They call it Howl-O-Scream, and what a scream it is, literally. I dressed in a Frankenstein’s Monster shirt that was given to me by Sara Karloff, daughter to the late great Boris, herself. Anything to get into the mood. So with proper attire and tickets in hand, Ellen, my wife, and I drove the 10 minutes to the park and quickly boarded the tram of the damned. But this was not to be anything like my last few visits to the annual event. Part of the reason has to do with a series of unfortunate weather circumstances that accounted for a practical loss of one of the scheduled weekends. It was our intention to visit the Friday previous, but constant rain made that impossible. Such was our luck to be there on a Saturday, along with far too many other folks who found themselves packed into the event.
I have both good news and bad news to report from our visit. Let’s start with the good news:
One of my most persistent complaints about this event has been the reuse of the old houses. In the last couple of years there had been very few changes, and most of the houses were repeats. There still is more repeating than I would prefer, but there also appears to have been an effort to offer up more fresh material this time around. There are three completely new houses this season. The bad news is that the lines were so long it was impossible to actually see them all. It’s not so much that the lines were long. I’ve been going to these kinds of events for nearly 20 years. I expect there to be crowds. That’s why I tend to go early in the month and on a Friday. The problem here was that the park appeared unprepared for the lines. Discipline within the lines was the worst I’ve ever experienced. The area was too large and led to people sliding around those in front of them on a constant basis. In one line for Zombie Mortuary we waited in line for 2 1/2 hours and had to strongly defend our place in that line. It appears that everybody has a cousin ahead of you in line. We were fortunate enough to get to know the people in front of us and formed a strong barrier to hold our place. The problem could have easily been solved by making the lines more narrow. This would also have solved the overflow problem that the attendants were struggling with throughout the night.
Now back to the good news and the new houses. Unfortunately, I can only report on two of them. We never made it to Nevermore, which I assume was a Poe-related house. Coincidentally, there is a house with the same name this year at Universal. The other two new houses are:
Zombie Mortuary: Take a tour of the latest funeral parlor in town. It’s run by the denizens of the undead. It’s a great set-up as the mourners can also become wake buffet. You’ll find all of the funeral trappings here from a wide selection of coffins to an even wider selection of corpses. Unfortunately, there are more bodies than coffins. Perhaps a game of musical caskets is in order here. Apparently this one is very scary. A guy behind us kept screaming like a little girl.
Ultimate Gamble – The Vampire Casino: Enter the Casino Revivara where you bet your life you’re bound to find some interesting characters. Although the theme is vampires the residents here appear more beastly than your typical blood-suckers. You won’t find any dapper caped Transylvanians. These guys are a little rough around the edges. That might also describe your nerves by the time you get out.
Nightshade Toy Factory: Watch out for Tina Tinkle. Here the demonic toys are looking for a new playmate. You’ll do just fine as long as you don’t mind being the plaything. Gives a new meaning to We B Toys. They did change this one a bit. There’s a much cooler aisle of stuffed toys that really closes you in.
Death Row Vengeance: This is a pretty elaborate house. You’ll enter the prison grounds where all sorts of forms of executions are under way. From electrocutions to firing squads, this one packs a lot into a one house. It’s quite interactive and has more screams per foot than any of the others. The change here is that now the prison is overrun with zombies.
Reconstruction – The Doctor Is Out Of Control: The Doc has a bit of a jigsaw problem as body parts mix with mechanical contraptions. It’s a Borg-meets-Frankenstein kind of layout. Plenty of blood splattering mayhem to go around in this loud house.
After the houses you’ll want to grab something to eat, and all of the Busch Gardens favorites are available here. You can munch on a turkey leg, or do as we do every year and grab a pizza-and-fries combo at the Crown Colony Restaurant. The price is actually quite reasonable, and the slices are huge.
As you make your way around the park, you have to be on your toes and stay aware of your surroundings. Zombies are everywhere, and an announcement on the park PA advises that screams appear the only way to keep this zombie invasion at bay. There are some shows for your entertainment as well. You can enter The Midnight Hour, where the music business can be devilish in the Hellfire Club. Or you can seek out an annual favorite at the event. “Fiends” is a veritable Monster Mash of Hollywood’s most famous classic monsters. Let Dr. Frankenstein and Igor serenade you with their monstrous party. And don’t forget the nurses. If hospitals had nurses like Dr. Frankenstein has here, there would be a lot more folks waiting in line to get sick.
Finally, the famous Busch Gardens roller-coasters are available for you to ride in the dark. Montu and Sheikra are particular favorites. But this year the park has its newest coaster: Cheetah Hunt. The gift shops have the usual fare, but have added some Halloween-related trinkets and shirts for you to commemorate your evening. It’s a great night out that you won’t likely soon forget.
If you go, you should try for Friday. Unfortunately, you might need their Fear Pass which allows you to skip in line. I have to admit I’m opposed to these line-skipping offers. I know most parks have them these days, but it doesn’t really rub me the right way. It seems to send the wrong message about how much a park values its guest. Apparently, the more you can pay the more they value you. It only makes the line for us peasants that much longer. I’m in favor of the Disney concept where you can get a skip pass, but by scheduling your ride visit instead of paying extra.
To get the best deal in tickets, check out Howl-O-Scream and tell them Upcomingdiscs sent you over.