Review from our Friday, September 21, 2012 visit.
We will be rating each house on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being best, scariest, down-right don't miss this one! Please keep in mind this was opening weekend and the event grows & changes over the course of it's run.
We arrived at Busch Gardens early in the afternoon to get in some regular park time before Howl-O-Scream (HOS) began. While we enjoyed the extra time, because of our early entry we didn't get to see if they had scareactors out in the parking lot again - which was a great touch last year. We also missed out on the experience of the grand entrance of the event, with the garden gate, fog and scareactors. However we did walk through on the way out, and found Trickster tending to his garden.
Busch Gardens hit it out of the park again with their general theming. Nearly every tree or bush has a special lighting effect, machines are spewing fog around every corner and you never know where you'll come across a scary prop - or a ghillie suit!
This year they had 3 DJ booths jammin' throughout the park. You'll find them by Cheetah Hunt, Sheikra and in Jungala. We found that the one by Sheikra seemed to be the busiest, with the most people dancing and hanging out.
Shop of Horrors
Just past the main gates you'll find the Shop of Horrors. This is their wonderfully themed and decorated gift shop just for the Halloween event. Everyone needs to walk through to see the incredible detail and care they put into this shop. This year they even expanded into the back storage room for "Trickster's Lair" with even more merchandise and gory props. HOS also has the best merchandise between them and HHN. Lots of fun and unique items that you actually want to buy. (I may have picked up a 13 keychain myself).
In the name of research, we decided to take part in the Fright Feast this year. The Desert Grill became fairly busy at 6pm, but not jam-packed as there were plenty of seats to choose from. Once everyone got through the buffet the first round, going back for seconds took no time at all.
The buffet consisted of beef brisket, macaroni & cheese, fish filets, chicken nuggets, various salads, mashed potatoes, a taco bar and more. There are seperate display tables for desserts and non-alcoholic beverages. You can purchase a beer or a mixed drink at the Dessert Grill Bar as well. The buffet is your basic "safe, pleasing to everyone" kind of buffet. Let's face it - you're not getting this package for the food - it's for the early house access. However, there is one exception - the pumpkin cheesecake. We've read comments from others who were drooling and dreaming over eating this again, and we have to say - they are right! Creamy, smooth with just the right amount of pumpkin flavor, this is nearly enough reason for the buffet!
The buffet is from 6-7pm, and Fiends begins at 6:30. As far as Fiends goes, we've never been big fans, but maybe it was something in the food because this year we found ourselves enjoying the campy, raunchy, naughty nurse show more than before. Could it be because we were inside in the A/C? The more intimate atmosphere? Whatever the reason, it makes for fun entertainment while eating.
As we mentioned, the real reason to get this package is for the early house admission. From 7-7:30pm, you get exclusive early access to all houses, and then front of the line access to the houses until 8:30pm. This is a great option to knock out several houses early in the night. The Trickster was messing with the weather tonight, and we spent nearly two hours taking shelter from the torrential downpour. Mother Nature owes us a refund - we ended up losing out on our hour of front of the line access. Fortunately, the rain cleared out the park pretty well and we didn't really need front of the line for the rest of the night.
Food & Cocktails
We were thrilled to see the stand in front of Zambia Smokehouse brought back our favorite menu item - individually priced ribs! Grab one to go instead of a whole meal for a zombie-approved snack. For a full review of HOS Specialty Drinks, visit our other post here.
HOS had a hit on their hands with last year's roaming hoards, so they gave it another go for this year. As we mentioned the downpour earlier, we didn't get to fully experience the hoards this year. Most of them leave during the rain, but we did find a few dedicated scareactors toughing it out in the rain. Major kudos to them for their dedication to their role. Costumes were soaked, prosthetics were falling off, but they shoved on, scaring as if nothing was happening. It was great to watch - from under the safety our our canopy!
