Howl-O-Scream is back at Busch Gardens Tampa and is a little bit different this year. Many haunts in Central Florida adjusted to the safety procedures due to the pandemic, with some events getting outright cancelled. This year, Busch Gardens is foregoing the traditional haunted house line-up and now features 10 scare zones located throughout the park. Not to mention, the chance to ride their world-class roller coasters in the darkness of the night.
So what did we think of the modified event?
The scare zones are obviously the star and are a big improvement compared to other years, especially as it needs to shoulder the load of the fun this year. Much of the props are reused and repurposed from both past houses and zones, which helps flesh out the zones and expands its reach. For some zones, it lends to some creative usage, which allowed Busch Gardens to set up a sort of outdoor “haunted house”. The Junkyard and The Shortcut are both set up as close to a maze as possible, where guests are pulsed through the entrance, which also caused a small wait to form.
Most of the zones are enjoyable, with some of the favorites being Hell on Wheels (despite the motorcycles being bikes), Maniac Midway, and Deadly Toys. A few did fell flat, however. We weren’t big on Lycan Landing – which felt underwhelming considering it had such a great premise. Dia De Los Muertos definitely looks cool but is in no way scary.
Of course, with social distancing, Busch Gardens has made sure the actors are as far away from guests as possible while still allowing some creative and effective scares to take place, using the foliage and surrounding areas to the best of their advantage.
The big question? Safety of the guests. There are signs everywhere encouraging guests to stay 6 feet apart and to wear masks, and handwashing stations and sanitizers can be found throughout Busch Gardens. The problems come from the guests, who ignored signs and employees instructions during our visit.
Fiends returns this year, in a new outdoor venue. We’ve never been big on the show, but this year’s version is… fine. It still features a lot of the “low-hanging fruit” jokes, but it was serviceable – which is easy with 2020 serving up a lot of source material.
We were able to try a few dishes during our visit, which features beer as one of the main ingredients. Out of 3 we tried, we loved the Modelo Especial Mojo roasted pork pub chip nachos, which was a nice twist of familiar and unique flavors. We also enjoyed the Budweiser Loaded Mac n Cheese, because everything is better with bacon – especially “boujee bacon” aka candied bacon. The Bacon Fury Pretzel was fine, as it was a pretty straight forward pretzel with cheese dipping sauce.
Overall, Busch Gardens did a pretty good job considering the circumstances of modifying the event. The houses are definitely missed, but it felt like a haunt event – and with 2020 being the crap year it is, it was great to hear horror and dubstep music mixed with the sounds of screams and chainsaws.
The event will run for 18 nights every Friday through Sunday from September 25 – November 1, 2020. Guests are strongly encouraged to make reservations early as reservations are required and space is limited. Reservations are available now at www.HowlOScream.com.