Monday, October 28, 2013

Ascarium and Haunted Walk...the Good and the Bad

Yes, it's that spooky time of year again.

Lina once again enjoyed the Ascarium at the New York Aquarium. We went last year and the year prior, but they have different performances and decorations each year that strike a balance between celebrating sea life and Halloween. Grandma and uncle joined us and experienced the magical silliness of the Wizard of the Waters Academy, lessons served up with "evil stew" at The Sea Witch Spooky Show and rockin' catchy tunes of the Dream Jam Band (Lina had a blast dancing to their sweet song "Look Around").

At the end of our visit, we went to the gift shop...where Lina quickly chose a stuffed great white shark and a couple of other soft creatures to add to her collection.

Our weekend was quite busy, since we also went to Prospect Park for the Halloween Haunted Walk, like we did last year. Sadly, we will not return next year. We waited one hour on line and then the volunteers rushed everyone through it all so quickly, you could barely interact with the costumed characters or take snapshots. The young female guide at the back of the group was extremely rude...yelling at people to put down their cameras...telling us we should just take a picture at the end of the tour (though no spooky characters for photo ops at the end, just a nature girl and some pumpkins). The woman leading our group was extremely sweet, but still must have been directed by whoever trained the volunteers that they had to rush through it all...speaking as fast as possible and encouraging people to move on after a few seconds at each station. Last year they allowed the group to watch a brief "show" at each station, so everyone had plenty of time to snap a reaction or two from the kids. We also waited half the time on line last year, thirty minutes, but it would have been worth it to spend an hour or more on line for that wonderful experience.

Perhaps they were overwhelmed with a huge line this year. So many web sites promote the same free activities in NYC. I guess people spend so much money on insane rents here that they can't afford to do anything. (Another reason to move!) But they can make some simple rules I think to try to cut down on the ridiculous line. For example, I really don't think this experience was appropriate for toddlers or infants, yet there were so many people with strollers on the line. On the trail, the tots being held (or barely walking along while holding hands) looked unhappy, confused, scared (some were crying) or sleepy.

Just adding a small required fee, like $5 per person, would also cut down on the line. I used to hunt for free activities in NYC, but last year I finally realized it's just not worth the long lines, with people coming from all over the city, cutting in line in front of us, cramming into very crowded spaces and not supervising wildly misbehaving kids. I'd rather pay for monthly or annual memberships, not wait on long lines (or have to show up super early) and be surrounded by folks who are part of a committed community, in terms of dedication to various interests.

The photos below show the awesome volunteers we encountered at the Halloween Haunted Walk. Though my daughter's momentary ear pain was all she remembered about the event; she told everyone the rest of the weekend that she couldn't understand why "dead people" want to make ears hurt. Whoever was in charge of training volunteers this year obviously equates "scary" with loud yelling...directly into people's ears, like one or two inches away...because so many of the volunteers were doing that this year. Last year we were (pretend) running away from zombies who looked scary, it was fantastic fun...this year, they were terrifying to us because we didn't want ear damage. Thank you to the volunteers below, you were the silver lining to an otherwise disappointing activity:

Lina had a wolf around her neck because she was a "wilderness girl."

After the free Halloween Walk, we did not attempt to wait on another ridiculously long line nearby to attend the free carnival...instead, we took a walk up Prospect Park Southwest, while Lina played her harmonica (thankfully she could still hear the music).

We saw beautiful decorations in the Park Slope neighborhood as we made our way down to 7th Avenue.

Then we indulged in some rare junk food (but we walked three solid miles that afternoon). Lina never wants burgers (of any sort) and I enjoy a burger like once a month max. I took Lina to Cheeburger Cheeburger for the first time. She was willing to eat mini hot dogs sliced up with a few fries dipped in ketchup and she drank her first ever small vanilla milkshake (very nicely made, I hear). The onion rings were outstanding and the brewed iced tea was thankfully not sweet. I couldn't understand why I read reviews by a couple of customers that the meals for adults and kids were not big enough! We ordered the smallest sizes possible (they have some gigantic sizes, I have no idea who is able to eat those and why they would want to) and still we left half-eaten meals at the table. The staff were supremely nice to us...allowing me to choose a quiet area for our table. They certainly please the kids by serving their meals in a cute paper car.