Date of Event: 3/23/23 Reviewer: Lindsay
If you've been paying attention in recent years, you've noticed that scaring patrons outside of the Fall season has become incredibly popular within the haunted attraction industry. Haunts from all over are finding reasons to open their doors and keep their audiences engaged year-round, whether that's through hosting events themed around major holidays, like Valentine's Day and Christmas, or coming up with their own unique ideas.
But another trend that's growing in the industry is that of full haunt tours, where guests can visit several attractions within a single day or even multiple days. That's right - if you love haunted houses, you can sign up for one of these tours and hop a bus to spend your whole day getting scared! A new contender to this market is the Ultimate Haunt Tour, which launched in November 2022 and hauled attendees all over the state of Michigan to visit a whopping 12 (!) haunts. With the event now being sponsored by the annual FearExpo in Owensboro, Kentucky, it only made sense that this tour's latest roster of haunts should include many of the Bluegrass State's finest. The March 2023 edition of Ultimate Haunt Tour would shuttle attendees to six total locations, with two of those being "lights on", and the remaining four doing their full shows.
The base rate for the tour was quite affordable at $199, though the price varied depending on your chosen mode of transportation. Some options were extra, like choosing to board your bus at the convention center and head straight back. Another bus would pick up guests in Louisville, and if you so chose, you could also drive yourself individually to each stop. Since I was planning to be in town for the Expo prior to the start of the tour, I opted to pony up the additional $30 for the Owensboro bus. (Also, I'm lazy and just wanted to be driven around all day.)
Our adventure began on a cool and cloudy Thursday morning. Following a quick breakfast at the hotel, I took the short walk to the Owensboro Convention Center next door to get this spook show on the road. Once all of us had shown up and collected our fancy badges and goodie bags, it was time to load up our respective buses. (Props to the team who handled all of this! It was well organized.) I ended up being assigned to Bus 1, a pleasant group of people all around (though, for some reason, "Doug Sucks" became the catch phrase of the day... poor Doug). After a brief round of introductions and a rundown of what to expect for the day, we were off to our first destination, and one that is notorious among ghost hunters all over the country: The Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
Waverly is a former tuberculosis hospital that opened in 1926 in the city of Louisville. The building spans approximately 187,000 sq. feet, making it an impressive sight to behold, and is said to be one of the most haunted locations in the United States. Although they do put on a seasonal haunted house, our main reason for stopping by was to tour the main building and see what real spooks we might encounter. That's not to say we didn't run into any scary characters here... the moment we got off the bus, we were under attack by denizens of Piney Acres Scream Farm and The Haunt! Once we made it inside, we devoured a quick Subway lunch while being given an explanation of how things would go, then we split into two groups to start our tour. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe our guide's name was Courtney and she was excellent. Not only did she give us a lot of information about the hospital's history, she also included some personal anecdotes of her own and other patrons' experiences. Throughout our visit, we explored areas like a day room, the morgue, patient rooms, the infamous body chute, and other interesting spots. And although there were no actors inside or any effects turned on, we also got to walk through part of their haunted house.
Honestly, the more we saw of the place, the more I found myself falling in love with it. I've only ever done the haunted house, but I would love to return for a night tour to explore and see if anything happens.
Although this was very much a *haunt* tour, it would be a while until we ran into any human scares. Our next stop was The Devils Attic, where we were treated to a "lights on" tour of the entire place. What that meant was the show lighting and special effects would all be running, but there'd be no costumed actors inside. (Actually, some of them were there and out of character, serving as our tour guides. Nice!) The actor who plays The Devil himself was my group's guide, and he did an outstanding job with showing us around. I personally loved this about as much as I did the Waverly tour; I visit the Attic every season and am familiar with its scenes and general layout, but I really liked learning how some of the scares and special effects are pulled off. We also got to look around their makeup room, then we headed upstairs to the amazing bar and lounge they've set up for their cast and crew, where we were kindly treated to complimentary drinks.
Just because this tour was without costumed actors doesn't mean it was without scares, for some of us at least. I unwittingly approached the lair of Monessa, their giant skeletal dragon, to take a photo of something... and was completely unprepared when she suddenly came roaring out of the darkness, sending me swearing and scurrying away. (I later found out the owner was the culprit. Real cute, Jason.)
Sent away with The Devil's blessing, we continued our journey through Louisville and soon reached the first haunt to provide a show with actors: the Americanhorrorplex! Built around the story of the fictional Bracken-Hart Institute, the Horrorplex is an immersive, interactive, and completely original hospital-themed attraction. Speaking as a regular, it was definitely a somewhat different experience coming here on a March afternoon. There were no actors outside, and we missed a scene or two due to construction. But other than that, it was a solid show, with plenty of deranged doctors and psychotic, parasite-infested patients on the loose! My group commented favorably on the house's set design and interactivity as we went through, and I overheard compliments from other patrons on the quality of acting as well. Something cool I didn't immediately notice was their gift shop has received an overhaul since my haunt season visit - they had a ton of new Halloween decorations and other stuff available for purchase.
So this bus tour wasn't entirely restricted to the state of Kentucky. Following our escape from the Bracken-Hart Institute, we made a brief venture across the bridge to Southern Indiana - to pay a visit to Clarksville's Malice Manor - Southern Indiana's Scariest Haunted House! One of the more unique attractions in the greater Louisville area, Malice Manor weaves the tale of the mysterious Lord Rancor and his ill-fated estate. You see, the lord of the house loved to explore the world, and often brought home artifacts from his travels... unfortunately for him, he eventually wound up bringing in the wrong one(s), causing darkness to befall his mansion and cursing everyone who called it home. From the moment we walked in, I noticed some changes had already been made for 2023 - their ticket booth has been twisted around to face the entrance, and the gift shop was relocated to the exit (smart move!). While we waited to enter, thunder and lightning boomed ominously around us in the queue, and gargoyles kept watch overhead as black and white movies played against a wall to entertain the crowd.
