It's officially Fall! October 31 is right around the corner. (Don't believe me? Walk into a CVS!) Halloween is a tricky holiday to celebrate with toddlers. You want to indulge in the spooky spirit, but you don't really want them to eat tons of candy or get exposed to morbid and scary stuff. What's an enthusiastic ghoul-loving parent to do?
Yes, for parents of toddlers Halloween is all about pumpkins. Picking them, drawing on them, perhaps even carving them. And one of the best pumpkin-themed activities in our area is the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. Buzz for this event starts early, as tickets go on sale the day after Labor Day, and peak times quickly sell out.
Lots of parents worry that it will be too cold, too dark, too late at night, too much walking, too crowded, or worst of all, too scary! We've been a few times with young ones in tow. Read on for the lowdown on what to expect.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GREAT JACK O'LANTERN BLAZE: INFANT & TODDLER EDITION
When To Go
The Blaze runs from late September to after Thanksgiving. Most spectators are interested in going before Halloween, when pumpkin mania is at its peak. With little kids, there are more concerns than just "Is it cool to go now?" Since this is an all-outdoor event that's best viewed after sunset, you'll want to go earlier in the year before the temperatures drop, but you also don't want to have to wait until after bedtime for it to get dark enough to enjoy.
We like to go toward the end of October when it's not yet freezing (Halloween can sometimes be short-sleeves weather!), but it's close enough to Daylight Savings Time that it will be dark at the first time slot of 6:30pm.
Insider tip: If you aren't planning to Trick Or Treat, or you're going to be done early, the Blaze is open on Halloween and it's one of the few nights that don't get sold out quickly.
What About Bedtime?
If you're going with small kids, make peace with the fact that they'll be up past their bedtime. You can make it easy on yourself by dressing them in pajamas or bringing some in the car to change into before they go back in their car seats. If missing bedtime is a deal-breaker, make reservations in late November for the 5pm first showing.
Potties and Diaper Changes
There are only porta-potties available, so bring hand sanitizer and plan for diaper changes in the car.
How Long Will It Take? And What About Crowds?
It takes a little less than an hour to walk through, 30 minutes if you're in a hurry and 60 minutes if you take in every...last...detail. The Blaze is very linear. It's a long walk from one part of the property to another and then back in a V. Because of this, it doesn't feel crowded because you are continuously moving with your family and friends, and you always have a great view of the pumpkin exhibits that are set up on either side of the walking path.
That said, there are two bottlenecks on the walking path that can get crammed. At the first one, traffic is created when the path narrows and the crowd has to condense, and the second hard-to-navigate section is toward the end when the exhibit opens up in front of Van Cortlandt Manor and there are things to see in all directions. Since it's so visually exciting right there, people tend to linger and it gets more congested.
The exhibit is one-way. Once you start walking through, you won't be able to backtrack easily, so don't rush by exhibits thinking you'll go around twice. Go slowly and enjoy it all as you see it the first time.
Can I Bring a Stroller? Can My Kid Walk?
If you can comfortably wear your child for the hour, that's the best bet. If not, a jogging stroller or one with good wheels will help you navigate the uneven dirt paths. But we've brought a dinky stroller before and got through with minimal issues, so it's up to you. Unless your kid can walk for an hour without tiring, isn't intimated by the dark and strangers, and can be trusted not to walk away from you or go into the pumpkin exhibits, strapped in a stroller or on your back is the best bet. The higher up they are, the better the view for them, anyway.
Is It Scary?
While some parts are spooky, this event is not scary. There are no ghastly, horrific, or deathly exhibits. There are no surprises, nothing jumps out and the music is not scary. There are a few setups like skeletons, scarecrows, and giants spiders that might freak out the most timid of attendees, but the medium of brightly colored and lit carved pumpkins takes the creepiness out of the subject matter. Most of the exhibits are just plain cool: A tunnel you can walk through, a replica of the Tappan Zee Bridge, a circus train, dinosaur statues. It's more like a pumpkin museum than a haunted house.
Are All Those Pumpkins Real??
In short: no. Many of them are reusable pumpkin replicas, but each pumpkin, real or fake, is carved by hand, so admire the workmanship more than the materials. That said, more than 10,000 live pumpkins are carved for the Blaze, but they aren't all set out at one time because the older pumpkins need to be replaced with fresh ones as the show goes on. When you walk through you'll be viewing more than 7,000 real and fake pumpkins on site. Because of that, the Blaze is somewhat similar from year to year, but there's always something new, so people love to come back again and again to see what's changed and what's new for this Halloween.
Is There Stuff To Eat/Drink/Buy?
When you first walk in there's a gift shop area with lots of fun Halloween-themed books, toys, and home decor as well as official Blaze souvenirs and light-up trinkets for the walk. You'll probably get sucked into buying a little something for the kiddo. We recommend not buying the toy pictured above, unless you like being annoyed for hours on end.
There's a Cafe Blaze serving snacks and beverages. It's not the kind of event you walk around with a beer, though. There is no food or drink allowed along the route.
What's The Verdict?
For us, it's a must-see at least once. You can go when the kids are any age, but the sweet spot is before age 1-2 (when they'll enjoy the lights and colors, but it's more for you) or past 4-5 years old (when they can handle the late bedtime combined with hyperstimulation and the limited control of a crowded space and not throw a tantrum.) Keep in mind all tickets are rain or shine, though we've heard if it's truly a monsoon, they'll issue a refund. Parking is free and right outside the event, especially if you come for one of the earliest time slots.
That's it for this week! I hope this answered all your questions. Let me know if you have any others.
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See you next time!