Howl-O-Scream Busch Gardens Tampa 2015
We made the trek over to Tampa last weekend to visit Busch Gardens for their annual Howl-O-Scream event. With only an hour or so separating Universal Studios (home of Halloween Horror Nights) and Busch Gardens (home of Howl-O-Scream), folks tend to be paralyzed at times with fear of making a trip in either direction, especially when visiting Orlando for theme parks. Is Howl-O-Scream worth the trip? Absolutely.
Putting aside the fact that Busch Gardens has some of the best thrill rides (which remain open during HOS), they put on an excellent scary Halloween event that at times provides more scares and terrified screams than their big budget neighbor up the road. While Universal tends to focus on large scale, glossy products for their Halloween offering, one could think of Busch Garden’s product as more in line with an independent film or indie band – gritty and focused with their eyes on the prize of providing scares. That said, Busch Gardens partnered this year with Robin Cowie, the producer of one of the all time best indie horror films, “The Blair Witch Project” to produce their cornerstone house, Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge.
Busch Gardens Tampa offers 7 haunted houses for this year’s Howl-O-Scream, with only 1 of them being a new offering (Unearthed). While we enjoyed many of the returning houses from prior years, we would love to see a newly replenished lineup next year. The following are notes, house scores and rankings for this year:
- Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge – I would encourage anyone interested in the event to visit Howl-O-Scream’s YouTube page to check out the backstory for this house as it is brilliantly done. The story from the online campaign carries to the park over as you enter the house queue, which is set to look like you are walking into the video story itself, complete with digging equipment and a mining tunnel entranceway. The Unearthed house is well done and in line with bigger budget properties that the competition offers. There is a ton of visual candy throughout the house, along with a variety of scares that lead up to a confrontation with Scarlett herself. One additional feature in the house is the use of a camera that takes continuous shots so that you can buy a souvenir that will forever remind you of your look of being terrified. (4 1/2* out of 5*)
- Zombie Mortuary – This remains our favorite returning house as it is packed with scares that come at you from everywhere. Zombie Mortuary contains narrow walkways with plenty of turns that allow for scares from all sides, above and even below. There is never a time that we have been through this house without getting at least one really good scare. (4* out of 5*)
- Death Water Bayou – Creepy and scary, this house delivers many scares, including an incredible bungee effect. Out of any houses that I’ve ever been through, this house provided one of the biggest scares that I’ve ever had. (4* out of 5*)
- Zombie Containment Unit – This house provides the most fun that you may ever had at a haunted event as you are armed with laser tag pistols and instructed to shoot the zombies before they get you. This can be extremely exhilarating when the house is not packed with others or still a fun concept when the lines are packed. Our venture through on Saturday was packed, which left the house feeling like a great concept (we’ve had an amazing time in the past), but left a little to be desired because of the amount of people bunched up inside. (3 1/2* out of 5*)
- The Basement – If you like gore, this is the house for you. While some haunts shy away from bloodied body parts, The Basement goes above and beyond in providing stomach churning blood and guts. Our favorite giant rat returned this year in the house and we’d love to see him battle it out with his I4 nemesis, the HHN Bear. Beware the smells that are used in this house if you have a weak stomach. (3 1/2* out of 5*)
- Circus of Superstition 3-D – This house always has one of the longest wait times by far, which is interesting as it’s a 3D offering. There are a bunch of fun visual effects, and we loved the giant clown head near the end of the house. Lots of fun scares from within the walls of the house as well. (3* out of 5*)
- DeadFall – While this was one of the scariest offerings for us last year, this year just did not click well. I think our run through had some missing actors (unless their scenes were removed from last year) and the house just felt empty and very short. (2 1/2* out of 5*)
Unlike Halloween Horror Nights, there are no “set” scarezones, meaning that for the most part, the park is wide open for scare attacks. Busch Gardens employs excellent ambient lighting and set decorations in some areas and in other areas, it is so dark that you’d be hard pressed to not want to use a flashlight. As a result, you never know what may be lurking within these areas. While some of the set areas provide incredible scary moments (Scarlett’s minions), it’s the other areas that leave you second guessing every bush that you walk past. This is a great example of demonstrating that big budget doesn’t always equal big scares as the VFTCS crew left Busch Gardens tentative about walking down any pathway.
Busch Gardens Tampa offers one show as part of their Howl-O-Scream event, Fiends. Fiends is in line with Universal’s Bill & Ted show in that it provides laughs as well as sexy dancing. However, while Bill & Ted sometimes approach the line of controversy, Fiends will gladly cross it and does so with glee. We enjoyed the Fiends show greatly and would recommend the Fiends dinner package to anyone that is coming to the event for one night as it offers a great buffet, priority seating for the show and front of the line access to the houses until 8:30pm.
One of our favorite (not so scary) features of Howl-O-Scream returned this year, in zombie bumper cars. You can’t go wrong with mixing zombies and merciless car crashing and this attraction is guaranteed to leave you smiling.
Overall, Howl-O-Scream is a tremendously fun event that brings the scares to their audience. It’s well worth making the drive from Orlando if you are visiting the local parks and it’s even more worthwhile for locals to attend (multiple times if possible). We are hopeful that the addition of Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge is the beginning of more detailed story based houses being added annually and we look forward to visiting again next year.
The following is video footage we shot at the event as well as pictures from our visit.