Howl-O-Scream 2018 Full Review

Howl-O-Scream is here, and there is #NowhereToHide from the hoards of zombies, killer toys, sociopathic butchers, and more! Opening this past weekend, Busch Gardens’ annual Halloween event kicked off with thunderous applause from all  the fiends that dared face the horrors of the six houses and scare zones. With some new additions to the HOS lineup, this year was screamtastic! From coasters with zombies to great food and drinks, Busch Gardens provides the best value for a large scale haunted event. Enter if you dare, but be warned that there are terrors around every corner and where you least expect them to be, including on Busch Gardens’ heart-heart-pounding coasters! Might just find yourself riding next to a vomit-inducing zombie. In her encore year, HOS also bids the queen of Death Water Bayou a ghoulish farewell. Select night from now until October 27th, you don’t want to miss a single epic moment of Howl-O-Scream 2018 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The frights begin even before you enter the from gate. Wandering hoards of a variety of all that goes bump in the night will be your personal poltergeist. In order to make sure you make the most of your time at HOS, I highly recommend the front-of-the-line pass. Fortunately, my friend and I had them on opening night, and it allowed us to move about casually about the event. Even if you do not elect to get the front-of-the-line pass, you will most likely make it to all the houses if you begin right at start time. But, the best way to experience HOS is every night of the event with the season pass. With general admission prices well below Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream provides park guests with the most band for your buck. I am often asked by my followers on Twitter which event is more fun or to compare the two, and I often reply with the cliche analogy of apples and oranges because both are fruit, yet unique. Whereas HHN has a much higher production quality, HOS has the better scares. At least, that rings true for my friends and me who attend both these events every year. We go to HHN for the familiar IPs and to HOS to get scared. After all these years, it is getting more and more difficult to startle or scare me. So scare factor is important when I attend a theme park or local haunt.

Entering the park from the Nairobi Gate (for the media event), I found myself in the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) scare zone. The costumes were brilliant! Between the Mexican themed food, music, and the projections on the Moroccan Palace, it was truly an immersive scare zone to kick the opening night festivities off in a superb fashion. After celebrating the Day of the Dead with the inhabitants of that scare zone, my friend Dani and fellow Tweep Off of the Go were on our way to checkin to one of this year’s new houses Insomnia. Insomnia is in the location where Zombie Containment Unit used to be, and it’s a HUGE upgrade. In fact, Insomnia is in the running to be the most popular this year. In the Insomnia house, you are walking through a disturbing psychiatric hospital of the most bizarre nature. While touring this sinister place, you will encounter unimaginable terror around every corner. You’ll not only want to watch out for deadly patients but what lurks in the walls and ceilings. If you can make it out alive, you’ll have more to worry about than Freddy Krueger next time you go to sleep. Maybe it’s best if you never sleep again.

One of my favorite parts of Howl-O-Scream every year is the annual Fiends show!! Consistently irreverent and hilariously funny, this show is the highlight of my experience each year. I was especially excited for it this year because Universal canceled the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show. As much as I enjoy the macabre nature of the houses and scare zones, Fiends provides park guests an opportunity to laugh! This laughter is both immensely entertaining and it cleanses the pallet for continued enjoyment of the horrifying attractions. Join Dr. Freakenstein, Igor, their sexy pink nurses and all the rest of the fiends as they celebrate Dr. Freakenstein’s birthday number 666. The jokes are funnier, lewder, racier than ever—it’s the honor comedy show not to be missed. Fiends consistently delivers an incredible show that will hold your attention and cause you to possibly engage in uncontrollable laughter the entire time. Whoever writes the show, must have an amazingly fun time doing so! Dr. Freakenstein and Igor are equal opportunity offenders. No one is safe from their riffs and banter. Especially a certain orange-skinned individual with a terrible combover. So much eye candy at the show. Whether you’re looking for sexy pink female nurses, mesmerizingly beautiful vampires, hot shirtless male dancers, or totally rad mummies that can breakdance like no one’s business, you will find them in Dr. Freakenstein’s Castle.

