A curse has descended upon Busch Gardens Williamsburg and anyone who dares ventures into the walls is in for quite a thrill. This year’s events brings back many of the staples from previous years while making a few new additions – some welcomed with open arms and some needing work.
This is the first year Inside the Magic has covered the Williamsburg event, after many years of covering the event of the same name and theme in its sister park in Tampa. Though there are some similarities, it’s largely a very different event.
With a crisp chill in the air and a little less sunlight every night as we inch deeper into fall, Halloween is at full steam at the Williamsburg park, which is celebrating Howl-O-Scream for the 16th year.
This year, all Howl-O-Scream guests can enjoy six haunted houses, three live shows, five terror-tories (or scare zones), and five specialty bars. For additional cost, park goers can attend two dinner shows offers – Blood Banquet, hosted by a family of vampires at the Vampire Point Hotel, and the newly added Igor’s Fright Feast, in which Igor gets to be the star after living in the shadow of Dr. Freakenstein at the Fiends show and also gets to enjoy the company of the infamous naughty nurses.
13: Your Number’s Up
One of the most popular and well-done houses is 13: Your Number’s Up. The house, which is located inside the queue and ride area of Europe In the Air in the Ireland section of the park, plays off of the real fears of its denizens. It each of its 13 rooms lurks a scene that will drill into a common fear, such as claustrophobia – a fear of being close in small spaces, agoraphobia – a fear of heights, ophidiophobia – a fear of snakes, and even dentophobia – a fear of the dentist. 13 has amazing effects and set design that are interesting and original and keep even guests without the fear of the room on their toes. However, the fear takes over some guests and slows them down, which results in the occasional traffic backup in the house. This is especially true in the claustrophobia room, which disorients guests. These backups disrupt the pace of the house and can take away from the experience. Also, the fears addressed in each room are not identified as you walk through, which can leave some guests confused and wondering what fear they just witnessed.
Another crowd-pleasing haunted house is Deadline, which is set up in the basement of the Escape from Pompeii attraction. Without a doubt, Deadline has the best backstory of all the park’s houses.
“Deep underground, construction of the newest line of the Pompeii Metro was moving smoothly until an ancient pipe was accidentally struck,” the park’s website states. “At first, it seemed like steam. Then, the mist became thicker, more sinister. Now, the strange gas is leaking quickly, and everyone trapped inside is infected.”
You are entering Deadline after the decision was made to cut off communication with the outside world, and the “infected” (zombie-like creatures) are dying for some interaction. The theming is wonderful throughout this house, and it has some of the best settings, which you can appreciate even when you are screaming through and dashing by them. This house also holds the honor for the most gross-out scares, but would you expect anything less from a zombie-type house?
Root of All Evil
This haunted maze should only be done at night – if you are looking for a good scare. Root of All Evil takes places in a decrepit greenhouse where experiments on plants have gone terribly wrong and have poisoned the human staff members. This is an outdoor maze, located in a backstage area near Germany, and while it has a ton of scare actors, who wear camouflage to blend into their mossy green background, sunlight completely ruins the illusion. In the daylight, the scarers are predictable and look poorly made-up. On the other hand, at night, they blend perfectly into the background, making for some truly great scares. The theming of this house is not great, but the scare actors make up for it with full commitment to getting screams.
Cut Throat Cove
Pirates have been a staple at Howl-O-Scream for many years, and 2014 is no different. The entire Festa Italia and Italy areas are pirate-themed and Cut Throat Cove is the main attraction. Like Root of All Evil, Cut Throat Cove is an outdoor haunted house, located in the Roman Rapids area in Festa Italia, and is best when done at night. It is well themed, and most like a maze of the houses. It has a lot of scare actors, who get deep into character and keep up their energy, but sometimes, they just don’t come off as scary. However, the props aren’t well matched – sometimes coming off as just cheap Halloween plastic feet and hands that your neighbors put up to freak out trick-or-treaters. This is even more reason to do this house at night.
Bitten is set in eastern Europe during the 1800s when legends were shared of vampires who lurk, waiting to prey on innocents. This year, Bitten, which is located in a backstage area of Germany, has done a good job of paying homage to traditional ideas of vampires, instead of molding the characters around the recent trends of vampires. This is one of the longest walk-throughs, and it offers good scares. This house can be especially disorienting and the most like a maze.
This house has the most traditionally creepy setting – an underground tunnel filled with the bones of the people who were buried there. Located in France, this house is dark and creepy and features numerous scare actors who are trying their best to terrify guests. It has great décor that adds to the spine-chilling atmosphere. Additionally, in this house, you won’t just have scares coming from your right and your left – sometimes they come from above.
While it does feature the scariest creatures you will see at Howl-O-Scream – Victorian era London residents – Ripper Row is still a great scare zone. The area, which is set in the England section of the park, is especially scary because there is no escaping it. It’s possible to avoid every other scare zone in the park if you choose the right route, but there’s no escaping Ripper Row because it’s right at the entrance/exit of the park. It has great theming and décor, which create a spooky atmosphere. While there aren’t that many scare actors, the ones who do wander the street take on great characters, like the Sweeney Todd-type barber who sneaks up on park goers, inquiring, “How ‘bout a little off the top?” Additionally, this area also features some of Jack the Ripper’s “victims,” wandering the streets without the heads. These amazing “headless” women are eerie and silent, making for a great addition to the environment.
