Wednesday, October 9, 2013

[Haunt Review] Busch Gardens Tampa's Howl-O-Scream The 13 Come Out to Play

Well, just over a week ago I was invited out for the Howl-O-Scream "Client Night" at Busch Gardens Tampa. Not only was this a bit of a nice surprise, but it also made for quite the epic night all around. Not only were the houses and actors ready for the onslaught of guests that evening, but every park employee was going above and beyond as well. Definitely nice to see, but not that surprising given how things are at BGT either.

That said, we were here for the haunt and they really didn't disappoint at all! This year, along with returning mazes they had quite a few new things just waiting in the dark for us to face our fears with. The new additions this year being The Basement and Death Water Bayou, along with the all new Pain Lane scare zone and "The Experiment" experience.

All in all, this year's event features 8 mazes (7 plus the upcharge "Experiment") and 3 scarezones, not exactly a lot on the latter end of things but should be enough for everyone to get their scare on...or will it?
  • Date Visited: 10/27/13
  • Review Team: +Carrie H.C. and +Kitsune Hazard 
  • Rating: Very good
  • Recommendation: BGT has really upped their game here with the new mazes, there's a lot of new things and innovative scares that you typically only see at independent haunts. It was so close to "Excellent" but there are a few problems. That said, definitely check this one out if you're in the Central Florida area, very much worth the money! 
  • Likes: Tons of actors in the mazes, they're literally bursting at the seems with them. The detail on the facades and inside them was great too. Decent length overall for every house as well.
  • Dislikes: Scarezones were definitely lack luster. Not sure if it was just opening night or what but these need a ton of serious work if that's not the case here. Also, really don't like the $50 up-charge for "The Experiment" experience either. We passed on it...
  • Pro-Tip: Go on a Thursday if you want to avoid long lines. If not, the Front Line Fear tickets are definitely worth it since the crowds can get insane.
Disclaimer: We were invited out by the PR team at Busch Gardens Tampa to experience the event and then do a review/write-up of the show. This in no way has influenced our opinions or thoughts on the haunt as a whole. It was also opening night so not every scare or actor may have been fully in place either.


"On the thirteenth year every century, evil comes out to play. Thirteen evils, to be exact. 
Come in, they’ve been expecting you."

Well, how can you refuse a tag line like that?

Like our trip to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg we were invited out to experience Tampa's version of this event for their "Client night". What did that entail?

Not only were we treated to Front Line Fear passes along with our VIP badges, but we were given two free drink tickets to use with the free yard glasses we were given and also a 20% off discount on all merch! You really can't go wrong with that kinda thing, can ya now?

With bars a plenty, there definitely was a use for those drink cups and tickets as well! Sure, we tried a few other drinks they had on our own dime and they were all pretty good. Maybe not up to the insane standards that we have for our own personally drinking, but still not bad and nice to see more adult beverage offerings throughout the park as well. 

So, while we did get the VIP treatment for this one and while the lines were surprisingly short, it was still the best way to see things. Not only that, but we were able to pick up some pretty sweet stuff from the park as well.

Hard to not to talk about that kinda thing, but even then the prices really weren't that bad for merchandise either. I mean $30 or so for a hoodie? Yeah, I would've spent that anyways...getting a bit of a discount only assured purchasing it even more so to be honest. But if you want to see the whole haul, it's there to be seen to the left. Not bad, eh?

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the reason you're here...a in depth look at everything that BGT's Howl-O-Scream had to offer up for this year!

The first thing that we were greeted with after picking our goodies from the VIP check in was the new "The 13" scare zone. Doors, a huge sign and 13 insane creations from your nightmares awaited everyone that passed into the park.

This thing is literally right after the turnstiles and filled with all of the madness that each of The 13 bring to the table. It was chaos and also a time for a ton of photo ops with the icons of this year's event. I won't say it was overly scary but they were definitely high energy and getting quite a few people into the mood.

All in all it's definitely a crazy way to start everyone off for sure and the actors were having a field day with everyone. Just wish there was a bit more to it, it was a very confined area and pretty easy to bypass the way that it was cordoned off, but not a bad way to get the energy flowing right off the bat by any means!

First stop after this chaos? The gift shop of course and with it being themed to the nines for the event and housing all sorts of great Howl-O-Scream merch (as shown above by our little haul) and tons of other Halloween type of things, it was a great way to continue the mood and always awesome to see things go the extra mile! 

