Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida is the best known of the central Florida haunt events, but HowlOScream at Busch Gardens Tampa is a major attraction for those who love their haunted houses.
I'm often asked which of the two events I like best, but that's not a question with a clear-cut answer. Each event has its own strengths, and I do them both multiple times each year. It's easier to explain how the two events stack up against each other so you can form your own opinion:
Number of houses: Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) has eight haunted houses included with admission, while HowlOScream (HOS) has seven. There's an eighth house, but it costs extra and gives you a much more personalized experience.
HHN has different houses every year (the Walking Dead house this season is completely different from 2012), while HOS has repeaters. However, two of the regular houses and the extra cost house are totally new. The newcomers, Death Water Bayou and The Basement, are among the best this year.
Quality of houses: This is a tricky thing to rate because it depends on what you like best. Some people like intricate set design, while others enjoy special effects and still others prefer old-school jump scares. HHN is all about elaborate houses that could be movie sets, while HOS relies on aggressive scares.
An American Werewolf in London is a perfect example of HHN at its best, with elaborate wolf puppets that are truly movie quality. However, HOS is nipping rapidly at its competitor's heels in terms of set design. Death Water Bayou is a gorgeous house packed with little details and an immersive atmosphere that would make it just as at home on a sound stage.
House themes: HHN always has some intellectual properties from TV, movies, and even video games, while HOS always has original themes. I'm neutral on this part of the events because I'm all about scare level, regardless of whether the house is an original or based on a franchise. However, the big names are a draw for fans of those properties. It's fun to see how HHN pulls them off, but I find it just as enjoyable to see what HOS comes up with
Scare zones: This area is a bit different for both parks this season. I tend to think HOS has stronger scare zones in most years because there are usually so many scareactors, and the park's darkness and wooded atmosphere are a perfect set-up. However, this year the zones are cut back so big stretches of the park feel dead (and not in a scary sort of way). The best part of the zones this year is The 13 in the front of the park, where you can enjoy yourself just sitting back and watching the people getting attacked by the icons as they come in.
On the flip side, I was worried about HHN this year because every scare zone is themed to The Walking Dead. I like variety, so all Walkers all the time didn't sound especially exciting. They're actually pulling it off pretty good, thanks in large part to the scareactors' energy and the elaborate re-creations of sets from the TV show's various seasons. For example, you literally walk through a very detailed version of the survivors' camp. However, the chainsaws have a very minor presence, so that leaves a big gap for me.
Extras: Both HHN and HOS offer express passes for sale to shorten your wait and tours for a structured experience. I did an RIP tour at HHN, and my favorite part was getting the back stories for each of the houses. You can hear the guide's descriptions in this article. However, at HOS the tours include alcoholic beverages, which adds to the value.
In addition to those options, HOS also offers Fright Feast, a buffet meal that you eat while watching the Fiends show. Then you get into the haunted houses half an hour before the general public and get an additional hour of using the express lines. Read my full report on this option here.
Crowds: HOS tends to be less crowded than HHN, but that can vary. Even when HOS is crowded, the park is so much more spread out that it doesn't feel quite as overwhelming as HHN as you get toward the back of the park. You can avoid much of the HHN crowd by arriving right at opening time, especially on weekdays. You'll get most of the houses done before the park gets packed.
At HOS, even though the houses don't open until 7:30 p.m., some of the major rides, like SheiKra and Cheetah Hunt, run from closing time until HOS officially opens. Thus you can be there early and get in some good roller coaster time before hitting the houses.
Hopefully this summary will help you understand the main differences between the events, both in general and for 2013. My recommendation? Find a way to see them both.