Goodbye Summer, hello Fall! Autumn is a great time to be a kid. There are school milestones, apple picking, leaf crunching, and the sweetest holiday: Halloween! Halloween is tricky to celebrate with toddlers. You want to indulge in the spooky spirit, but you don't really want them to eat candy or get exposed to scary stuff. So what do we well-meaning parents 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 Westchester 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 at Croton-on-Hudson’s Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze.
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 want to go before Halloween, when pumpkin mania is at its peak. But with little kids, there are more concerns than just "Is it on trend to go right now?"
Since this is an outdoor event that's best viewed in the dark, you'll want to go before it gets too cold at night, but you’ll also want the sun to set early enough that you don’t have to eat into bedtime to enjoy the exhibition.
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 (November 3 this year) 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 first showing at 5pm.
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 linear. You’ll walk down a path from one part of the property to another and then back in a V. Though thousands of spectators are on the property at once, it doesn’t feel so 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 exhibits in all directions. Since it's so visually exciting, 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 past the show thinking you'll go around twice. Go slowly and enjoy!
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, keeping them strapped in a stroller or in a carrier 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 since they are all constructed out of brightly colored and lit carved pumpkins, it never gets that creepy. Most of the exhibits are just plain cool: A pumpkin tunnel you can walk through, a replica of our local 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 spectators come back each year to see the most recent updates.
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 your child. (We recommend not buying the toy pictured above, unless you like being annoyed for hours.)
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 2 (when they'll enjoy the lights and colors, but it's more for you) or past 5 years old (when they can handle the late bedtime combined with hyperstimulation and the crowds.) 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. Don’t forget tickets go on sale September 3 and sell out quickly. Click here for more info.
Don't miss the free Hoff-Barthelson Music School Early Childhood open house on Friday, September 6 from 10 to 11:30 am. You’ll be able to visit the campus, meet instructors, and attend a demo class.
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See you next time!