Haunted houses and strawberry festivals might not have much in common on the surface, but the organizers of the popular Legends of the Fog haunted attraction in Aberdeen took their cue from a spring fruit fest to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to carry on the scares for their 14th year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidance on holiday activities it considers high risk as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and trunk-or-treat events are among the activities considered high risk by the CDC, as are indoor attractions like haunted houses that can bring strangers in close proximity with one another.
Long before those guidelines came out, though, Patrick Barberry and the rest of the crew at the Legends of the Fog on Carsins Run Road were thinking about how they could continue in 2020.
When COVID-19 struck in March, Barberry initially thought the best route would be to close indoor attractions but keep the haunted hayride. But that only protected the haunt’s actors, not the public from each other, he said.
It wasn’t until his brother-in-law dropped off some fruit on their doorstep that he had purchased from a drive-thru strawberry festival that inspiration struck.
“That was in April and that night we said, ‘That’s it, let’s try to do a drive-through,’ ” Barberry said. “So starting in April, that just became plan A very quickly.”
Legends of the Fog opens Friday, and guests will be required to purchase tickets exclusively online, which cost $25 per vehicle and its driver, plus $10 for each passenger. Passenger tickets can be purchased later, but a driver ticket needs to be purchased in advance to ensure a time and a spot in line.
Visitors will remain in their vehicles throughout the course, which typically takes about 20 minutes, Barberry said.
“We had three walking attractions — we kind of brought all of our assets out from inside the houses and brought them into the outdoor, everything we could — and we’re now driving where people once walked,” Barberry said. “It’s really exciting time, because it’s a new challenge, and it’s something different then what we’ve been doing for the past 13 years.”
The 100 or so actors won’t have face-to-face interactions that visitors have become accustomed to in recent years, in order to maintain social distancing requirements. Although actors must wear masks at all times, because visitors remain inside their vehicles, they do not have to, Barberry said.
One innovation that Barberry is most excited about is an interactive audio track that can personalize the haunting experience. Visitors will be given a link to open on their smartphone browser before they enter the trail, then connect to their vehicle’s audio system.
“We track you on your phone as you go through our attraction. It changes [audio] tracks and it integrates with the people in the car,” Barberry explained. “You can put in the names of the people in your car and it can give you custom messages and things that come out of your own speakers.”
If you’re one of the rare groups without a smartphone, staff will have CDs that can be played in the vehicle’s stereo system, although it won’t provide the personalized experience.
Legends of the Fog is typically open 17 nights during the Halloween season. Barberry said they’ve cut that to 13 nights this year but are open to expansion if there is a public demand.
He expects reviews will be mixed because of people’s expectations, although 120 vehicles have already been through as test audiences, and the feedback has generally been positive.
“It’s somewhere between ‘This is awesome considering what you guys had to work with this year’ ... somewhere between there and ‘this is really on par with where you guys have been,’ ” Bayberry said. “Some people want more interaction and in your face, and we’re kind of inching into how much can we do? How much will the public interact with our actors? And we’re learning every night that we’re out there.”
He has received some negative feedback about the pricing, although he notes that for a group of four, the drive-through experience is less than half the price what the attraction would usually cost at $30 per head.
“If we only charged by the head count, I don’t know how many cars are coming,” he said. “By charging by the car, it allows us to limit how many vehicles are coming and we’re doing timed ticketing so our parking lot will not be overwhelmed.”
For people who haven’t been to Legends of the Fog before, Barberry called it a show for adults and youth 10 and older, but warned it might be best to leave younger children at home.
“I hate to see kids cry and parents forcing their kids through our attractions and their kids are miserable,” he said. “We don’t cross lines of being provocative. We try to keep our gore level to a minimum, we try to keep anything obscene completely out of our show, swearing and those sorts of things. We try to keep things as PG as possible, but also create an intense environment.”