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Saturday, October 14, 2017

All the Fall Fun You Can Have

Fall is here! Now's the best time to travel to a lot of places, because airfare and hotel deals are less expensive than other times of the year. We tend to do a lot of things in the fall, including going on our big yearly vacation. It saves us money this way and the kids are all in school, so there are smaller crowds and fewer lines everywhere we go. Want to make the most out of your fall? Then here are some fun ways to celebrate the season and Halloween.

Head to New England

There are few places where you can go that are truly scary, but the New England area has a ton of history that includes witches, horror writers, massacres and more. This post gives you all the awesome things to do there. Rent a car, stay for a few weeks and drive to all kinds of awesome stuff.

photo credit

Hit up New Orleans

New Orleans is quite exciting and not just during Mardi Gras. There are plenty of things to do in the fall, especially considering the spooky vibe of the city including the history of voodoo and vampire legends. here are some fun things to check out. For haunted experiences, you may want to visit these 5 places:
  • The Omni Royal Hotel - Once the building for the city’s slave market and the site of great brutality, the hotel is now a grand place to stay and home to many spirits. 
  • The Bourbon Orleans - This former orphanage run by nuns still has kids running along its corridors. Guests have reported hearing children’s voices, seeing nuns in the hallways and feeling electrical charges near the stairwells.
  • Brennan’s New Orleans - A staple of the city since 1946, Brennan’s is not only a highly rated fine dining establishment, but it also has its own ghosts. In the Red Room, a man living in the building hanged himself after murdering his family. 
  • The Pharmacy Museum - Set on the site of the very first apothecary shop, the Pharmacy Museum holds a wide variety of cures and artifacts from old medical practices and voodoo rituals, including ghastly instruments used in the past for dentistry, many by the former owner, a dentist known to conduct grisly experiments on patients.
  • St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Nearly everyone has heard of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and you can visit her tomb in New Orleans’ most haunted cemetery. Hundreds of thousands are buried in this one square block, with the tombs being reused over and over. 

Pumpkin harvest

I don't really get excited by pumpkin carving. That might be a little weird for someone who loves Halloween as much as I do. I just don't find it fun and I don't make pies, but often the harvest festivals are full of pumpkin-picking and other activities like hayrides, squash-tossing, farm animals and more. If you find a corn maze, it's not unusual for there to be pumpkin harvest festivities going on nearby. Kids love to run and pick out the pumpkin they will use for their jack-o-lantern at home and also enjoy running and around and climbing on things. We have farms that feature hay bale pyramids and tours on a farm train. Usually these days out are fairly affordable and you can even sign up to receive coupons when the celebration starts.

Corn maze

I look forward to the corn mazes all year long. It's so fun to go out and spend an afternoon on local farms and get lost in a maze of maize! We pack up the car with a change of clothes and the dog and hope there's no mud where we will have to use our extra clothes. The mazes test our ability to read a map or our trivia knowledge. While other families split up and race each other through the maze, we view it as a fun family outing and the three of us go together. Sometimes we just let the dog go and pick our course and sometimes we use whatever clues they give us at the beginning. After we emerge from the corn, we make a trip to the gift shop, grab something warm to eat and drink and then head home. There are always great photo ops.

Farmers' market

This is similar to you-pick farms, except you can just go with your list and have fun finding them at the different stalls. Another plus to the markets is that you are getting affordable local foods and you can usually pick up lunch from any number of food merchants there, too. Our market up the street is a great place to get everything from crepes to tamales. When you're traveling, it's a perfect way to stock your fridge with healthy options for snacks and side dishes.

Fruit picking

I love fresh fruits and vegetables. I also love to visit local farms. I'm always amazed by what people can grow. I have my own garden, but it's not big and awesome, so I like to get ideas on how to make it better. Many of these farms let you go pick your own fresh produce. You pay by the pound and often they have a store where they sell jams, sauces and other things they make on-site. These make great gifts and souvenirs as well.

Wine and beer festivals

Right after the grape and wheat harvests come the festivals! Food, wine, beer, you name it. Fall has tons of wine and beer celebrations everywhere they serve such things. Find new favorites when you can sample all the local (and some not-so-local) varietals and brews. Most of these fests require you to buy a glass for your samples, so you already have a built-in souvenir, too!

