Now in its 13th season, the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, New York has become so popular it’s expanded to forty five nights and welcomes close to 200,000 people each fall. The displays include about 7,000 “constructed” pumpkins which are part of the annual collection and an additional 1,000 “live” pumpkins that are lit each night by thirty volunteers. Overall, it takes almost 3,000 volunteers to run the Blaze each year.
The Blaze is held on the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor, an estate with parts built in 1749 and originally encompassing 86,000 acres. It’s overseen by the Historic Hudson Valley, which includes four additional properties. We were gifted a family membership to the Historic Hudson Valley and I cannot wait to explore all five locations. My husband and I went to the Blaze before we had children, so I knew how quickly tickets would sell out. I called back in early September, as soon as tickets went on sale. I was happy to see that, while all the weekends are sold out through Halloween, there are some week nights, and weekends in November still available. Check here for ticket sales. Note: Children under the age of three do not need a ticket.
Some General Tips:
- Concessions: You’ll start (and end) your adventure passing through concessions and a pop up food court. There’s a nice selection of hot drinks, beers on tap, desserts, and some kid friendly meal options like chicken fingers and mac and cheese. Credit cards and cash are accepted. The gift shop has Halloween themed apparel, books, seasonal treats, and souvenirs like holiday ornaments. (Check out my recent post on collecting souvenirs here). Try and go to the bathroom before you arrive. The only option on site is a port a potty at the entrance.
- Getting around: Bring.the.stroller. There’s only a thin rope separating eager toddlers from the displays on one side and, in some cases, a sharp drop down into woods on the other side. The lanterns with “real lit” candles certainly add to the ambiance, but they’re hot to the touch. The path through the Blaze is clear, smooth and defined but it’s still best to wear sneakers. It gets dark (that’s the point, right?). You might want to bring glow sticks or glow in the dark necklaces for children. Flashlights might be too bright, and the pumpkins and lanterns do light the way, but a little glow might help you identify who “belongs” to you.
- Timing: Your tickets will be for a specific time and the staff adheres to that time. You can come early to park and mingle in the gift shop or concession area, but you’ll have to wait until your official time to enter the path. The good news is that you can take your time and step to the side at any point to take photos or just stare in wonderment at some of the displays. My family went through slowly and it took us an hour. I would imagine you could be in and out in 25-30 minutes, but I’d plan on 45-60 minutes for the whole trail.
Our Top 12 Pumpkin Displays:
- The Pumpkin Zee Bridge
- The steam train, with “real “ steam (check out the caged animals in each train car!)
- The Sea Urchin with pumpkin waves and fishes
- The Planetarium with hundreds of star shaped pumpkins
5. The Carousel (this was MY favorite!) new for 2017
6. The collection of zoo animals
7. The three Jack in the Boxes with pop up pumpkin heads. My kids spent about ten minutes in front of this display, trying to predict which “box” the head would come out of next. Kids willLOVE this display.
8. The Statue of Liberty new for 2017
9. The Garden of Snakes– this would be the only spot I might consider a little scary- mainly it’s the snake noises that spooked my kids a little (they’re easily spooked,). Trust me- the rest of the trail is super child friendly.
10. The 24 foot spider web
11. The field of dinosaurs
12. The beehive
Eating nearby: I found a great variety of restaurants in the area, but I knew I wanted to be close by ; since we were going on a Friday night, I was concerned about traffic. There is a shopping plaza right before the entrance to the Blaze, and in the plaza is Pronto Pizzeria. Straightforward menu of pizzas, salads, and subs, they were super fast with our order, and the food was reasonably priced.