For the first time in years of attending a number of Halloween time theme park events, I find myself nervous while standing outside the foreboding entrance of “Alone,” an experience Busch Gardens describes as a “personal experience in horror” for Howl-O-Scream 2010. I’m not sure what madness I am about to step into, but I am excited to find out.
Alone is a different sort of “haunted house.” I hesitate to even call it that. The term “haunted house” evokes images of long, dark, and winding hallways, with costumed actors jumping out and screaming at you around every other corner. But Alone is not that. It is a rare opportunity to step away from the cacophonous noise that so often forms around a Halloween haunt and let the relative silence create the fear that builds inside you.
As the name suggests, Alone presents a visitor with an opportunity to walk through an experience entirely by his or herself. After paying for admission ($25 in advance, $35 at the entrance), guests may choose to enter in a group of up to four people for that price – or do it alone. For me, the choice is simple. Having laughed and smiled my way through some of the scariest “haunted houses” Howl-O-Scream and similar events have offered in recent years, I am ready for a good scare. There will be no one ahead of or behind me to steal the scare from me this time, as has happened so often in the “conga lines” that form inside traditional haunted attractions. This time, I want it all to myself.
Outside Alone’s entrance, I sign in for my pre-scheduled time slot – 11:30 p.m. Before me, eager guests are turned away as all of the slots have sold out. They look both upset and relieved. I, on the other hand, am granted an admission ticket in the form of a severed finger. I am told to wait in line until it is my turn.
There I stand for 15 minutes, watching survivors emerge from the entrance through which I am about to pass. Each has a different expression, some smiling, some in shock, and some relieved. But as I wait, I only see groups of 2-4 returning from the experience. It seems few before me dared to do it alone. And now it is my chance.
The chain link gate is opened for me to enter. Beyond it lies only a long and winding path, bathed in dimly-lit fog. I’ve been given no instructions other than to follow the path. As I do so, the chatter of busy theme park streets fades into the distance, replaced only by a low moan of unknown origin.
I continue down the path, my imagination kicking into the highest gear, trying to determine what’s in store for me ahead. Is it… or maybe… what if… Each thought only heightens my nerves. The scenarios race incoherently through my brain until I reach the true beginning of the Alone experience.
My first Alone-induced emotion surfaces: confusion. There are rules being broken here. There is a door, but I don’t enter. Alone has already begun around me.
In this moment I realize that the usual haunted house “rules” don’t apply here. I don’t have to keep moving. No one is there to wave me along. I am making the choices here. And my hands are free to wander, touch, and explore. In fact, if I’m to make it through Alone, it’s a requirement.
As I make my way through Alone, I move deeper into the bizarre world created around me. What begins with confusion is followed by darkness, light, direction, misdirection, conversation, silence, sitting, standing, touching, NOT touching, and an overall feeling of helplessness. While I am free to navigate Alone at my own pace, I also subconsciously feel the need to keep moving. I now understand why victims in horror movies just seem to keep running, even when the villain is not in sight. There’s an overwhelming sense of needing to find a way out.
Before I stepped foot into the world of Alone, I was told that by uttering the word “goldfish” to anyone I encounter, I will be immediately led out. But I never feel it necessary. Instead, throughout the 8-10 minute experience, Alone treats me quite well, entertaining my senses on all levels. Some visuals are startling, but most are simply entertaining. And then some are baffling, replicating moments I had only previously seen achieved through movie special effects and camera trickery. Alone feels like walking through a horror movie. And like watching a movie, there is never any real sense of danger, but instead plenty of emotion-producing scenes. 3D cinema has nothing on this.
I leave Alone satisfied. I was never scared, and only briefly startled, but I was completely and thoroughly entertained. And I come away with an “I did it Alone” t-shirt to not only show that I survived the experience, but, more importantly, that I was part of this unique experiment that has shaped the way I view “haunted houses.” And I look forward to more Alone-time in the future.
If you’re considering Alone, do it. And do it alone. You might find safety in numbers, but you’ll find far more enjoyment from the personal attention you receive by yourself. If you’ve ever wanted more out of a haunted house (or if you’ve seen the famous Howl-O-Scream Scream Cam and wished you could take part), Alone is your chance. If you’re brave enough to walk through any of Howl-O-Scream’s haunted houses, you can make it through Alone. It may startle you, but you’ll be safe and will leave with a big smile. Book ahead, as it’s likely to sell out, and save $10. Then claim your free t-shirt on the way out after you’ve made it through your own “personal experience in horror.”