As we battled our way through the Manor's rooms, passages, and gardens, we had a lot of fun with the cast here. I was pleasantly surprised to see our horrific hillbilly friends from Piney again, and the yellow-haired actor from The Haunt, who admonished us in the kitchen for not wiping our feet before we entered. Ambrose remains an excellent introductory character, and I also loved the forest creature who followed us for a while, along with the two taser-wielding actors - the one at the end was very funny, although I didn't appreciate the whole group throwing me under the bus in his room... "She has your 10mm socket! The little one at the end!" Hmph.
Heading outside to collect our pizza dinner, and seeing a bunch of bewildered haunters with red-smeared faces, gave me a bit of a giggle. It seemed a whole lot of people were not at all ready to meet Aine, their crazy priestess with a penchant for blood. Oh well.
But bloody faces were about to be the least of our group's worries. Upon returning to the Ville once more, the fifth stop on our tour was one of the city's longest standing and most infamous haunts: The Haunted Hotel - Kentucky. Formerly under the ownership of proprietor Thomas Gribbons and his family, the hotel has now been completely overrun by the evil lurking within its walls... you'll check in, but will you be lucky enough to check out? When informed that this was a full contact "extreme" haunt, it looked like some of the folks on our bus were wondering just that. Everyone was sorted into two groups upon arrival - most went for the normal experience, while the rest of us opted for the crazier treatment. (In true Hotel fashion, even the wait in line was a bit nerve wracking. A creepy bellhop and a hulking male monster stalked the crowd; several of us found ourselves caught in the latter's clutches, and one guy got scooped completely off the ground!)
The Hotel had a solid cast working the tour, and dead space was kept to a minimum. Everyone raved about the actor working the elevator (who kicked things off by literally throwing me across it... then gave me a hug before I stepped out... awww). It did seem like they were holding back on the wet, dirty substances they'd normally deploy during season- probably because they knew we had buses to return to- but I felt they made up for it in physicality. We were grabbed, pushed, pulled, briefly separated at times, I personally got picked up by a female actor (!). The actors downstairs were downright savage; two ladies pinned me in between them (one breathing creepily on my neck the whole time), and a long haired male actor caught my hair in a tight grip, pinned me face-first to the nearest thing, and wouldn't let me up until I told him 'thank you'. I also heard the chainsaw characters up ahead snarling some pretty graphic threats at another group before tearing into them with the saws. Yikes.
I noticed that most guests seemed to enjoy the house itself, but were left wanting more in the "extreme" department. Can't say I blame them as I also love a good, intense show from this haunt, but like I said, I am sure some changes had to be made to accommodate for the tour. And I did feel we were treated appropriately... let's just say if you value your personal space, the Haunted Hotel is not for you, because you aren't gonna have any once you step through that front door.
By the time we stumbled out of Hotel, the skies were now ominously veiled in a blanket of grey clouds. Nevertheless, we pressed on through the dark, and now rainy night to our final stop: Black Orchard Haunted House. Hidden inside of a real barn within Shelbyville's Red Orchard Park, Black Orchard is a slaughterhouse-themed attraction with a creepy backstory involving a vulture-worshipping cult.
One small bummer is that most of Black Orchard's original cast couldn't come out for this event. However, they are among the network of haunts operated by Sindicate Haunted House Group - and so the cast from Necropolis Underground Haunted Attraction, another haunt under the Sindicate umbrella, stepped up to the plate! Although the wet weather created enough mud to restrict their show to mostly the indoor portion, they promised to put on the best one they could, and we still got to see a few line actors and the finale outside.
And what a great show it was! Despite this not being their home haunt, every actor we came across adapted well to their new setting and absolutely killed it in there. They were interactive and gave us our share of laughs along the way - but we had to be careful not to drop our guard, because they brought the slaughterhouse intensity as well! Once we finished browsing the meat counter in the butcher shop, things took a turn for the deranged and violent very quickly. Our group of three was indoctrinated into the cult (one by force), made to assist with a live vulture birth (?!), and came close to winding up on the chopping block ourselves several times - to name just a few memorable moments. It was one of the best shows I've personally experienced here, and I really felt that sense of immersion I frequently get when visiting this place. In short, their whole cast rocked it, and a little extra love is in order for Necropolis for coming in and saving the day.
(I have so many questions about that vulture baby, though. How does someone get pregnant with a whole ass bird?! Do I even want to know? I'm not sure I want to be in this cult anymore.)
So was there anything that could've made the tour better? Having completed two other haunt bus tours under a different company, let me start by saying I totally expected us to go off schedule somewhat. When you're trying to corral three buses full of people and also make sure everyone gets what they paid for, it's kind of hard to avoid. I personally would have appreciated a little more time to recharge between stops; I was pretty worn out by the time we got back to the convention center, and didn't have a lot of energy the following day either. But we did have several haunts to visit, and then the two hour trip back to the 'boro after our last stop. So I can understand why we had to rush a bit.
Overall, the Kentucky version of Ultimate Haunt Tour was a blast. Although these haunts were familiar to me, it was really cool to step back and see so many haunters experience and enjoy them, and a couple of things were included that I hadn't done before (the Waverly tour and "lights on" show at Devil's Attic). The cost was very reasonable, coming out to approx. $33 per stop at baseline price, and even included a couple of meals and transportation. I also loved meeting and connecting with guests who had come in from haunts all over the country - one of the best things about doing these bus tours. Highly recommended for anyone who's a big haunted house fan or a haunter who doesn't see many opportunities to get out and visit other haunts.