Friday, September 19, 2014

[Haunt Review] Surving the Curse at Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Howl-O-Scream

Once again our annual Haunt Tour kicked off with Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Howl-O-Scream this past Friday, Sept 12th, 2014. For this year's event Busch Gardens had a few new things in store for us in the way of an all new scare-zone, Wendigo Woods, a new Fright Feast show and the long awaited return of Monster Stomp!
  • Date Visited: 9/12/14
  • Review Team: +Carrie H.C.  +Filip Muncan and +Kitsune Hazard 
  • Rating: Mazes/Scare-Zones: Good -- Food/Shows: Extremely Good
  • Recommendation: Go if you're in the area. With everything being the same, aside from a new scare-zone and a new show, not really worth long distance travel for non-die hard fans or if you've never been to the event before.
  • Likes: Wendigo Woods is amazingly well done and the return of Monster Stomp has been long overdue. Of course, the food is always good too!
  • Dislikes: Nothing really new in the maze front. A few mazes are tired and never were really that effective to begin with. It's time for a major update to things in that department and closing at 10pm is still ridiculous, even if 4 nights are to 11pm, still not enough.
  • Pro-Tip: If it looks like it's going to be busy, Quick Queue is the only thing that's going to help you, just not enough time in one night to hit everything. Also, the "Spiced Rum" in San Marco is still the best drink in the park!
Disclaimer: We were invited down to visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Howl-O-Scream as part of their media/blogger event. Due to this we were comped admission, lunch/dinner and a few other things so that we could experience them. This in no way has influenced our opinions of the attraction as a whole.

So, let's get things rolling now that that's out of the way, shall we?

To start off our night, we got to try one of this year's interactive dinner experiences at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Igor's Fright Feast. Definitely different than Blood Banquet last year and a little more relaxed in the food offerings as well.

Igor's Fright Feast incorporates not only a buffet dinner that features; fresh carved turkey, wing bar, salad bar, mashed potato bar and a pasta bar but also a couple of desert options as well. Overall the food was good, but it's hard to find bad food in the park at all really so that's to be expected.

The show, was definitely entertaining and full of campy goodness. I have to give them credit for the casting of Igor here, he was great and the play off of Fiends (held across the way in) was a really nice touch as well.

That said, I'm still going to suggest that Blood Banquet is the slightly better option for a Halloween themed dining event in the park. The  food is just on another level, and it's also a little more relaxed as there isn't really a rush to get folks in and out due to show schedules as much.

Igor's Fright Feast isn't bad by any stretch, but just not my favorite and definitely something that folks should check out if they're looking for a different experience or have the time. Maybe even do both if you're in the park all day as show times start well before 6pm.

Now, with lunch/dinner out of the way, we were headed over to catch the long awaited return of Monster Stomp. It's seriously been way too long since this show was featured in the park and The Globe Theater in England is definitely a great venue to hold it in.

This is definitely up there and rivals any theme park show out there. It's a great counterpart to Fiends over in Ireland and while a bit more edgy it's still just as fun and really shouldn't be missed if you're visiting. The effects and music are put together amazingly well and the percussionists are awesome.

Thankfully they have showtimes throughout the day so that you can get it in earlier and not have to worry about the time crunch of fitting it in with everything else.

Now, with that out of the way, it was onto the houses for us! I won't bore you too much as nothing has changed since last year and you can see what we thought in that review, but I will touch on a few things here anyway.

Our first stop was 13 Your Number's Up, located in Ireland.This one definitely felt disjointed as always and was lacking actors. Sure, it's the first night and people might be out of place, but it still shouldn't have been so empty and the climax is still pretty forgettable. I, for one, can't wait until this is replaced. There's a lot better options out there to tie things into Ireland as a whole and this one just doesn't do it anymore.

After 13, we made our way over to Escape From Pompeii (closed during Howl-O-Scream) and to Deadline. Yet another return and yet another sort of let down. There were a few good moments here and it's always a favorite, but it could use some updating and maybe a few more actors inside here as well.

Though, I should say that the ones that were inside were doing their best and really tried to put on a decent show. Just needs an update as it's been stagnant for a little while now.

So, two houses and down onto our third, but before that we had to walk through Port of Skull. Quite a few more actors out there this year from entering via Pompeii, but the rest of things kind of fall flat.

Things are even more strange when actors are trying the "jump out and scare" when it's daylight out, Haunts are weird when it's so light out...and with a 6pm start, it's going to be that way for the first hour or so here.