Next door to Fiends is The Black Spot pirate themed haunted maze. Likely in its final year, this is a house returning from the last few years  that invites park guests to enter into a treacherous land of pirates, sea creatures, treasure, and curses. One of my favorite things about this house is entering in through a pirate ship and encountering a massive rock skull. It may not be one of my favorite houses this year, but I do enjoy the themed design. The scares could use a little work, but the production design is solid. Personally, I prefer Dead Fall, which was in this location prior to Black Spot. Once we disembarked the pirate ship, we needed to head for our hotel—motel, rather. The journey would not be as simple as hailing a taxi or requesting an Uber. We had to make the journey on foot through the Deadly Toys scare zone. There is little more terrifying and creepy than that which is otherwise innocent, being twisted into something truly sinister. Chainsaw wielding teddy bears, possessed dolls, killer clowns, and more. Even the toy boxes are enough to strike fear in your mind. Once we escaped the clutches of the dolls, bears, and clowns, we arrived at our destination

Motel Hell is still my favorite house at HOS. Of all the houses, it is the most detailed and elaborate. If there was any one house at HOS that was of an HHN original house quality, it is Motel Hell. I feel that it is the strongest house for effective and consistent theming that works to transport you from a theme park to a rundown motel from the 1950s. Every room in this motel has something terrifying to offer the residents. And yes, it’s complete with that 1940s scratchy high pitched record music too. Something straight out of Insidious. Even though each room is unique, there is still a great deal of coherency in the design. You never feel that you have been taken out of the story. Underneath beds, in bath tubs, in dark corners, and behind the walls, it will feel that there is no way out of this hell. Just when you think it’s over, that’s when the scar actors will get you. In addition to being the best in design, it’s also the most fun house. Lots of horror tropes here!

Located across from Motel Hell is Busch Gardens’ first area to be recommended for 17 years of age and up. With no one checking IDs, I am not sure how this is monitored but I imagine that if someone under the age of 17 wonders in, they have been warned that this is a disturbing area. After all, you are in a meat market. Animals and humans too. There are elements of this scare zone that are not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking to get a great HOS photo, then the photo opportunities in Meat Market are for you. With several to choose from, there is a setting for every fiend. Simon’s Slaughterhouse is a new house for HOS this year that is recommended for those who are 17 years of age and older because of the disturbing and intense material. In this house, you may be separated from your group at the front entrance, which alone can increase the terror level. As you navigate this claustrophobic maze through a sinister slaughterhouse, you will encounter the sounds of meat being harvested, and I am not just talking animals.

If you emerge mostly unscathed from Simon’s Slaughterhouse, you’ll want to make your way to visit the excavation at Unearthed. Returning this year, Unearthed’s maze is modified and additional props are used. Instead of entering the house from the Gwazi platform and walking past that amazing animatronic tree that I’ve always found impressive, you enter in from the basement, so to speak. In order to find your way through the maze, you are given a flashlight. A nice touch! My friend Dani carried the flashlight for us so I could take pictures. Speaking of which, unless you have a lens with a wide-open aperture, photos in side the houses are actually difficult to take. Other than the entrance, the house is largely unchanged. Like Motel Hell, I find that this one has a solid production design, full of details. One of the things that I feel is missing from this house, that cold improve it, is a coherent story. When it was first revealed a few years ago, it has more of a story than it does now. Bringing that back, can assist in the over all experience of this house.

Standing between you and the park’s exit is the Hell on Wheels scare zone. I hope you’re not hungry or thirsty when approaching this scare zone. You see, a notorious gang has staked claim to the food and water supplies after an apocalyptic event. You cannot outrun these bad ass motorcycle gang members, and with #NowhereToHide, you are going to be on the run of your life. Lots of sliders in this area, and those sliders’ scares are always effective. Although we found ourselves in the front of the park, we still wanted to visit the Camp DOA scare zone in the back of the park. Dani and I also had a few scareactors that we wanted to find! We were also craving a pretzel dog from Pantopia. Dani has a friend who’s one of the scareactors in the Maniac Midway, and we missed her earlier when we rode Falcon’s Fury.

Since we arrived in Pantopia before her friend came out, we took a moment to grab our pretzel dogs from that dope quick service location near Falcon’s Fury. I greatly appreciate Busch Garden’s for doing their best to include so many local horror enthusiast and actors who just want to have fun scaring and creeping out HOS guests. No matter if someone may not have the range of physical abilities as others. If you show an enthusiasm for a desire to scare the HOS guests, then Busch Gardens will do their best to accommodate and include you. After spending a moment getting scared by Dani’s friend who was hiding in the shadows in order to startle those who venture into the midway overrun by maniac clowns. Next we made our way over to Sheikra to catch one of my new friends I’ve met on Twitter (MisfitsUnmanaged) who is playing a cider smoking chain-saw wielding clown. But before we can get to Sheikra, we must pass through the Camp DOA scare zone. Located where the Wasteland scare zone used to be, this scare zone is a great interpretation of summer camp slasher horror movies. I love this quick story because it just goes to show how social media can provide an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals! Fortunately, the timing worked so that MisfitsUnmanaged was going to be coming out as Dani and I were in the Sheikra area. Lastly, I needed to see another friend of mine that I figure skate with who was playing a ghost-like zombie in the front of the park. Timing was perfect, we got to get our picture together!