After this quick little stop, we decided to go with one of the newest additions to the HOS line up this year, Death Water Bayou (which for some reason I kept calling Black Water on Twitter...oops!).

In grand scheme of things, it's the first house which everyone will run into and for a damn good reason. This is one of the best themed mazes I've seen in a theme park for a long time.

You're thrown into things with immediacy as creations and followers of The Voodoo Queen are right in the line set to scare and terrify any who approach her lair.

Really, this is something that many theme parks seem to forget about and where most independent haunts excel. The "in the line scares" are important...not only for when one is waiting a long time, but it does help set the mood that much more. I'm hoping this is something BGT continues long into the future and that others follow suit.

Set back quite a ways from the entrance, we weren't quite sure what to expect until we turned the corner and were met by a huge facade that had been put up to mark the entrance to the insanity. I have to say, it was hard not to be impressed by the level of detail that the HOS creative team put into this one...

I mean just look at this thing. It's a work of dilapidated beauty right here and again, really set the mood for entering into this bizarre world of occult ritual and sacrifice. The level of detail, the ground hugging fog and the actors in the line warning of the impending doom all just fit together in such a great way.

Once inside there were so many things going on that it was hard to imagine it wasn't real. The set pieces and scares were masterfully designed and concealed in some really innovative ways that just show how good they really can be at Busch Gardnes.

It was also great to come face to face with the one and only Voodoo Queen a few times as well as we wound our way through every manor of crazy from funeral processions, backwater shacks and a multitude of other creepy scenes throughout.

Still really impressed by the first impression that Howl-O-Scream had to offer we quickly made haste over to the next house on our list, Blood Asylum. (After a quick stop to ride Cheetah Hunt of course, which in my opinion is definitely a "ride at night" kind of thing for sure.)

This asylum has definitely gone down hill and someone or something known as "The Creature" has taken over this once well meaning institution. 

After our quick stop through admissions, we were met by "crazy math girl", who was one helluva first impression on me. She was definitely going all out and was having fun with things for sure...the rest of the maze only continued to live up this early set high standard as well. Everyone keeping to character and a load of disturbing scenes really set the pace and mood for this one.

However, there was no sign or mention of "The Psychopath" of The 13 as there had been with Death Water Bayou and the Voodoo Queen. I mean sure, the whole place is filled with the insane and psychotic, but it was rather odd not to run into anything really keying off the icon they had created. Not that it's a huge issue, but just seemed weird to me. Overall though, the barrage of the insane, crazy and disturbing scenes throughout is more than enough to make this one a must see!

Next up on the list? A trip back further into the park and through the second of the three scare zones that the park is offering. This time? Pain Lane.

While definitely an interesting idea in theory...there just wasn't enough going on in here to really call it a scare zone. It was a bare bones attempt and I'm not sure if that's because it was opening night or what, but there definitely could've been a lot more going on in here. What was shown though, was great...just wanted more of it! I will say it was nice to see a couple more of The 13 here though.

While we only saw The Torturer back here, The Hangman was also said to be inhabiting this area. Sadly though, we didn't spot him...and I'm not sure we could've missed him since the area was so devoid of actors. A bit of a let down overall, but it still has potential as a whole...hopefully they can harness it.

Next up? Well...something that myself and the rest of the Kitsuneverse crew is just tired of. Clowns and 3D. Seriously, this stuff just needs to go at this point. I get that people are scared of clowns but the whole mix with 3D is so overdone it's become a joke in and of itself almost around here. That said, the Circus of Superstition 3D was pretty lackluster.

This is eerily similar to the whole "13 Your Number's Up" house at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and what exactly it has to do with clowns I'll never quite figure out. Things like stepping on a crack and breaking your mother's back and all that is represented, but overall it's just an odd pairing.

One that didn't work at all for myself or the group I was with. Sure people were getting scared and plenty of screams were around, but I bet those people would get scared in the DMV too. Overall, it's time for this one to go and it can't be soon enough!

So, now that we're done a couple of the best and the worst of the lot in our opinion, what of the rest of the show? Well, have no fear...let's keep rolling on, shall we? There's still tons more to get through for this event!

Next up on our delightfully twisted tour of  the dark side of Busch Gardens Tampa is Zombie Mortuary. This is another that's been around for a while now but ya know, they can keep it as long as they wish.

