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 Theme Park Review of Bier Fest at Busch Gardens

The thrills are on tap at Busch Gardens Bier Fest! If you’re looking for delicious tavern fare and refreshing craft beer, then come on out to Busch Gardens first annual Bier Fest taking place on weekends now through September 16th, including Labor Day! The combinations and pairings are nearly endless. The best way to experience the delectable event is with a sampler lanyard. Unlike some food and wine/beer festivals that seem to never have enough hightop tables and shade, Busch Gardens has made sure that there are plenty of places to gather around with your friends and family to enjoy the bountiful bier and food.

With so many taverns to choose from, the most difficult part about the experience is just knowing where to begin. Late august early September tends to be a slow time in the parks, so the event was developed as a way to bridge the gap between Summer Nights and Howl-O-Scream. And the decision has been a hit! Nestled in the area of the park that is largely seen as a pass through to the Australia and Sesame areas, the layout of the taverns provides a quaint feel that gives it that quintessential festival ambiance that creates an incredibly inviting atmosphere. Complete with Instagram Walls, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to take memorable photos as well. I encourage you to head out to Busch Gardens to experience it yourself!

The festival grounds begin just before you arrive at the old Gwazi courtyard and continues to Australia and up to the back entrance to Gwazi field. Greeted by some fun Instagram walls, a giant menu of all the beer, and friendly welcome center, you have all the tools necessary to plan your time at Bier Fest. Between the handy festival guide and large print menus at the taverns, you’ll never find yourself wondering where something is or feel overwhelmed because the guides make the info easy to digest, if you will. In addition to the tavern fare and craft beer, you’ll also be able to enjoy bourbon and wine tasting! I recommend the Angel’s Envy!

In order to take a break from the Florida sun and humidity, I highly recommend cooling off at the “hottest show on ice” Turn It Up! With several showtimes during the event, you’ll certainly have time to make your way over to the Moroccan Palace Theatre for this award-winning show.

Here are my recommendations for tasty pairings:

Cheese Curds with Truffles & Pilsner lager

Pretzel Bratwurst & Oktoberfest beer

Chicken Kabob & Pineapple Coconut hard water

All Beef Slider & Vibin’ lager

Grilled Lamb Kefta & Rose Cider

Fish ‘n Chips & Cucumber weisse

For all the event has going for it and has brilliantly executed, there are a few items of mention that I think would be great modifications and additions for next year. One thing I noticed is that the food taverns only offered commercial beer (Bud, Miller, Coors, ec). So, I found myself going from a food tavern across the festival grounds to a craft beer tavern. Although I understand the importance and strategy behind consolidating the craft beers to their respective taverns, I think that at least one craft beer option should be at each food tavern. Even though you don’t typically think of sweets at an event that is all about the savory, I would like to see a few dessert options available for purchase. The frozen drinks do hit the sweet spot, but even a couple sweet items amongst the variety of savory would be great.

You’ll definitely enjoy the live entertainment and atmospheric music from the speakers. Busch Gardens offers a variety of live music guests and house music of chill covers of some of your favorite songs. Even Cyndi Lauper’s timeless classic Time After Time  gets a male vocal cover that pairs nicely with your food and drink. The live entertainers take the stage towards the back of the festival and each one I heard did a great job of interacting with the park guests.

I had so much fun, and I know that you will too! For the best way to experience the festival, you’ll want to purchase a sampler lanyard. There are two affordable options, and a special offering for Annual Pass Holders. Aside from the financial savings, the sampler lanyard also allows you to save time and increase the convenience of ordering your food and beer. I’ve used the sampler lanyard at other Busch Gardens festivals, and have always enjoyed it!

Cheers!

For festival details, please visit the Busch Gardens website

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Review of “Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice” at Busch Gardens Tampa

Stunning. Absolutely incredible. That pretty much sums up the experience at the new ice show in the Moroccan Palace Theatre at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Since the late 1980s, the Moroccan Palace has been home to some great daily and seasonal shows. From Hollywood to ecology to Christmas, it’s covered it all. Although the shows have been great, one of the most noticeable elements that dates the venue is the set design. Not anymore. The stage has been completely remodeled and LED walls, map projection, and intelligent lighting are now included. In addition to the vast improvements in the production design, the costumes have turned the sexy factor way up! That music, though. The selection of songs is both strategic and emotional. Even the arrangement of the songs is on point. There is a little of everything for the audience. Whether you appreciate a 50s rock style or the music of Lady Gaga, you will find songs to dance to in your seat. Personally, I was moving to the beat of every single song during the show. When you see the show, be sure to arrive early because the house was completely packed!

