On Saturday, Oct. 26, the 13 evils of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa made the most of their last chance to torment terrified park guests for the 2013 season. Though the event boasted large crowds, and some visitors to the park had to wait more than an hour to visit their favorite haunted attractions, the fabulous theming, much improved characters, and exotic locales made for yet another amazing night.
If you haven’t had the thrilling experience of Howl-O-Scream yet, this review will attempt to give you a few basic pointers that might help you to enjoy yourself a little bit more in 2014. When buying tickets to the event, your first add-on should be Fright Feast. This buffet of the damned opens at 5:30 p.m., and provides the opportunity to feed your hunger before the zombies feed on you! It offers a wide selection of chicken, brisket, fish, and salad, as well as a must do taco bar, and more hauntingly yummy desserts than you can shake a dead body at. Honestly, after trying the food in 2012, we weren’t sure if we were going to hazard the experience again, but we were glad we did. The food quality was improved by a factor of five over previous years, with the spicing, flavor, and temperature of the items at a much higher level.
In addition to the amazing food, Fright Feast guests are also the first to brave the dark with a half-hour of early access to all of the haunted houses and enjoy front-of-line privileges until 8:30 p.m. Another benefit of this buffet is the opportunity to view an exclusive performance of the Fiends show. For 2013, Fright Feast cost $26 per person, with group rates and discounts for pass and Fun Card members available. One might expect a small increase for 2014, but the opportunity for front of the line access alone is priceless!
After the show, you may wonder which house to start at first. Most of the crowd from the show naturally goes to the closest house first. Though this may sound more than logical, you only have a limited amount of time to take advantage of your Fright Feast benefits. This year, your Local Getaways Examiner, taking a bit of advice from another member of the ventwing.com community, Barb Nefer, decided to work on a slightly different path. We began our haunting adventure by walking a bit further down the primrose path towards the front of the park, and worked virtually backwards through the houses. Using this technique, we were able to get through all seven of the houses for 2013 with ease before the end of the front-of-the-line access period was over, and even had a couple minutes to spare. In the Blood Asylum, we walked through virtually alone, accompanied by only the gaze of a watchful security guard!
For even more front-of-the-line access, the Front Line Fear pass is definitely the way to go. Utilizing this special pass, priced for 2013 at only $40, we were able to skip more than 90% of the standard queue line and travel through the houses we wanted to see again with ease. For fans who aren’t coaster chickens, The Front Line Fear Extreme pass ups the access and also lets guests skip the line at five freaky coasters for $50.
Each section of the event is rated below based on its level of theming, and general scare factor. The ranking will be on a scale of 1-10.
Haunts (descriptions courtesy of HowlOScream.com)
- Zombie Mortuary: No one remembers how the epidemic started, but now, zombies live here. The undead that infest this small town funeral home feed on the fresh flesh and brains of mortuary mourners to satisfy their insatiable hunger. Avoid the walking dead or you may find yourself deeper than six feet under.
Scare Factor: 8.5
(If you’re afraid of dying, being buried alive, or just have a fear of having your brain eaten by the undead, this house is definitely for you! Zombies are still all the rage, and this house takes full advantage of this. The house suffered a little due to a smaller cast than it had in 2012, as well as a slightly more stale feeling. Perhaps it was the second year slump, but it is still an amazing house.)
- Circus of Superstition – 3D: You’ve tried to avoid black cats and sidewalk cracks, but #13 Clown will make sure that all those years of bad luck catch up with you! Under his command, crazed circus clowns challenge you to survive 13 superstitions in their 3-D Tent of Terror, but it will take more than luck to escape this whole new dimension of fear.
Scare factor: 8
(Freaky clowns are always a good way to scare people, and the addition of the superstitious element adds more of a fear factor as well. The 3D paint and insanely colorful motif heightens the mood as well.)
- Nevermore: Beating hearts, swinging pendulums and a raven’s cries haunt the manor of Lenore, creating a demented and twisted nightmare. Step inside to experience the gothic terror that maddens the lord of the house, and feel delusion overcome reality. Find your way out of this horror story before paranoia authors your final chapter.
Scare factor: 9.8
(This house made its debut at Howl-O-Scream in 2011, when it’s competitor in Orlando also had a very similar house. This house uses the the works of Edgar Allen Poe as a backdrop, and succeeds in bringing them to life with terrifying results. If there was a most improved award from year to year, this house would win hands down!!)
- Death Water Bayou: Deep in the bayou the #6 Voodoo Queen mystically transforms lost wanderers into her minions of evil with black magic. Here, her night servants roam with a zombie-like hunger and seek to grow her collection. The darkest evils lurk in shadows. Get out before you fall victim to her spell.
Scare factor: 9.7
(The early reviews of this house were awesome, and the full experience did not disappoint. The Voodoo Queen and her evil minions are truly amazing to see. The effects in the house were second to none, and the scare factor was better than most.)
- Blood Asylum: As lightning rages and thunder crashes outside, “The Creature” escapes from his holding cell in a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. Now this sadistic deviant is running rampant, skinning his former cellmates and turning the mental hospital into his own torture chamber. This serial killer’s bloody playground will drive you out of your mind with fear.
Scare factor: 8.5
(As the second house we traveled through for the evening, this house did not disappoint. However, the fact that the third person in the group was an on-duty security guard seemed to throw off some of the scareactors timing. It still possesses some of the most intricate sets in the park, and the winding rooms of the Oglethorpe Asylum leave you wondering if you yourself have gone insane.)
