“Creatures of the Night” offers nine scare experiences, each of which is targeted at kids of a specific age—from toddlers to preteens—to deliver just the right creepy experience
ZooTampa’s Creatures of the Night is a family friendly Halloween event taking place every Friday and Saturday night from 4 pm to 8 pm through October as well as on Thursday, October 29. New this year are The Realm of the Spider Queen, Camp Creeptastic, Siren’s Song, Dinos Out of Time, Pirate Party Pants, and Clown Carousel. Returning favorites are Rising Waters, Twisted Tales, and Pumpkin Palooza.
According to Alex Crow of ZooTampa, this is essentially a middle-ground haunted event that he hopes will train the next generation of haunt fans. Many of the activities are targeted at kids who are too old for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or SeaWorld’s Spooktacular but too young for Howl-O-Scream or Halloween Horror Nights. Creatures of the Night has something for little ones, middle ones, and preteens, said Alex.
Among the event’s nine experiences, there are several for the little guys. At Pumpkin Palooza, kids take part in a dance party with scarecrows. At the front of the park is Twisted Tales, featuring villains every kid knows from classic fairytales, with The Fairy Godmother standing by to keep the youngsters in line, noted Alex. For the slightly older kids, there’s Clown Carousel, in which the clowns are taking over the popular ride.
Alex says ZooTampa is pushing the limit of what other zoos are doing with family friendly events by trying to be creepy and a little scary. Rising Waters and Dinos Out of Time are part of that effort. The zoo’s Halloween icon is the Spider Queen. Guests travel into her spooky spider cave, see her on the throne, take a photo, and take part in a high-energy dance celebration with her Spider Court.
Because this is ZooTampa, animals are a big part of Creatures of the Night, but Alex’s team planned it to be primarily a haunt event. They wanted to tell a story at each of the experiences, and they put a lot of emphasis on live performers, because those are the people that create memories, he explained. “We want to make sure we have enough characters so everybody in the park can have an experience at some point, and it’s all based on story. We created the whole event around the idea of scary campfire tales, and we’ve taken storytelling to the nth degree by having those stories come to life,” he explained.
When Alex’s team sat down to plan out this year’s Halloween event, they decided if they couldn’t do it right, they shouldn’t do it at all. This was around the time that Disney and Universal canceled their Halloween events for 2020. To do it right meant making sure the event seemed like it was a normal year but to plan for COVID, said Alex. “The event we put together was the event we’d be doing if we didn’t have restrictions, but we redefined the event in light of those restrictions, if that makes sense. Even with all the actors we have, every one of them has been trained to keep six feet away from guests—which can be very difficult when it comes to children who don’t understand why they can’t hug the evil queen,” he pointed out. Alex’s team is making sure not only the guests but the actors feel safe so they can fully concentrate on their performance.
Even though Florida has lifted many of the COVID restrictions and has basically said that theme parks and zoos can go back to normal, ZooTampa has maintained many of the safety guidelines that were previously enforced. All employees have to wear masks, and all cast members have PPE masks built into their costumes. The zoo strongly recommends that guests wear masks in the park, but the zoo is 95% outdoors, so masks are only required when guests go indoors to restaurants or the few other indoor spots around the zoo.
Timed ticketing was implemented for Creatures of the Night to control the number of people at the Halloween event. Entrance is timed in 30-minute increments. At any given time during the four-hour nightly event, there are 200 to 300 people in the park. This allows guests to spread out and spend two to three hours taking part in all the activities. The result is that the park feels spacious, and there are no pinch points.
For information on or make reservations for Creatures of the Night, go to the event page. Tickets range from $24.95 on Fridays up to $29.95 on Saturdays.