With fall just around the corner and Halloween not far behind, last Friday marked the first night of The Winchester Mystery House’s Halloween Candlelight Tour. As luck would have it, I just so happened to find myself in San Jose for one of those first tours.
Note: this is my individual review from tickets we bought ourselves. No involvement from the house or endorsement of this review should be implied, it’s just my take.
This is the third year that they’ve been offering a Candlelight Tour though the website lists it as an all new show and a tour of the 13 doors. How much has changed I don’t know since this was my first time there for Halloween (and my second visit to the house this year) but sufficient to say, there’s been enough time for the staff to build up the event nicely.
The result is an experience that’s fun even if a little silly. The outside of house is all dressed up for the season, covered with pumpkins and decorations while the lobby has special posters and event mementos. Special souvenirs are sold in the gift ship, spooky themed snacks at the outside snack shop which even has a bar (yes, with proper adult drinks — one or two will definitely up the tour experience.)
As for the tour its self, photos are not allowed inside (at least not without a cool media pass I suppose) so use your imagination here. The sky is dark, the house barely lit and the story a completely different experience than the daytime version as you wander the halls guided by just one candlelight from your tour guide. The low ceilings and winding staircases go from architectural sight into a maze as you meander around and around.
Over the approximately one hour tour, you’ll hear about hauntings, stories of past rumored mysteries, and all about the 13 famous doors.
It’s a nighttime walk through the massive and incredible mansion with just a bit of Halloween fright applied. Led by (fake) candlelight, the house is only visible in bits and pieces giving an eerie effect in the dark (there’s staff all over should you wish to exit early.) There are themed presentations, special effects (no, I won’t ruin what or where), even a few creepy characters. Not that you should be worried about someone grabbing you — it’s more of a spooky tour of a grand house than say a haunted park.
Of course the experience is all about the tour guide. Unfortunately ours was not all that into it, at least not in comparison to the daytime tour I took earlier this year, but the staff at the themed stops were great and made for a fun narrative throughout the event. Luck of the draw on that I suppose.
Sure, it’s a little silly at moments but the house is great, seeing it in the dark a unique spin, and throw in the spook factor? Solid.
This brings me to the big question: Is it worth the price? At $49 ($19 for kids 12 & under and $42 for Students, Military and Seniors), it’s not a cheap way to spend an hour but I thought it was a fun one. The daytime tour is your best bet to see the house, learn the history but if you want a few frights, a supernatural tour and a spooky(ish) evening, that makes for a unique Halloween experience, than ya, worth it!
That said, you’re not up for the cost or just on the fence about it, it’s worth heading down to the house to take a look around just the same. The outside of the grounds are open to wander without a ticket, parking is also free, and you can check out some of the galleries, pick up a trinket if you wish, and experience the themed stops they have setup.
This season, the tour is offered on 26 nights and ends after Halloween night (about 7 of which are value / cheaper priced) with many time slots for each though the darker it is out, the better I’d say the effect will be. Given the limited run, I’d suggest booking in advance if you want to try this out.
Buy tickets for $49 on the official Winchester Mystery House website. As of this post, I have not found any discounts or coupons (again, bought my own tickets so I certainly looked) though there are 7 value days at $39 and seniors / students / military tickets are $42.