- Ultimate Gamble: Reversal of Fortune: Under sleek Vampire reign, the once-vibrant Ultimate Gamble casino glowed. Now werewolves have overthrown their mortal enemies and are running rampant in the casino. The carnivorous beasts have caught on to the scent of fresh blood inside the closed casino. Will you make it out alive before your luck runs out?
Scare factor: 9.1
(Last year, vampires still ruled this space, and the only thing between them and your neck was a flashlight. Now, the werewolves have taken over, and though the old lights have been brightened a bit, werewolves now wait in the shadows for a taste of fresh meat. Some of the make-up effects here were not as high quality as one might expect, but the scares were still above par. It will be interesting to see if this haunt survives another year, and which evil creatures will inhabit it in 2014?)
- The Basement: From Momma’s secret ingredient to Granny’s bone-ground flour, Momma’s Meats’ award-winning recipe has always been a family affair that’s only created in the BASEMENT. Escape the depths of the BASEMENT before she and #4 The Butcher turn you in to the secret sauce! She always said it took blood, sweat and tears!
Scare factor: 9.5
(This house wins for theming in 2013, as the inner workings of a meat packing plant where you are the next ingredient are revealed in this amazing haunt. The actors were on the ball, the sets were amazing, and the smells cannot be described accurately in any review. Let’s just hope that Momma’s Meats are not served on the Fright Feast menu in 2014!)
- Fiends – Performing nightly at the Desert Grill in Timbuktu, this awesome show features captivating creatures of the night that will infect you with dance fever and keep your pulse pounding with their deranged dance party. But when Dr. Freakenstein’s naughty nurses start operating, the diagnosis is always “code pink.”
(This show is a great way to start your experience at Howl O Scream. It is high energy, interactive, and fun, with a good dose of timely humor placed within. If you’re expecting scares, however, this isn’t the show for you.) Costuming: 10, Scare factor: 3
- The 13: Once every century, on precisely the thirteenth year, evil comes out to play. Thirteen evils, to be exact. The #7 Surgeon, #4 Butcher, #11 Psychopath, #13 Clown, #6 Voodoo Queen and their demented friends will torment and terrorize you the moment you enter the gates. This your chance to find out: Who are the 13?
(This zone welcomes you through the Garden gate, and the doors of the 13 lie before you. Though each character in the 13 definitely got into their roles, it would have been nice if each of them would have had their own haunt, scarezone, or show in which they themselves were the star. Nonetheless, this year’s icons were amongst the most creative in the history of the event. ) Costuming: 10, Scare factor: 7
- Harvester’s Haunt – An unnerving soundtrack of banjos, fiddles and harmonicas fill the fields with haunting bluegrass music. Something just doesn’t feel right. You realize you’re not alone when you discover a hoard of sadistic scarecrows. They’re looking to harvest a few lost souls. Will you escape their reach or be theirs forever?
(Though it might be difficult to understand how this particular zone fit in with the theme of the event, it definitely provided some of the best photo ops, and some of the greatest props of any of the scarezones. The overall feel was enhanced by the use of smoke, and the fact that the actors within were highly motivated!) Costuming: 10, Scare factor: 9.5
- Pain Lane – Torture, torment and pain line this sinister street as the #2 Torturer and #12 Hangman stalk their prey in the shadows of this dark and disturbing alley. Here, pain-inducing devices are the toys of the twisted and screams are surrounded by haunting silence. Will you escape this playground of pain before the #2 Torturer and #12 Hangman find you?
(This scarezone suffered from a lack of actors, as well as a general lack of effective theming. Perhaps if it were a more confined space, it would have worked better. It did contain some interesting devices, however.) Costuming: 8, Scare factor: 7
- Roaming hordes: Howl-O-Scream is known for it’s roaming hordes of zombies and other unworldly creatures, but this year the facility seemed to be more empty than in the past. It also seemed as though the lighting had been increased in certain areas that were more gloomy in 2012, and the fact that you didn’t seem to have to fear being accosted everywhere you turned was somehow disconcerting, if that even makes sense! The limited scareactors who were present were highly motivated, however, and made the event that much more fun. Costuming: 10, Scare factor: 9.5
- CLUB XIII – Escape the hordes and head to the transformed Marrakesh Theater to drive yourself mad partying at Howl-O-Scream’s dance club. This nighttime dance playground keeps the energy pumping all night long with non-stop music, premium signature cocktails, drink specials and Taco Bus food. It was not as hopping as it was in 2012, and seemed more like a food truck/refreshment stop than a happening undead dance club.
- Howl-O-Scream Shop of Horrors – This year, the Howl-O-Scream shop of Horrors has been transformed into The Butcher Shop. Find GOREgeous apparel and trendy tees featuring Howl-O-Scream favorites, including the 13 and the infamous Naughty Nurses. You can also purchase or pick up your Front-Line Fear Passes here. Visit this year’s new Voodoo Village Market, located next to The Experiment in the Egypt area of the park by Montu for even more Howl-O-Scream gifts.
Though the Halloween festivities at the park may be over, there’s always something else going on at Tampa’s favorite themed attraction. If you’re not already a fan, “like” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay at facebook.com or check out the park’s blog at BuschGardensTampaBlog.com to get insider updates on all of the park’s happenings.
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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 in the Palm Beaches. If you know of another local event that needs more press, please tell me about it!