Hayrides and Hauntings: At What Age Does Scary Become Fun?

Spooky fun for all ages. Well, most ages...

Last summer, my son and I chickened out of visiting Ripley’s Haunted Adventure at the very last minute. We had already bought the tickets, ridden up the rickety elevator to the entrance, and were being read a list of rules by a convincingly attired mutant zombie/Ripley’s employee.

Apparently, the live actors inside could touch us, but we weren’t allowed to touch them, and once we entered a room we were not allowed to turn back. Anyone wishing to bail had to do so now. I could see the fear in Luke’s little face (at the time, he was 7) and felt a little claustrophobic myself in that dark, cramped hallway, so we hightailed it to the emergency exit.

Which left me wondering: at what age can kids handle a good scare?

Recently, I had a chance to find out. It was my goddaughter Amelia’s birthday, and we were celebrating with a hayride and pumpkin picking at Bayshore Greenhouse and Farm in Holmdel. It’s something my best friend Marisa and I do with our kids every Fall anyway, but the chance to cross off two holidays for the price of one this year was irresistible. After all, Amelia was turning 2, so it’s not like she’d know the difference.

When we walked up to Bayshore with our six children, ranging in age from 8 down to the baby, the tractor driver sized us up and said, “Are you going on the Friendly Hayride?”

Marisa hesitated, then told him, “No. We’re doing the Haunted Hayride.”

During Halloween season, Bayshore offers both. The tractor driver looked incredulously at the little kids, raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you sure?”

Marisa turned to me and said she thought we did the haunted one last year, and the kids all loved it. After all, it was just a few teenagers dressed in monster costumes. Nothing scary at all.

Actually, I sort of remembered Princesses and Elmo, but I didn’t correct her because this was her gig, and deep down, I wanted to go on the Haunted Hayride. I thought maybe my kids were ready for it. Plus I’m so bored of the same old tame fun and Disney characters.

We went inside to buy tickets and the cashier said, “That’s eight for the Friendly Hayride?”

Marisa corrected her. “No, the haunted one.” The cashier raised an eyebrow too.

Then the manager walked past. “You’re bringing them on the Haunted Hayride?”

We nodded. The manager laughed skeptically and said, “I’m calling DYFS.”

God. What was up with these people? How bad could it be? It wasn’t even dark out.

We boarded the tractor, full of excitement, and rode off into the woods. There was a trail full of spooky signs and decorations, same as last year. Then we passed an old fridge. Ooh, would a monster pop out? Nope. No biggie.

Then we approached an abandoned shed. Suddenly we heard a chainsaw rev up. Immediately, Amelia started crying, and so did her 4 year-old sister Lila. We hadn’t even seen anything remotely frightening. Yet. Then the shed door swung open and a chainsaw-wielding serial killer popped out and jumped onto the tractor, waving his noisy instrument of death in our faces. Now Jack, age 5, started whimpering too while his twin sister clung to me for dear life.

Next, an evil clown climbed on board, laughing maniacally, followed by a werewolf and a skeleton bride.

No, this was clearly not the same hayride as last year. Amelia and Lila screamed for the rest of the ride, and quite possibly may be scarred for life. The twins calmed down enough to almost have fun, and if their buddy Aiden, nearly 6, was scared, he never showed it.

Luke, now 8, absolutely loved it, and we Moms were laughing like idiots. Probably because we were idiots thinking the little ones could handle the haunting. Wait 'til Amelia grows up and we tell her all about what we did for her 2nd birthday!  Her therapist will have a field day.

I guess FrightFest is out of the question?

This past weekend, Terror on the Boardwalk opened in Wildwood, and I went with my galpal Melanie, this time to celebrate my birthday.  We wisely opted to leave the youngsters home. (It’s not recommended for kids under 8 anyway).

A haunted corn maze on the beach, evil clowns, and a zombie ghost ship were a few of the highlights. And yes, like at Ripley’s, the live actors can touch you but you can’t touch back. But this time, I didn’t chicken out. I did have a few scares, like when someone grabbed my leg in the dark. But at my age, I’m finally old enough to enjoy that sort of thing.



Bayshore Greenhouse and Garden Supplies696 N Beers St, Holmdel, NJ; 732-739-4243; Friendly and Haunted Hayrides $3 pp; Corn Maze $2pp, Pumpkin Picking, Inflatables

Terror on the Boardwalk: Morey’s Pier, Schellenger and the Boardwalk in Wildwood; For the first time ever, Halloween ghouls have transformed Mariner’s landing into a pier of fear. Ride your favorite attractions in the dark with scary music and décor, and walk through special Halloween-only experiences. But beware of the wandering monsters! Friday and Saturday nights through Oct. 29. $25 pp.


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