Autumn will soon be upon us, and that's great news for travelers. Summer's heat slackens, resorts and roads are less crowded and the cost of travel takes a tumble.
Yet there's still a lot to keep Florida vacationers busy at that time of year. Halloween brings spooky celebrations all over the state, but particularly in the theme parks. Several major events and festivals are on tap, and many hotels and resorts offer special deals in autumn.
Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights will run 23 days this year, four more than in 2006. New this year: Grisly characters from legendary horror films - Jason from "Friday the 13th," Freddy Krueger from "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Leatherface from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
The park also will serve up its usual haunted houses, scare zones, gory ghouls and maniacal mutants - enough spooky stuff to unsettle even the most unflappable guests. Dates are Sept. 28 and 29, Oct. 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 24-28 and Oct. 31-Nov. 3. Nightly admission (or a 13-night Frequent Fear Pass) is $64.95, up $5 from last year. 407-363-8000, www.universalorlando.com.
Also guaranteed to cast a Halloween chill is Busch Gardens' annual Howl-O-Scream. Awaiting guests are six haunted houses, five scare zones and three surreal shows.
The Tampa park's fright fest will run for 16 nights (Oct. 5 and 6, 11-13, 18-21 and 25-28) plus a discounted Freaky Preview Sept. 28-30, $29.95. General admission is $61.95, $51.95 for Florida residents when buying online (also check local businesses for discounts up to $25). 888-800-5447, www.buschgardens.com.
Purposely less frightening is Walt Disney World's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, aimed at younger kids. This year it will take place on 20 nights, the most ever. Dates are Sept. 14, 21, 28 and 30; Oct. 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30 and 31; and Nov. 2. 407-824-4321, www.waltdisneyworld.com. General adult admission, $41.49 in advance, $45.95 at the door.
SeaWorld Orlando's Halloween Spooktacular also presents at a less scary face, with an underwater show and trick-or-treating. Dates are Oct. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 26-28 and 31. 800-327-2424, www.seaworldorlando.com. General adult admission, $64.95; Florida residents pay $53.95 and can come back the next day.
At Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Phobia, Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28 and 31, features haunted houses and scare zones, plus trick-or-treating for younger guests. New at the park since July: Starliner, a historic wooden coaster moved from Panama City. 863-324-2111, www.cypressgardens.com. General adult admission, $44.95.
Fantasy Fest, Key West, Oct. 19-28: This bizarre, raucous fete features freaky characters and such events as a Torso Tapestries contest, There's No Place Like Gnome brunch, Pet Masquerade party, Pimp and Ho Party, costume competitions, street parties and the annual Headdress Ball.
It culminates with 70,000 spectators ogling the sometimes X-rated Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade, a procession of weird floats, dolled-up participants and uninhibited craziness. 305-296-1817, www.fantasyfest.net. Free.
Biketoberfest, Daytona Beach, Oct. 18-21: Some 100,000 motorcycle fans will jam into Daytona Beach for this annual event. Many of them will be cruising around Destination Daytona, a growing complex in Ormond Beach centered around the world's biggest Harley-Davidson dealership, though some events still will focus on Main Street. 866-296-8970, www.biketoberfest.com.