After the rain disappeared, the hoards we did come across were zombie football players and cheerleaders - who we found circled around a pour soul, taunting her. Don't they know bullying isn't PC? Other hoards out there consisted of evil clowns, little children riding tricycles, and others that don't fall into a recognizable category. We still love their random traditional scareactors with the creepy babies and strollers, and the fake janitors - who blend in seamlessly until you look close. And the ghillie suits - we can't forget to mention one of the best parts. Yes, that bush did just move - and it wants to get you!
They did have one regular scarezone set up - Faded Memories - in the walkway from the Kangaroo area up to Seasame Street area. Several old icons of the past each had their own small stage area themed to them. We got some very good scares here, as the actors played very well off each other, and stayed true to their character. Can't help but be a bit disappointed that our favorite icon (that we've experienced so far) Ms. Vayne wasn't part of the act. This is an area you don't want to miss walking through. Fun and very well done.
At risk of sounding like a broken record, we have to repeat our thoughts that the scareactors are absolutely top-notch at creating a personalized experience. They actually interact with you instead of just a quick "boo". You might find yourself with a scareactor that you just can't shake (check your car's backseat before you leave-you don't want that following you home!). You can tell they love their job and it shows through with their contagious enthusiasm.
Do the roaming hoardes work at Busch Gardens? Yes. Does that mean we want to see them return for a third year in a row in 2013? No. It was fun but it would be best if they return to actual scarezones - along with their original roaming scareactors - next year.
Yet again because of the rain, (and running out of time), we didn't get to see The Awakening or Slip of the Tongue street shows. The Awakening takes place by Sheikra plaza, and Slip of the Tongue is over by Cheetah Hunt. These sounded like something we would've enjoyed, and we're sad we missed them. We'll say it again - one night just isn't enough to see everything and still take time to chill and enjoy yourself at this event.
Busch Gardens has elaborately themed house queues, and this year is no exception - in fact, they've taken it to the next level with one of the houses…
Blood Asylum - New!
Located in the former Deconstruction building, Blood Asylum has some gory shoes to fill - which it does with some guts left over. Gory, gross and downright disturbing, which provide some excellent startle scares. If you were a big fan of Deconstruction, you'll find enough similarities here to satisfy you.
Circus of Superstition 3D - New!
This is the house that breaks new ground on themed queues. The bright lights of the circus can be seen just before the creepy circus music hits your ears. The entire area leading up to the house is heavily decorated with a grand lighted entrance and giant circus sign. Clown barkers are yelling into megaphones, trying to draw in more victims, umm.. guests. They even have a clown working the line, making bad jokes and inappropriate comments to the guests - such a great "why didn't they think of this earlier" addition. It makes waiting in line go much faster when you have entertainment to interact with.
This house is about superstitions, and you will be forced to break them in the house, heck you start out by walking under a giant ladder, which happens to have a creepy clown (are there other kinds?) hanging on the ladder grabbing and yelling at you. He looks a bit like the Trickster, but not sure if he's supposed to be or not. Sadly, we found the exterior and queue the best part of the house, and that's coming from someone here who HATES clowns that didn't find this house very scary. Lots of colorful rooms with different superstitions to experience, but not that many good startle scares. More creepy and fun than truly scary. Still a good one to see.
Ultimate Gamble: Condemned
We went through this one early in the night, so we suffered from some light leakage. We were looking forward to the flashlight prop, but the house was so bright, the flashlight was unnecessary. Wait until nightfall to hit this one. Nevertheless, they took last year's brand new house and put a different spin on it. Compared to last year's Ultimate Gamble, we think they lost the bet with this revision. The house seemed a bit lifeless and lacking the energy that the previous incarnate had. The former great detail of the house is now hidden by dark corners or tarps to appear more "condemned", which is a shame. It has some fun scenes with its residents, but lacks big scares overall. We wish we could've had time to do this again after nightfall to give it a second chance. Great exterior on this one too!
