ZombieFest: Celebrating Halloween in Downtown Lakeland, Florida

Lisa Fritscher October 8, 2014 No Comments

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ZombieFest Costume Contest

The costume contest drew a wide range of both zombies and zombie hunters.

I was raised in the sleepy small town of Lakeland, Florida, about halfway between Tampa and Orlando. When I left for New Orleans in 2001, Lakeland was growing rapidly, but it still maintained its small town feel. Conservative and quiet, Lakeland seemed to enjoy being quaint. So imagine my surprise when I returned to discover that Lakeland has gotten cool! Started in 2012, ZombieFest is the face of the newer, hipper Lakeland.

About ZombieFest
Lakeland has long been known for its downtown community events. SnowFest, Mayfaire by the Lake and the annual Christmas parade have always drawn the city together. ZombieFest is the natural marriage of Lakeland’s historical civic pride and its 21st century facelift.

Like most Lakeland community events, ZombieFest takes place throughout the downtown corridor surrounding Munn Park. For 2014, there are three designated scare zones, or walkthrough outdoor haunts. Live performances take place throughout the day on the main stage. Visitors are encouraged to dress the part, and the costume contest and zombie walk are open to those of all ages. A car show, approximately 50 vendors, and a designated kids’ zone with games and play areas are also available. Most of the shops, restaurants and bars throughout downtown are open.

Dr. Paul Bearer

Local celebrity Dr. Paul Bearer was on hand for the festivities.

ZombieFest is always held on the second Saturday in October. For 2014, the hours are 3 till 10 p.m. Basic admission is free, although many activities cost a few dollars. For example, the scare zones cost $3 to $5 each. Bring cash, as most vendors and activity leaders are not set up to handle cards.

You can purchase a wristband for $10, which includes admission to two scare zones and special discounts at a variety of Lakeland restaurants, bars and attractions. Some discounts are available only during ZombieFest, while others are offered through the end of October.

Our Experience
Dad and I attended in 2012 with my cousin and his daughter, who was 10 at the time. She is very skittish about Halloween, haunted houses and anything frightening. She dressed in costume and had me put zombie makeup on her. She was a bit hesitant when we first arrived, as the streets were crawling with zombies, but she relaxed when she realized that they were not actively trying to scare her. Eventually, she was able to comment on different people’s costumes and makeup, taking a more “technical theater” view of the experience.

Thriller

The reimagining of Michael Jackson’s Thriller was incredible.

We spent several hours wandering the streets, watching the main stage shows, eating and shopping. We were all highly impressed by the quality of merchandise for sale, and my cousin really enjoyed the kids’ area. Her father left around 8 p.m., and Dad and I offered to drive her home later if she wanted to stay. She agreed, and we caught some more entertainment.

Near the end of the night, my cousin decided she wanted to try a scare zone. We stood in a very long line (close to an hour), and she spent the time going back and forth on whether she really wanted to go through. The people in line around us were very friendly, and they gave her pep talks to help work up her courage. She finally decided to do it, and we paid our money to enter. As we were about to go inside, my cousin was startled by a pop-up prop at the entrance. Her bravery gave out, and we had to leave. Nonetheless, she was glad she went, and she said she really enjoyed the rest of the event.

Tips for Parents
The majority of ZombieFest is great fun for all ages. Although a good portion of the crowd is dressed as zombies, they are just hanging out enjoying the event rather than trying to scare anyone. The main stage shows are excellent, and the vendors have some truly unique craft items. Although it draws more than 20,000 visitors, the event retains a small community feel.

Professional Masks

Many of the vendors had professional-quality masks and props for sale.

As for the scare zones, only you know what your child can handle. While watching the crowd, we realized that every child truly is different. Several kids who looked no older than 5 or 6 went through the scare zones more than once and came out laughing each time. Others who appeared to be teenagers intentionally crossed the street to avoid the scare zones. There is no magic age at which all kids are ready to be scared.

Munn Park is a designated “safe zone.” ZombieFest participant zombies are not allowed to roam the park. While they cannot prevent visitors dressed as zombies from using the park, they are encouraged to be as friendly and nonthreatening as possible. In our experience, it seems that everyone works together to keep the park scare-free.

If you or your kids want to dress up but are unsure how to do your makeup, artists are on hand to help for a nominal fee. Their work is excellent and their prices are reasonable. You can choose a truly gory look or something a bit more restrained—just tell the makeup artist what you have in mind.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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