Busch Gardens is unique in that it is among very few theme parks around the world that offers a daily operating ice-skating show in a theme park setting. In fact, it is the only major theme park in the United States to offer an ice show as part of its daily operations. And with good reason, running an ice show is an incredibly expensive endeavor, especially on a daily basis. Like with any show, the ice shows in the Moroccan Palace Theatre get reworked every 4-5yrs. When it was announced that Iceploration was ending, I was saddened because I typically caught that show every time I visited the park. But as much as I enjoyed Iceploration, Turn it Up blew my mind and instantly left me with wanting to see it again. At the end of the show, the entire house erupted in applause and even received a standing ovation from myself and others. I couldn’t be more pleased with the new show. Each set piece was brilliantly designed to complement the music, costumes, and respective performers.

Typically, I can be a little harsh on shows that rely upon map projections as a chief component to the show. The long and short of that point of view is that I feel that far too often, the map projection becomes the focus of the show instead of the projections complementing or enhancing the experience. Turn it Up struck the perfect balance between the mapped projections, LED walls, and the ice stage performance. The focus of the show IS the excellently choreographed ice-skating performance by the talented skaters; but, the respective performances are accompanied by popular music and advanced show systems technologies. The talent on stage is the focus. Not that the engineers, editors, and technicians that created the video projection content aren’t important. Both are important parts and contribute to the success of the show. Instead of showing off what technology can do to, this show incorporates the advanced show technology with incredible live performances, creating an immersive experience for the eyes, ears, and mind.

Although it is not entirely fair to compare this show to other more conventional theme park shows, because this one is on ice whereas most others are not, the experience of Turn it Up was unparalleled to any other daily operating show that I have had the opportunity to watch. Honestly, it’s the opinion of this critic that this is the BEST theme park show, bar none. I cannot wait to see how the Christmas shows are going to change in the future as a result of the remodel and re-imagination of the ice show and venue. If you have plans to visit central Florida for the theme parks this summer, you do not want to miss Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort’s Beach Retreat & Ninjago

beachretreatWant to visit the beach and Legoland while in Florida? Well, Legoland Florida Resort will be opening their newest resort hotel property in April. The Legoland Beach Retreat combines the best of scaled LEGO designs with many of the amenities and features of staying beachside. Whereas the actual beach is over an hour away, Legoland pulled out all the stops to create that beachy atmosphere for future guests.

The Beach Retreat is a more affordable option for larger families or those families who are traveling together to Legoland. Since the resort hotel accommodations are in the form of beach bungalows, there is plenty of room for you and the kids! Each bungalow is placed in a cove with other bungalows with a playground in the middle. Located off a large lake, this resort property feels every bit as close to the ocean as the Polynesian Resort does at Walt Disney World. Incredibly colorful! I loved the feeling of being a LEGO figure amidst a beachside neighborhood. For those who want to dine at the resort or simply grab a drink, then head to the Lighthouse!

Although the resort is still under construction, I was able to attend a media day the other day. Once the hotel is completed, I will definitely return to take more photos. But, I have a couple photos included with this article so you can get an idea of what the hotel will look like.

Legoland Florida is expanding rapidly, and that is exciting indeed! With a theme park, water park, deluxe hotel, and now moderate hotel, where will it expand next??? Oh yeah, don’t forget to check out the newly opened Ninjago World as well!

A Short History of How the Cinema Shaped Theme Parks (part 2)

dlr_castleFollowing the ending of the Studio System, the now bankrupt motion picture studios were purchased by various conglomerates looking for new sources of income. One of the sources of income that studios began investing into was the concept of movie-based theme parks. With the opening of Walter Elias Disney’s Disneyland in 1955, Universal Studios made the decision to incorporate stand-alone attractions into its newly reopened studio tour. Both Disneyland and the future Universal Studios used their intellectual property (IP) as the basis for creating theme park rides, shows, and attractions. Although movie studios as a “park” began with Laemmle, in its current incarnation, the convergence of cinema and theme park began with Disneyland, and later was perfected by Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida. Since the movie studios already had dedicated movie-going audiences, it made sense to capitalize on the idea of incorporating the concepts from the movies into attractions that the general public could enjoy and be immersed in. This action both acts as advertising for the respective studios and generates income for the movies and park improvements…

For the full article on the Thrillz website, click HERE!