This house premiered last year, and with it being one of the stand-out favorites then, we were happy to see as one of the houses that returned. Busch Gardens outdoes themselves with the queue theming again with this one - both at the beginning and, where you least expect it, the exit. Right before you enter the house, you'll pass a cavernous scene with a skeleton reciting "The Raven", which is frightening and funny at the same time. Remember to look up just as you enter the house to see Poe himself yelling down at his guests. After entering the giant gothic-style house of Lenore, you become immersed into the dark, demented world of Edgar Allen Poe. You'll get multiple startles and perfectly tag-teamed misdirection scares throughout this house. You travel through several scenes of Poe's work and troubled life as you try to find your way out of this haunted mansion. You might think you're safe as you exit, but those garden statues have other plans…
This was by far our favorite house last year, and it gets to keep that title for another year. Horrific zombies have taken over the mortuary - and they're looking for their next meal - you! A very unique storyline mixed with incredible detail make this a house you need to experience a few times to take it all in. Ever want to know what it's like to be 6 feet under? This house does the best job of pulling you into the story and making you believe what's happening. A definite don't miss.
Nightshade Toy Factory
We've never been big fans of this house, and this year is no exception. We think it's time to send this house to the big world of dead haunted houses in the sky…err, or would that be below? Yet again, we say that toys come to life should be scary, but it just feels tired, and for the first time, the scareactors are even starting to show it. Leave this one for last...if you have time...and if it's a short wait.
We decided that one house for another $60 for the two of us just wasn't a good value for us this year.
We can't believe we didn't make it to the club this visit, but expect loud music, dancing characters and drinks. A nice escape to dance and chill with fellow adults.
While we did get skunked because of the weather and lost nearly 2 hours of wandering the grounds, we still had an absolute blast and hopefully we can squeeze in one more trip before it ends. We stand by our comment from last year that one night just isn't enough to fully enjoy this event.
Overall, we are always thrilled and excited to return to Howl-O-Scream because the designers take it just a bit further with fun, excitement and entertainment every year. Yet again, Howl-O-Scream catches the heart, soul and spirit of Halloween, along with best overall integrated park theming and atmosphere.
Official Event Information
Houses have been announced, icon has been revealed and tickets are now available! Click on the link to read which houses are returning, and learn about the 2 new houses. Also, event dates, ticket info and more.
Howl-O-Scream 2012 Review
Read our full review of the event here which will include thoughts on each house, scarezone, overall atmosphere and more.
Find menus, prices & reviews of the drinks along with bar locations throughout the park. Now posted!
What info has been dug up about Howl-O-Scream's 13th year? What do we think will happen? Read our predictions, rumors and late breaking HOS news that we've come across from various sources. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Whether this is your first time or your 13th, we've got tips to help you make the most out of your visit.
Review from our Friday, September 21, 2012 visit.
2012 Howl-O-Scream Event Dates:
Thursdays - Saturdays
September 21, 22, 27, 28, 29
Oct. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20,25, 26, 27
There are a variety of ticketing options available. The base one night, walk-up gate price is $79, but there are several ways to get discounts on your admission. Be sure to read through HowlOScream.com for full ticketing info.
Scroll down for full House & Scarezone information.
Howl-O-Scream Icon & Commercial Revealed!
The official TV Commercial has been released! Check it out in all it's creepyness below. Busch Gardens has also released the official website for the event! Be sure to poke around for more details about the event and ticketing information.
The icon has been announced! Meet Trickster.
@HOSInsider posted this quote and photo on twitter & facebook this morning:
"They can’t resist The Golden Key.
That taunts and calls and beckons thee.
I hang it there so they will use it…
To come in and play with me.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Trickster."
@HOSInsider also commented: "He's got a job to do - to hang the key and lure curious victims into the Garden. And he takes his work VERY seriously."
He also mentioned that we will be seeing a lot of him all over the park. Great. He looks an awful lot like a deranged clown. Hate clowns.
Howl-O-Scream will be keeping the "The Dark Side of the Gardens" theme from last year, but will have a new icon, advertising, etc. Read our thoughts regarding this over in the Rumors section.
Official Howl-O-Scream Houses, Scarezones and More!
July 13, 2012
Blood Asylum - NEW!
