haunt Type(s):

Has Current Dates and Hours Available IconMultiple HauntsTheme ParkHaunted House


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Paid Parking, Restrooms/Porta Potties On-Site, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, Optional Games/Midway

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This attraction was reviewed on September 23, 2023 by Team Skelegore.

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Final Score: 8.1

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Hersheypark is back for their second year of Dark Nights. The ghosts and ghouls have come out from the shadows, and invaded the park with 5 haunted attractions, 3 scare zones, and a plethora of Hershey-themed Halloween fun. The Haunted Coal Mine: Curse of the Tommyknockers, The Descent: Catacombs of Decay, Creatures Uncaged, and Twisted Carnevil have returned in glorious fashion. New this year, Auntie Mortems Abattoir is serving up the freshest cuts of meat possible. Halloween is on full display in the sweetest place on Earth, with all sorts of fun activities for the whole family no matter how dark and spooky they like it. The park’s flagship roller coasters are open to ride, the haunts are dark and spooky, and the Treatville trick-or-treat trail has lots and lots of Hershey’s chocolate for the taking.

Cast Score: 7.95

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Cast Review:

Hersheypark is clearly getting the right directors and consultants for their Dark Nights attractions, because there are actors galore. While the scare zones and The Descent felt a little bit light on live bodies, all four of the other attractions seemed that they had very close to the perfect amount of actors. This can be a delicate balance because guests will become too desensitized if they’re under a constant barrage of scares, and alternatively could walk away disappointed if there’s not enough action to keep things interesting.

It’s really great that every single actor clearly has a lot of experience, and they’re not over or under acting like a brand new actor would. What’s also really great is that there were a nice variety of interactions, meaning that not everyone in a haunt had a big loud jump scare. Some of them had the classic jump scare, but others like the clown in the mirror maze in Carnevil were a little more subtle and left to the patron to discover. They also all stayed well within theme, allowing for some creativity from the actors to feel more natural in their respective scenes.

Costuming Score: 8.11

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Costuming Review:

Costuming is really on point throughout all of the attractions, which is refreshing compared to the almost kit-like appearance I usually see in haunts. There are entirely custom characters that fit perfectly within their scenes like the boar-headed butcher inside Abattoir complete with his blue and white striped button up shirt, dirty apron, slacks, and paper hat. This is a level of detail that I wish for every time I visit a haunt, and Hersheypark has delivered on my expectations here. Another really great costume is the full bodysuit with matching mask and makeup in Creatures Uncaged. While the character doesn’t really seem to fit within the theme, the outfit is out of this world. The zombified and deep-fried bride of Frankenstein-esque character is honestly one of the best looking costumes I have ever come across inside a haunt. Also in the Creatures attraction are these bird-like plague doctor characters which I presume to be the escaped creatures. Either way, the high contrast of the white mask and dark costume gives an interesting pop to the character and really draws the eyes to the face which is easily the most terrifying part.

On the other end of the great costumes, Descent was so dimly lit I wasn’t able to actually see any of the characters in detail. Of the ones I did manage to catch little bits of, they seemed to fit the scenes and overall theme, but who can really be sure given the dark scenes.

Outside of the attractions, the characters in the scare zones ranged from very detailed to actors given a costume. The latter would be the zombie biohazard characters in the Fallout Zone section, which look fine from a distance, but there was not much detail up close. Sure, they’re all wearing bunny suits and respirators, but that’s about where the detail stops. On the other hand, the characters in the Midway of Misery and Darkstone’s Hollow sections had very detailed costumes and great makeup to complete the look. The fellow in the top hat and tailcoat presented very well for a queue actor, alongside the stilt walker whose face was painted like a jack-o-lantern.

Customer Service Score: 9.8

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Customer Service Review:

Customer service is an area that doesn’t need much talking about. Hersheypark is in the business of crowd management and people pleasing. The amusement park thrives year after year because they have worked very hard to make sure that every second you spend on their property is effortless and enjoyable. This is from the moment you cross the intersection to head into the parking lots which are marked by very large signs and arrows pointing the way. The front gate is easy to spot with its bright colors and swarms of people heading in, and the pathways are laid out to guide guests throughout the park without them having to even think about it. Safety is also taken a step up from your garden variety haunt, in that any steps or stairs inside an attraction are manned by a security guard lighting the steps as to mitigate the risk of tripping or falling. Non-acting staff are very easy to identify as well, either by the name tags or brightly colored shirts they wear, they are all over the park and happy to help however they can.