Way off and past any kind of theming, we found ourselves at Cut Throat Cove. The lone new addition from least year's event and it's still one of the better ones, from an acting stand point. The cast here really tries to interact and has some fun with their characters.

That said, definitely is much better at night and not so great during the day as you can see what's coming. They do try to mitigate this a little with all the shacks and buildings you go through, but this one for after dark. It's much better.

At this point we'd already seen quite a lot and decided on a little break. Darkness was finally falling and we took a breather just past the stage area in Port of Skull.

Now, as I said, this scare-zone has some great lighting and theming going on for it, but it's just too small and then goes into "kid friendly" territory really quickly with a giant photo-op area. For an event that's not supposed to be for kids, this area really just confuses me as there's not really much edge to things at all.

It's not entirely a bad thing, but the message for me gets a little lost when things like this are present in the park. I think making things a little more immersive and pirate like could go a long way here.

Next up was the long walk over to Germany to check out Bitten. One of the longest running mazes at Howl-O-Scream this is another one that was lacking actors and took a long while before we really saw any of them. Not sure why, but it seemed like they were all at the back end of the house. Very weird but still love the weird transition to the sandy floor here. There's a lot they can do with this one and hopefully a refresh is in the works, for now, it's still the same old same old.

Our second to last stop was Root of All Evil. The signature house from back when the park had the Darkside of the Gardens theme, this one has gone down hill a bit over the years. We actually refer to it as "Home Depot" as the interesting and unique features have been removed over the last couple of years. Again, a refresh is needed as the concept is interesting but just lacking these days. That said, this one is another like Cut Throat Cove where it's best to do it after dark since it is outside.

From here it was onto Vampire Point, which actually lacks any vampires until you get past where Blood Banquet is held. Last year this was one of the least populated scare zones and it seems that trend continues.

However, it was nice when we went through as we actually got to see the few actors that were there. They all seemed to be quite into their roles and having a bit of fun with things. In the end though, wish there were more of them stretching out towards the bridge area that we first entered.

One scare-zone, or TERROR-TORY as BGW puts it, to another and we finally made it to this year's newest edition, Wendigo Woods.

Finally, a scare-zone that had a good actor population, theming all over and really felt immersive. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot in the way of Wendigos to be seen other than one that was a static caged prop. Again, opening night and all, and reports have come in that there are a few wandering about now, so that's good news! Otherwise, this has to be one of the better attempts the park has made and really should look improving the others in similar ways. Hope to hear that this one improves over time.

Our last maze of the night had us go through Demon Street, this really is another head scratching scare-zone for me. Last year there were a few demons out in the pathways, but this year I didn't see any, just the DJ...who isn't really playing live. It's a cool idea but could use a few more scares to make it actually work.

The entrance from Ireland to France is definitely an eye catcher and has some great stuff but there's nothing if you're coming from the other side either.

As I said, within Demon Street you'll find the entrance to The Catacombs, the last maze for us during the night. Again, another that's been around for a long time, but it's still one of the most interesting.

Tight confines and a twisting layout definitely make you feel like you're truly underground and all but it definitely needs an update. I know, I sound like a broken record but it felt the same as before and while I do love this one, wish they would do a little something new for it.

It also has one of the best entrances out of any of the haunts featured at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as well. Cut Throat Cove and Deadline being the other two that come in second to it.

And there ya have it, a couple of new things but mostly a full rehash from last year's Howl-O-Scream. I wish I could say more good things outside of Monster Stomp, Wendigo Woods and the food but I really can't this time around. This is one haunted attraction that just seems to want to remain stagnant and is afraid to take the necessary steps to be a truly amazing experience. We get glimpses, but that's it and that's a shame. There's no tie in to the central theme either, which is very confusing. At least down in Tampa they make the attempt, last year things worked as there was a different theme at BGW, but the shared theme? Not working out here at all.

The park also needs to stay open later, the 10pm close for most nights is laughable. It even might benefit from becoming a "hard ticket" event with a separate admission and really needs to update their mazes severely.

Most people who go will probably have a great time, but having gone for the past few years, I really need to see something that pushes things to give it any higher of a rating than I have this year. Hopefully the future will surprise me as I know that Busch Gardens Williamsburg has the capability of pulling off something spectacular.

Stay tuned for more reviews as Haunt Tour 2014 is officially in high gear and be sure to follow along with all the madness with on Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and even Facebook for all the latest!

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