"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." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: This sounds like it'll be a good ol' gory house. It's taking over the location of the previous Deconstruction houses, which were the goriest of the event, so lets hope this one does the location proud.
Circus of Superstition 3-D - NEW!
"You’ve been taught to avoid black cats and sidewalk cracks your whole life, but all those years of bad luck have caught up with you. Crazed circus clowns challenge you to survive thirteen superstitions in their 3-D Tent of Terror, but it will take more than luck to escape this whole new dimension of fear." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: A circus. Great. One of us at PTTP is really not a fan of clowns. This could be interesting...
Vampire Casino: Ultimate Gamble
"Vampires have fallen out of vogue and the Ultimate Gamble casino has been shut down. The power is off, and the neon signs that once lit up the sky have gone out. Only the bravest guests dare visit the empty carcass of the once-vibrant casino, grabbing their flashlights to “enter at their own risk." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: Looking forward to seeing how they've updated this house with new scares. How will the flashlights work? We assume each "group" to enter at a time will get a leader that will get a flashlight. We'll find out soon!
Nightshade Toy Factory
"The old Nightshade Toy Factory has long been patrolled by diabolical dolls, terrible teddy bears and possessed playthings, but recent containment issues at a nearby nuclear facility have started to affect these terrible toys. Now, the mutations will stop at nothing to devour the humans that have “enslaved” them for so long." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: We've never been big fans of this house, but we'll give it another chance this year.
"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." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: This was one of the best houses last year and we can't wait to see how they've changed it for this year.
"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." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: This was one of the best houses last year, and it'll be interesting to see how much (if any) they change it from last year.
Alone (extra fee house)
"A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN HORROR. The deranged Master Alexander Daedalus opened Minotaur Storage to house his vast collection of “cultural” remains. But now his sinister obsession with hoarding has expanded to stockpiling people. Escape this lunatic’s labyrinth or you will become part of his collection. Can you make it out ALONE?" - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: We're yet to experience ALONE, but hopefully this will be the year. Our advice - buy your tickets early!
"Thirteen years of horror-filled memories come swarming back as the most sinister icons, diabolical characters and disturbing scenes from your favorite Howl-O-Scream haunted houses and scarezones from the past converge to create the ultimate "best of" scrapbook of scares." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: This sounds like some great photo-ops here. Hope we get to see Ms. Vayne again. We assume they'll still have those random roaming hoardes and ghille suits (those are THE BEST!) spread throughout the park. They do an excellent job of scareing you out of nowhere at this park. The atmosphere and scares throughout the park have always been extremely well done.
Fiends - theater show
"Is there a doctor in the house? These captivating creatures of the night 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"." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: This is a major fan favorite show, but we just could never get into it.
Club XIII - 21+ dance club
"Escape the hordes and head to the transformed Marrakesh Theater to drive yourself mad partying at Howl-O-Scream's exclusive dance club. This adults-only nighttime playground keeps the energy pumping all night long with non-stop music, premium signature cocktails, drink specials and exclusive appearances by Howl-O-Scream's most terrifying personalities." - Howl-O-Scream Official Description
PTTP's Comments: The club is a good place to get away and grab a drink and dance. It's usually pretty empty until later in the night, but then it gets busy.
2012 Howl-O-Scream Auditions Have Been Announced
"We have opened up our next HOS audition dates (July 20 & 21) for Scare Squad, and Entertainer II positions are now posted on www.BuschGardensJobs.com. We have 300+ more roles to fill. Once we get July 20-21 auditions filled, we’ll open up July 27 & 28.
DON'T FORGET - you have to apply online before your audition is scheduled." from HR Mike, official HOS Facebook page
@HOSInsider posted these teaser images on twitter today. It looks like the icon is apparently going to be some kind of Gardener/Gatekeeper type of person? It has not been confirmed that this scary gardener-guy is the icon, but is heavily speculated.
The photo had this quote with it: "I hang it there so they will use it…"
There also is a more detailed picture of the 13 key that was teased much earlier this year.
