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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fun Ways to Celebrate Fall and Halloween

Can you believe fall is almost 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.

Our dog Rikka conferring with Eric on which way to go



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.
  • Sea World has a great event for the little ones and admission is included with your regular park ticket. It's called Spooktacular and it offers trick-or-treating, silly and spooky shows and kids are encouraged to come in costumes.

What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate fall? In the next blog post I'll talk about awesome and easily packable Halloween costumes for your travels.

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