Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream Celebrates 20 Years of Fear in 2019
Since they started their Halloween celebrations in 1999 with a modest Haunted Jungle Trail, Busch Gardens Tampa has continuously been surpassing themselves year by year with impressive haunts, creative original theming and passionate scare actors that love what they do. While they may not have the budget or recognizable IPs that some other events may have, what they excel in is originality, atmosphere, and intensity. This year, they showcase and celebrate their 20 years with an incredible lineup of haunts and scare zones that is sure to be a hit this season!
Like Knott’s Scary Farm in California, Howl-O-Scream likes to keep their houses around for more than a year, tweaking and changing them with new ideas and scares.
One of my favorites for the past few years, Motel Hell, for example, has been left to rot a little too long, and with all things in our humid wonderland of Florida, they…got bugs. Motel Hell: Infestation is the newest iteration of the house, and if you are the type to jump on a chair when you see a roach, lord help you. Every familiar scene has been swarmed with every imaginable insect. We also see updated versions of The Black Spot, a cave filled with angry pirates, a greatly improved Simon’s Slaughterhouse, Death Water Bayou and Insomnia. New this year is The Residence, a perfectly normal suburban home where nothing strange or terrifying ever happens, so don’t worry about it at all. It’s such a wild ride that I don’t want to give it all away here, I’ll just go with the ‘ol ‘Things aren’t what you expect’ line.
The difference between the haunts here and at larger, more IP-driven events is that they allow their scare actors to develop a character and use their own voices and creativity to bring their scares to life. Sure, they are directed and have guidelines, but I am willing to wager that wearing out your voice for a night may be better than the fatigue that comes with lip syncing and working with sound cues. You will get personalized scares, interaction and funny exchanges that just aren’t possible with those systems. With the houses staying multiple years, you also see scare actors that have developed characters for years that know their scares and haunts like their own homes.
In addition to the strong haunt lineup this year we also have unprecedented nine scare zones this year, ensuring very little empty space between scare zones, houses, party areas, and the regular thrill rides that Busch Gardens is known for. The scare zones range from the respectful, no-scare scare zone that is Dia De Los Muertos to their most extreme (and my favorite), the Meat Market. Adorned with entrails, corpses, organs and a 50’s hillbilly aesthetic, Meat Market is a carnival of decay and awesome 50’s signage illustrating the different cuts of human meat. The scare actors are big and menacing and love to make you feel unsettled. Even I, the intrepid veteran of horror events, kept my head on a swivel as I took photos of the amazing set design.
On the flip side, Dia de Los Muertos, being respectful to the holiday it represents, has no scares at all. The actors dance and wave and play along to the beautiful music in the zone. Despite the lack of scares, this zone works very well and was a blast to hang out in, dancing with actors and playing along. One scare actor, adorned in a sugar skull mask and mariachi outfit led me to one of the many shrines adorned with candles, beads, photos, and offerings for loved ones, pointed at a photo, then pointed to himself proudly. It was kind of beautiful, as he showed off his offerings from his family, and also a bit chilling. You also have zones representing the icons of years past, murderous children, vampires, and a psycho-filled summer camp.
Busch Gardens also made sure that everything around the scares impressed as well. They are offering up some tasty specialty foods and drinks all over the park this year, including a chicken-waffle cone with honey mustard maple sauce and specialty drinks with names like Embalming Fluid and the Mourge-a-Rita. Dance parties are constantly happening in two zones of the park with professional dance squads on tap to put on impromptu shows and dance with the crowd to DJs spinning all night. Their annual show Fiends continues to be a fan-favorite, filling its theater for every performance with Dr. Frankenstein and the Naughty Nurses.
Howl-O-Scream runs select nights through November 2nd and is a separately ticketed event. To find out more info on how to acquire tickets, click here. Thank you to Busch Gardens and the Howl-O-Scream team for inviting us out to the opening night festivities. For event updates throughout the season, you can follow me on Instagram. I highly recommend coming out this and every year and I hope to see you in the fog!