Last week, the Scare Zone crew fought our way through the Comic Con crowds to visit the Haunted Hotel, San Diego’s longest running and premier haunted attraction. Taking advantage of the hordes of people in downtown San Diego for the convention, the Hotel opened its doors for the weekend, and there was no way Scare Zone could pass up the rare opportunity of a visiting a haunt in July.

Business seemed to be steady at the Hotel, and when we arrived actors were outside in costume, terrifying and then taking pictures with passersby. The scene was certainly consistent with what we noticed last year when we visited during haunt season: the Haunted Hotel has one of the most dedicated cast of actors of any haunt we’ve seen. We were curious whether the actors could easily get into character for a single off-season weekend, but from what we saw of them outside the attraction and then later inside the maze, it was apparent that they had no trouble jumping back into their roles of scaring the crap out of everyone.

The folks at the Hotel have been hard at work perfecting and upgrading the scares for the 2011 season. New scenes and effects have been added throughout. Although the Hotel has been in downtown San Diego for almost 20 years, they seem dedicated to bringing in new elements to the haunt, which greatly increases its repeatability potential. If you’ve been to the Hotel in past years, you should definitely make plans to check it out in 2011, because there are some cool new surprises waiting for you.

And what are these surprises? Well, we won’t spoil them here, but we will say that we were very impressed with the changes we saw. The maze overall feels more coherent. The flow has been improved, and the pacing works better. One awesome new addition will have you searching for the right path amid disorienting distractions. There are additional enhanced effects that make the scares even more effective. And of course, the Hotel still has what we rated as one of the best individual scenes in a haunt: the subway scene.

It’s obvious that one of the major contributing factors to the Haunted Hotel’s success and longevity is their dedication to improving and tweaking the scenes and scares until they’re just right. The Haunted Hotel is an immersive, scary, and unique haunt. Be sure to check it out this year, and visit their associated haunts:  The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park and the Del Mar Scream Zone.

The Haunted Hotel opens September 23.