Howl-O-Scream 2020 kicked off last night at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, ushering in a Halloween season we thought me might not get this year. Luckily, Busch Gardens was able to implement all kinds of health and safety measure to provide an altered version of the fan-favorite event.

Howl-O-Scream 2020 may not include any haunted houses, but guests can explore 10 terrifying scarezones and enjoy the returning “Fiends” show in a new outdoor setting.

Before we get into the fun stuff, I want to touch a bit on the health and safety measures Busch Gardens has implemented to keep guests and staff safe during Howl-O-Scream 2020. As expected, face coverings are required throughout the park and social distancing is encouraged and in some places enforced as well.

All scareactors are wearing some kind of mask which, in most cases, fits perfectly with their costumes. While some scareactors will wander the scarezones, they stay six feet away from guests and scare from a distance. Others will be set apart from the main walkways, either hiding in bushes or in front of their own set pieces.

Two fo the new scarezones really act more as outdoor houses. Guests are only able to enter on one end and exit the other. As a result, guests are queued up in a socially-distanced line, much like they would for any other attraction. Guests are then pulsed through these two scarezones, so it will only be you and your party as you make your way through the terrifying walkthrough.

Now we can get to the fun stuff. Among the 10 scarezones featured in this year’s event, there are four new ones. Two of the four the aforementioned zones that are really more like open-air haunted houses. Let’s take a closer look at all four of these new zones.

The Junkyard is the first of the two house/zones at Howl-O-Scream 2020. Guests are welcomed to the Junkyard by a cast of crazy characters, some of which are friendly while others are… not so much. Being able to walk through this haunt with only your party makes for a very fun experience as some of the scareactors will take the time to interact with you. In fact, all of the scareactors at this year’s event are doing a fantastic job.

The sets in the Junkyard are also incredibly well themed and Howl-O-Scream fans will likely be able to spot a couple of callbacks to a past fan-favorite house.

The Shortcut is the second house/zone, though this one is much shorter than the Junkyard. Still, guests will queue up and make their way through the zone with only their party. Again, Howl-O-Scream fans will find some familiar pieces from houses of previous years. This zone also features one of the most impressive sets of the whole event, complete with some great scares. Maybe next time, you’ll think twice before you take a shortcut through a graveyard.

At Howl-O-Scream, it’s always a full moon. Lycan Landing is crawling with werewolves and guests try to make their way through the terrorized campground. This zone is one of the shortest in this year’s event, but it does feature some of the most impressive costumes and a really fun cast.

While the house/zones are fantastic, The Escape is my personally favorite. The zone continues the story of Insomnia, a house from years past. With the asylum not open this year, the patients have escaped and are terrorizing guests in the streets. This zone has some of the most entertaining characters in the entire event and some excellent storytelling with events of previous years.

The other six scareones are repeats from years past, including First Fear, which welcomes guests to the park with some instant scares. Other repeat zones include Little Nightmares, Maniac Midway, Deadly Toys, Hell on Wheels and Dia De Los Muertos. Check out all of this year’s scarezones in the video below:

Also returning to this year’s event is the popular “Fiends” show. This year, the show is performed on an outdoor stage with socially-distanced seating.

The show, as always, features some raunchy comedy based on events in pop-culture from the previous year and some pretty impressive dance numbers. Dr. Freakenstein and his friends are back to entertain guests once again.

Of course, guests can also pick up all kinds of Howl-O-Scream merchandise, including apparel, drinkware, accessories and more. There’s even a small collection of items themed to “Fiends.”

Howl-O-Scream will run on select nights (Friday-Sunday) now through November 1 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Ticket prices start at $29.99 and vary depending on the night. You can order tickets here.

Based on my experience during the opening night of Howl-O-Scream, I would absolutely recommend fans of the Halloween season and haunted experiences check out this year’s event. The park feels safe thanks to the health and safety measures in place and the scareactors are doing a fantastic job of providing an exciting and fun experience for everyone.