Our “Tour of Terror”, our “Weekend of Wickedness”, our “Florida Freight Fest”… I think you get the picture. We made the long journey from Nashville to check out two of the premiere Halloween events on the east side of America. Our first visit was to Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa, where I coined the phrase “Fear in the Busch”, which can have many meanings, especially to those of us that have seen the evolution of grooming habits of the human race. I digress, back to the subject at hand.
We arrived at the park early and by having our tickets on our phones and with little baggage made it through security and into the fear with no issues. With our early arrival we had plenty of time to have a drink and make a plan of attack.
The plan of attack consisted of starting with one of the new houses, two this year, which was in the back of the park and make our way to the front going through scare zones along the way. While waiting for the time to arrive we ran into a friend that was there with some other friends and decided to join forces, you know that whole safety in numbers thing.
Demented Dimensions was the first house that we would be taken on. The tag line and back story of the house was “Unwanted worlds come together at Demented Dimensions”. Constructed above a vortex of otherworldly energies, the abandoned, Sterling Manor houses every door to unwanted worlds, creating a series of portals in Demented Dimensions. Every room and hallway holds a door to a different universe where rules of your world do not apply and escape is nearly impossible.I felt this was a good house. The scenic atmosphere was good and the house had good scares coming from multiple levels and angels. I give it a seven out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
From there we made our way through our first scare zone “Wasteland.” As we made huddled together and made our way through this dark, post-apocalyptic wasteland we saw scenes of past and present atrocities that remained in an abandoned strip of roadway. We made our way through the rusting and rotting piles of debris bearing witness to those that remain and would do the unimaginable to survive, and behold, Dominique got her first big scare of the night. It was a simple scare, distracted by something on her left, being attacked by a creature who was hiding behind something on her right. She never saw it coming. This was one of my favorite scare zones. The scenic and props were well done as well as the costumes. The scareactors had the distract and scare tactic down to a science and actually got a jump from me as well, when another camouflaged scareactor popped out. I give it an eight of ten on the fear-o-meter.
By this time we were ready for a snack and had worked up a thirst so we gave the food truck a try. This is where we encountered our first real glitch and felt that a better system needed to be implemented. In order to get food from the food truck you were required to stand in the same line that serviced the bar to place your order and that would be fine if you were ordering an alcoholic beverage but if you just wanted food it proved to be a major inconvenience. Anyway we finally ended up getting our Philly Cheesesteak which turned out to be quite tasty even though consumed standing in line for the next house.
The next house we went through was a repeat from last year and was one of my favorites called “Motel Hell”. The tag line and back story for this house was “Where your worst nightmares are inescapable” and the backstory claims that your nightmares become reality at this deserted motel once you realize why it’s conveniently vacant. The paranormal presence of its former owners still lurks on the untouched property, mysteriously preventing the brave souls who have attempted to tear it down. Guests who dare to enter will find themselves face-to-face with their worst nightmares and inescapable fate. Once again this house did not disappoint and the scareactors had high energy and great scares. I give this house an eight out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
Next on our journey of fear was a house called “The Black Spot” also a house held over from last year. The house actually had scareactors in the que line which I like and I feel enhances the experience leading up to the house. The tagline for this house was “Escape from Saw Tooth Silas’s murderous hideaway” and the back story was a tale of an infamous pirate that has you marked for death and he has you right where he wants you.When Saw Tooth Silas decides that one should no longer exist, he marks them for death. Victims are then sent to the The Black Spot, where they meet their horrifying end. The trick lies within the dimly-lit corners of the mysterious retreat, holding the secret to escape… or demise. This house had some solid scares even the energy was kinda low in the middle part of the house I still feel it was a good house. I will give it a seven out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
We made our way through one of the new scare zones next that was called Carnie Camp. The back story tells the tale of how the backstage area of an old carnival breathes new life with its lingering dirty inhabitants. Eerie music filled the air as spine-chilling fairground performers prowl for new test subjects to be featured in the next spectacle of this horrid attraction. This scare zone had a lot of potential in my eyes given the subject material. Nothing I hate more that being called out by a carney while walking down the strip at the fair to play one of their rigged games to win a stupid stuffed animal. Wow! I don’t know where that came from but let’s continue. I felt this zone could have been a lot better scenic wise and that the scareactors could have been a little more energetic. Honestly it feel short of my expectations. I give it a five out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
Next on the list was another one of the new houses that was highly touted for this year. “Undead Arena Live”. The tagline for this house was “Step into the arena and try to stay alive”. The back story is in a post-apocalyptic world, survivors of the Great Conflict have been divided into the Worthy and Unworthy. Now for sport, you are the Unworthy and the stars of a gruesome event at the Undead Arena Live. Infested with Brain Eaters, this gauntlet is an almost impossible feat without guarantee that your group will stay together. This house was a huge disappointment. Once we finally got in the house after a forty five minute wait I was separated from the group I thought, “Okay this is about to get intense,” but it only led to what seemed like an endless number of hallways with barely any scareactors in the corners and chain link fence for decor. You might be thinking that they just did a cast switch, and you correct, except they did it about five minutes before we got in. There were a couple of rooms with some scenic attributes but they didn’t seem to be part of the backstory. I basically left the house confused and disappointed, and no lost to where my wife and the rest of our group were. I give it a four out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
We made our way through one of the new scare zones on our to the next house. It was called “Meat Market”. The tag line was 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. This scare zone seemed a little crowded with food vendors and games along with scaractors trying to perform. I did however like the touch of an actual grill being used providing a great smell to go along with the carnage. Also, the sound of “Dueling Banjos” in the background just always warms my cold, black heart, so that was a plus. I give this scare zone a seven out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
After finding the wait times a little long we decided to check out another scare zone. This one was titled “Class Deceased” also a new offering. The back story is “see what happens when savage school kids punish their cruel headmaster in this abandoned schoolhouse scare zone”. The fans on Facebook voted on the name for this zone, which is pretty cool and gives the fans an opportunity to take an active role in what happens with the event. This has been a common trend with the event in the past as well. The scare zone was full of energetic scareactors and we were bombarded from every angle with scares. The scenic could have been a little more in my opinion, but that’s just me. I give it an eight out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
The last house we were able to get into that night was also one of my favorites from last year. The name is “Unearthed” and the back story is that during maintenance at the park, an excavation crew uncovered a centuries-old house buried deep beneath the ground. Upon entering the house, a sinister force is Unearthed. The vengeful demon takes her revenge by collecting the eyes of all who enter the house. Like I had mentioned earlier this is one of my favorites from last year. This house has good scenic aspects as well as a highly energized cast. Once again it did not disappoint. I give it an eight out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
Finally, as we continued to roam the park to see the remaining aspects of the event, aside from the two houses we did not get to, we came across the ghillie suits. For those of you who are not aware, a ghillie suit is a full on camouflage outfit, where when someone is wearing it and sitting on a curb, or among other foliage, they look like a bush. Every single year these guys and gals get me, and that happened once again. Busch Gardens has lots of landscaping and foliage throughout their entire park, so these guys blend in just about everywhere and are a fantastic scare. Dominique jumped up and down with glee once we found them as they are her favorite. Mainly because they scare me every year and she thinks it’s hilarious. This year, and every year, they did not disappoint and will probably never disappoint.
In the end between the long lines and some other shortcomings our experience was not as good as in years past. Thanks to meeting up with an old friend and making a couple of new ones to share the experience with it made it a little more tolerable. As far as the crowds go we could have bought a fast pass but figured giving the past we wouldn’t need them but we were wrong on that account. The houses were good but with so many return houses and only two new ones, one of which was highly disappointing, the scare zones were good as well but as with a lot of things in seemed as we had seen it before. The scareactors were on point for the most part and were able to elicit a few screams from everyone in our group. I honestly think we can skip a couple of years depending on the house line up and how many of them are new verses reruns. I would definitely recommend going if you haven’t been in awhile because everything will be new to you. Those that went last year could probably take a pass on this year. After it is all said and done I give the event a seven out of ten on the fear-o-meter.
All house photos and stock images credited to the Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream website.