At first glance we weren't really sure what to expect, but most of our fears of this one being cliche and tired were put aside once we saw the sign on the entrance, being from Pittsburgh at the moment...it was definitely fitting. Not to mention a great nod to the father of the modern day zombie.

I mean come on, how great is that sign? (below) Definitely awesome and while one might expect a typical zombie type of haunt, they'd be very much dead wrong with this one. 

Again, this one was filled with surprises and some really great set pieces including everything from coffin lined hallways (some even..."used") and some great use of misdirection throughout the maze. The sets, especially the mourning room, showed some awesome usage of props to direct the flow. This was another long and bizarre one that all of us ended up really enjoying when it was all said and done. It's not what any of us expected and definitely one that shouldn't be missed at all if you're there, even if it has been around for a bit.

There was a ton of great things going on in here and a few things that had us scratching our heads as to just what was going on. I can't say enough about this one as it really was a great surprise and had some truly great and unique things going for it. 

Next up we decided to hit up a couple of rides and between them and the next house we noticed something. Actually, it was the lack of something. Well, more like anything. The back side of the park was absurdly empty and aside from a few surprise stilt walkers there just wasn't anything going on at all.

At least not until we got to the next haunt that is...what was waiting for us around the next corner? Nevermore. A twisted journey into the world of Edgar Allen Poe...

This one we really didn't know what to expect from, there were certainly some lofty goals to aspire to here with the theme. However, once we passed the projected banner we saw the massive gate and then facade of this next haunt...

Definitely impressive, but could it live up to the man that it drew it's inspiration from? Only time would tell..on that one and we were definitely curious to see just what was in store for us.

Right upon entering we knew this wasn't your typical haunt. Scrawled on huge pieces of paper that we had to walk through were the very words that had been turned from nightmare into reality. It was all here from the beating floor of the Tell Tale Heart and the crying behind the brick laden walls of the Cask of Amontillado.

It was a bizarre and weird walk into the madness of Poe's world brought to life and while it may have been a little lacking in some areas for fans of his, there really isn't much else to complain about here at all. The sets were great and the scares all in character, definitely great to see!

This was one of the more "creepy" and "slow, stalking" kind of haunts and compared the others, is a great contrast overall to things. Sure, it doesn't have much to do with the overall theme of this year's event, but it's still a worthy inclusion!

All in all it left us all talking about as we walked through the rest of the park towards our next destination. We were all pretty impressed by what we had seen so far...so what came next was a bit surprising. 

A quick stroll around Sheikra, we found ourselves in yet another dead zone. The only thing here was a pretty interesting and trippy tunnel that we walked through before getting to the next scare zone "Harvester's Haunt". Which, like the others...was definitely lacking. Amongst four or five creatures that we saw in the area there was the speckling of a few ground scares with people camouflaged from view and that's about it.

Harvester's was themed around the whole idea of sadistic scarecrows and while they can be scary things, didn't tie into the whole The 13 theme for the year at all either, which definitely leaves me perplexed as to what this is doing at all in the park outside of a bit of a lazy, "Well, we have the stuff, so why not?" kind of mentality. Wouldn't be so bad if it was one of many scare zones, but being one of three...definitely not great. Some of actors did try though, I'll give 'em that! 

As far as the ground scares? They did little more than rattle a shaker at us and overall this part of the park was dead...not just actor wise, but guest wise as well. With nothing really going on, I can see why. This was just confusing to us, the mazes so far had all been great (save for the 3D monstrosity) and to have so little going on in the scare zones and so much dead space with absolutely nothing happening really was bizarre.

This is a major issue that I have with the event as a whole. I mean if you're going to have scare zones...they better have folks in them and not just a few people here and there.

Harvester's Haunt, along with Pain Lane, have potential but unless they really kick things up a bit, they're just an overall meh experience to be honest. Harvester's Haunt really didn't have much to do with The 13 either, which was a bit weird for me at the time too. Overall it's a real shame considering how good the rest of the event is as a whole.

So, now that we were back into an area with some life we found ourselves at the 6th maze of the night...

Ultimate Gamble: Reversal of Fortune.

This one we really didn't know what to expect from, there is definitely a history to this theme that's run throughout the course of the past few years.

