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Pirates of Emerson Haunted Theme Park
Alameda County Fairgrounds, Bernal Ave. and Valley Ave., Pleasanton
Reviewed 10/05/14 by Hauntmistress
Looking for a spooky way to spend a couple of hours? Then head over to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton and visit the bloodthirsty Pirates of Emerson. We did just that on Oct. 5th and had a blast!
Taking up a sizable portion of the fairground's western parking lot, the Pirates of Emerson Haunted Theme Park forms a wonderfully macabre compound with haunts and attractions around the perimeter and a variety of entertainment in the center.
There are six main attractions (four traditional haunted houses and two dark attractions) to keep you busy and frightened. The haunted houses are The Attic, Buried Alive, Pirates of Emerson, and Virus. The two dark attractions are Mental Maze and Wild Woods.
We hit the four haunted houses first, starting our adventure in Buried Alive. It has a unique and fun beginning that makes you understand that you have been, well, buried alive. I was given a rope that I and my companion were told to hold onto so we didn't end up losing each other in the darkness of the haunt. It's a clever idea. Scaredy-cats (such as myself) hold on to the rope for dear life and the braver members of your group can tug on the rope to slow you down or in my case turn you around to have the actors get in another scare or two!
We also received a small light to help guide our way. Or so I thought. The light, another clever idea, alerts the evil waiting underground to your presence making you an easy target while slightly dulling your night vision to make startles and scares have even more impact.
Buried Alive had a nice dark, nearly pitch black in fact, and gloomy atmosphere, committed actors, and great pacing. This isn't a haunt to run through, rather to take your time and savor. Allow the darkness to envelope you and you'll be rewarded with some very welcome scares.
Next, we made our way to The Attic. It lived up to its name. It reminded me of sneaking in to my grandmother's attic; full of a lifetime of old Christmas and holiday decorations, racks of vintage clothing, a plethora of old and broken toys seemingly going back generations. Whereas I always thought my grandmother's attic was creepy and a little scary I knew I was safe up there. The Attic, not so much. One thing my grandma's attic certainly didn't have was all these scary clowns trying to attack me!
The Pirates of Emerson
After making our way out we next ventured into the titular haunt, the one that started it all, Pirates of Emerson. As usual, it transported us onto a haunted shipwreck amidst a raging storm, complete with thunder, lightning, the smell of stagnant water and a humid atmosphere. Surrounded by the dead, dying, and damned crew of this forsaken ship you make your way through the wreckage of the ship and the swamp it's sinking into while trying not to fall victim to the murderous pirates calling for your blood.
While we did, and always do, enjoy this haunt it did seem a little overshadowed by the other haunts we visited this night which have really stepped it up to another level. There were some standouts though. The pirates in the brig were particularly energetic and really sold their characters to the point I thought they might injure themselves. That's giving it your all!
I wasn't anxious to enter Virus, given the daily news about Ebola, but I was brave and went in anyway. I’m so glad I did because this was our favorite haunt of the night. From the very beginning we knew we were in for something special. The "lady" who took our tickets was simply outstanding as a zombified undead nurse. Makeup, character development, acting, all top notch and creepy beyond expectation. I'm still smiling thinking about her. While we were waiting to enter, other groups stood in line simply to take her photo. That's haunt love!
We weren't let down inside either. The actors of this haunt were each trying to outdo each other; time and again we had our senses and emotions assaulted by their wonderful menagerie of the sick, twisted, and horrific. The doctors here are NOT to be trusted and we loved the enthusiasm of the mental patients attacking their cages with bedpans, screaming for help and blood.
The haunt runs both inside and out. The inside portion is the longer and more traditional haunted house while the outside is shorter and consists of a simple maze. A welcome cool-down after the intensity of the inside.
You will love "getting infected" at Virus!
The fifth of the six attractions we visited was the Mental Maze. In previous incarnations this was the Bilge Rat Maze. As before it's a maze made of chain-link fences, lit with strobe lights, and bathed in fog. This visit they appear to have less strobe and more fog so it's less likely to give me a seizure but it's still quite tricky to find your way through. The fog and strobe often obscure the fencing and I hate to say it but it was really funny to watch another young woman walk full speed into the fence and bounce back only to have her boyfriend walk into the exact same spot with the same result. It's OK though, they were fine.
Lastly, we made our way to the Wild Woods. This reminded me of a cool down after a hard work out (the work out in this case being the five other attractions!). It was a dark, oddly pretty, short outdoor walk through a Fall forest at night that featured a little scare with a big noise.
If you attend on Sunday you can go through each haunt twice. This gives you the opportunity to really look around each haunt and see the “decorations” you may have missed in your desire to flee the scares. On a less crowded night like ours it also had the added benefit of the actors being able to remember us and give us "special" attention. They really seemed to enjoy repeaters.
The cost for the six attractions is $25, but scattered throughout the compound are other mini-attractions, some of which require the purchase of Monions, the coin of the realm. Monions are used for re-entry into haunts (if you don’t come in Sunday), games, and other activities, such as Boneball (eight rounds of miniature golf), a misfortune teller, Frightmare Sideshow, and Emerson’s Oddities. These are all optional additions to round out your experience.
You'll want to look out for the small shack located roughly between the aptly named Poop Deck and Buried Alive. I won't say more but it was a highlight of the night for many visitors.
Don’t miss the nightly entertainment taking place on the large pirate ship. We watched a couple of wenches put on a mesmerizing cloak and sword dance. You can also take a rest at the Seadog Cinema, and purchase delicious food. There are good photo opps throughout the compound.
All in all, we had a very scary and fun time this year at Pirates of Emerson. As usual!
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