As the harvest moon slowly faded behind a thick coating of clouds, courtesy of the quickly moving Hurricane Nate, fans of fear, fun, and rollercoasters convened at Busch Gardens Tampa for the 18th edition of Howl-O-Scream! Some had been there many times to explore the dark corners of the 335 acre park, while others were making their first voyage into the shadows.
This year, the event featured six houses, five scare zones, and numerous spooky food and drink offerings. Of course, many of the signature rides and attractions were also open, but with a sinister twist.
Palm Beach Happening was once again honored to be able to attend this annual festival of the freaky, and we are pleased to bring you our thoughts on this years event.
As the number of haunted attractions continues to grow, the competition is leading to more and more innovation. Facilities such as Busch Gardens do a good job of continually updating and advancing the quality of their Halloween faire, especially considering the fact that many of their haunts have a long lifespan. As we have experienced in our previous visits to the park, the quality remains very high, and the enthusiasm of their scareactors, as well as the sheer numbers of them, continue to up the fear factor.
Below, each haunt is rated based on its level of theming, and general scare factor. The ranking is based on a scale of 1-10.
Haunts (descriptions courtesy of https://buschgardens.com/tampa/events/howl-o-scream)
Theming: 10The newest haunt at Busch Gardens Tampa, this intricately constructed and over the top themed haunt helps set the stage for all of Howl-O-Scream. Each room inhabits their own spooky world, and the fear is palpable. If every haunt was as good as this one, the event would be unbeatable!
Scare Factor: 8.5
- Undead Arena: Live – In a post-apocalyptic world, the Undead Arena: Live is home to a gruesome event starring The Unworthy.
Theming: 7.5The house has potential, and we’re hoping that as the season progresses, it will improve. It is another new house for 2017, and has several high points. The theming is just okay. You can tell that where they put the money in, it’s fabulous. The game show sets are top notch. The fact that larger groups are split up and basically do their own house is also very cool. Where they slipped a bit is the fact that the storyline doesn’t seem cohesive, and the use of fence scares is something you can find at pretty much every local haunt. Still, it’s fun.
Scare Factor: 7
- The Black Spot – An infamous pirate has you marked for death and he has you right where he wants you.
Theming: 9Pirate lore has long been a popular theme during the Halloween season. As such, Busch Gardens does a great job exploiting the fear of dark pirates, such as the infamous Saw Tooth Silas. The use of animatronics, as well as several amazingly themed rooms and very talented actors makes this amongst our top five houses of the night. There is also a room with a rather…hmm…unique flooring that will make you wonder what exactly you’re walking on. That alone upped the theming score.
Scare Factor: 8
Theming: 9 Scare Factor: 7.5This is quickly becoming a perennial favorite at Howl-O-Scream. After all, who doesn’t love shooting zombies? Always a favorite of the horror genre, the popularity of shows such as the Walking Dead has breathed new life into the undead, making this one of the longer lines in the park. Although the experience is fun and interactive, if the posted wait time is longer than 45 minutes, we might not wait. However, a 20 minute wait was average later in the night (after 11pm,) so we’d highly recommend putting this at the tail end of your adventure.
- Death Water Bayou – Escape the depths of the Bayou before you fall victim to the Voodoo Queen’s spell.
Theming: 9Often imitated, but never duplicated, this house took us back to our visit to the Big Easy. With subtle references to Cajun Country, as well as an over the top storyline that is very easy to follow, this house keeps getting better each year. Long live the voodoo queen!
Scare Factor: 8.5
- Unearthed – During maintenance at the park, an excavation crew uncovered a centuries-old house buried deep beneath the ground.
Theming: 9.5Although opened in 2015, this house also has that old favorite vibe. Originally designed by Robin Cowie of Blair Witch fame, you are routed through the skeleton of Gwazi, one of the oldest rollercoasters in the park, on your way below to the entrance. Scattered about, you find remnants of the construction company who dug up the residence, and experience what happens after you dig up something that should have just been left alone!
Scare Factor: 8
- Motel Hell – Nightmares become reality at this deserted motel once you realize why it’s conveniently vacant.
Theming: 9.5If you do any amount of travelling, this might very well be the scariest house of them all! The hotel looks normal enough from the outside, until you step into the darkness and realize something isn’t right. The attention to detail inside will transport you to one of the many roadside hotels in the Tampa area, and the screams, blood, and mutated interior will take you somewhere else entirely. We’re pretty sure that you’ll never think of the song “Mr. Sandman” the same way again!
Scare Factor: 8.5
At Howl-O-Scream, the Scare Zones are also a huge part of the experience!
NEW! Class Deceased
See what happens when savage school kids punish their cruel headmaster in this abandoned schoolhouse-inspired scare zone. Our Facebook fans voted to name this scare zone and now you can experience the terror first hand.
NEW! Carnie Camp
The backstage area of an old carnival breathes new life with its lingering dirty inhabitants. Eerie music fills the air as spine-chilling fairground performers prowl for new test subjects to be featured in the next spectacle of this horrid attraction.
New! Meat Market
Watch a band of sinister and cannibalistic creatures feast on the weak. With chainsaws and sheer disregard, they might just smell your fear and add you to their monstrous menu.
Dare to enter through the perils of the post-apocalyptic Wasteland where scenes of past and present atrocities still linger in an abandoned strip of roadway. Rush through the rusting and rotting piles of debris because those who remain will do the unimaginable to survive and make escape nearly impossible for newcomers.
They also have two spooktacular shows this year. The returning favorite Fiends, as well as mentalist Joshua Seth.
These captivating creatures of the night will infect you with dance fever and keep your pulse pounding with their deranged dance party at Stanleyville Theater.
Inside Your Mind
Your deepest secrets and inside thoughts are revealed as mentalist and psychological illusionist, Joshua Seth, pries them out of a few lucky guests at Dragon Fire Grill.
There are several different tiers of tickets available for this event, with the average ticket starting at around $40 when you purchase in advance online. However, we found that the best way to guarantee you get to see every house, as well as stopping at several exclusive beverage locations, you should consider the VIP tours. You can also choose to skip the lines by utilizing the Front Line Fear option, as well as the Fright Feast, which gives you front of the line access until 8:30 p.m. as well as an exclusive show from Joshua Seth.
After spending time getting scared, you’re stomach will be growling louder than the screams of everyone around you. There are no less than seven bars and restaurants located within the park serving special food and drink pairings, including Zombie Juice, Embalming Fluid, and Grasshopper Tacos. There are also tamer options if you aren’t feeling adventurous!
For more information on Howl-O-Scream, which runs select nights between now and Oct. 29, visit the event’s website, https://buschgardens.com/tampa/events/howl-o-scream/tickets/, or follow the event on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/HowlOScream/.
Of course, we are not the be all and end all of haunted reviews. We are pleased to once again bring you the opinion of View from the Cheap Seats!
Palm Beach Happening looks forward to bringing you highlights from many of the spookiest spots in South Florida. So far, we have experienced Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Enigma Haunt, Fright Nights at the South Florida Fairgrounds, and Howl-O-Scream. On October 14, we will be checking out X-Scream Halloween at G-Star. We might also be heading up to the Orlando area to experience the Shallow Grave! If we survive, we’ll let you know all the gory details!
Remember that Halloween is a time for fun and frivolity. It is a time to come out of your shell, and to acknowledge the mischievous spirit that resides within all of us. Be sure to keep following this column for news on other spooky events and more. If you know of another local event that needs additional undead light shone upon it, please let us know!