By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The zoo was packed with animals this weekend as children of all ages donned plush costumes for the first HallZOOween.
An estimated 8,000 people - some dressed as lions, cheetahs, ladybugs and bumblebees - roamed the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden Sunday night. The new event is an opportunity for families, especially those with young children, to trick-or-treat, watch animals play with pumpkins, and enjoy other holiday-themed activities.
Saturday night, the event's kickoff, drew roughly 3,000 people. The event continues Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m.
"We just think Halloween is such a popular event that we wanted to offer something," said Deborah Morgan, the zoo's director of sales and events. "It's the not-so-scary event for kids and families."
Robert and Kim Morton drove from Lexington so their two children - 2-year-old Jacob, dressed as Winnie the Pooh, and 6-month-old Abby, a frog - would have a chance to see the polar bears bob for pumpkins.
"It's a family event," said the 33-year-old mother of two.
The elephants also took their turn with the pumpkins, smashing them after rolling them for a few minutes.
That was a highlight for Kendall Rybitski, a 2-year-old who used an old flower girl dress and a pair of wings to make an angel costume.
"It's fun and it gives us something different to do," said her dad, Jerry Kraft of Western Hills.
For those looking for real scare, there's Nightmare Estates in Mason, the USS Nightmare in Newport and FearFest at Paramount's Kings Island.
The popularity of other Halloween events was one of the reasons Kings Island added FearFest several years ago, a late-night event that mixes haunted houses, mazes and other thrills with a handful of the park's rides, said David Mandt, Kings Island spokesman.
This year, the amusement park expanded the event to include Celebrity Slaughter, which features local personalities like Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken. FearFest runs Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
"People in this part of the country really like getting scared," Mr. Mandt said. "I think people around here grew up enjoying these kinds of events."
And some families, like the Stovers of Fairfield, the increased number of larger and local events are a chance to get young ones out to enjoy the holiday activities. Sunday, 4-year-old Noah was decked out as Disney's Buzz Lightyear and his 3-month-old sister Ellie was dressed as sunflower-themed Winnie the Pooh for their trip to the zoo.
"It's a safe environment," said Chris Stover, a 31-year-old mother of two. "There's more events and there's more people decorating their houses. It's becoming a bigger deal than people just passing out candy."
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