It appears this time the war between vampires and werewolves has shifted and the vamps have been fully run out of their den of debauchery and mayhem. Now it's in the hands of werewolves and they've definitely done a number on the place...

While this wasn't as much to look at from the outside, the insides of this one were definitely full of some interesting things. Scares were coming from the top, the ground and even other bizarre angles that I hadn't originally thought possible. Again, there were some great set pieces throughout the maze as well and detail was definitely not lost on the set designers here either. You wandered through bars, poker rooms and even gift shops that were filled with all manner of surprises!

I can't say it was the strongest of the line up this year, but it definitely was one of the more interesting concepts and any bit of storytelling is always welcome...even if a little was lost on our group as a whole that hadn't followed along in the past as closely as I had.

Part of this I think is because of the nearly constant change at the top of the event with the icons and other things, this bit just gets lost but I'm glad that they don't just forget about it entirely either...

Now, to close out the night we found ourselves face to face with The Basement. Seems fitting that we started the night out with an all new maze and were closing it out with one as well. Let me just say that this one really surprised us!

This was definitely an interesting take on the whole "slaughter house/butcher shop" idea and tied directly into one of the The 13 as well; The Butcher. Though "Jar Girl" was definitely one of my favorites along with the "tasting room" scene.

The cast within the walls of this maniacal meat shop was going 110% (even at the end of the night when we got to them, kudos to you guys!) Much like those in Death Water, Nevermore and Blood Asylum, they were all deeply in character with their scares. Something that the other houses were a bit lacking on...

We had scares coming from all over here...from the top (mind your head if you're tall!), the sides even in the line as you entered into the twisted world of Momma's Meats. Which, was really nice to see after the last few hadn't had anything of the sort outside of their entrances. Not sure why that was, but either way, we were happy to have it present once again!

Again, to say that we were impressed with this one would be an understatement. This, along with Death Water Bayou really set quite the high mark for the rest of the older mazes to live up to. Some accept the challenge and others fall flat on their faces.

Sure, we might be easily amused at times by the small things but as they say; "The Devil is in the Details" and Busch Gardens really didn't want to skimp on any of those this time around with their new offerings. Hopefully they continue to update the older mazes or replace them with equal quality.

Another interesting thing that we noted in the area of Ultimate Gamble and The Basement was the addition of some "Stalk-arounds" and this one fountain with two skulls doing an impromptu comedy/heckling routine. It was so random, that it worked.

None of us really knew what to think of them and the jokes were so bad that they were funny...I'm not sure exactly what was going on with them or why they were placed in that location, but it wasn't exactly a bad thing to have about either. 

Considering that we had just come out of a fairly dead area, they were very welcome and their little routine was enjoyable by not only us by others in the area as well...at least from what we could see that is.

Overall, the event was great and we had a blast hitting up not only the rides but also all of the haunts within the park. Much like it's sister park in Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Tampa still has a lot to work on in the way of the whole scare zone thing as they were lacking severely on the night we were in attendance. Sure it was the first night, but you'd think to have the place fully staffed for that, right?

The only things they could really improve upon would be getting ride of the whole clowns+3D thing and beefing up the scare zones. Also, there needs to be quite a bit more integration of The 13 into the event as a whole. The scare zone in the front of the park with them is pretty good and the inclusion of a few of them in a few other places is also a good thing, but many were not represented anywhere else in the park and that was definitely a let down. They could've easily had them in scare zones scattered throughout the park or appearing randomly throughout houses they would've fit into and it would've been much better in that area of things.

One thing we didn't really get to experience due to the route we took through the park was Club 13, as we passed by it at the end of the night things were shutting down. From what we gather though it's a night club like situation where there's live DJ's and a full bar for those needing some liquid courage for the rest of the night. Either way, I'm sure it's a great thing to have about...we just didn't get to see it at all due to our own timing. 

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa runs for 9 more nights. So, if you're anywhere near the Tampa area and want to bundle some truly unique and awesome scares with some world class rides and other attractions, then you shouldn't miss this one at all! Sure, it's got it's problems but it does make up for them in big ways...here's to hoping they can continue to build on things for the future!

For more information about dates, times, tickets and other information about the event head on over to the official Busch Gardens Tampa Howl-O-Scream website!

As always, you can follow along with us on Twitter @KitsuneHazard and Google+ for all the latest updates, news and more from haunts all over the US!