We’re back for another entry in our Haunt Season 2016 series! On our recent visit to Florida, faced with a day-long closure of all Orlando theme parks for the first time since 2004 (thanks, Hurricane Matthew), the Downlow crew was looking for something to do after the storm passed and the local travel bans were lifted. Fortunately for us, we remembered seeing a billboard for Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa and thought, “why not?”
We’re so glad we took a chance on this event which often lives in the shadow of Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. Don’t be fooled – Howl-O-Scream (HoS) is the real-deal, an excellent collection of intricate and menacing haunted houses that highlight original stories and characters.
Busch Gardens Tampa is a fascinating park. Opened in 1959, BGT is part-amusement park, part-zoo, with several world-class roller coaster nestled right up against elephant pens and a sprawling safari field. Like its sister park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, BGT is an expansive property consisting of several different areas (Morocco, Nairobi, Egypt, etc). We opted for the early-entry HoS ticket that allows guests to enter BGT starting at 5 pm. HoS doesn’t start until 7:30 pm, and on the night we were there, the park closed at 6 pm. Fortunately, the rides in the Egypt section were kept open for guests, and no one stopped us from exploring the rest of the virtually empty park before HoS started.
Quick note for theme park enthusiasts: the coasters at BGT are definitely worth the price of admission. While the newest family coaster, Cobra’s Curse, was certainly a fun ride, we were especially impressed with Cheetah Hunt, Sheikra and Montu! And we’d be remised if we didn’t mention Falcon’s Fury, a sadistic drop tower in the middle of the park. Better than explaining it, we’ll just show you the video. Yikes!
After we took a few laps around the park, it was finally time for HoS to begin, promptly at 7:30. Like other haunted attractions, HoS has several haunted houses and scare zones. They also make great use of some of the dark, quiet spaces in the park where you wouldn’t expect a jump scare. But the main event is the houses and HoS offers us six of them, ranging from terrifying to just “ok”:
- Motel Hell – Our undisputed choice for favorite house of the night (and maybe our favorite of the year). Motel Hell is, as you would imagine, set in a creepy and seemingly abandoned roadside motel. Inside, we were guided through long corridors with hotel doors on each side, a swimming pool area in the back, and finally a terrifying encounter with a Slender Man-type antagonist whose face I can still see in my head! The sound mixing in this house was especially on-point. Just a great haunted house.
- Unearthed – Our second favorite house of the night and one that is themed as an archaeological dig gone terribly wrong. This is a loud, long haunted house and at one point after a particularly jarring jump scare, we found ourselves almost running to get out of there quicker. Fun fact – Unearthed is located in the queue/underneath section of the now-defunct Gwazi wooden roller coaster.
- The Black Spot – A new house for 2016 that is pirate themed. This was the first house we entered during our visit and it did a great job of setting the scene for the night. The sets are well-made and the scareactors, using a mix of face paint and masks, were great in this one.
- Circus of Superstition: The Last Laugh – Readers of the Downlow might already know that 3D houses are not our favorite haunts. That said, Circus of Superstition was surprisingly good. It had several great sets, and the bright colors were just jarring enough to keep us off-guard. Kudos to the Clown Emcee who kept guests entertained while they waited in line.
- Death Water Bayou – This house dates back to 2013 but still packs a pretty solid punch. The bayou theme plays out in a series of scenes involving funeral processions and voodoo monsters but even if you know what you’re getting into before you walk in, the house still delivers some great scares.
- Zombie Containment Unit 15 – Before entering this house, guests are given a toy gun and given the objective to “stun” the zombies in order to make their way out safely. We knew this was going to be a popular house and it was by far the longest line of the night. But there was little about it that was scary or even exciting. Probably not worth the wait on a busy night.
- Zombie Mortuary – Another HoS regular, this house opened in 2011. In short, zombies attack, more zombies are created, repeat. Definitely the least favorite of the night – glad we did this one last.
Aside from our disappointment with those last two zombie-themed houses, we were extremely impressed with Howl-O-Scream! Since opening in 2000, the event has grown a solid cult following and after our first visit, we can see why. While other events are quick to use movies or other intellectual property as a basis for the houses, HoS keeps a laser focus on original stories that entertain and terrify. Two of these houses – Motel Hell and Unearthed – are every bit as good as the houses operating at HHN and other well-known haunts.
So if you ever find yourself in Central Florida with a free night in October, the Dis Downlow highly recommends Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa!
Here are some pictures we took during the event!
If You Go:
- Howl-O-Scream operates every Thursday through Sunday through October 30. The event runs 7:30 pm to 1 am each night.
- Ticket prices start at $65.00 for single-night entry and $35.99 if you buy a four-pack of tickets. Tickets allow for early entry into the park, usually beginning at 5 pm. Rides are open during the event with very little wait time.
- On-site parking is available at Busch Gardens Tampa for $20.
- An FAQ for Howl-0-Scream is available here on Busch Gardens website.