HowlOScream at Busch Gardens Tampa has seven haunted houses this year, not counting the extra cost The Experiment house. The houses technically open at 7:30 p.m., but there's a way to get into them early and to get them all done before 8:30 while enjoying a great meal, too.
This "secret" is known as Fright Feast, a buffet meal that costs under $30 per person (not including your admission ticket). Along with the meal, you get to go into the houses starting at 7 p.m., while the rest of the public is queuing up to wait for the official opening. Then, you get to use the express lines from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Even with that head start, it's a bit of a challenge to hit all the HowlOScream houses before your express access runs out. Here's how I did all seven and managed to also do two repeats before my time was up:
1) Be one of the first people lined up for Fright Feast. You can get in as early as 5 p.m. with your Fright Feast ticket, so do that and head right over to get your meal wrist band and line up at the door. That means you'll be one of the first people through the buffet line and can enjoy your meal without gulping it down. You can also get a picture with the naughty nurses, who come out for a photo op.
2) Skip seeing Fiends. Yes, I know that the show is technically a part of what you're paying for with Fright Feast, but that's not the only showing. Focus on getting the jump on the haunted houses, then go back and see one of the later showings after your express line access runs out.
3) Go to the front of the park. Most people who do Fright Feast watch the show, then go right to the closest house (Zombie Mortuary). Your early access is good at all seven houses, so if you start at the front of the park and your time runs out before you make it to the back, you're still ahead of all the people coming in at the front gates. That way, your wait should still be pretty short, even if you have to use the regular line.
4) Do not stop for photos, scare zones, or anything else. It will all still be there at 8:30 p.m. when your time runs out. I know that it's human nature to stop and stare at "Shiny!" but that wastes valuable time. Stay focused, have a plan, and complete your haunted house circuit. Then you can take your time exploring the park and enjoying the scare zones after 8:30 p.m.
By doing this, I not only got through all seven houses, but I also had time to repeat Death Water Bayou twice before the clock struck the "no more express for you" witching hour. Better yet, because I started with houses toward the front of the park, I got to walk through Death Water Bayou, The Basement, and Vampire Casino all alone. Yes, alone! That made great houses even more intense and terrifying. I almost got to do Circus of Superstition alone, too, but a tour group showed up so I went through with them. I could have waited a bit and gone alone, but I didn't want to burn up any extra time.
In my opinion, Fright Feast is one of the best bargains you can get at HowlOScream. You can buy Front Line Fear passes and do the houses at your own pace, but they're more expensive and you don't get a meal. If you do Fright Feast and use my method, you'll get everything done and maybe get some solo walk-throughs as a bonus.
For my take on the individual houses this year, jump to this article.