I love to take a walk through a park in autumn as the crisp air swirls the tumbling leaves and the squirrel skitter around with their cheeks stuffed full of acorns. The Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island offers over 500 acres of rolling landscape and ponds to take in a fall day. The Park is also home to the Roger Williams Park Zoo, Carousel Village and Museum of Natural History and Planetarium. A couple of seasonal activities may convince guests to stick around until after dark.
The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Park Zoo has become a Halloween tradition. A winding path through the zoo showcases over 5,000 carved and illuminated pumpkins, from the smallest with detailed, smiling faces to the large prize winners that are turned into works of art. The theme for the display is American Treasures highlighting specific times of history and culture as depicted on US postage stamps. Throughout the trail, guests will hear music specially selected to highlight the carvings. For example, tribal music is played within the area of endangered animal carvings and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is played throughout Johnny’s Garden.
Guests are allowed entrance into Zoo a short time before the trail opens and are free to purchase food and beverages, including beer and wine while waiting in line for the Spectacular. The trail officially opens at dusk and while the intricate carvings are best viewed in the dark, there is a special appreciation for the Spectacular when you can see the complex workings of the entire display just before dark.
The event is so popular the lines are often very long prompting the addition of a second food and beverage station deeper within the Zoo and education docents introducing small animals to the waiting crowds. Smaller crowds attend Monday through Thursday and the few days just after Halloween. The trail is open rain or shine and while tickets are non-refundable, in climate weather might also lessen the crowd. Guests wishing to visit during the weekends may purchase timed-entry tickets available on-line only. Similar to Disney’s FASTPASS system, guests will enter from a second line at a specific time.
A special overnight experience allows families to receive VIP access to the Spectacular and engage in activities like animal encounters and owl pellet dissection. Guests will climb into sleeping bags to snooze and awaken with the animals in time for breakfast and an early morning tour of the zoo.
For a more grown-up experience, guests 21 and over can participate in a pumpkin carving workshop led by John Reckner, a master pumpkin carver and founder of the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. Participants will learn intricate carving techniques using the tools, template and pumpkins provided. Following the workshop guests can share a buffet dinner including beer and wine. With your carving in hand, enjoy VIP access to the Spectacular with what I am sure will be a newfound appreciation for the craft.
The Carousel Village is within walking distance of the Zoo and is a popular family destination within the Park. Along with a Victorian-style carousel, the Village contains a playground and snack bar. The Village is open daily through Halloween with extended hours on Friday and Saturday nights. For a special treat visit the UnBoolievable Festival at the Carousel Village featuring crafters, farm stands, and food trucks. Guests in costume enjoy a carousel ride and those 12 and under can trick or treat the vendors.
Throughout the summer months, Swan Paddleboats are available for rent to sail around the pond located across from Carousel Village. During the month of October, Illuminated Swan Boats offers nightly cruises. Light displays, including a giant spider web, twinkle in the darkness throughout the pond. Keep a close eye out for a pirate ship loaded with special effects. Warm Apple Cider and Hot Chocolate can be purchased to enjoy during your ride.
For one monster-size day of activity during Halloween weekend, start your day out at Spooky Zoo filled with Halloween fun with the animals. Kids in costume receive half price admission. Next head over to the Museum of Natural History for Creepy, Crawly Family Fun with spooky crafts, a museum quest, and a bag of trick or treats. Costumed visitors receive free admission. For an additional fee, museum guests can take a scheduled museum vault tour to witness the behind-the-scene underground items, not on display at the museum; many have never been seen by the public.
Photo credits: J Ingersoll
Disclosure: The author was granted free admission to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular for the purpose of a review.
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