Howl-O-Scream 2017 Review
On opening night, I had the privilege of attending Howl-O-Scream (HOS) at Busch Gardens Tampa. One thing to remember is HOS only runs on select nights and is a hard ticketed event. This means that you will need a special event ticket to attend, regular day time admission will not get you into the event. Busch Gardens has many different ticket deals for the event online.
This years event includes 7 haunted houses 2 of which are brand new, 5 scare zones, and 2 shows. Select thrill rides are also open during the event, and this year according to Busch Gardens there is #NoWhereToHide you are not even safe on the rides. There are also plenty of unique drink and food offerings at this years event.
Like mentioned earlier, this years HOS event offers 7 houses. This years lineup is extremely strong and relatively new, 4 out of the 7 houses were new this year or last year. I am going to go ahead and review the houses in order from my personal favorite to my least favorite.
Death Water Bayou: This may be the oldest house currently at HOS debuting in 2013, however it is my favorite. This house easily competes against any other house at other park events including Universal’s HHN. The story behind this house, is that you are trying to escape the Bayou before you fall victim to the Voodoo Queen. It has amazing details and you really feel like you have stepped into a New Orleans bayou. This house is similar in theme to this years “Dead Waters” house at HHN. It also features many great scares. This is definitely a house you do not want to miss.
Demented Dimensions: This is a brand new house this year. It replaced a fan favorite Zombie Mortuary. I have to say that this house managed to be an amazing replacement. It was a step up from Zombie Mortuary and brings a great fresh experience to the event. The story behind this house is an interesting concept. The abandoned Sterling Manor houses is constructed over a vortex of energies, and the doors all lead to unwanted worlds. The house pretty much takes you through different “Demented Dimensions.” The story is a little hard to follow as you travel between the different haunted worlds inside the house, however the details are great. I enjoyed how each “dimension” felt like a mini house. This definitely was the stand out of the two new houses this year.
Motel Hell: This was a brand new house last year in 2016. The story is that your nightmares have become a reality at this deserted motel. Many people instantly labeled it as their favorite house. I was not one of those people. I thought it was good and had an excellent theme, but lacked on the scares. However I am happy to say that this house has greatly improved over last year.
So if this was already your favorite you are really in for a treat this year. There seems to be more actors, as well as some changes to the layout of the house and a few new surprises. This is one thing that is great about HOS. While some of the houses return each year, they are able to make tweaks to improve the house. if you have not done Motel Hell before or even if you did it last year, make sure you “check in” again this year.
Black Spot: This was another house that debuted last year in 2016. This house feels like what you would get, if you took Death Water Bayou and mashed it up with pirates. It was honestly one of my favorites last year and ranked a lot higher. However it still is a great house with amazing theming but falls a few spots due to an amazing new house and some tweaks to others. I think the fact that this house is now in the middle of the rankings says how strong this years event is. The story with this house is that “Saw Tooth Silas” has marked you for death and wants to send you to “The Black Spot” If you enjoy Death Water Bayou or pirates, you will love this house.
Unearthed: This is a house that has gone through some changes over the years. It originally debuted in 2015 as Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge to fit with that year’s theme. It is constructed inside the old Gwazi coaster station and queue. The story behind this house, is that during maintenance at the park an excavation crew has uncovered this centuries-old house buried underground. I enjoy the theme of this house and the use of space, however I find this house on the shorter side. I always leave it wanting more, which I guess is a good thing. It does have some amazing animatronics in this house that I really enjoy. It is definitely worth a visit especially if you are a fan of old Gwazi to see how they have reused the space.
While all of houses at the event are solid this is the point, where I feel we get a large division in quality. The first 5 are extremely strong houses and the remaining 2 are good but lack the appeal of the first 5.
Undead Arena: Live This is a brand new house this year, that replaced Circus of Superstition. I had high hopes for this house as the concept of it is interesting. You are in an “arena” trying to escape to keep your life. It’s a fun concept and something similar to what we have seen in the past at HHN with their “Run” houses. However I felt it was poorly executed. The layout was confusing causing lots of congestion in the house. It also was very “open” hurting many of the scares. Still a decent house just felt more like a “fun” house that just falls towards the bottom against a very strong line up. I hope that over the event and for next season we see some tweaks and additions to this new house to improve it.
