“Great Big BOO” invites children, adults to wear costumes and celebrate the spirit of spookiness

Photo by Kiera Silver
A young trick-or-treater smiles for the camera with Priscilla the Princess at Gilroy Gardens’s BOO Alley.

By Keira Silver

With spooky specials, singing monsters, and sweet treats, Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is spicing things up for Halloween. Its immersive experience “The Great Big BOO” runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31 and promises a spooky fun time for all ages.

It’s time for locals to get their ghost on for the fifth annual family-fun celebration of the haunted realm. The beloved Hecker Pass-based amusement park has been transformed into the imaginary world of BOO Alley. Visitors team up with costumed characters like Vinnie the Vampire, Wolfgang Werewolf, and Princess Priscilla to help save Halloween from the curse of Wendella the Witch.

All the park’s dizzying rides have been renamed for the Halloween-theme event. Some of the spooky holiday names include the BOO Train and Wolfgang’s Rockin’ Ride.

Youngsters get to enjoy the live spooktacular entertainment of “A Great Big Boo!,” a musical introducing the wacky world and characters of BOO Alley as well as the super-catchy “Do the BOO” theme song. The show is free with admission and plays multiple times each night at Lakeside Amphitheater,

Visitors also get a chance to put their “boo-gie” moves in gear and dance under the myriad of dancing lights strewn across BOO Alley Light Tunnel. Guests also can find their way to Downtown BOO Alley, the busy center of the Great Big BOO.

In the alley, visitors pose for pictures in front of the giant pumpkin pyramid and search an amazing hay maze for an exit. Guests can also purchase Halloween-themed souvenirs from many decorated shops throughout the park.

Frankenstein the Lounge Singer also made his big opening weekend debut with a special scary vocal performance for an audience of parents and kids. Franky then took time to pose for photos with his young fans.

The smell of buttered popcorn wafts in the air as the rockstar Wolfgang Werewolf meets with his adoring fans. The guitar-wielding monster loves rock-n-roll and popcorn.

Guests can drive through Wolfgang’s Rockin’ Ride (a reimagined South County Backroads, with rock music and laser light displays).

With a special pass, they can have a howling good time meeting the rock star himself for photos and autographs at Wolfgang’s Backstage Access. Glow-in-the-dark T-shirts and souvenir popcorn buckets are also available for purchase.

Guests can grab some candy to listen to Sammy Jo Scarecrow and the BOO Crew tell a story at the BOO Town Hall.

In her castle, Princess Priscilla also appears for a night of royal fun, taking photos with her young fans, teaching them how to be perfect princesses.

Wolfgang Werewolf rocks out with a young fan at his Backstage Access experience at Gilroy Gardens. Photo by Kiera Silver

Guests will find places throughout the park to interact with other characters. They can concoct magic potions with Cranium the Mad Scientist and greet Wendella, the witch who hates Halloween. They can even make an exciting “escape” from her spooky House on the Hill (aka the Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster).

For the entire month of October, kids and adults of all ages are encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes when they visit The Great Big BOO. Kids can follow the BOO Trail and visit any one of the seven “BOO Spots” across the park, which have buckets filled to the brim with candy for the young visitors.

On opening weekend guests enjoyed discounts on food, drinks, and entrance tickets. Families brought their little monsters (as well as princesses and superheroes) from throughout the South Valley to enjoy the spirited bash.

Gilroy Gardens employee Lulani Rutigliano found it fun standing along the Boo Trail and presenting the sweet treats to children and adults who visited her spot.

“The Great BOO … it’s when we have all kinds of Halloween-themed activities and we pass out candy,” she said.

Rutigliano enjoys it when the children visit and trick-or-treat at her BOO Spot because of the atmosphere of the entire event.

“It’s super nice, it’s kind of interactive, and inclusive,” she said.

Rutigliano appreciates what the Great Big BOO has done for the Gilroy Gardens guests. She recognizes how important the event is for connecting the local children to the amusement park.

“I think the impact is very positive because it’s very one-to-one, it’s very personal, and it’s active,” she said. “I think kids enjoy it because we’re giving them sweets — and they enjoy that. It makes their day. They like it after a long day of school, and they just get to come and have fun.”

An employee of Gilroy Gardens for about eight months, Greco Casilla works on the popular BOO Trail, handing out sweets to trick-or-treaters at one of the seven BOO Spots.

He appreciates the joy the candy brings to the younger kids, many of whom are too small to go on the more adventurous rides.

“It makes them a bit more excited,” he said. “They feel a part of Gilroy Gardens.”

Casilla understands the positive impact the Great Big BOO has had on the community of locals and tourists.

“I’ve seen parents see their kids happy,” he said. “I see more people happy.”

Keira Silver is a senior at Christopher High School. She wrote this story with mentorship from publisher Martin Cheek.