Head Underground

Lots of weird stuff happens underground. Here are three I greatly enjoy:
  • The Shanghai Tunnels under Portland. They were featured on Travel Channel’s 10 Most Haunted. Though it came in at number 10, it was the only Portland site to make the list, so by simple reasoning, it must make it Portland’s most haunted site. I was disappointed that I didn’t experience so much as a cold breeze, nor did I catch anything on my camera, unless you count dust particles catching the light of my flash and presenting themselves as “glowing orbs”, but maybe you'll be luckier (if you think it's lucky to see/feel a ghost) than I. 
  • The Dungeons are on my list of kitchy and kinda scary (if you're afraid of the dark and mirror mazes where you might be followed) and must-do attractions. The site offers best price guarantee and you can get discounted deals if you purchase a combination ticket with Madame Tussaud's and/or the London Eye. If you plan to visit off-peak hours, you can save up to 50%! You must purchase your tickets online though. Each dungeon (located in London, York, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and now San Francisco) walks you through the "streets" of history and winds you through creepy stories and rides that take you from one area of the dungeon to another.
  • Paris Catacombs. There are miles of underground tunnels underneath Paris full of human bones that were put there when the cemeteries became overcrowded. Even now they are still crowded, but with tourists. Get there right at opening and beat the crowds. Lines can stretch up to 2 hours long and with prices at only 5 Euros per person, it's one of the cheaper things you can do in France. I just realized I never did a post on my trip into the catacombs, so that will be coming in the near future.

Go to a theme park

Most theme parks have a Halloween celebration of some sort. Here are the top ones, including how to save on admission if there's a way to:
  • Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Many park days at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in Sept-Nov are cut short for this party that requires a special ticket to get in. From 7pm to midnight, many of the park guests come dressed in costume to enjoy 5 hours of trick-or-treating, dancing, nighttime thrill rides (only specific rides will be open during that time, not the whole park), Hall-o-wishes fireworks display, an all-villain musical show in front of the castle, villain meet and greets, amazing park decorations and, best of all, a special parade opened with the Headless Horseman on horseback. It’s all totally Disney and so out of their normal festivities that it’s worth putting off your vacation until that time of year.
  • Knott's presents Knott's Scary Farm. Save significantly on your tickets by buying them online instead of at the gate.
  • Universal puts on Halloween Horror Nights. While ticket prices don't waver, you're sure to get your money's worth while riding select rides and being scared out of your wits with roaming creeps, themed haunted houses and scare zones. It's like being in your very own horror movie. 
  • Busch Gardens in Tampa offers up Howl-o-Scream. Much like Universal, they have scare zones, haunted houses and themed entertainment. You can't get cheaper tickets for this event either, but it'll scare your pants off, which you maybe can't put a price on.
  • Legoland has spooky fun for the little ones with Brick-or-Treat. It includes trick or treating and the opportunity to dress-up and enjoy the park after it closes for the regular day. Tickets are separate from the main park admission, but totally fun!
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate fall? If you missed my trip to Halloweentown, go check that out now. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This Is Halloween...town

I'm sure you've seen it. That cult classic movie Halloweentown, about a town where it's Halloween all the time. No, not The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is about a woman who's secretly a witch and her two children. Their grandmother comes to visit and they find out they have magic in the family...and then they go to Halloweentown. And then there are two sequels. 

Listen. I didn't make it. You can probably catch it a thousand times on Freeform this October, or at least once...after the Harry Potter Weekend happening right now that is. It's one of those movies that you either like or you hate. It's fun if you don't think too much about it, but it's the claim to fame of the city it was filmed in: St. Helens, Oregon. Each year they "transform" the city into Halloweentown in their own way and people from all over come to get in on the festivities.