Zombie Containment Unit 15: This is the 2nd oldest house with it debuting in 2014. The story behind this house is that it’s up to you to hold back an invasion of zombies. You get equipped with a Z.E.D. (Zombie Eradication Device), pretty much a laser tag gun to shoot the zombies off in this interactive haunt.
I will say this, the concept is fun but sadly comes with some challenges. The big issue with this house is capacity which causes the longest line of all the houses. The scares are really not at this house due to the design of it being an interactive concept and that is fine. However I personally do not think the novelty of the house is worth the wait especially for anyone who has done the house in previous years. Its a decent house just falls at the bottom of many people’s rankings due to lack of scares and the wait. If I had to choose a house to leave for next years event, it would be this one. So if you are headed out to HOS this year might be a good time to run through this house just leave it for the end of then night.
Next up we talk about the scare zones. These to me a very important part of the event, especially at a park like Busch Gardens Tampa where the event is so spread out it helps fill in the gaps. The locations and themes of these seem to change a lot more than with the houses. I will also rank these from my favorite to least favorite.
Meat Market: This is a new zone this year located on the path into the Gwazi Park area which is where Undead Arena: Live is located. Easily my favorite zone this year. It had some great scare-actors, photo ops, and great set pieces. This is a theme that you end up actually seeing as a house at lots of other events, but I think it works great as a zone as well.
Wasteland: This zone is themed to a “post-apocalyptic Wasteland.” It is returning from last year. I really enjoy the massive set pieces they use for this zone to really give it some great details. It also had some great actors that helped pull of the scares.
Carnie Camp: This is another new zone this year, and is themed to the backstage area of an old abandoned carnival. This zone honestly felt the most creepy. I think it had to do with the theme and the fact that it is located along the path of the Sesame Street kids area. Really an eerie zone that hopefully returns next year.
Class Deceased: This is the last of the new scare zones this year. Busch Gardens actually let fans on Facebook name this zone. It really did not have many scares, but was packed with scare-actors that really played into the story of the zone. They were loads of fun to interact with and had many fun things to say. Definitely stop and talk to them.
Playground: The last scare zone. This one has an awesome theme of being a paranormal playground. Sadly this returning zone in my opinion fails to really succeed in using the theme. I always walk through wanting more. I think this is the zone that could benefit the most from a few more set pieces .
Onto the shows of HOS:
This year we have 2 shows for the event.
Joshua Seth: Inside Your Mind Is the brand new show this year taking place in the Dragon Fire Grill. Joshua Seth is mentalist. This is an interactive show as he uses guests from the audience in the show. It opened to mixed reviews this weekend. I will say it is nice to see a 2nd show at the event and the Dragon Fire Grill is a great place to sit down and grab a drink midway through the event to rest.
Fiends: This is always an annual favorite for many die-hard HOS fans. This typically has been located in Dragon Fire Grill but this year returns to the Stanleyville Theater. It is a pop-culture comedy show with some fun dancing.
Last we talk about some of the unique food offerings at HOS.
At the Howl-O-Scream Food Truck near Unearthed you will find a collection sandwich melts.
At the Meat Market Eats near the Meat Market scare zone, is where you will find things such as grasshoppers, ribs, and sausage on a stick.
In the Stanleyville Plaza near Sheikra, is where you will find things such as Doritos corn, mojo chicken, and bloody mary shrimp.
I want to say that the Doritos Corn on the cob was AMAZING! It is honestly worth the visit to HOS to get. It had an amazing butter spread on it that had a little kick to it. Then, ground up Doritos chips for an added crunch.
That will do it for our 2017 review on Howl-O-Scream. It is a very solid event that is extremely affordable this year with all of the discounted specials going on. I highly recommend making it out to the event. With it being so close to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights event, many always want to compare them and pick sides. Honestly both are great events and each excel and beat each other at certain aspects of the events. Personally if you are looking for scares I will always pick HOS.
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