Due to the close proximity of Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL to the Universal Orlando Resort, Rex and I typically make the quick trip over to Howl-O-Scream to experience the horror they have in store for haunt lovers. This year was no different. Thus, it was on Friday evening, September 27, around 5:30 pm that we departed from our Double Tree hotel room en route to Tampa on an absolutely beautiful Florida day.
Rex and I had been enjoying the gradual unveiling of “The 13” – a mini-theme of sorts that Howl-O-Scream was marketing as the thirteen “evils” that come out to play every thirteen years. Since Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) in Orlando has been progressively building their haunt around established IP’s, we enjoyed the somewhat original content HOS was attempting to produce, granted, the members of the “13” were not all that original with names like “the butcher”, “the demon”, “the psychopath”, etc. Yet, we were hopeful for a high quality haunt with original concepts. Unfortunately, our hopes were largely unrealized.
The first “scarezone” is called “The 13” and is the very first thing you encounter when entering the park. I mean it is literally right beside the turnstiles. Don’t blow by this too quickly – if you want to see the members of the dreaded “13” and interact at all with them, this is your only shot. Although 3 or 4 of them can be found in the mazes at HOS, this little scarezone, designed with several doors with the number 13 on them, is really the only manifestation of the “13” theme in the park.
After a quick ride on Cheetah Hunt (very fun), Rex and I first walked through Blood Asylum, a returning maze for HOS (reviews for every house are given below). Once finishing our way through that maze, the sun had descended and darkness fell on Busch Gardens. I don’t really want to play the compare game, but one of the glaring differences between HOS and HHN is the overall atmosphere (atmosfear?) of the haunt. Busch Gardens, based on its design and layout, is much more spread out with long sections of relative darkness and emptiness. HHN on the other hand is much more energetic and “in your face” regardless of where you are located in the park. This can make for what feels like dead zones at HOS, which is unfortunate but there is really nothing they can do about it.
The three scarezones are weak. I have already mentioned “The 13” was the strongest of the lot. “Harvester’s Haunt” was a typical scarecrow zone that was ineffective, sparse, and pointless. “Pain Lain” had a little more to offer, but you really get the impression that HOS includes these in the park because they feel a sense of obligation. There is nothing inspiring here.
We grabbed a bite of BBQ at the Zambia Smokehouse and Rex had to take a quick moment to do some facetime with his son (hey, priorities you know). After doing some silly things with the video camera, we quickly hit the remaining mazes and soaked up the atmosphere one more time before departing. Howl-O-Scream seems to us to be in a gradual decline in quality. Although I believe the quality of the haunt is superior to most amusement park haunted events, it almost seems they have given up on being a legitimate competitor to HHN, something RATB thought they were trying to do just a few years ago. Although we recommend HOS as a fun haunted event, just remember that this is a not a movie studio with large scale sound studios to design their mazes.
This is an old school haunt that tells of a serial killer on the loose in an insane asylum. We enjoyed it – lots of classic scares and traditional rooms, but done well and with a bit of gusto. If you like bloody rooms and enjoy a straight forward, well done haunted house, then you will enjoy this one.
3 out of 5 stars
Death Water Bayou
By far the strongest maze of the night. DWB follows the exploits of the Voodoo Queen (one of the “13”) and has a New Orleans theme. The facade looks great, the set work is wonderful, the scares are plenty, and the flow of the rooms work well. The highlight is a funeral procession done New Orleans style that is followed by a couple of wonderful swamp, pumpkin, and mask rooms. Rex and I took the time to go through this maze twice and we found it to be effective both times. Make certain you experience Death Water Bayou.
4 out of 5 stars
We followed the best maze of the night with the worst. Ultimate Gamble is probably one of the most ineffective haunted houses I have ever been through. The concept isn’t compelling (werewolves kick vampires out of a Las Vegas casino), the rooms are poorly designed, the casino theme isn’t readily noticeable ( you only see the actual casino at the very end of the maze), and the story just doesn’t gel. If you have to miss a house, miss this one.
1 out of 5 stars
Circus of Superstition 3D
Another 3D house with a circus theme. In some ways it seems that when you have seen one of these, you have seen them all. Having said that, this is about as good of a circus 3D maze that you will find. Classic superstitions (walking under a ladder, black cats, broken mirrors) are all explored and there are some fun elements. As usual, if clowns freak you out, then you will be scared. If they don’t, you will have fun.
2 out of 5 stars
Momma has a recipe for all kinds of food and the Butcher is going to make sure you don’t steal it! Interestingly, I think we saw more of mamma than we did the butcher, but all in all there isn’t much in here to discuss. Plenty of kitchen scenes and jump scares. The best element was a huge pot of stew momma was fixing and a poor victim suddenly jumps out of the pot, lunching toward the onlookers.
2 out of 5 stars
This was fun. A lot of Edgar Allan Poe is scattered around the house, bringing vignettes of his famous stories to life. The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado were the first two rooms, both done well. A nice touch was occasional narration that accompanied the rooms, provideing some anticipation during the down times of the house. The set design was probably the second strongest of the night. One of the better houses this year.
3 out of 5 stars
I enjoyed this house a bit better than Rex did, but there is not too much new here. You begin by seeing a hearse crashed at the entrance of a mortuary and from there the undead are searching for human flesh. If you enjoy zombies doing their thing, then you will be smiling.
2 out of 5 stars
Make sure you take time to watch our trip video for Howl-O-Scream below. Thank for reading – Join The Journey!