Once, when I was about eight years old, I rode my bike down a large hill made out of snow. That ended in one of the first serious injuries I ever sustained -- a bruised rib -- but it's also a good example of why I've always loved roller-coasters: I love to be scared, in a thrill-seeking type of way, and roller-coasters are an excellent way to experience that while minimizing the risk of serious bodily injury. I don't, on the other hand, really enjoy being scared in a creepy, horror type of way, and in that respect, my eight-year-old kid and I are sort of opposites; he'll hardly ride his bike down a hill made of pavement, let alone snow, but he's obsessed with Ghost Hunters to the point that he's convinced that not only every place he goes is haunted, but that he has his own ghost that haunts him personally (I'm not making this up). So our visit to Elitch Gardens' Fright Fest this Saturday offered something for both of us. Plus, there was a pet parade, and who doesn't like a pet parade?
Fright Fest is basically Elitch's post-season, a month-long time of weekend hours that's more or less like regular Elitch's minus the waterpark and plus some haunted houses. As far as programming goes, the main attraction is Fright by Night, where, after sunset, the park gets teen- and adult-oriented with a set of legit haunted houses (and when I say legit, consider that one of them, Blood Bath, requires visitors to wear a rain poncho. Just think about that for a second). I was pretty confident Avry could handle that, and would in fact think it was awesome, but the Elitch's folks reiterated that it was not recommended for kids twelve and under, so we went with the other option, Family by Day.
We got there Saturday just before the Pet Parade, so after a couple of spins around on the Tilt-o-Whirl, we checked that out, and it didn't let us down. Animals in Halloween costumes are always hilarious (the competition focused on three main categories -- funniest, most original and best pet/owner combo -- with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Dumb Friends League), and while some owners went with typical put-a-shirt-on-the-dog-and-call-it-a-day fare, others absolutely threw down. My favorites included the marching-band bulldogs and an extremely upset-looking cat in a Three Musketeers costume.
Affecting a disconcerting amount of evidently genetic schadenfreude, Avry favored Spider-Dog. "Man, Spider-Dog looks pretty miserable," he observed with a satisfied chuckle.
After that, it was time to hit some real rides. Avry hit 48 inches tall just a little while ago, so he'd never been on an honest-to-God roller-coaster before, and he didn't seem too excited about the prospect. Nevertheless, with some trepidation, he selected Boomerang. One bonus of going to Elitch's somewhat early in the day in the middle of October is that the lines are downright tolerable, and though Avry would no doubt not have minded waiting for a little while longer, it took us no time at all to get to the top. He took it stoically.
But he had enough fun that I was able to persuade him to do Twister II, that old white-washed wooden coaster toward the back of the park, for our next one. The deceptive thing about wooden coasters, as we discussed later, is that, next to the sleek engineering and gleaming steel of more modern coasters, the old wooden ones look much less intense -- leisurely, even. But that is not the case; in fact, once they get going, they're even more intense, with the car whip-lashing you around and the persistent impression that the whole thing might just fall apart at any second. True story: Avry absolutely freaked out pretty much the whole time and refused to get on another roller-coaster after that. So that was our day of roller-coasters. To relax, we hung around the boat trips for a while and watched rubes get wet, while Avry opted to tempt fate. Look for him in the lower right corner here:
By that point, the lines were lengthening, so it was pretty awesome that Elitch's PR Manager Erica Boniface met up with us to take us through Face Your Fears, the park's kid-friendly haunted house, which allowed us to cut right ahead of the workaday suckers (and yes, suckers, it does make me feel like a big man). I was curious to see how Avry would hold up, and so was Boniface, but Avry was self-possessed; when she asked him if he'd ever been to a haunted house before, he said, "I pretty much live in one every day."
A scene from Brutal Planet.
Courtesy of Elitch Gardens
For my part, I'd forgotten my regular glasses in the car and just had by prescription sunglasses on me, so either way, I couldn't see a damn thing -- which didn't bother me that much, since haunted houses make me uncomfortable. But I will say that Avry gripped my hand pretty tightly. And he doesn't often hold my hand anymore.
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Elitch's Fright fest continues through Halloween Night, mostly for the price of park admission (although Brutal Planet and Blood Bath will run you an additional $8). Specific park hours, tickets and more information are available on the Elitch's site.