Ghostly Guide to Busch Garden's Howl-O-Scream 2019
Hello, and welcome to the second installment of the Busch Garden's guides! This week, I'll be sharing a look at the 2019 Howl-O-Scream lineup in the Williamsburg location.
If you're unfamiliar with Howl-O-Scream, it's the annual Halloween fest that transforms Busch Gardens into a town of terror. And the park really goes all out with it--the website even claims Howl-O-Scream to be Virginia's scariest Halloween event.
This year's line up features 6 haunted houses, 3 sinister shows, a couple of escape rooms, and in-depth decorations and costumed actors filling the streets and dark corners of the park deemed as scare zones. Additionally, monsters are known to hop on rides with you after dark!
The event runs Thursday-Sunday all through October with varying hours by day. Thursday is by far the least crowded day, although the park is only open from 5 to 11 pm. However, this is perfect if you want to focus your time on the Howl-O-Scream experiences which begin at 6 pm.
*Spoilers Ahead (mostly for shows)
The first scene you'll see upon entering the park is the gristly Ripper Row set in the traditionally England-themed area. Here, a giant red skull decorates the initial courtyard, and the British flags have been replaced with black-and-white prints of poison, witches, and ghouls. Beneath the flags, the first of the Howl-O-Scream horrors roam.
Headless nannies roam about with their rabid charges and cackling peasants reach at you from shadowed spaces. Swirling clouds of fog immerse the square in an eerie veil, and random screams burst out when you least expect it.
The Monster Stomp show takes place in the Globe Theatre on Ripper Row. As we entered, I noticed a sign encouraging parental guidance for the performance, and after seeing it, I would also throw my recommendation to that end. Three to four people get their throats graphically slashed, and the routine is significantly more sensual in nature than what I've come to expect from Busch Gardens.
Monster Stomp centers on Jack the Ripper as the main element of the show. The main storyline shows him romanticizing a woman before slashing her throat. It ends with her wreaking her revenge on him from the afterlife.
Personally, I found a decent bit of the song and dance routine to be confusing, but it mostly made sense at the end. The show starts with a group of female dancers dressed in period-style and then transfers to a group of guys who look like they popped out of a tribal ceremony (Upon further study of photos, I think their pants were supposed to represent flames).
However, what I absolutely loved about this show was the drumline! A group of men dressed as metalworkers does an incredible percussion routine with knives on a coffin. They throw a little humor into this part as well, and their skills were remarkable!
If you head clockwise around the park, you'll encounter Dystopia, one of the 6 haunted houses on your way to Italy. Set within the building that usually houses Escape from Pompeii, the tour through the ride's lower level is slightly disorienting.
The central theme of the haunted house is a dystopian society where aliens infected humans are roaming the fog-filled halls. Caged creatures strain to break free from their restraints as you creep by, masked people reach at you from disturbing operating rooms, and the occasional struggling human begs for help with pleas and screams of terror. This one also has tons of stuff hanging from the ceiling, preventing you from seeing what's lurking right in front of you.
Out of all the haunted houses, I found this one to be the least frightening due to the lack of unexpected jump-scares. But if you don't like aliens, this could be your worst nightmare.
Garden of the Souls
The themed area in Italy is the Garden of the Souls, located in Marco Polo's Marketplace area. The scare zone here takes its theme from the Italian All Souls Day, which seems to present many ideas similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.
The costumed actors here deck out in skeleton masks and costumes to represent the dead roaming the earth once again. The bright colors of dresses and flowers contrast against the dark swaths of fabric and gray gravestones where grieving brides and other deceased citizens lurk. It's both beautiful and grotesque at the same time.
One of the main centerpieces here features a raised gravestone surrounded by candles and clutched by a skeletal figure. Over by the Il Teatro di San Marco, another large skull dominates one corner decorated in swirling gold paint, and the theater's center stage features a large pipe organ.