This area is by far the most visually stunning of the TERROR-tories at Howl-O-Scream. The France section of the park has been taken over by demons, and as such, hell has come to earth. As you approach, you can see Paris in flames, and it is an amazing effect – simple but stunning. Within Demon Street, you are greeted by devilish fiends, wielding chain saws, ripping them to life just in time to get lots of screams. Additionally, Demon Street is home to a demonic DJ who sits atop a huge skull while he lures park goers into fiery France. There are good opportunities for scares here, but it’s best characteristic is it’s theming and décor, which shouldn’t be missed – of course, you should wait until it’s dark to get the best effect.
This TERROR-tory is set in Germany, one of the largest areas in the park, and yet, the scare zone only take places on a small street at one of the entrances to Germany. There are only a few scare actors, and they suffer from unfortunate costuming and makeup, which takes away from the scare factor. The park does a lot with the vampires throughout the Germany area, including a specialty bar, a dinner show, a stage show, and a haunted house, but unfortunately, the scare zone falls short.
Brand new to Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens Williamsburg was thrilled to debut this TERROR-tory. Set in New France, Wendigo Woods started as a facility for plant and animal life research, but that changed when sightings of the Wendigo, a terrifying creature thought to be a legend, started. Now, a security team has shut down the compound and has contained the ferocious creature. With this backstory, you’d think the creature would be lurking around to scare guests but no. The scare actors are the security guards at the facility who do nothing more than holler orders at guests to give them a scare. Some of the guards walk around warning of the Wendigo while holding their bloody faces, but still there is very little to be afraid of. Additionally, the biggest part of the TERROR-tory – the Wendigo – is quite disappointing. Instead of having a horrific run-in with the creature, you can only see it contained in a cage and look on as it quivers and shakes inside. It isn’t much of a scare, but I guess you can appreciate the great animatronic.
Ports of Skull
Ruthless, cutthroat vagabonds and criminals who only look out for only their best interests while ensuring no one gets in their way should be scary. However, the Ports of Skull TERROR-tory in the Festa Italia section does little to scare park goers aside from cheap scares like a pirate on bungee cords who pops out from behind a ship’s mast or scare actor banging a sword on the ground to startle unsuspecting guest. Other than that, the pirates mostly talk to guests, sometimes asking ridiculous questions of park goers, such as “What yer got thar,” pointing out a camera or iPhone. They seem to be much more sociable than scary.
There are three shows at Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream this year. Two of them – Fiends and Night Beats – are returning from previous years while the other – Monster Stomp on Ripper Row – is new to the event.
Monster Stomp on Ripper Row
Premiering this year, Monster Stomp on Ripper Row, which takes place in the Globe Theatre in the England section of the park, is a new spin on an old Howl-O-Scream favorite: Monster Stomp. The original show grew in popularity for years before it was pulled in 2011, but now, it’s back from the grave. The new show mixes all the best parts of the first show with the amazing effects used in London Rocks, which premiered earlier this year. Centered on Jack the Ripper and a girl he has lured into his world, Monster Stomp on Ripper Row features singing, dancing, and percussion while taking advantage of the same spectacular animation effects that are used for London Rocks. It truly is a melding of London Rocks, a show strung together by popular music, astounding costuming, and lively dancing, with the original Monster Stomp, which featured amazing percussion performances, including a famous one in which performers tapped out beats with butcher knives. The combination is almost perfect, but unfortunately, there are a couple of awkward breaks between singing and percussion performances. Even with the occasion awkward transitions, this show still should not be missed.
For the entirety of the year, Busch Garden Williamsburg features a song-and-dance show in Das Festhaus in the Germany section of the park – and Howl-O-Scream is no different. However, Night Beats, unlike the other shows that take place in Das Festhaus, is a bit unsavory. The premise for the show is that you are a visitor to the Casket Club, a hangout for German vampires, and a myriad of talented vampires are here to dazzle you, singing and dancing to tunes from all of the many decades through which they have lived. Unfortunately, the show comes across awkward and overwrought. Jokes fall flat, songs aren’t immediately recognizable, and the costumes are either ugly or cheap. Compared to its Christmas cousin, Deck the Halls, Night Beats just doesn’t have any bite.
Fiends – the most infamous show of Howl-O-Scream – is back again this year. Unlike Night Beats, which is family friendly, Fiends is definitely not for the easily offended. Home to the famous Naughty Nurses, who also appear in Busch Gardens Tampa’s show by the same name, Fiends tells the story of Dr. Freakenstein, who along with his assistant Igor, and his risqué nurses in their tight, short outfits, is on a mission to create the ultimate fiend. With singing and dancing along the way, the show is a lot of fun for anyone who isn’t offended by off-color jokes and sexual innuendo – a lot of sexual innuendo.
Overall, this year’s Howl-O-Scream event at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a perfect event for anyone who enjoys fun scares and thrills. However, if you are looking for extreme scares, you probably won’t find what you are looking for here. The event has a lot of great details and excellent attractions, but it might seem tame to someone looking for a more terrifying experience. However, most guests will enjoy the scares throughout the park that are in good fun.
The biggest flaw of Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the park’s limited hours. In four hours, it is impossible to experience everything (even the majority of attractions) before the night is over. So if you want to see it all, you have to plan multiple nights. Regardless, you will be in for a good experience each time.
After Labor Day, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is closed on weekdays, so Howl-O-Scream can only be enjoyed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from 6 to 10 p.m. Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is open until October 26.
More photos from Howl-O-Scream 2014 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg: