Nowhere to Hide: Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream delivers biggest year yet

Nowhere to Hide: Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream delivers biggest year yet

Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa is running full blast with their biggest and meanest line up in it’s 18 year history. The event has seen it’s share of ups and downs, but this year seems to see the event hitting a stride that is bringing out big scares, lots of great characters, and of course coasters in the dark. We had the chance to check out the event on opening night, and walk through every house, scare zone and see every show. We’re going to take you through every single house and scare zone, and show you as much as we can!

Here’s how it works, we’ll tell you all about the mazes, show you pictures and videos and tell you what works, what didn’t and basically what we liked and didn’t. Yes, we are picky, and we there will be spoilers. Also, keep in mind that while we do have pictures and videos from inside the houses, that is something that is not usually allowed. We were given special access on opening night, and pictures and videos are not permitted in the houses at Howl O Scream.

Shall we begin?

Houses

This year Howl O Scream has a total of seven haunted houses. Each has a unique story and theme. There are two all new houses this year, including Undead Arena Live and Demented Dimensions. The returning houses include Death Water Bayou, The Black Spot, Unearthed, Motel Hell and Zombie Containment Unit. We’re going to flat out start out with saying that the new houses are pretty unbelievable. Howl O Scream continues what it started last year with adding top notch new additions, and adding on to existing houses.

Zombie Containment Unit

This maze has been around for quite a few years, and remains largely unchanged. Guests are armed with laser guns as they are given the task of target practice during a zombie outbreak. Zombies try to get to you, but you can stun them so you can get away.

This house is getting a little long in the tooth, and the idea of zombies are getting tired. I would not be surprised to see it leave next year, and honestly it’s about time. There is no scoring or competition element to it, and the effects which were once pretty cool are now dated and a little hokey.

 

Death Water Bayou

The Voodoo Queen and her hordes of zombies and minions are back this year. The house takes guests into the depths of the bayou, and into the Louisiana swamps, a New Orleans funeral, and face to face with Papa Legba.

 

Watch-Get your mojo hand, and black cat bone and walk through Death Water Bayou

 

 

Alright, let’s be honest. Seeing the same house year after year is not always fun, but it’s something that Howl O Scream does. HOWEVER, while it can be tedious year after year, this house really never seems to get old. In fact, it seems like it’s at it’s peak this year with more scares and lots of fun.

Unfortunately, this is most likely the last year that we will see the house, as it’s been around for a few years. While it’s good to see houses that don’t hold up finally end their run, good houses that get better with age will be missed once their gone. And Death Water Bayou is a good house. It’s one of the few houses that actually celebrates Halloween with Jack o Lanterns, ghouls and the whole spirit of the holiday.

 

Unearthed

Well, the dig team is back and things are still going horribly wrong. While the house is back, it has made some major changes. While there is not a big bad, such as Scarlett, whom the houses was originally started with, there are a lot more characters in the house. While there are more characters, there are still spots where there’s no one. Some of the effects that were gone last year are back with a vengeance.

Watch-Go through the terror of Unearthed

Where the house starts off good, it kind of loses the shine towards the end. It ends up not making a lot of sense, especially with Scarlett still missing from the equation, and a lack of cohesive story and characters.

 

Personally would love to see the house come back next year, if it comes back, with it’s original storyline in place and a focus on a big bad like Scarlett again. There’s potential, and it was a fun house to get into.

 

Motel Hell

Last year, Motel Hell was the signature new house. It was innovative and clever, and told the story of the Motel Shellburn. It perfectly captured the essence of shows like American Horror Story, while poking a little fun at places like Cabana Bay Beach. It was pretty brilliant, and pretty damn good.

Video-Walk through the terror of Motel Hell

This year the hotel has undergone some major changes. The cool huge pool scene was replaced and reworked, which is a shame. Still, the hotel worked and delivered some pretty freaky scares. It’s attention to detail is still present, and looked amazing.

 

One kind of odd, and cool thing is that the outside of the hotel was reworked, and the haunt kind of extended. Now you have some cool outside scares that catch you off guard. It’s a neat move, and one that could go for the rest of the houses as well.

 

The Black Spot

The evil Captain Saw Tooth Silas has returned with his scurvy crew, and once he marks you for death, there’s no escaping the Black Spot. The pirates have returned to pillage and loot, and not give a…oops, wrong pirates. These pirates haunt and they kill, stab and they bite. They jump and they scare and give such a fright…drink up me hearties.

Video-Get marked for Death in the Black Spot

 

 

This was a favorite last year, simply because of the atmosphere that was created. When you walked up to the house, you were actually marked with a Black Spot, stamp…it was pretty amazing! That doesn’t seem to be the case this year, but it doesn’t take away from the house.

 

 

The house is really quite beautiful, worked into the backstage area of the now defunct Tidal Wave.

Undead Arena Live

It’s a world where zombies have obliterated mankind, and the world is divided into those who fight for survival and those who watch the fight from the comfort of the arena. It’s a battle that changes, with danger around every corner. Will you survive?