The only points lost in this section are for the website being a little bit out of place when it comes to information about Dark Nights specifically. There is a comprehensive FAQ section that covers just about anything you would want to know before visiting Hersheypark. The only exception being ADA information about the haunts (they did not appear to be wheelchair accessible) and the very commonly asked question “will the actors touch me?” The answer is no, but those are just about the only things missing. The FAQ section takes a little bit of navigation to find, but it is by no means hidden.

Immersion Score: 7.87

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Immersion Review:

The scare zones serve as the pre and post haunt areas, each lightly themed to the haunts they host, the exception being the Fallout Zone section which does not have any attraction start or finish. The Midway of Misery has 3 out of the 5, showcasing The Descent, Twisted Carnevil, and Auntie Mortem’s Abattoir. Darkstone’s Hollow is where guests end up after Creatures Uncaged, and Haunted Coal Mine is all by its lonesome, but with a little bit of theme change, it could easily fit into the Fallout Zone area. The scare zones do have actors with which to interact, but they are few, and the scare zones are large. Some more actors in these sections would definitely be a good thing.

Immersion inside the attractions was hit or miss. The Descent and Creatures Uncaged definitely felt “fabricated” for lack of a better word, while Abattoir, Carnevil, and Haunted Coal Mine were much more immersive and great examples of top notch scene builds. The fog swamp inside Coal Mine was one of my favorite sections because it really captured the feeling of wading through an underground lake amongst stalagmites. Carnevil certainly captures the classic circus and carnival tropes, from the haunting music, to the mirror maze, and the sideshow like characters.

The vibe flows well enough for such a large amusement park whose attractions are spread out, with themed food vendors, stand alone shops, Halloween themed games, and the Halloween decorations throughout the park. There is definitely a fine line that needs to be balanced between catering to families with smaller children and the hardcore haunt junkies, but I definitely think it’s being balanced quite well.

Special FX Score: 7.93

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Special FX Review:

Hershey’s nearly unlimited budget is on display within each attraction, from highly detailed sets, to high quality special effects, and even the small details in the sound effects. One of these smaller details is the shimmering twinkly sound in the gemstone area of the The Haunted Coal Mine. It’s a really nice touch that brings the set piece to life rather than just some lighting effects. On the other hand, there is a “hellevator” in the same attraction that barely does the job of a hellevator. While there is a scrolling image that can be seen from inside, all one needs to do is look up and find one of the show lights coming through from another scene to break the illusion. This could be forgiven if the set rumbled and shook a bit like a real elevator might, but apparently that wasn’t in the budget.

There are some really cool projection effects in use within a few attractions, too. The crystal balls inside Carnevil are an interesting use of a static prop, and the apparating actor from a projection in The Haunted Mine is very unexpected. The Descent uses a projection screen inside a tunnel set, but the execution could have been better. Guests are able to see the dead space around the screen as they approach the effect, and the sound volume is way too low for the amount of water they’re trying to give the illusion of. On the plus side, there is a great use of black light effects throughout Carnevil leading up to a very big and scary clown animatronic. Aunty Mortem’s Abattoir features a spinning tunnel with psychedelic colors inside, and while it felt very out of place for the attraction, it’s fun to find these effects.

Lighting throughout each attraction varied wildly, from Abattoir which has a wide range of lighting conditions allowing patrons to see the sets and actors very well, to attractions like The Descent and The Haunted Coal Mine which are very dark and could benefit from a bit more light. I know that societally we’ve all learned that dark must equal scary, but in my experience that’s just not the case. The use of light and shadows can really be useful in giving a bigger and better scare overall. Even a brightly lit room such as the delousing scene in Abattoir can be way more scary than a nearly pitch black corridor because of the subliminal connection to old fashioned asylums which are usually depicted as bright white interiors.

