Every year, theme parks and haunted attractions try to take their events to the next level in regards to thrills, chills and freak-you-out factors. Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens has always been a frightfully fun event, but this year the park has upped the wow factor and implemented some amazing experiences and features.
Themed dining, incredibly talented actors and terror-tories with unique, history-based backgrounds gave guests at the opening night of Howl-O-Scream just a peek into what the park is capable of doing.
I had the pleasure of attending Media Day on the opening night of Howl-O-Scream 2013. Being that it was Friday the 13th made this event even more spooky and fun.
Media members were greeted by park representatives who spoke about the evolution of Howl-O-Scream and how it had evolved from a few strands of lights into nearly three warehouses of props, decorations and other spooky accoutrements.
Entertainment Vice President Scott Gasparich described some of the incredibly minute details of each themed area of the park, such as how they simulate the smell of burning ashes and soot in Paris. Sparkly pieces of material are blown around in the air to replicate the soot. And, yes, it really does smell like burning wood.
We were given a warning to pass along to parents. Howl-O-Scream in NOT intended for young children. The park has all kinds of natural fun and festive fall diversions during the day, but at 6:00 Howl-O-Scream begins and it is intended to be seriously scary. Obviously, all kids are different, and some may be perfectly fine. You certainly may bring kids if you like. Please be aware of your child's scare tolerances.
As great as Howl-O-Scream was last year, it is even better in 2013. One new haunted house joins the line-up, a pirate-themed one called Cut Throat Cove. Returning houses/mazes from past years include 13: Your Number's Up, Bitten, Dead Line, Catacombs and Root of All Evil.
Please click here for a summary of each haunted house or maze. I will be doing another review of each house, but for now I want to concentrate on the new stuff.
The addition of dining and the themed terror-tories are what puts the park over the top in my opinion.
NEW Howl-O-Scream Dining
New Halloween dining experiences at Busch Gardens Williamsburg include the Blood Banquet in Germany, Fright Feast in Ireland and Buccaneer Galley in Festa Italia.
Blood Banquet at Vampire Point
The Blood Banquet buffet takes place at Vampire Point Hotel, the holiday hot spot for hip vampires. Blood Banquet is $20 per person and features a wide variety of choices, including pasta salad, pork bites on a skewer, slaughtered lamb stew, polenta, steamed vegetables, a meat-carving station and desserts such as red velvet cupcakes, lemon raspberry cake and chocolate tarts.
Cards placed between vampire teeth indicated what each dish was, such as “slaughtered lamb stew” and “vegetables exhumed from the gardens.” Don't worry, everything was delicious. My two favorites were the lemon raspberry cake and the lamb stew. Kudos to Chef Justin and the entire culinary team.
The best thing about Blood Banquet is that entertainment takes place throughout the whole meal, even while waiting in line. Mr. and Mrs. Vampire and their Goth daughter flit and flurry around the restaurant talking and mingling among the diners. Mrs. Vampire has a high shreaky kind of voice (think George Costanza’s mom on “Seinfeld”) and just loves the “decrepit architecture” of the place, while Mr. Vampire snaps pictures of everything and their darling daughter skulks about in her basic black attire. The bellhop is constantly calling out to celebrity guests to let them know that their rooms are ready or their lights are on.
A beautiful gypsy violinist plays while you dine. The group eventually breaks into a song and dance routine, complete with burlesque-outfitted dancers and Count Vlad in a sparkly cape. Blood Banquet is al fresco entertainment at its best. Since it is outside, you don’t necessarily have to have dinner in order to see the show, but you really should. It is to die for (sorry, couldn't resist).
Blood Banquet as one of the most entertaining, yummy and unique shows I’ve experienced, and single-handedly makes me give the park two or even three thumbs up. There's always an extra thumb lying around this time of the year.
The Fright Feast in Ireland is $25 per person. It is also a buffet and includes a traditional dinner theatre experience. When purchased online, Fright Feast includes priority access to the 13: Your Number’s Up haunted house. I did not attend this dining experience, so please feel free to let me know how you like it. I plan to go back to Howl-O-Scream at least a couple of times this season.
Buccaneer Galley is a pizza buffet and does not include a show.
Please click here to purchase dining reservations online.
NEW Howl-O-Scream Terror-tories
Gone are the roaming hordes of crazed clowns and psychotic doctors of last year's Howl-O-Scream. The creation of terror-tories makes just walking through these normally quaint countries a spine-tingling experience – but with lots of entertainment along the way..
Italy has been transformed into Ports of Skull and reeks of pirates and murky waters. Vampire Point in Germany has become infested with vampires and underworld creatures, while Ripper Row in England takes guests back to the days of London’s East End and Jack the Ripper.
Meanwhile, Paris is burning and you can smell the smoke in the air (yes, you really can). On Demon Street, watch a devilish DJ spin tunes from a giant flame-engulfed skull. Chainsaw-wielding creatures walk amongst the crowd. There are even balloon-like "flames" to give the full effect of fire.
Guests must walk through England's Ripper Row to get into and out of the park. I am a bit of the morbid history buff so I absolutely loved this aspect. British bobbies walk around asking if you've seen Jack (he wears a top hat), and headless creatures dressed in black carrying umbrellas wander forlornly around the street. At the time that I walked through, Ripper Row did not have the jump-out-and-scare-you factor of some of the other streets, but that may change as the scare actors become more accustomed to their roles.
Please visit SomewhereInTheSand.com for more photos and wittty commentary on Howl-O-Scream 2013 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
If you go
Busch Gardens has several coupon and ticket offers for the fall season as well as Christmas Town. If you plan on going, be sure to check them out.
Currently, annual pass holders can purchase single-day tickets for friends and family at a reduced rate. Log into your pass holder account for more information.
Again, I want to pass along this warning … please use caution and take note of the elevated scare factor when deciding to bring young children to Howl-O-Scream. The park does become seriously scary after 6:00 p.m.
Busch Gardens Wiliamsburg opened the 15th annual Howl-O-Scream event on Friday, September 13, 2013. The event runs through Sunday, October 27 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The park opens at 10:00 a.m. At the stroke of 6:00, the haunting begins.
Thank you to the media, entertainment, culinary, communications and entire Busch Gardens team for the most excellent Howl-O-Scream 2013 Media Day event.
Disclosure: The author received complimentary admission to Howl-O-Scream as part of Busch Gardens’ Media Day. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.