Well, there you have it! A comprehensive review of Howl-O-Scream 2018 at Busch Gardens!  Although opening weekend has come and gone, you still have many more weekends to enjoy this event! With tickets starting at $39, it’s a fantastic value that gives you the most bank for your buck. I need to return to ride Cheetah Hunt and Skeikra with scareactors, but that just gives me even more reason to get the season pass so I can go back time and time again.

 

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Full Review of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa

“Enjoy it while YOU last!” Howl-O-Scream (HOS) opened at Busch Gardens Tampa this past weekend! With two new houses, new scare zones, and the Fiends show’s new venue, it’s definitely an exciting event to attend this Halloween season, and one you don’t want to miss. More apparent than in years’ past, HOS is definitely growing in production value as it continues to draw upon the same visitors and locals in central Florida as HHN does. I’m often asked which event is better. And there is no one answer or even a simple answer, at that, with which to respond. The truth is, both events are equally enjoyable; but, it’s important to note that they are really two different experiences. What I appreciate year after year at HOS is the scare-factor. I’m consistently more scared at HOS than at HHN. Since Busch Gardens knows that they cannot compete with Universal on familiar TV and movie IPs that Universal can license, they choose to focus on the element of the jump scare–and it’s successful. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself jumping more at HOS than you will at HHN. On the topic of IPs and by extension, production value, HOS has delivered some excellent houses that are on the verge of being on par with the HHN original IPs. Once Busch Gardens is able to license a familiar horror/suspense/thriller television show or motion picture, it will be quite the rival for HHN. Another area that HOS has capitalized on moreso than HHN is the availability of full bars. HHN does not offer full bars at the event (instead they have specialty drinks and beer). HOS offers several full liquor bars during the event, so you can get basic cocktails and such to enjoy while you scream your lungs off. With the addition of Reoccurring Nightmare tickets, HOS now offers the equivalent to the Rush of and Frequent Fear passes at HHN.

Like with HHN, there is no better night to experience HOS than opening night! The scare-actors are at full energy, the houses are at full nightmare status, and you get to experience the horrors with others who comprise the fan base of theme park Halloween events. Since Busch Gardens does not replace all the houses each year, I usually like to start with the new ones. This year, Busch Gardens Howl-O-Sceam debuted Demented Dimensions and Undead Arena LIVE. Both are excellent! The first house my friends and I visited was Demented Dimensions. Since Demented Dimensions is located in the Pantopia area of the park, we had to brave the streets of a deadly old folks home and a sinister circus. We got the biggest kick out of seeing actual senior members of our community put on bloody garbs and scary masks and haunt our steps through their scare zone. Good for them! This is a sign that BG HOS seeks to involve anyone who wants to spend the evening scaring park guests. Following a daring escape from the dentureless jaws of the hoard of old folks, we proceeded to brave the insidiously fun Carnie Camp. Quite the freak show, this circus will have you narrowly escaping the sinister carnies as you make your way through the three rings. Lastly, we had to pass through Wasteland (a scare zone reprise from last year) that looks like something out of a nightmarish Mad Max world). Following our emergence from Wasteland, we crossed over into another dimension–a demented dimension. Demented Dimensions, taking the place of Zombie Mortuary, is filled with a sensory overload of twists, turns, and physics-defying spectacles as you walk though this homage to that which only exists in your nightmares. Having arrived before the majority of the crowd, my friends and I had the house to ourselves. The best part about that is being the target of every scare-actor in the house. The theme of the house was quite fluid and continually immersed me within the multi-dimensional experience.

