They arrived on pirate ships, a sled pulled by a polar bear and in the shadow of a giant peach, debarking on the red carpet in tuxedos and sequined dresses as the crowd clapped and cheered.
At the Pennsbury High School prom, getting there is half the fun. The other half begins once students enter a school elaborately transformed by dozens of handmade murals and movie-like props.
''Everyone wants to go to Pennsbury's prom,'' said senior Alaina Pollock. ''It's an amazing experience because the students make it.''
Pennsbury still hosts prom in the school gym instead of at a cookie-cutter catering hall. It's a tradition. Students and volunteers spend an entire year, much of it undercover, designing, decorating and building everything they need for their elaborately-themed night and pre-prom parade.
This year's theme, ''A Novel Night,'' featured a two-story Hogwarts castle from the Harry Potter books, plus a magic wand shop and other props. Locker-lined hallways were camouflaged with murals of book covers familiar to any teen: ''Twilight,'' ''The Sneetches,'' ''Lord of the Flies,'' ''A Separate Peace.'' Even the bathrooms were themed: ''Captain Underpants'' for the boys, ''Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants'' for the girls.The cafeteria was transformed into a fine dining room out of ''Narnia.'' Students were treated to a hypnotist in the auditorium, a DJ in the gym and surprise musical guest Ryan Cabrera.
"I was floored. Absolutely floored," said photographer Jenn Childress, who captured the night's memories in pictures. "I have never seen anything like it. They covered every square inch of the first floor of the school," said Childress. The transformation was so dramatic, one of the students wrote on Jenn's prom blog: "...I actually got lost a few times!"
The prom first got a lot of attention five years ago when students convinced Grammy-winning musician John Mayer to play for them. His hit song ''Wonderland'' then became the title for a book about a year in the life of Pennsbury, and Reader's Digest named it the Best Prom in America.
About 1,200 teens arrived on the red carpet after the hours-long pre-prom parade, a pageant of hundreds of vehicles vying to be the most original. Sure, there were some limos, but such standard fare is considered boring by crowds used to being wowed by homemade floats, the Wienermobile, golf carts, trolleys, FedEx vans, fire trucks and even a helicopter -- at least until officials banned aerial entrances. (Hot-air balloon requests have been denied.)
The floats reflected the prom's book theme, including ''Peter Pan,'' ''Treasure Island,'' ''The Polar Express'' and ''James and the Giant Peach.''
Pollock, 18, rode in wearing a red beaded gown on a ''Where's Waldo?'' float. As a leader of the prom committee, she was thrilled with how everything turned out, especially the candles ''floating'' in the archway of Hogwarts.
''I was so proud,'' Pollock said the day after prom. ''You can't even tell this is where you go to class.''
The magic lasts about 24 hours before the school returns to normal.
''On Monday morning,'' art teacher Blair Greiner said, ''you will have no idea this ever happened.''
In about a week, the school will vote on next year's prom theme.