Continue your journey toward the Festa Italia area, and you'll find a haunted circus full of terrifying sideshow freaks. Demented clowns abound in this area, along with toys come to life and a few other creepified sideshow regulars. Decrepit carnival props dot the main thoroughfare, housing unexpected performers at every turn. The haunting effect of everything is amplified by the disturbing "happy" music coming through the speakers.
The characters in this zone seemed particularly eager to follow visitors around and jump at them from various circus equipment, so be prepared!
*I visited Howl-O-Scream twice this month to visit all of the attractions, and unfortunately, I was unable to walk through Circo Sinistro either time. One night had over an hour wait time at 9 o'clock, and the next time it was closed all day while they worked on Pantheon. I plan to visit a third time to get the details on this haunted house, so check back in a week or so for the update!
You can also check out the official Busch Gardens' YouTube video on the Circo Sinistro in the meantime!
Oktoberfest seems to have the most concentrated dose of Halloween spirit with 4 of the 6 haunted houses located here along with a show and a "terror-tory."
The Vault: Overtaken
The next two haunted houses take place in a part of the park you may have never seen before. To access The Vault: Overtaken, you'll wind behind Das Festhaus, past the Black Forest Picnic Village, and into an area hidden behind Der Autobahn.
This warehouse-like building hosts a horrific gathering of old and new Howl-O-Scream characters, with a heavy emphasis on past terrors being set free. The primary setting is reminiscent of an old asylum where crazed patients were tortured and operated on by equally insane Fiend nurses. A few rooms have more of an experimental laboratory setting, but it fits right into the horrific environment.
This haunted house has lots of screaming and a great deal of jump scares to keep you on your toes. You'll also see plenty of bloody limbs, often hanging from chains, monsters like Igor and Frankenstein, and vault-lined walls that offer no escape and hide awaiting terrors.
Right beside The Vault: Overtaken exit lies the path to Lumberhack. The haunted house takes place outdoors in the woods behind Der Autobahn, a perfect setting for the theme. Here, bloody lumberjacks run up and down the line near the exit terrorizing visitors with chainsaws while they wait, along with those who have just burst through the exit.
Lumberhack is definitely one of the more grotesquely intense haunted houses. Bloody limbs abound along with blood-covered actors screaming for you to help them escape. The central theme is zombie lumberjacks have invaded the camp and killed or dismembered everyone.
We went through during the day, and I still had a hard time with this one. There was so much blood! This one had fewer jump scares than some others, but the atmosphere is so horrific that you still don't get a break. Zombie lumberjacks will follow you through the area with chainsaws or leer over your shoulder, while others appear suddenly through the dense smoke.
One thing with this haunted house: it smells heavily of gasoline, and the fake smoke/fog they use can be tough to breathe in. It's enough that I think it needs to be pointed out. Be prepared that this one may be scary and a little uncomfortable if you have asthma or other breathing problems.
In the back of NewKastle lies the entrance to Demented Dimensions. The general concept here is that portals from different horrific worlds have allowed creatures to enter ours. The result is a terrifying medley of monsters, beings, and disfigured humans roaming the halls of Demented Dimensions.
I liked this one because it had such a wide variety of scares, and you never knew what was coming in the next room. The areas shifted from crazed experiments to bloody monsters, from life-sized porcelain dolls to clowns. One place even has strobe lights where the monsters match the walls and pop up unexpectedly.
If you have a lot of fears, this one may be hard to handle. But again, I thought the variety here was a fun concept and gave some reprieve between my worst nightmares and less terrifying ones.
The front side of the NewKastle hosts Frostbite, a chilly royal court overrun with icy creatures. The old castle facade makes it the perfect place for this particular haunted house. A lot of special effects add to the frigid atmosphere, including fake snow and fog.
The frozen citizens of this castle now roam the halls screaming and warning visitors to avoid the Frost Queen. Rows of intimidating soldiers line up along the walls, while demented courtiers lurk in the shadows. And don't forget to beware of the unassuming "decorations" in the castle.
Like Demented Dimensions, Frostbite had fewer jump scares than I expected, but the ones they did have were well-timed. And don't expect to make eye contact with anything and get away with it!