From Demented Dimensions to the treacherous high seas, the next house on our agenda was Black Spot, the pirate themed house from last year. Largely unchanged, this house is still a top notch one and has a near-Universal quality about it. Feels like what you would experience if Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean ever became haunted. Such an enjoyable thrill! I enjoyed it as much this year as I did last year. Like with Demented Dimensions, we had this one to ourselves too, so the scare-actors were out in full force to frighten us as we navigated the dark seas. After making it safely back to shore, we decided to take in the first showing of Fiends now located in the Stanleyville Theatre in the round stage. Even before the show started, I was nearly convinced that this experience was going to be even better than last year because of having a more traditional house layout as opposed to the dining hall feel of Dragon Fire Grill. Prior to the show and between the trivia on screen, the audience is reminded that if you are easily offended by anything that you may want to sit out of Fiends. And that is quite valid. I’ve often thought that Fiends would benefit from taking the adult humor up a notch and taking that envelope and pushing it even further. That is exactly what you get with this year’s show. Having been a part of HOS for all 19 years, each year is a riff on pup culture much in the same vein as the Bill and Ted show at HHN. Fiends returns from the dead funnier than ever! With excellent writing, a hilarious cast, and strategic riffs on pop culture, you have got to make time to see this show when you go to HOS.

After laughing to death at Fiends, we had to face the haunted circus once again. On our way to Death Water Bayou we spotted a motel off the main drag on a side street. Looked quite lonely, sitting on the side of the road with its exterior that seemed frozen in the 1950s. The Motel Shellburn is home to Motel Hell, a house that debuted last year at HOS, and still my favorite house this year. What sets this house apart from the rest of the lineup is the attention to detail and storytelling. From the entrance to the exit, this house IS definitely of an HHN quality. Unless I am mistaken, the exit for this year is different from last year. When you exit the motel, you’ll find yourself in a memorial garden of sorts. And watch out, because you’ll encounter terrifying scare-actors in the cemetery too. Located not far from Motel Hell is the merky depths of Death Water Bayou. If you read my review of this year’s HHN, you’ll remember that I commented on how Universal essentially copied this house for their Dead Waters. Getting to compare the houses back to back, I am convinced that the HOS version of this concept is definitely scarier and just more enjoyable. However, Dead Waters is a little longer than Death Water Bayou. Like with some of the other houses, this one stands out to me because of, like with Motel Hell, the theming outside of the house. I like how it looks like we are walking though a bayou and into a shanty in the back waters of Louisiana. The story of the house begins to immerse you even before entering in through the shadowy front door.

One great aspect to Busch Gardens’ Halloween event is coasters in the dark! All the coasters are open this year at HOS–even newly refurbished Kumba. While a lot of the park guests are there for just the haunted houses, that leaves many of the queues sparsely populated, which means walking right onto the coasters! After leaving Louisiana, we flew to Egypt for Cobra’s Curse and my personal favorite Montu! Nothing beats riding a coast at night! At HHN, for traditional roller coasters, other then Revenge of the Mummy, you have to go from Universal Studios Florida over to Islands of Adventure. Fortunately, Busch Gardens has your coaster need taken care of with all six thrill rides open! That includes Montu, Cobra’s Curse, Kumba, Shiekra, Cheetah Hunt, and Falcon’s Fury. If you arrive early enough to HOS, you will definitely have time for the houses AND the rides! We certainly did. Well, we went to all the houses except Zombie Containment Unit. Wasn’t a big fan of it last year nor the year before, so didn’t want to wait for it this year. The Playground scare zone returns for another disturbingly frightening year, and you’ll have to pass through it’s haunts when you walk from the Moroccan area back towards Pantopia.

From coasters alive with excitement, to one that is a ghost of its former self, we returned to unearth something evil. Unearthed is now in its third year but still just as thrilling as it was when it debuted in 2015. The animatronic tree you pass before entering into the excavation chambers is still so incredibly impressive! Unearthed is another house that encroaches upon HHN quality. Although the house is not new this year, I am pretty sure that there were some extra scares in it this year as opposed to years past. The last house on our agenda was another new one. Just like with the Ringling Bros. circus, Circus of Superstition also closed after last year. But, Gwazi field is still bustling with live undead entertainment at Undead Arena LIVE. In the vein of the circus, this house takes a classic approach to haunts in that it really does feel like a traditional fun house, completely with dead ends, mirrors, and getting split up from your group. If you are more than a group of two, then the carnie barker will split you up into two separate groups as you make your way through the maze. There are scares round every corner as you desperately attempt to find your way out of the mind bending labyrinth of undead terrors.

Well, there you have it! A comprehensive review of Howl-O-Scream 2017. I hope you decide to face your fears at Busch Gardens’ annual event. HOS is going on now through October 29th (last Sunday of October). Tickets are reasonably priced but vary depending on when you choose to go. Consider upgrading to the Reoccurring Nightmare ticket to enjoy all nights of the event.