We were originally disapointed that they are using "The Dark Side of the Gardens" as the general theme again, but as we thought about it, it's a very fitting general theme given the lushness of the park. They could always use that as the underlying theme with a layover of a different icon that is tied into the Gardens in some way. We're excited to see how it all pulls together this year.
We should be getting the full Howl-O-Scream website released in the next couple weeks or so as well!
We received a press release from Busch Gardens about how the horticulture team is preparing "The Dark Side of the Gardens" for this year's event. We immediately emailed back inquiring about the same theme name as last year, assuming it was a mistake. However, we quickly got a reply that Howl-O-Scream will be keeping the "The Dark Side of the Gardens" theme from last year, but will have a new icon, advertising, etc.
Hmm. Gotta say we're pretty bummed here. Same theme? We hate to say repeat year, but if we see "roaming hoardes" as scarezones again...
Of course we are still very excited to experience this year's event, but we were looking forward to a new theme... although nothing will ever beat Ms. Vayne!
Today's the day! Read the Official Event Info page for full house announcements and one scarezone. We stil are waiting on an overall theme and the rest of the scarezones.
Time to catch you all up on some rumors & hints about this year's Howl-O-Scream. In early June, our buddy @HOSInsider (the official twitterer for the event) popped back up in our timelines with some chatter. One of early posts to twitter was "There shall be a theme to #HOS 2012, and it shall be absolutely befitting of a 13th-year event at Busch Gardens". This is the event's 13th year, so speculation is that it will evolve around a luck/superstitious theme. He (or she?) also posted this picture to their facebook page:
So the number 13 looks to be playing a role in some form. Wait, 13 houses? Wow, thanks HOS! (Just kidding folks.)
According to an article from cfnews13.com, they said there will be 7 houses. Truth? We'll see. Jill Revelle (PR for Busch Gardens) stated that the Alone house will be returning for this year. Regarding houses Revelle said:
"The other traditional houses will build upon their storyline from past seasons at Howl-O-Scream, Revelle explained.
“We do have it on good authority that half of the returning houses will feature 'the next chapter of the story' and the other half will feature some new scares as well.”
So half new and half returning with updated stories looks to be the plan. Also, Revelle and @HOSInsider both alluded to the fact that there is a Friday the 13th in July, so we expect to get some official details released on that date.
Follow Howl-O-Scream on twitter, youtube & facebook for updates and information.
Oh, and we must say that Busch Gardens/Howl-O-Scream does a phenomenal job on the social media aspect of the event.
Whether this is your first visit or you're a veteran, check out our tips to make the most of your night.
Your event ticket gets you into the park before the official event start time so you can grab some food, coaster ride, etc. beforehand. If you want to take part in the extra Alone house, purchase your tickets early - they will likely be sold out on the date you arrive. If you didn't buy tickets for Alone early, when you get to the event go straight back to the house for your best chance.
If you are a beer drinker, you are set - there are several stands pouring cold ones throughout the park. If you prefer mixed drinks your options are more limited with a few stands scattered around that also serve liquor. The Crown Colony bar (across from Cheetah Hunt) is also open with a full bar. Inside the carnival games area in Timbuktu is another larger bar with more options and specialty drinks.
Expected to return again is their "themed nightclub", the 21+ club located in the Marrakesh Theater at the front of the park. You'll find music, signature cocktails, drink specials and appearances by "terrifying personalities".
All drinks must be finished before entry into a house.
One drink served per person, and must have ID. Busch Gardens strictly enforses all drinking laws.
A popular option is the "Fright Feast" - a buffet that opens just before the event begins and you get to enjoy the Fiends stage show while you eat - but the best part is the early access to the houses. Read our review of Fright Feast from 2012 to see if it's right for you.
**It has not been officially announced yet if Fright Feast is returning for 2013. Stay tuned.**
If you forgo the Fright Feast, the "eat before, or small snacks during the event" strategy works best for getting the most out of the night. Take part in our favorite must-do stop, the Zambia Smokehouse for some ribs...mmm...ribs...yeah, we recommend stopping for ribs.
