HowlOScream at Busch Gardens Tampa runs Thursday through Saturday nights through October 26, with seven haunted houses included in the price and an 8th extra-cost house, The Experiment, with a higher intensity level.
This year, the event features two new houses, Death Water Bayou and The Basement, and five returning from last year, although there are some new twists to the repeats.
Here's my HowlOScream review of what is most definitely a strong year for the event:
The two new houses, Death Water Bayou and The Basement, are big winners in both scares and set design. Death Water Bayou in particular is a gorgeous house in terms of set, or at least that you can see of it in between the vicious attacks. I loved the levitating chair, and things just get better from there.
I generally think of Halloween Horror Nights as the elaborate set design event and HowlOScream as the place for the most old-school scares. However, the design gap keeps narrowing, and I'd put Bayou on an equal par with Orlando. The environment is as immersive as a sound stage house, and the bungee effect is used so well.
The Basement is on the site of the former Alone extra cost house, and although I could recognize the floor plan and some little snippets of the former occupant, it stands totally on its own. The concept is entirely different (beware of what Mama puts in her meats!), and this is another house where careful attention was paid to the sets. You'll be impressed from the moment you see the facade, just like Death Water Bayou. You don't just get jump scares; there are also scareactors in plain view acting out the roles of various crazy characters.
Vampire Casino is a returning house that got some new twists this year, and wow, they are effective! I got my best scare of the night here as I had no idea that I wasn't safe before I even went in the house. You go through what used to be the exit, and in this werewolf-based incarnation you'll get plenty of scares. It's a dark, dank, and sometimes disorienting house, and I love how it gets a different take on the theme each year.
Circus of Superstition, the 3-D house, has some new twists this year. It's a crazy house of clowns and color that makes you feel like you're bouncing off the walls by the end. This house is a great example of how to do 3-D. It doesn't have a lot of gimmicks, just neon color and straight forward pop-out-in-your-face scenes. I don't usually fall for the "person hiding against the wall" scene, but I'll admit they got me hook, line, and sinker.
Zombie Mortuary didn't seen to be changed much, which isn't a bad thing because this house has been consistently great over the years. I always enjoyed it in its previous Trapped in the Walls incarnation, and Zombie Mortuary is very well done in the scenic department, even literally putting you in a grave (look up to see the mourners).
Nevermore and Blood Asylum are the last two returning houses, and both are still holding their own. The only thing I miss is Poe ranting outside of Nevermore, which it featured in its first year. That reminds me of one thing that sets HowlOScream apart from Halloween Horror Nights: scareactors lurking in some of the queue lines, which really sets the mood nicely. You'll see them close to the facade sometimes in Orlando, but not wandering down the line of people and terrorizing them as they wait. Be on the alert at houses like Death Water Bayou and Circus of Superstition.
That's my take on the houses at this year's event. For the scare zones, I'd like to see more within the park because it's so dark and wooded that it lends itself perfectly to walk-around terror. I felt they were a little sparse. However, you'll love The 13, which is right at the park entrance and features both scares and photo opportunities with this year's icons.
If you'd like to see how I got through all the houses before 8:30 p.m., jump to this article.