Vide0-Battle the Undead in Undead Arena Live!

 

We loved this house, it’s bold, it’s different and it attempts things that larger haunts failed at… and succeeds. The story is kind of generic, a great event rips the world apart and divides them into “worthy” and “unworthy”. Guess which ones you are? With that aside, the house is pretty amazing. “There’s no guarantee your group will stay together” is an accurate description, because this house takes the word maze to it’s meaning.

 

 

Undead Arena Live changes as you walk through, with doors closing and opening…and locking. Walls slide and swing out. Howl O Scream utilizes the “conga line” method of getting people through houses, but with Undead Arena, they completely and totally change that notion and mix you up. Sure, you still end up in the same place, and you’re not really in any danger of getting lost…but the fun factor is definitely there.

 

Demented Dimensions

This house takes the name from the original Demented Dimensions from Howl O Scream past. That house was a 3D house, and used special effects paint, special costumes and tons of tricks to make the house appear like it’s “3D”. It was cute, but now comes the new Demented Dimensions, and Howl O Scream puts that name to the test.

Unfortunately we did not get any video of the house, simply because our camera was screwing up at the time. It’s a shame too, because this house is flat out amazing. Every single room in the house is a different dimension, and the dimensions range from being silly…to being completely and totally effed up.

I swear there’s a scene with intestinal shit demons somewhere in there. It uses cutting edge technology, old props from different houses, and tons of great tricks to bring a very detailed, extremely scary house to life. Being the jaded theme park haunt enthusiast that I am, it’s pretty difficult for theme park haunts to get a scream out of me…or the true test, a curse laden yell…Demented Dimensions got them in just about every single room.

Summary

The house line up this year is pretty stellar. Howl O Scream is starting to move away from the same old routine and come up with really unique, original ideas for the houses, and actually has been for the past two years. While the event has been an “every other year” event for us since 2010, we’ve actually made it a point to take the almost four hour drive every year to see it for the past three years. Normally, with the amount of old houses vs. new houses, it’s been a case of “if we don’t see it this year, we’ll see it next year”. Now, we love the new houses that have been coming through so much, that we really enjoy seeing them again the following year. Let’s also talk detail and scares, the park has gone out of it’s way to push out new scares and go away from the same old paths and characters. That’s a huge plus. Formerly, if you walked through one Howl O Scream house, you walked through them all…just take away details, add in different boo holes and voila, that was your classic Howl O Scream maze. Now, they’ve changed up so many different things that you really never know what you’re going to get. And again, the detail level on Demented Dimensions was better than we’ve seen in years!

Scare Zones

This year not only sees amped up houses, but a return to form in scare zones. Howl O Scream used to do some of the coolest and best scare zones, populated with some of the sickest and demented actors. However, that fell to the way side for years as the park tried to make the “scare everywhere” and reverted to roaming hordes. While that was a great way to see characters everywhere in the park, we would always end up seeing the same characters over and over again, or we would just miss them, and it would leave entire sections of the park barren. That’s changed this year, and we have dedicated scare zones once again. There are still roaming hordes, but they are designated to certain areas of the park, and are more frequently seen. The other big change here is that a lot of haunted houses have gone to

 

Meat Market

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this concept. Alright, so crazy cannibals are nothing new. Selling your flesh so that they can eat it is nothing new either. What is new, is creating an actual market where you can by food and drinks, play carnival games and eat gross things like cricket sandwiches, and incorporating it into a scare zone. That’s what Busch Gardens has done here.

 

 

They’ve made a really cool scare zone that stands pretty well on it’s own, and they actually sell stuff in the shops! You can find normal food here too, as well as beer and other alcoholic beverages. But you really have to give it to whoever came up with that concept! It was really well done!

 

Carnie Camp

 

Much in the vein of Darkhearts Fear Fair, Carny Camp takes guests into the twisted world of a carnival where the carnies are demented, and out for blood, or rather new people to experiment on. It’s not your normal big flashy carnival with tons of freaks, but there are clowns and stilt walkers, as well as some great scares. The best thing about the scare zone was the interaction with the characters. If I’m being honest, there’s not much in the line of props or big flashy set pieces in this one, but it’s the characters that make it one of my favorite scare zones of the night.

 

My favorite was when the barker was calling out to everyone trying to take his picture. “You think you have the best technology? I have the best, I have an iStick! I point at you with it, and then I beat you with it!”. Yes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

Watch-Go through Carnie Camp

Class Deceased 

 

Also new this year is Class Deceased, which takes guests through a burned down school house, where the students are punishing their evil headmaster. It’s an older period house, and it works amazingly. The area is full of fog and smoke and loaded with tons of special effects that makes the props look like they’ve been burnt down. It actually blends in perfectly with the next scare zone.

 

Watch-Schools out forever with Class Deceased!

The Playground

As a father of two amazing kids that are pretty much grown, I can say this without prejudice. Kids go through a stage where they are freaking creepy as hell. The ages where they say the weirdest things in the strangest ways, such as “Daddy I love you so much that I want to eat your face off until you’re dead”.

