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How to do Halloween in Salem mid-pandemic? Plan ahead

‘This is not the year for a spontaneous trip to Salem. Look online, research what you want to do, buy tickets in advance.’

Halloween season will be different this year because of the pandamic.
Halloween season will be different this year because of the pandamic.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Lots of people love to spend some part of the Halloween season in Salem but are probably wondering right about now: Can we still go? What will Halloween look like? How should we prepare?

We were wondering, too, so we asked.

“My emphasis is to plan ahead,” says Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. “This is not the year for a spontaneous trip to Salem. Look online, research what you want to do, buy tickets in advance.”

Fox suggests a midweek trip if possible, in lieu of Halloween night, and landing with a destination in mind: Salem offers art, food, cocktails, boutique hotels, the Peabody Essex Museum.

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“I just don’t think it’s the year to come for that costumed, wandering experience. It’s a great time to come and sit and have dinner, lunch. Come and enjoy Salem, but come with the intention to do something: to experience an attraction, a museum, a shop — don’t come just to wander the streets,” said Fox. “There are definitely ways to experience that Halloween-in-Salem trip — but you want to plan it.”

Three key resources: salem.org can show you Halloween attractions, as well as stops for the beer-lover, the bookworm, the foodie, the art aficionado, etc. The website hauntedhappenings.org is packed with info on scares: what’s open, what’s virtual, and how to buy advance tickets.

And the Destination Salem mobile app, is a must-download. Jam-packed with pertinent information, it can send you push notifications on parking, traffic, and public health advisories. It even points out “Hocus Pocus” filming locations, so fans of the 1993 cult classic flick could feasibly make their own tour.

We asked Fox what else to expect.

The Peabody Essex Museum has exhibits on "The Salem Witch Trials of 1692" and "Salem Stories."
The Peabody Essex Museum has exhibits on "The Salem Witch Trials of 1692" and "Salem Stories."Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

You’ve said Salem is going to look different this year. What are you expecting?

Per the Massachusetts reopening guidelines [at the time of this writing], you can’t have events indoors for more than 25 people, or outdoors for more than 50 people, so that eliminates all the special events for October — all our parades, street fairs, the motorcycle ride, movie nights — everything has been canceled, postponed until next year, or gone virtual.

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We have a local health order for masks to be worn indoors and outdoors in all public areas. So people need to be prepared to wear a mask the entire time.

What’s gone virtual?

Our merchant marketplace has gone virtual. There’s a costume contest that’s gone virtual, the Howl-o-ween pet parade, Salem Witch Museum has a few virtual lectures. We have a full listing of virtual events on the calendar at hauntedhappenings.org.

What people can expect to find here are the brick-and-mortar businesses — our museums, attractions, the shops, and restaurants; the walking tours and the harbor tours are all open.

Is there a limit on the amount of people on a walking tour or harbor tour?

Everything has a limit. Everything is operating at a 50 percent capacity or less. I know some walking tours are already sold out because [they’re capped] at 10 per tour.

The Peabody Essex Museum is opening two new exhibits — “The Salem Witch Trials of 1692” and “Salem Stories” — and they both have capacity-limits and timed-ticket entry. The Salem Witch Museum is asking you to buy tickets in advance once you arrive in Salem.

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Everyone has a little bit of a different approach to how they’re handling reduced capacity, which is why it’s important to research your trip. On salem.org, and hauntedhappenings.org, we provide as much information as we can for individual businesses.

Crowds gathered for the Halloween celebration on Oct. 31, 2015, in Salem. That won't happen this year.
Crowds gathered for the Halloween celebration on Oct. 31, 2015, in Salem. That won't happen this year.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/file

What are you expecting Halloween night to look like?

We don’t know yet. A normal Halloween in Salem is tens of thousands of people in costume wandering around the streets; stages, bands, beer gardens, fireworks. There will be no entertainment this year. We cannot do anything that encourages those gatherings. Police will be on hand to ensure people are moving around and not stopping and gathering in large groups.

You have an app this year.

We have an app we just launched, so people can get all the information on their phone. It’s iOS and Android. It has business listings, information on restaurants, tours, museums. We have FAQs on Halloween, haunting happenings, and coming to Salem during COVID-19.

What restaurants would you personally recommend?

Depends on what people are looking for. We have great seafood, you can go to Finz by the water. Flying Saucer has great pizza with a science-fiction theme. We have everything from quick eats to high-end dining.

And hotels will be open?

Hotels are all open. We have a new hotel — the Hampton Inn Salem Boston just opened this week, so it’s got that new hotel smell. That’s right downtown, and it’s beautiful. A couple of B&Bs have closed, but almost everything’s open.

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Would you encourage people to go early and do their own Halloween, rather than going on Halloween night?

Yes, we celebrate all month. At this point, I’m encouraging people to come midweek if you can. Weekends have been busy, and we’re still in a pandemic. There are lines. It’s fun, there’s beautiful weather, but I’m trying to spread people out.

There’s a lot to do, [but] there are a lot of restrictions and new rules and guidelines. So we’re excited to see all the visitors in October as long as they’re playing by the safety and health guidelines.

Interview was edited and condensed. Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @laurendaley1.


Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twiiter @laurendaley1.