By: Jaimz Dillman & Johnnie Maier III
In a rural area of Orlando, lies a stretch of land rumored to have heightened spirit activity. This also happens to be the location for THE HAUNTED ROAD. Created in 2020, during heightened safety measures due to COVID, this drive-through experience aimed to give thrill seekers scares from a distance.
Last year’s opening was, at best, not optimal, with an abrupt cancelling of opening night due to a burst pipe, long waits for entry, and loads of complaints, with people wanting refunds. You would hope the owners/creators would learn and grow for this year. Unfortunately, as we experienced media night, not a lot has changed.
Although check-in was smooth for us, I had to wonder how the line will be once open to the public. You are given an arrival time when you purchase your tickets, so that should stagger attendance. Priced per attendee, ticket cost depends on time of entry, with a midnight special offer. Also, a gift shop/snack bar is right at the entrance while you’re in line, but we drove past it to get to the entrance, so that was confusing.
The pros: Our welcome from Farmer Dave via handheld radio was very self aware, and set up what we had hoped would be more tongue-in-cheek horror humor. (There’s supposed to be an interactive start to the drive, but it didn’t work for us.) Radio stations, when working, played ominous music, and recorded screams and vocals for the actor’s scenes. That set a really eerie tone, making you wonder what was coming for you, and from where. The cast, when we could see them, were really putting themselves into the roles they were given. The Barn: After the drive-though, you’re welcomed to the barn area, with Tanner BBQ for sale, The Ol’ Waterin’ Hole, and the Haunt Market with themed wares. This is also where the Abandoned Butcher Barn walk-though experience happens. More on that later. Additional entertainment: A fire performer and pole dancer alternated between walking on glass and LED hula-hooping for folks outside eating ribs or waiting in line at the Abandoned Butcher Barn. Bonus: Part of proceeds from THE HAUNTED ROAD benefit Children’s Make-a-Wish.
Now for the “areas of opportunity”: It’s dark y’all. Like, hella dark - country road dark. A little lighting goes a long way. Yes, it keeps things scary, but there’s loads of safety issues here, too - including the walk for guests against parking cars and exiting traffic, through ankle-high thick grass to get to the other amenities. Once inside, there was very little direction on what to do, or where to go next. One scene we were directed to didn’t have the projection effect working. When we told the attendant waving us to the next stop, the answer we got was, “Yeah, we know.” So… why even send guests to an area when you know they won’t get to see that part of the show?
We also seemed to roll right through a scene that wasn’t completed, and the radio stations didn’t match up with the rest of the drive. We sat through a good five minutes of static, and nothing happening around us. The ending was where we saw the most scareactors, but even then, the timing was off. Had it not been for our windows being down, and hearing one of the actors say, “They’re missing the show,” we wouldn’t have even stopped to see it, as we were following the line ahead of us.
Once at the barn, we found only port-o-potties available, so go before you get there, if you’re not a fan. The walk-through experience was definitely the standout of the night. The outside attendant did an impressive job of setting up what we would encounter within the barn. All in all, it may have been five minutes, with a wait time of 20. They did a really good job of separating you from reality, and engaging the suspension of disbelief to make the experience work. You weren’t sure if the story that you were being told about the land was true. That also heightened the overall atmosphere inside, which actually did frighten several of the people in the group. (I was not one of the frightened people.)
In an area with such high standards and expectations of haunts, you’ve really got to present your A-game. If it had been a stand-alone attraction in a town with no comparison, then maybe you could get away with some of the faults. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Central Florida - (which offers haunts like Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, Scream-A-Geddon, and more) - and not the case with THE HAUNTED ROAD.
THE HAUNTED ROAD runs through November 7, 2021.