Yeah…that shits creepy. And this scare zone builds on that age where kids are adorable, but creepy as freaking hell. Kids with chainsaws, skipping rope, playing hopscotch and just being creepy as F&$%! It’s made all the better by slow nursery rhymes, and a purple haze drifting around.

 

 

The Wasteland

 

Just outside of the apocalypse is the Wasteland, where whatever is left of humanity is scraped away. Evil forces lurk behind every nook and cranny to pick off and Feast off the remains of civilization. It’s an effective an intimidating scare zone that is a lot of fun to walk through. Here the park uses every trick in the book, from jump scares, camouflage and even loud noises.

 

Watch-Journey through the Wasteland

Unlisted scare zones

As we’ve said before, Busch Gardens is much more effectively using the “scare is everywhere tactic” by having key scare zones and filling in dead space with roaming actors.

The park also has fully realized scare zones in some areas that aren’t on the map. We don’t know why, but it’s a pleasant surprise to be walking along and suddenly stumble on to a wrecked bus of inmates from a maximum security mental facility.

Watch-Field Trip Scare Zone is Enough to Drive you Crazy!

While these zones are far and few between, they add to the element of surprise and the feeling that there’s “Nowhere to hide”.

 

Oh, let’s not forget the rides. This year Busch Gardens is putting more characters on the rides, which is kind of weird, because they sit there in character trying to “get you” the whole time. The only place we saw it actually working pretty well was the bumper cars, which was of course…Crash Test Zombies

Watch-Crash Test Zombies Invade Busch Gardens Tampa

Front of the park

Every year the park makes a huge statement with a bit of a scare zone that sets up the feel for the rest of the event. This year, that feeling and scare zone is kind of a mish mash of everything. There’s a barker, there’s creepy things, and there’s people in cages. That’s the park as a whole! It’s mash up of everything!

Watch-Nowhere to Hide at Busch Gardens Tampa

 

 

Summary

 

The biggest complaint of recent years is that the roaming hoards just didn’t work when they were the only source of scares in the park. Now with five listed scare zones, and several unlisted scare zones, plus the roaming hordes, it works a lot better. It works better, but the problem is still that Busch Gardens Tampa is so damn big! Honestly, you could cut the park in half, put all the haunted houses in the front and keep just the front half of the park open, and  you would greatly reduce cost, and greatly improve scares. The park is just so big that staffing every inch of it is impossible, and staffing every inch of it is needed to keep that dreaded feeling that the front half of the park does so well. Still, the street experience is really good and a huge improvement.

 

Shows

This year marks a return home of sorts to the long running show, Fiends. It’s been at Howl O Scream since the beginning of the event, and has kept pretty much the same formula for much of the run. Fiends made a trip over to the Dragon Fire Grill for a few years, but returns this year to the Stanleyville Theater where it originated. At Dragon Fire, there’s a new mentalist show. It doesn’t work for the event, in our opinion, and we’ll leave it at that.

Fiends however goes away from trying to “educate” the masses with Freakenstein University, and instead goes back to Freakenstein for a big house party…since the doctor is under house arrest for some kind of “trumped” up charges. What follows is pretty much what you expect from the show, monsters, dancing to retro music, and sexy nurses with pink hair…and some with big muscles. It’s a show full of eye candy, and fun.

Check out highlights from the show below:

 

Watch-Dr. Freakenstein throws a massive house party with Fiends!

Where other parks are looking to evolve their long running shows and entertainment, Busch Gardens is sticking with what works. Fiends is less offensive than other shows, but also not as rewatchable as other shows. While I love Fiends (and I really do) I found myself able to predict where it was going,and what would happen next. It’s expected…the show does not change much over the years, with the exception of a few different jokes thrown in. I would personally love to see a completely revamped show, with a brand new story that changes every year. Keep Dr. Freakenstein, keep Igor, of course keep the nurses…but change up the monsters, make them actual villains instead of parodies of themselves. Again, Fiends is fun…but we really want more from Dr. Freakenstein, we believe in him! Igor? Not so much…

 

That’s a Wrap!

This year is proof that Howl O Scream at Busch Gardens is heading in the right direction. More gore, more scares and new houses that are pretty innovative, and damn scary. The streets are full of characters and lots of fun, and the shows are trying hard. While the event has no defined “theme”, it never really mattered anyway, as the story as a whole was lost on the masses. Yes, the concept of a great icon with a killer backstory was fun, but without a huge presence, it becomes lost. The event embraced that idea this year, and pretty much gave you “Nowhere to Run” that was safe from scares. Instead of a huge story, the demented people behind Howl O Scream gave us tons of scares that worked, and lots of fun…and in the end that’s all that matters.

Howl O Scream has ONE more weekend before it wraps up, so you’re going to want to go NOW.

 

 

Slideshow-Check out more pics from Howl O Scream 2017!

Click here if you can’t view the slideshow

 

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