Theme parks ready for fall

The Baltimore Sun

Imagine being grand marshal in a Walt Disney World parade. Or getting the royal treatment at Walt Disney World, including staying overnight in a royal bedchamber in Cinderella's Castle.

It's no childish reverie. Starting Oct. 1, Disney will make a lot of dreams come true with its "Year of a Million Dreams" celebration.

Altogether, a million dreams - some small, some large - will be awarded during the year to randomly chosen guests. A few will be experiences that money can't buy, such as the stay in Cinderella's Castle or a trip around the world to lead a parade in every Disney resort. Most, of course, will be more modest.

The promotion is one of a number of features in Florida that will tempt travelers this fall. One of the biggest autumn draws is Halloween celebrations. Theme parks produce major blowouts, but there are many less-elaborate ones all over the state. So popular have these spooky sojourns become that some Halloween celebrations start in September.

Biggest of all Halloween doings takes place at Universal Orlando, which devotes 19 nights next month to gory goings-on.

This year, the theme park has constructed new haunted houses and designed a "Sweet 16" party gone ghoulish. Tickets for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, which start Sept. 29 and run on selected nights through Oct. 31, cost $59.95.

On Florida's west coast, Busch Gardens is readying its seventh year of fiendish fun. Howl-O-Scream runs for 15 nights next month at the Tampa theme park, plus a Freaky Preview Sept. 29 and 30. Admission is $57.95.

Walt Disney World has put aside 18 nights for its less-intense Halloween event, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Aimed at younger children, the event includes trick-or-treating, parades and costume fun. Tickets are $42.95; the party is held at the Magic Kingdom on selected evenings Friday-Oct. 31.

But Halloween is hardly the only reason to head for Florida this fall. Hotel and resort prices are at their lowest in this slack season, deals are plentiful, and tourist sites and theme parks are blessedly uncrowded.

There's plenty to do that doesn't involve Halloween.

Key West mounts its seriously outrageous Fantasy Fest on Oct. 20-29. The fete mixes masquerade balls, quirky costumes and a street fair with a "Key Weird on the Dis-Oriented Express" theme. The festival finishes with the sometimes-X-rated Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest parade, featuring outlandish floats and extravagant (and sometimes barely existent) costumes.

At the theme parks, Universal's Islands of Adventure's new High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride glides its way through seven specially created Dr. Seuss scenes.

Walt Disney World has retooled its Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to add characters and features from the recent Curse of the Black Pearl movie. Also coming this fall are two new attractions - a musical stage show and an undersea ride - based on the Finding Nemo movie.

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