The LA Haunted Hayride is back for 2018, this time celebrating its 10th anniversary. With the event now under the umbrella of the Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, how does this year’s hayride compare to its previous incarnations? Well, for that, we need to travel back in time to 2012 – the first time we reviewed the LA Haunted Hayride. At that point it was, without a doubt, the best haunted attraction in Southern California. And it remained so for two years after that. Unfortunately, things started to take a downturn for the event when the New York Haunted Hayride opened up. Their resources seemed split down the middle and the event lost some of its charm. Last year, we were especially concerned at the state of the LA Haunted Hayride.
This year, the LA Haunted Hayride has taken a huge stride in the right direction and managed to recapture much of that Midwestern Halloween carnival vibe that it started out with.
We began the night walking through the entry area of the LA Haunted Hayride, enjoying some new animatronics and decorations as well as the various monsters roaming the grounds. Last year, The Purgatory haunted village felt empty. The loss of the pumpkin carving booth and the photo gallery were palpable and we spent much of the night thinking of better uses for the, no pun intended, “dead” space. This year, the event still has no photo gallery or pumpkin carving booth, but designers have redesigned the flow of the Purgatory area to make better use of what they do have. It feels much less empty than before and even adds a cool zombie brain toss carnival game for guests to try their luck at. The Scary-Go-Round is also back and is a blast to ride. I still wish they’d bring back the dedicated photo gallery, it was a really fun way for guests to spend some time and take the strain off the hayride line. The main stage is also back and has some really fun audience-participation based shows throughout the night. During your visit, you should make sure to sit in on one of the shows.
The titular hayride of the LA Haunted Hayride is back and a terrific experience. No longer do you have to get out midway through the ride and walk through a haunted maze, then re-embark on the hayride to continue. This is pure LA Haunted Hayride goodness – all hayride, all the time. This year sees several of the scenes that captured the screams of riders over the last ten years and, with the exception of not seeing those bird people swinging down on those tall poles, I was very happy with those they selected. The hayride is a blast and worth riding a couple times from each side of the cart to check out what you might have missed. Also, I am not 100% sure, but the wagons feel wider this year and the hay they are using is much softer for some reason. Even on past opening nights, the hay would stick to you and you end up bringing a good deal of it home. This time, that was not the case – have they changed the kind of hay they use or is this simply my imagination? The world may never know, but I like it!
After our ride on the hayride, we walked back to the Purgatory area and sat at one of the benches, eating some snacks. The atmosphere and general vibe of the event felt “good”. It once again had that Midwest Halloween carnival feel that made me fall in love with it to begin with. We sat at those benches for probably a half an hour, just watching and taking in the event. One of the things I have always admired about the LA Haunted Hayride are its monsters. Their costumes, makeup, and attention to character is outstanding. I have tried ad nauseam and none have ever broken character. This year is no different and you will find all manner of creatures roaming the grounds – some in amazing, large costumes with props I have never seen before. Even when Purgatory was a bit empty, the monsters could still be found in-character, roaming the grounds.
The House of Shadows dark maze is back again and is pretty much the same as it has been. It’s fun and allows guests to pass the time wandering through black hallways looking for an exit. It’s a gimmick, but it works and does adds value to your ticket price.
The “Grub Shack” snack cart is actually one of the weaker points of this year’s LA Haunted Hayride. At some point in the event’s history, they switched food vendors and the one they ended up going with made some strange choices. Their caramel apple slices are simply apple slices covered in cold caramel sauce, not actual hot caramel like it originally was back in the beginning. Also, they don’t serve hot chocolate like the previous vendor did. I can’t imagine it would be that difficult to put a Keurig unit in the cart and whip up hot chocolate in thirty seconds time when requested, but I digress. This vendor also makes the choice to put ketchup in a self-serve dispenser at the pick-up window but then pre-slathers their burgers with “burger sauce”. Just make the burgers dry and let guests put their own sauce on them – it would actually save them some trouble AND make them more money (as I would buy one then). Mind you, it’s not all bad at the snack cart: The macaroni and cheese balls as well as the meatballs and pumpkin donut holes are excellent!
The Trick or Treat walk through experience is back and a HUGE improvement over last year. This year, Trick or Treat has monsters handing out candy as guests go door to door trick or treating. Also, the monsters all seem much more at home in their houses as it were, making great use of the scenery and all having a unique personae. This was a great usage of the Trick or Treat experience and I would love to see it return in 2019.
I would still like to see one more attraction or maze added to the LA Haunted Hayride lineup just to round everything out. In the past, they had a semi-escape room style haunted house which added a ton of value to the ticket price of the event and was a lot of fun to navigate through with your friends. True Talk: Currently, the event offers general, VIP, and platinum tier ticket options. A regular all-attraction general admission ticket is $49.99 on the weekend. This allows you through everything once with a regular wait in line. The VIP ticket costs $64.99 on a weekend and allows you in everything once with a “limited wait” time in line. The Platinum level ticket is $109.99 on a weekend and promises to allow you to entirely skip the lines at the attractions as well as premium parking and unlimited access to everything. Parking at the LA Haunted Hayride is already free as the parking lot is a public lot – it’s no-charge, even if you get a spot right up against the entry of the event. I don’t quite know what premium parking they could be offering. In its improved state, I would have no problem paying for a general admission ticket to the event. There is plenty to do at that price point and you would be happy with your purchase. Now, if you absolutely cannot stand waiting in lines, I could see paying for the VIP admission. However, at this stage in the game, I don’t believe the Platinum tier would be worth your money.
Overall, the LA Haunted Hayride has taken a great leap back towards its hey day by fixing many of the issues plaguing it in the last few years. I had a really fun time at this year’s LA Haunted Hayride and can’t wait to see what they do for 2019.