Friday, October 16, 2015

Seasonal Fun: Halloween Scary Boo and Spooky Zoo at Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens is one of our favorite spots for family fun, and over the past few years we've visited well over a dozen times, from opening weekend in the spring, to boiling hot days at Water Oasis in the summer, to quieter times in the early fall, to chilly nights at the lovely Holiday Lights event in December. But somehow, we've never visited in October before, and therefore haven't had a chance to check out their annual Scary Boo and Spooky Zoo event.

We remedied that last Sunday, and had a blast! We met fun animals in the petting zoo, completed a park-wide scavenger hunt, trick-or-treated in various locales, explored a creepy rock maze (the Pinnacles attraction, totally transformed for October), and enjoyed much shorter than usual lines. If you have a free weekend day before the end of October, I definitely recommend checking it out. Here's the scoop:

What is it?

Halloween Scary Boo and Spooky Zoo is Gilroy Gardens' annual fall celebration, where they decorate the park and offer special features, including a really cool petting zoo. We've found that GG generally does special events and holidays well, and this is no exception.
The celebration takes place during normal operating hours in October (weekends, 10:00 a.m. -- 6:00 p.m.), and is included with park admission/membership (except for the petting zoo, which is a worthwhile $5 per child).

Grab a map at the entrance and start the hunt!
The Scavenger Hunt. When you arrive, kids are given a little trick-or-treat bag with a map listing the specially decorated areas of the park, and offering a park-wide scavenger hunt, for a prize at the end. The scavenger hunt is super toddler-friendly -- rather than writing in answers, they give you the option to draw the response (a dragon, say, or a spider) in the blank...and no worries, there's no need to make the object identifiable, as they don't even check when you trade them for a goody bag.

Having the scavenger hunt gave a really fun feel to the day, and made it easier for Mr. X and me to get Toddler X moving when we felt like heading to the next attraction -- he loved running place to place, map in hand.

The Petting Zoo. The Petting Zoo is a great attraction. It's situated to the left just as you walk in the gate, over by the stroller rental area. The cost is $5 per child, and adults are free. There is a nice range of animals there, from llamas, cows, pigs and sheep to rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, to a whole enclosed petting area with tons of very friendly dwarf goats. (The only animals you're actually walking amongst are the goats and poultry, but all the others are accessible and can be easily petted.)

There's also the "spooky" part of the "Spooky Zoo" -- terrariums with snakes, tarantulas, toads, giant cockroaches and more. Yikes! Everyone who worked there was friendly, and the animals were as well.

The decorations. In general, decorations throughout the park aren't at all scary. The tree-lined entry corridor is transformed into a scarecrow walkway, with decorated scarecrows and hay bales along the sides, corn stalks circling the trees, and spiders overhead.

Part of the monarch atrium is decorated with huge spiders, and there is Halloween decor outside the Pinnacles (cute stuff, like a witch crashing into a tree) and in random areas elsewhere in the park.

The only exception to the not-so-scary rule is the Pinnacles rock maze, which is transformed into a little haunted house of sorts. Following the signs, you go through twists and turns of some kind of frightening stuff for a little kid -- skeletons and tombstones and moving pictures and the like. Toddler X made it through just fine, and seemed to be enjoying himself, but he was primarily focused on the rock maze and following the signs (that kid loves arrows!) -- if he had stopped to contemplate the displays a bit more, he might have been creeped out. Below are some of the "dead ends" (hehe, see what I did there?) you might encounter in the maze.

If you're worried about toddler scares, you may want to stay away from this one element. (And if you're worried about the scavenger hunt question that requires visiting the maze, the answer is "Dragon". And if you just draw a squiggly line, that will work as well.)

The Straw Maze. Here's a maze just right for toddlers! This one is located where the splash pad usually is, right near the carnival games section. There's only one entrance and one exit, so no worries about your little one getting truly lost, and older kids and adults can easily see over the side of the maze. Lots of fun!

The Music. One other element that added to the Halloween fun: the music playing over the park's loudspeakers. While Gilroy Gardens ordinarily has classical music playing, during Halloween season, it's a hilarious mish mash of "scary" songs, from The Addams Family to Thriller to Ghostbusters to, of course, The Monster Mash. It's entertaining for sure.

Other Attractions:  Basically every attraction operates as usual during Scary Boo, except for the water features -- Water Oasis is closed for the year, and the splash pad for little kids is the site of the straw maze. At our last visit the first weekend in October, the big kids splash area (up the hill from Water Oasis, near the BBQ) was still operating, so if you do want to get wet, there's a place for that.

Conclusion: If you're already a Gilroy Gardens fan and visit often, you'll love this event for the fun fall additions and the light crowds. If you're not already familiar with Gilroy Gardens, this is a great time of year to visit. It's cooler than summer (at least theoretically -- it was 90 degrees there last week) and far less crowded, so it's a perfect opportunity to check out rides and figure out what parts of the park are your favorites. Overall, I highly recommend it.

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