                           City Hall (now a museum) that sits directly across from the town square

This year we had a little meetup of friends there and we all took a bunch of pictures and hung out to watch the parade. We went a few years ago and were fairly disappointed, because nothing on the "schedule" was actually happening, or you needed to book in advance. This time that was less of a problem, but still a problem. I was looking forward to filling up my Halloweentown card and earning my commemorative coin, but since there was no shuttle bus to get my card, I couldn't do that.

Here's what we did do though:

Took the "Haunted Hayride"

This is in quotes because it was neither haunted, nor had any hay. We paid $3 to be driven by tractor back through the parking lot we had just walked across to get into the main town square to see a cardboard cutout of a UFO and some sad aliens. Then the driver gave us a story about the "crash site", but he didn't turn the tractor engine off, so none of us could actually hear him. Also, this was in broad daylight. Luckily, we were able to laugh about the absurdity of it all. I won't even tell give you the satisfaction of seeing an empty parking lot. 

Took pictures in the main square

You can see other pictures we took on our last trip, but also on my Instagram. We actually were able to take a photo with Benny's cab. That's not Benny in there, but it was still pretty cool. 

Movie theater featured in both Halloweentown and Twilight

Rode past the Walk To the Underworld and passed

This was a very small fenced in area with a recreation of Stonehenge that you could walk through for $1. There wasn't anything else. No monsters. No people. Just stones in a formation. That you could totally see all of. The "creatures" aren't added until the 11th (which is a weird date, since it's a Wednesday), and then admission is $3. I mean, what? I didn't even take any pictures.

Watched the parade

I guess last weekend was the kick-off weekend for Spirit of Halloweentown, so they hold a parade. I also guess the schedule is a loose interpretation of such, because the parade was set to start at 3pm, and we didn't see anything until almost 4pm. Granted, we were at the end of the route, but the route was not even that long. It was fun and, blessedly, short since I was starving. We actually waited longer to see the parade than the parade lasted. So, we followed it out a few blocks to get dinner.

Dined at the Klondike

St Helens is small. There aren't a ton of options for food, but we'd been here before and liked it, and there wasn't a line like last time either. This restaurant that used to be a hotel has a long and haunted history. They decorate with the old hotel room doors and have a long list of custom and seasonal cocktails. It's definitely worth a seat at the bar at the very least.

There are food carts near City Hall, but they are more snacky than anything else: nachos, chili, soup, cotton candy, caramel corn, pie. At 5pm they have "happy hour". As we were leaving, we saw the few tables they had nearby were now closed off for those that wished to buy beer (in a can) and wine (in those single sealed glasses). It started raining, so we continued to the car.

Visited the Museum of Oddities

For $2, we figured we couldn't really go wrong with this, but it turns out they should have charged more for the hilarity of it. The St Helens Historical Society put this together in the room of an old church and I loved it. The room itself was fantastic, but then they made these great exhibits that they added the most bizarre stories to that were super amusing. 

I especially enjoyed the man who lost his sight and hands in a saw mill accident and had to get his hands replaced with claws, so to make him feel better, his soon-to-be wife had her head replaced with that of an alligator. Their likenesses were made into a one-of-a-kind cake topper for their wedding. The other favorite of mine was the first deer to own his own business, which was a sporting goods shop. He was buried in his favorite suit. Ha! This totally made up for the $3 haunted hayride.

Saw some actual movie memorabilia and filming destinations

This is one of the last remaining set pieces from Halloweentown, and was exhibited in the Museum of Oddities, probably because there was no better place to showcase it and keep it safe at the same time. Look how pretty this stained glass is.

Aside from the above things, we wandered into a few shops, took a nice turn around the downtown area, and admired the harbor. Each shopfront has their own scarecrow out front that they have personalized, which is fun, and there are quite a few photo ops around the square and other places. They had a haunted house. Well, two. One for adults and one for children. We didn't feel like spending the money for admission, considering the quality of scares we'd already endured. 

Despite the disappointment of the schedule snafus, we ended up having a good time. This weekend will have celebrity guests from the Halloweentown movies, a Debbie Reynolds tribute, haunted tours, live shows and readings by a psychic. At only 45 minutes from Portland, it's worth the drive out for a few hours of kitschy fun. Bring cash.

What fun, dumb, or weird things does your town do for Halloween?
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