Scare Factor Score: 7.33

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Scare Factor Review:

Most of the attractions are somewhat light on the scares in the sense that every actor isn’t going over the top and burning out their vocal chords. There are jump scares that will get a good jump out of most people, but they all pale in comparison to Abattoir. The creep factor from start to finish is incredible for such a short attraction, and there is a really nice variety of scare energy throughout. The intimidation scare in the butcher shop is actually intimidating due to the actors large frame, and there are some spots with excellent jump scares.

Carnevil must be emanating a certain je ne sais quoi because the group in front of me was a dad with his two sons, and one of them kept insisting “I’m a middle person!” from start to finish. Little bro, I don’t know what a middle person is supposed to mean, but I do know a thing or two about scaring forward and they always scare to the middle of the group. I still wonder if that kid got the scares he was looking for in the middle of the group.

Scare predictability is pretty standard throughout. There’s really obvious spots for actors, and they are taking full advantage of them. I certainly wasn’t expecting the actor inside the mirror in Carnevil, or the jump scare from the projection in Haunted Coal Mine, but those alone are not enough to say scares are totally creative.

Finales are all over the place too. Attractions like Carnevil and Creatures Uncaged at least had a scare at the end, while The Descent and Haunted Coal Mine just kind of ended. Abattoir on the other hand, not only had a final scare, but it was a decently big scare for just an actor without a special effect. My hope is that feedback from this year’s season shows how great Abattoir is, and that we see more of that energy all around next year.

Entertainment & Value Score: 8.5

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E&V Review:

I feel that I need to make something very clear here. Our score sheet rates the haunt we visit as the main attraction, and everything else as secondary entertainment. However, there is nary a soul that buys a ticket to Hershey’s haunts and is then surprised at all the roller coasters they get to ride. Almost every guest there bought a ticket to Hersheypark as the main attraction and got the haunts as the add-on entertainment. So, hopefully that answers any questions regarding the scores in this section. It is the sweetest place on Earth, afterall.

It took me about 30 minutes to walk through all of the attractions, and at the time of writing, a ticket to enter the park all day cost $50. That is a discount to the full price of $85. Guests who wish to only visit the haunts which begin at 6 pm can buy a ticket for $45 (discounted from $57). I’m going with the best deal out of these options at $50 for the all day ticket, plus the parking which is $20 if you buy a pass online. At the parking lot, it costs $25, so this brings us up to $70 total. The admission ticket to the park gets you into all the haunts at no additional fee, so this is the best value as far as I can tell for a one-time visitor. That brings us to a MPD calculation of 0.43, which would be offensively low for a standalone haunt. But most haunts don’t have award winning roller coasters, including a brand new RMC conversion on their properties. An indoor coaster called Laff Trakk was operating with the lights completely off all day, giving visitors a new experience on a well loved spinning coaster, while Comet, Candymonium, Lightning Racers, and Wildcat’s Revenge operated with lights off for the last 30 minutes of operation for the night.

The scare zones offer a fun atmosphere with fire effects, live actors, and Dark Nights specialty food items for purchase. I found the tasting pass to be a very good deal for the amount of food that can be had for $35, and one of my favorites was the Rice Krispy treat covered in white chocolate that was packaged up to look like a patty of brain meat on a styrofoam tray like ground beef might be sold. Shops around the park had seasonal items for purchase, some of which lit up and made noise – a perfect gift for the toddler whose parents you wish to annoy.

For families that may have children whose innocence they wish to preserve a bit longer, there is a very fun, family friendly trick-or-treat trail through the waterpark. It’s decorated with lights, the Kisses-mobile, and best of all, candy! Please note that anyone wanting to take a stroll through this section should pick up a bag before heading in because I got more candy than my hands could effectively carry by the end.

Overall, the value is second to none. I may be biased considering my love for Hersheypark, as regular listeners of The Scare Factor Podcast may know, but for anyone that loves chocolate, roller coasters, and haunted houses, this is absolutely a fantastic time to visit Hersheypark for more screams and thrills than you can handle.

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