Night Beats: Revamped
Das Festhaus gets a spooky revamp for Howl-O-Scream and the Night Beats: Revamped show on the main stage. While more family-friendly than Monster Stomp, I will say that this show was also a bit more sensual than I expect from Busch Gardens. So once again, parents may want to use caution.
Set in a graveyard, the performance flows through a series of song and dance routines focused on coming to life. The leading singers include two vampires and two humans who both become vampires during the show. The concept is heavily romanticized as the vampires woo the unsuspecting humans and turn them into vampire royalty while their blood-sucking court dances in the background.
It's mostly lighthearted, but there is definitely a dark undertone compared to the standarly-cheesy Festhaus performances.
Keeping in theme with Night Beats: Revamped, Germany's "terror-tory" is occupied by a host of bloodthirsty vampires. These creatures of the night lurk just outside of the yellow glow cast through the shops' boarded-up windows. The entrance here sports tattered, blood-colored fabric, while the square's upper areas house a myriad of bats. Beware of vampires that lurk above as well as those hidden in dark corners below!
Cross the spider-infested bridge between Germany and New France, and you'll enter a completely different world of scares.
The Axe Alley scare zone brings a motley crew of zombie-ghost Vikings to Howl-O-Scream's mix of terrors. You enter through a wooden facade decked out in wooden shields and enter the remains of a Viking camp. Dressed in fur and wielding large weapons, the Vikings will follow you around, come up behind you, and even jump at you from unexpected heights and distances with the help of some bungee cords.
The large areas of smoke add to the rustic horror-land here and make the Vikings' war paint more intimidating when they pop out. The Howl-O-Scream decoration scheme doesn't change much here, but the existing New France look works well with the plethora of actors roaming about.
In the small area around France's shops lurk a motley crew of jesters and performers. A giant skeletal jester head greets you at the main entrance, and golden pennants drape between the buildings. Blue and green lights cast everything in other-worldly colors as other-worldly creatures roam the streets, and festive garlands decorating the shops become sinister in light of the haunting activities in the square.
Most of the performers here have white jesters masks, distorting their faces into grotesque shapes or accentuating sinister smiles or missing eyes. Most of them just walk around cackling, but a few will dart at you suddenly or come up and try to speak with you in mischievous voices.
Jack is Back
The last stop for Howl-O-Scream is in Ireland, where the whole Green Isle is adorned with scarecrows and Jack-O-Lanterns. A giant pumpkin decorates a small stage right outside the Abbey Stone Theatre, and projections of pumpkins light up the stone buildings.
Keeping with the "Jack is Back" theme, the decorations here date back to the old Irish tradition of placing lights in a variety of garden vegetables to ward off evil spirits and "Stingy Jack." Eventually, the custom became more popular with the pumpkins, and our modern-day Jack-o-lanterns were born.
However, the Jack-o-lanterns can't keep Jack away anymore at Howl-o-Scream! The final Howl-O-Scream show takes place right in the Ireland Village square. Jack comes out and laughs at the crowd for trying to keep him away, then dooms them to an eternity of partying.
At this point, disco music plays over the speakers, and performers try to get everyone pumped up into a dance party. Dancers dressed like pumpkins take the stage in front of the giant pumpkin while others dressed as scarecrows--complete with stilts--lumber out into the crowd and try to get everyone pumped up. They even bring out harvest crowns and award them to the visitors who get into the moment and bust a few moves.
It's definitely the least-haunting show and carries more of a corny factor, but the square takes on a really cool vibe, and the scarecrows are very impressive on their stilts!
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Howl-O-Scream 2019 and that it gives you a better idea of what to expect for your family or group. Again, I would definitely exercise caution bringing your kids here, because there are a lot of mature themes going on as opposed to Busch Gardens' typical family-friendly atmosphere. Certain areas are definitely scarier than others, but the whole event can be a lot of fun with the right people!
Stay tuned for an update on Circo Sinistro--if you don't beat me there!--as well as an upcoming installment on Busch Gardens' Christmas Town later this year.
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See you next week! Happy travels!
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