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Premium maze at Knott's Berry Farm to offer more boos for bucks

This Halloween season, the theme park will introduce an exclusive attraction called Trapped for small groups willing to pay extra.

August 04, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Universal Studios Hollywood has no plans to charge extra for any of its mazes in its upcoming Halloween Horror Nights, but it does offer VIP tours. Above, a scene from the park?s 2010 attraction.
Universal Studios Hollywood has no plans to charge extra for any of its mazes… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

You can make reservations for an exclusive restaurant. And come this Halloween season you'll be able to make reservations for an exclusive scare.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park — the theme park that 40 years ago introduced visitors to the now hugely popular Halloween mazes teeming with ghouls and monsters — will offer a premium maze for small groups apart from the crowds.

Access to the exclusive maze, starting Sept. 21, will come with an extra charge. It will cost $60 for a group of up to six people, on top of admission to the park, which runs from $36 to $60 per person.

It's one of the latest efforts to generate more revenue from what is already a lucrative holiday for theme parks. Nationwide, more than 300 amusement parks operate Halloween attractions such as mazes and "scare zones," generating $150 million to $200 million in revenue annually, according the Haunted House Assn., a national trade group for "professional haunted house owners and operators."

"We are seeing that it's been a trend that has been going on for about five years," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based consultant to the industry. "If something is a little more special, they are going to be looking to wrangle an extra dollar out of it."

At Knott's Berry Farm, the premium maze is dubbed Trapped because visitors are led into closed-off sections and then challenged to find a way out. The $60 premium charge buys about 25 minutes in the maze.

Knott's Berry Farm spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey declined to give more details about what's inside the attraction.

It's not the first premium maze. Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Fla., unveiled a similar Halloween attraction in 2010 that can be reserved for as many as four visitors at a time for a separate charge of $40 per session. The reservation-only maze has become a regular feature at the park for the holiday and has sold out for the last two years, park officials said.

"We wanted to create something that guests can experience either alone or with a few other people," said Scott Swenson, director of creative services for Busch Gardens.

The experience is so frightening, he said, that park visitors are given a safe word to shout to exit the maze early.

"Every night that we have done this in the past, the safe word has been used multiple times," Swenson said.

Universal Studios Hollywood, which this year recruited the creative team behind the AMC TV series "The Walking Dead" to create a zombie-themed maze, has no plans to charge extra for any of its mazes in its upcoming Halloween Horror Nights.

But the theme park last year introduced VIP tours for Halloween that included a private escort, exclusive access to back-lot sets and front-of-the-line privileges to all mazes and shows.

The cost: about $190 per person. Celebrities including Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber booked the tours last year, park officials said.

As many as 14 people can join the private tours, which will be offered again this year, starting in late September.

The exclusive attractions don't sit well with some theme park die-hards, especially because the Trapped maze at Knott's Berry Farm will replace one that was open to all park-goers last year. Larry Kirchner, the founder of Halloween event website hauntworld.com, said this would cause longer lines at the nonexclusive mazes.

"It sounds to me like they are trying to cater to rich people," Kirchner said.

Blazey, the Knott's Berry Farm spokeswoman, dismissed the criticism, saying park visitors will have plenty of other things to do this Halloween, including 12 mazes, nine shows and four "scare zones."

"Every night, there is still all that entertainment to choose from," Blazey said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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