Over the last two years we have seen more cabs waiting out front after the event closes, which is a great improvement over years ago when they were few & far between. Our last cabbie mentioned that there aren't usually many taxis parked waiting, so on the busier nights they are taken early and are harder to come by. So take our experience and plan accordingly. Have a taxi # pre-programmed in your phone in the event there are no taxis to be found.
#1 Piece of Advice
Do not wear flip-flops to this event! If you value your toes, wear sneakers. I promise you - your feet will get stepped on as the person in front of you jumps backwards after a good scare.
And be nice, the scareactors know where you live.
What would be your number one piece of advice? Share it with everyone in the comments!
At Howl-O-Scream you will find several Food & Beverage stands set up throughout the park that sell a variety of beer (draft and bottle) and snacks. If you are looking for specialty cocktails or hard liquor, your options are more limited. Mixed drinks & Specialty Cocktails can be purchased at Club XIII, Crown Colony Pub, Carni Bar, Gwazi Walkway, Sheikra Plaza and at the Dessert Pub.
If you have a Busch Gardens annual pass you get 10% off your drinks!
Superstition XIII - $7.99 | $10.99 Souvenir Blinkie Mug | $9.99 Souvenir Glow Cup or Goblet | $6.99 Souvenir Refills
Specially blended flavors of vodka, orange, lemonade, cherry and ginger ale.
Trickster - $7.99 | $10.99 Souvenir Blinkie Mug | $9.99 Souvenir Glow Cup or Goblet | $6.99 Souvenir Refills
Three Olives "Loopy" Vodka stirred up with crangrape and lime. (served only until 11pm)
Monster Bombs - $7.99 (served only until 11pm)
Jagermeister and Monster Energy Drink.
Premium Mixed Drinks - $7.99
Single shots only. (served only until 11pm)
House Wine - $6.99 | $8.99 souvenir cup | $5.99 souvenir cup refill
Yard of Beer - $13.99 | $6.99 Yard Refill | $1.99 Yard Strap
Budweiser & Bud Light - $7.69
Bud Light Lime - $7.99
Bacardi Sangria - $6.99
Budweiser or Bud Light at the drink stands.
(More draft beer options available at restaurants, such as Florida Avenue at Zambia Smokehouse and at the Crown Colony Pub.)
Your choice of Specialty Glass for your drink. Choose from a yellow or red glow cup, a blinkie mug or a glow skull goblet.
Food & Beverage Tents
Full-service bar located in the arcade area by the Dessert Grill.
Crown Colony Pub
Located across from Cheetah Hunt. The same specialty drinks are available here, along with other liquors of choice and beer.
Located at the front of the park. Enjoy the same specialty cocktails at this full-service bar along with dancing, character meet & greets and dance-club music at this adults-only club.
Liquid Courage Bar
Located outside of the main entrance...in case you need some help facing the scares before you go in!
Important Notes: All liquor/beer sales end 30 minutes before the end of the event. One drink per person, per ID.
Review: The Superstition XIII is basically the same drink as last year's Zombie Chiller. Our thoughts haven't really changed from last year's review on this mix. It's a light, fruity drink with a refreshing crisp from the lemonade. Maybe not the best value since it's still light on the vodka, but still refreshing and tasty.
The Trickster's got an interesting cocktail recipe here. The Loopy vodka is bascially all the goodness of Froot Loops for adults. If you enjoy incredibly sweet cocktails with a slight sour finish, this one is right up your alley. A better value, but this isn't something you'd want to be drinking all night.
As far as our thoughts on getting the Souvenir Cups, if you plan on having a few draft beers that night, go ahead and get the Yard. Plus, with the Yard, if you aren't done by the time you reach the house entrance, you can snap on the lid and go right on in, instead of having to finish it first. Same thought goes for the specialty liquor drinks cups since the price of the refills is only $7.
What did you think of the cocktails? Share your thoughts in the comments!