Last weekend, I had the chance to visit one of the Bay Area’s longest running haunts; Pirates of Emerson, located in Pleasanton, California. As we got off the freeway and pulled up to the venue, the Alameda County Fairgrounds, I was a little unsure of what we were getting ourselves into.

We parked in what was basically a dirt lot and began making our way toward the entrance. I was immediately hit with this feeling that we were about to enter a real down-home country haunt with almost a backwoods feeling. As we entered, we were told that our tickets were to be used as punch cards throughout the event. There were six mazes and our tickets permitted us to go through each maze only once, receiving a hole punch on our ticket each time.

I was a little disappointed that our tickets only permitted one visit per maze, and I’m not really sure that I understand the logic behind that system, unless it’s to ensure guests get in and out of the park quickly. Although it makes more sense to me to encourage guests to stay longer, as they tend to spend more money on concessions, souvenirs, and games the longer they stay. However, for those wanting to spend the extra money, there is a VIP upgrade option that allows guests to enter each maze as many times as they’d like. The event did not provide maps, which made learning the layout of the event a little tricky, so before we embarked on our first maze of the night, we made a few laps around the park just to familiarize ourselves with the grounds and the layout. This year, Pirates of Emerson features six unique mazes: FARMAGEDDON, TRICK OR TREAT, BENEATH THE DARKNESS, PIRATES OF EMERSON, THE DARK GAUNTLET, and TERROR-TORIES.

We chose to pursue the mazes in the order they appeared on our tickets, so we began with FARMAGEDDON. We entered to find that we were the only guests making our way through the eerily quiet queue leading up to the entrance and began to think the maze was closed or that we were in the wrong place. Finally, we reached the entrance to find that the maze was in fact functioning and we just happened to be the only ones there. We were then given a quick spiel and were ushered inside. I have to say I am actually really glad we were alone in the maze because it made for an even spookier experience. We were immediately chased by a man with a chainsaw, and I mean reallychased, to the point that we had to run full speed into the next room. It was very dark, which made for a creepy experience, but also made it difficult to really see the haunt’s decor and effects. The one thing that did stand out in this maze though, was a giant animatronic boar that came charging at us in one of the rooms. It felt larger than life and was genuinely terrifying as its eyes lit up and it lunged toward us. We were then chased, yet again, toward the exit and ran out of the maze screaming. This maze was definitely one of the most memorable and it was such a great way to kick off the night as it really got our adrenaline pumping and made me excited to see what else was in-store for us.

We then made our way through TRICK OR TREAT which was a pretty basic take on your typical “haunted house” type maze and after that we found ourselves at BENEATH THE DARKNESS, where we were provided with tiny flashlights to help us make our way through the dark maze. Although I’ve seen this at another haunt this year, I still think it is such a fun and creative concept that really makes for an unsettling atmosphere as we tried navigating the dark, unknown territory, save the minimal light provided by our flashlights.

The next haunt we pursued was the event’s signature maze, PIRATES OF EMERSON, which whisked us away into a spooky, pirate-inhabited town filled with creepy pirates around every corner. These mazes were all a lot of fun, but aside from the central theme of each maze, they were a little hard to differentiate from one another and sort of all ran together, especially without the ability to go through the mazes more than once. However, the next maze we went through stood out as one of my favorites of the night. THE DARK GAUNTLET was a chain-link fence maze (and I mean literally a maze) filled with disorienting lights and a couple of creepy characters who stalked us along our way. We were stuck in this maze for about 25 minutes before we finally found our way out and it was so much fun. There were probably a couple dozen other guests in the maze at the same time and it was so fun to watch everyone try different paths only to find they were still stuck. I felt like we were a bunch of lab-mice trapped together and it was hilarious to see everyone try and figure it out, and also a bit terrifying to find that it actually was very difficult to find the exit. We ended the night with TERROR-TORIES, which featured a really rad “Death Star Mobile” out front and somewhat forgettable spooks inside.

Overall, I really enjoyed our night at Pirates of Emerson and would definitely recommend it as part of your Halloween festivities if you’re in the Bay Area. In addition to the mazes themselves, the event features a performance stage with various acts performing throughout the night, some creep-tastic takes on carnival games such as a ring toss around mannequin parts, a concessions stand, and some really great decorations and spooky art that make for perfect photo-ops. For more information visit www.piratesofemerson.

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