Review: DARK NIGHTS 2 at Hersheypark

It's time for spooky season in Hershey once again...

By: Sep. 21, 2023
Review: DARK NIGHTS 2 at Hersheypark

2023 has just flown by, and we find ourselves immersed in spooky season once again. I was both honored and thrilled to be asked to revisit Hersheypark's Dark Nights and share my thoughts on the second round of this now annual event. I'll be heavily comparing this experience to last year's, so feel free to refer to my previous review of Dark Nights here. Let's dig right in, shall we?

As per usual, we had the first half of the day to enjoy regular park activities. My major complaint unfortunately still stands and continues to be a large source of concern. Well over half of the rides at Hersheypark are still extremely excluding when it comes to guests of size. There is absolutely zero reason for a park to have restraints that are so restrictive of a guest's weight or height that it renders over half of the park's adult rides useless. I did enjoy the rides I was able to utilize, but I'm still incredibly frustrated that as a roller coaster junkie, I and so many others continue to be quietly bullied by purposeful exclusion. If theme parks like Disney and Universal can fit me on all the rides, thrill or not, so could Hershey if they truly cared about their guests. I will say, however, that I really enjoyed the upgrade from Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge to Reese's Cupfusion. I was skeptical of the theming change, yet I found the new storyline to be adorable and the technology to be much smoother.

The food was simply incredible this year and was easily my favorite part of the day. A special character dining experience was held with a buffet style meal. Gone were the strange glowing concoctions of last year (thank goodness). In their place was a delicious array of appetizers, classic autumn comfort foods, and creepily creative desserts. My absolute favorite appetizer was hands down the grilled cheese served with tomato soup in test tubes. It very much reminded me of childhood while making a statement in its presentation. Things like beef brisket, pork chops with a fabulous apple gravy, red skinned mashed potatoes, and classic mac and cheese were super welcome after several hours out and about in the slightly chilly rain. I don't want to ruin some of the surprises you'll find at the dessert table, but let's just say there are some really unique options that are worth experiencing. A couple of desserts were underwhelming from a taste perspective. I personally would skip the brain themed cinnamon rolls entirely, and the icing inside the "brains in a jar" was very oily. Other than that, the desserts were "to die for". The wandering characters were all very on point and delightful to interact with. I definitely recommend adding the RIP dinner buffet to your day of festivities and come with an appetite fit for a zombie!

The logistics of Dark Nights were much more organized and pleasant this year. It was very easy to begin the evening in the back of the park and work front, which is always my personal plan of attack whenever possible. An extra hour was added onto the event this year, which was incredibly appreciated. Between eliminating the backtracking and adding an extra hour, I did not feel rushed to get through all the houses despite having two more houses to walk through. We were also lucky that lines were mostly nonexistent due to the rain, so I would still recommend taking advantage of Fast Track if it's a busy night.

I'm still going to call the scare zones hit or miss with a slight improvement. Midway Of Misery was not as good as it was last year, with very few character sightings and interactions beyond the entrance gate to the zone. Fallout Zone was easily the best themed zone this year, with huge set pieces, great acting, and lots of clear matching ambience. Darkstone's Hollow had more actors this year, but was just as underwhelming as the Midway. I really appreciated the increase in fog within all scare zones this year, as that in turn increased the spookiness factor dramatically. I'm still obsessed with the scented fog, as that takes everything next level. I would really love to see all three scare zones up to the same level as the Fallout Zone for next year.

And last, but certainly not least, were the haunted houses. The concept of each house theme is fabulous but continues to lack when it comes to execution. In fact, this year's elimination of the preshow sequences made most of the houses worse than before. Anybody should be able to walk through these houses without knowing anything about them and understand the attempted story throughout since the creators are pushing the stories so hard in promotions. The people in my party who did not experience last year's preshows had no clue what 4 out of 5 of the houses were really about, which wastes so much potential for next level engagement. An increase in scented fog for each house really eliminated the unfinished set feeling from last year and helped to better conceal security from view. Costuming and makeup continues to be flawless. I'm still having a lot of issues with the actors doing simple jump scares only as opposed to adding something to the story of the house. As a character actress and director myself, this is very bothersome to me.

My favorite house this year? Auntie Mortem's Abattoir, as this house had the clearest plot and most engaging performers. Twisted Carnevil came in at a close second. Despite the missing preshow sequence, the sets in this house continue to inspire me. The Descent was just okay and really lacked any cohesion or clear plot without the preshow, though the ambience was fun to navigate. The Haunted Coal Mine was horrible this year without the preshow, and I didn't even notice encountering any Tommyknockers (which was supposed to be the big upgrade to this house). Creatures Uncaged was by far the worst house with next to no actors, a super unclear plot, and navigation that slipped beyond enjoyable disorientation straight into just being confusing.  The Coal Mine and Uncaged literally felt like the performers forgot that they were supposed to be there.  Both houses were empty and boring.

I continue to see a ton of potential for improvement and am impressed with the good changes from last year. I really feel like it would be beneficial for the creators to address the plot and performer issues before continuing to add more houses or scare zones to the lineup. I cannot wait to see what awaits us next year! You can experience all that Hersheypark's Dark Nights has to offer now through October 29th by visting their website.  Click Here to purchase tickets.

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