Busch Gardens Tampa Bay joined in on the Halloween time fun this weekend with the start of their 20th annual Howl-O-Scream. This year’s event offers six haunted houses, nine scarezones, one stage show and a screamingly good time.

Let’s start off with the scarezones. The screams begin before you even enter the park as the new First Fear scarezone introduces guests to their nightmares outside the gates with characters from the past 20 years of frights.

Another new zone is Carpe Noctem, a small area of the park taken over by vampires and some of their recent victims. There is also a coffin photo op so you can remember your nightmare, but stopping into one of those coffins is essentially just putting yourself in a to-go box for the vampires. You might become their next meal.

The final new scarezone this year is called Little Nightmares and it features what appears to be murderous children knocking on the doors of the homes that line the streets so that they can get in to claim their next victims.

The remaining six scarezones are all repeats from last year, but that’s not to say they’re not fun. In fact, Hell on Wheels, a zombie infested post-apocalyptic wasteland, is probably my favorite of the event. The scareactors really give it their all in each zone, especially in Camp D.O.A. and Maniac Midway, the former being the scariest zone to walk through. The Dia de los Muertos zone is essentially a fun little dance party with no scares, while Deadly Toys provides some great photo ops with the giant demented playthings. Finally, Meat Market is essentially an extension of one of the houses and is loaded with very energetic scareactors.

Take a look at some of the terrors of this year’s scarezones at Howl-O-Scream in the video below:

Now, let’s get to the houses. The only new house at this year’s Howl-O-Scream is The Residence. This haunted house is themed to, interestingly enough, a haunted house. The theming is fairly basic in this new addition and while they get pretty creative with some of their scares, it’s not the scariest house at the event.

No, that title belongs to Insomnia. This repeat house takes through a haunted asylum where the patients have taken over. Each room is loaded with scares and there are a lot of great effects throughout the house. The scareactors in here are also very willing to interact with guests, which adds another fun aspect to the experience. Don’t be afraid to talk to the patients.

Simon’s Slaughterhouse, which is prefaced by the Meat Market, is an absolute gorefest so if that’s you’re thing, you’ll enjoy that house. The Black Spot takes you on an adventure with some cursed pirates. This is easily the least scary house of the event but it’s very well themed.

Motel Hell was my favorite house from last year and they’ve added a new twist. The hotel has been infest with bugs and the exterminators they’ve called in are less than friendly. It’s still a great house and would have been my favorite again if not for the amped up Insomnia.

Finally, Death Water Bayou takes you through some Louisiana swamps where the Queen of the Shadows will try to make you a permanent resident. The theming and detail in this house is fantastic and the scareactors are definitely having a lot of fun inside.

This year’s houses as a whole are a lot of fun. I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but I would actually say the houses at Howl-O-Scream are scarier than those at Halloween Horror Nights. They’re not quite as well themed and they obviously aren’t based on huge properties like Ghostbusters or Stranger Things, but the scares are mor unique and the scareactors are given more free range to really make each room their own.

The returning stage show Fiends will take you into the castle of Dr. Freakenstein as he prepares for the impending apocalypse. The show is essentially the same as previous years with all the same characters returning to put on familiar dance numbers. The pop-culture references have obviously been updated but overall show is mostly a repeat.

Another fun aspect of Howl-O-Scream is the fact that some of the scareactors will even join guests on the rides. You might find yourself sitting next to a demented clown on Falcon’s Fury or a monstrous creature on Cheetah Hunt. This really creates the sens that you can never completely get away from the horror.

Overall, Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a lot of fun. You’re not going to find those big horror properties you know and love, but the original nightmares cooked up here can certainly hold their own.

Howl-O-Scream will run on select nights from now through November 2. You can pick up your tickets here.



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