Putting the ‘DARK’ in Hersheypark Dark Nights

Dark Nights

It’s October, and we all know that means the spooky season is upon us! Fall entertainment options have been popping up across the country, from family-friendly events to haunts meant to inspire nightmares. Hersheypark’s child-oriented Halloween event has long been one of the most popular fall events in the Northeast, but now it is expanding to attract teens and adults with its new Dark Nights offering.

Dark Nights is Hersheypark’s new Halloween experience featuring terrifying haunted houses and scare zones that tap into guests’ greatest fears. An evening add-on to the beloved Hersheypark day experience, this weekend event has more of a bite to it than the traditional family-friendly celebration, largely thanks to the contributions of Ryan Harmon, Joe Lanzisero, and their team at Zeitgeist Design & Production in Pasadena, California.

A former Disney Imagineer with 35 years spent at all the major owner/operators and experiential design studios, Harmon brings his experience crafting immersive narratives for theme parks and attractions to his role as President and Chief Creative Officer at Zeitgeist. Harmon wrote the narrative for all three haunted houses collaborated on by Zeitgeist and Hersheypark, creating believable backstories, unique characters, clever techniques, and surprising physical situations.

Lanzisero spent 42 years as a Disney Imagineer, departing in 2016 as the senior vice president of Disney’s Asia portfolio and the Disney Cruise Lines. In his role as vice president and executive art director at Zeitgeist, he developed the story concepts with Harmon and designed the look and feel of the houses.

Creating a unique Halloween experience for Hersheypark

One of the goals that Zeitgeist set out to achieve on the Hersheypark Dark Nights project was to create experiences that were inspired by the myths and legends of Pennsylvania. This local connection allowed Hersheypark’s Dark Nights to stand out from other Halloween attractions across the country. “Haunted houses with chainsaws and body parts can be fun,” says Harmon, “but we set out to do something very different — something only Hersheypark could do.”

In their collaboration with Hersheypark, Zeitgeist designed three immersive walk-through haunted house experiences. However, these aren’t your typical haunted houses with blood, guts, and cliche horror film scenarios. Instead, Harmon, Lanzisero, and the team created rich stories, captivating theatrical sets with special effects, and scare actors in horrific makeup to make the most exhilarating and engaging walk-thru attractions possible.

The three haunted house experiences that Zeitgeist crafted for the event are “Haunted Coal Mine,” “Creature Chaos,” and “Twisted Darkness.” Each one lures guests into a believable situation and then blows their minds with story twists and visuals that promise to give them nightmares for nights to come. 

Designing something that is scary, fun, and immersive

To achieve this immersive and cinematic quality to their haunted house attractions, Zeitgeist took a unique approach: envisioning them each as if they were dark rides. “Your ride vehicle is essentially your feet as you trepidatiously traverse fantastic environments and a compelling multimedia story unfolds around you, ending with a spectacular finale each and every time,” Harmon asserts. “Our goal wasn’t just to give the visitor a physical scare, but also an emotional one that will haunt them in their dreams.”

Hersheypark was a perfect place for this type of detailed Halloween experience, not only because of the park’s reputation for delivering high-quality theme park entertainment but also its naturally wooded location. “Hersheypark’s natural forested and creekside setting — especially in the autumn — provided a wonderfully dark canvas to paint on,” explains Lanzisero. “This allowed us to create a perfect Halloween-themed experience for visitors.”

As a collaboration between one of the most thrilling theme parks in the country and a creative firm with plenty of experience and expertise, Hersheypark’s Dark Nights is sure to become one of the nation’s premier Halloween events. It’s scary, immersive, and — most importantly — fun in a way that few other Halloween experiences are. Those looking to get their fix of frightening fun this spooky season will want to catch this extraordinary event while it lasts. All three houses will return bigger and even better in 2023!

Opinions expressed by San Francisco contributors are their own.

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