If you’re up for some macabre thrills and don’t mind some fake blood thrown in, then check out Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream: Evil Encore. The Tampa Busch Gardens event features seven themed haunted houses so you can geek out on gore and “scary” stuff.
Whether you want a mortuary gone awry (Zombie Mortuary), a creeped out circus (Circus of Superstition), or the motel stay from hell (Motel Shellburn), the attraction has it as part of Howl-o-Scream.
So just how scary is it? Well, we think it all depends. We weren’t truly scared, but we visited last year so we were ready for the costumed characters—think “Walking Dead” type zombies, child-like spirits, and horror film-type creatures—who come up to you at random moments and scream or try to taunt you without actually touching you. If you get spooked easily, then maybe it won’t be fun for you. We heard more than a few people complaining in both English and Spanish about the [insert bad word here] who creeped up behind them. At times, you may feel like you’re in a scene from “The Walking Dead” and wonder where Rick is when you need him.
Yet others who were less scared were annoyed by the human creepy crawlers scattered across the part, and still others (think: teenage boys) taunted the characters right back with funny insults. Another strategy to manage the characters is to pretend like you’re in New York City and just walk quickly and ignore them. Really, you’ll feel like you’re on the New York Subway with all the usual weirdos.
Others among us may not like the blood and gore that’s part of the haunted houses—let’s face it, Howl-o-Scream isn’t the place to take your grandma unless your grandma is a biker chick who’s into horror flicks. But if you love Halloween and horror movies and you’ve visited and enjoyed the creepy displays seen at Halloween stores nowadays, then the haunted house gore will probably not faze you. In fact, if you have an appreciation for horror scene set ups, it’ll be like a playground.
Everyone will have their favorite haunted house, be it The Circus of Superstition (our personal favorite—the only place that gave us a real sense of creepiness with its roomful of clowns in neon colors)) or Death Water Bayou (with a New Orleans theme) or the new Black Spot with a pirate theme….or others. Among the haunted houses are places to eat and drink (alcoholic or otherwise), the dance spot Club Carver, and photo opportunities, for your selfies with steam punk girls or a candid shot of your reaction to the Unearthed house. Of course, there are souvenir shops for your zombie-themed T-shirts, RIP lanyards with a gravestone, chalices, and other merchandise. There’s also the show Fiends, where you can see who will be sworn in as the 2016 Commander and Creep of The United Fiends of America. True story.
This is Busch Gardens after all, so there are some rides and coasters, in case you want to experience more adrenaline pumping.
To help plan your visit to Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream, here are a few tips.
Maneuvering Around Howl-O-Scream
1. Find a map when you walk in. It sounds basic, but with the darkness, it’s an easy thing to miss, and we spent much of our time wandering aimlessly as we looked for the haunted houses set up around the park. A map would have come in real handy…and we didn’t find one till the end of our visit.
2. Wear good walking shoes. A boring tip, yes, but Florida’s unpredictable weather is still an issue during the time of Howl-O-Scream. And sure enough, we got caught in some bad rain as we wandered aimlessly. Without good shoes, it could have been really bad as we got inevitably soaked.
3. Bring friends. If you buy tickets online for four people or more at a time, you’ll pay only $35.99 versus the usual $65.99 per ticket. And Busch Gardens has some hotel/ticket packages that could save you some dough.
4. If you’re staying at a hotel, ask about a shuttle. Several nearby hotels offer free shuttles to and from Howl-O-Scream….a great option if you plan to imbibe, and a way to avoid losing track of your car in the big parking lot.
5. Arrive early for fewer crowds. We hear things really get busy around 10 pm….if you arrive when Howl-O-Scream opens at 7:30 p.m., you can beat the throngs of ghoulish guests.
Howl-O-Scream continues through Oct. 30. Find more details about dates and times here.