Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Howl-O-Scream 2016 Opening Night Review

This is a guest post by Donika Haddock.

September 23rd marked the opening night for Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Each year the park brings in a new theme for their event. Cursed (2014), Unearthed (2015), and new for 2016, Evil Encore.

The premise with Evil Encore is heavily advertised dolls. And not just any dolls, but the creepy ventriloquist type dolls. Aside from the new ‘No’ Escape Room, and some random creepy decorations throughout the park, this is where the creepy theme ends.

New attractions for 2016 include an all new maze, Circo Sinistro, and two ‘No’ Escape rooms, one themed to Jack the Ripper, and the other themed to the dolls and their creator, Mr. Karver.

Returning attractions for 2016 include the same mazes from the last several years, Bitten, Deadline, and Catacombs, plus the new mazes from last year, Unearthed, Lumberhack, and Cornered. I have to say, while I love Bitten and Catacombs, I’m ready for a change. Can we retire them and bring on something new??
I will say though, there were quite a few changes to Unearthed and Deadline that really impressed me. While I won’t give them all away, I will say, the park has added projection screens to the mazes, as well as throughout the park itself. They make a difference to the overall Howl-O-Scream experience, and not in a bad way. They’re well done and not cheesy like one would expect or anticipate. While they certainly don’t replace the human factor in the mazes, they are an added bonus to the overall theme.

Unearthed was my favorite maze last year. The amount of detail that went in to it was fantastic. I still wish we could walk through it with the lights up so guests can take in every bit of detail to the rooms.

This year Busch Gardens presents Circo Sinistro. This replaces last years’ Cutthroat Cove, the pirate themed maze. With this change, Festa Italia has gone from pirates to clowns. Not the creepy terrifying clowns from a few years back with Fear Fair, but a new version of the creepy clowns. I love this theme!
The downside to the new maze on opening night, it wasn’t completely finished. And it was obvious. The characters within aren’t quite sure of their roles, and like most of the mazes, there wasn’t a lot of actors within it. But those that were there did a good job of keeping you on your toes as you didn’t know who would jump at you and when.
On the upside, I LOVE this maze, it’s a new favorite (coming from someone that was terrified of the clowns from Fear Fair), along with the accompanying scare zone, Sideshow Square. You simply must visit the fortune teller booth for your reading!

One disappointment with the park is the removal, or partial removal, of the pirates. If you’re going to do a theme in a particular area, I want to see the theme throughout. While the pirates were a major theme in both Festa Italia and San Marco, it is now just the San Marco portion of Italy that is themed. And by theme I mean, they kept the Pirates Baaaaargh (the bar), and kept the decorations throughout the shops in the area, but that is it. I say get rid of the pirates completely and just make that area circus themed, clown’s and all.
Speaking of San Marco, the park has brought back, for the first time in eight years, their Starfright Orchestra. I wish I could comment on their performance, but since we were there on Friday night, and they apparently only perform on Saturdays, well, we were disappointed. So those attending Howl-O-Scream on Fridays or Sundays won’t get the chance to see this show. Why even bother with one day out of the weekend? Either do it, or don’t. While I tend to avoid the park on Saturdays, I feel I will be forced to fight the crowds at least once this season, just to see this show.

Just beyond Oktoberfest, located in the Wilkommenhaus gift shop, is the all new ‘No’ Escape rooms. These rooms replace the beloved Blood Banquet dining experience. For $30 (before 4pm) or $40 (after 4pm) you can choose between two themed rooms, Jack the Ripper, and The Case of Mr. Karver. You’re locked in, trying to find clues to help you escape. If you’re familiar with escape rooms, you know the drill here. While we were given a ‘modified’ experience for these rooms, the experience was NOT to the parks advantage. Our group was disappointed and confused with the Mr. Karver room. The actor in it is AMAZING however, and I feel that had we been given the full on experience, or even had someone actually EXPLAINED to us what the room was about and what clues to look for, we would’ve walked out wanting more, but this attraction fell flat in my opinion. The Jack the Ripper room though, definitely a keeper. I loved the theme, and the actor inside was great. The sneak peak we had in this room convinced me the money for the full thirty minute experience would be worth the price.

One more thing with this year’s event, a not advertised little piece of fun, if you have the Busch Gardens app on your phone, they have snuck in a game. Basic premise, you go around and pick up buttons. There’s sixteen total around the park. In previous years, you can win prizes such as a free drink, free snack, and during Christmas Town, an ornament. Not sure what the prizes will be for Howl-O-Scream but it’ll be fun finding out!






 REVIEW: LifeProof FRE iPhone 5s Case is not good and not life proof

I previously reviewed my LifeProof FRE case when I first got it. At the time I felt it was a great case with some minor issues regarding mostly how annoying the headphone adapter is.

I stopped using the case right after I got it because of it’s annoying headphone jack issue. Shortly after that point I got a large iPhone 6s+ because my vision started to fail really badly last year before I had surgery to save it.

Now that my eyes are good again I recently got a smaller iPhone 5s and decided to switch to LifeProof again because this case fit that phone and I already owned it.

The TL; DR is that even though I only used it for a net of about 3 months over the course of 13 months the entire case fell apart like this:

Broken volume button:


Center button cover fell out:


Everything else fell out:


To LifeProof’s credit they honored the warranty and sent me a new case (as long as I paid for shipping). However I now understand this case well enough to know that I no longer want to use it. I recommend you avoid LifeProof cases until they sort out the issues that I am about to go over.

Irritating headphone jack / muffled calls:

LifeProof cases are waterproof. This is good. I’ve actually dropped my phone in water and it sat there for at least 4 seconds with no problems before I fished it out. The phone was unharmed. I understand that they need to close off the headphone jack to make this waterproof but the headphone adapter is incredibly annoying to use. You must screw it in and then you can then plug your headphones into it.

LifeProof only gives you 1 adapter so when you inevitably lose this small piece of wire you are screwed.

I bought some from a 3rd party store in bulk because this thing is so easy to lose I assumed I would be needing several. I found out the hard way (Thanks to The WireCutter) that “…third-party headphones that use a standard 1/8-inch plug can, depending on the plug design, wiggle a little—enough to cause audible static, or to cause an electrical signal that triggers Siri. It’s not just one brand of headphones, either, as the problem seems to be peppered across all sorts of manufacturers and headphone models.”

So if you have a LifeProof case and an iPhone don’t buy 3rd party cables. Voice Control was being triggered every 10-80 seconds unless you loosen the cable, which prevents you from being heard when you make calls. Thanks to Apple you can’t turn Voice Control off as of this writing. Also half the time when I called someone while wearing headphones when the cable was tightly screwed in they couldn’t hear me but I could hear them. It also would get stuck and I had a tough time unscrewing it.

So let’s just say you are happy with buying a lot of extra adapter cables from LifeProof and you don’t have the Voice Control or the “I can hear them but they can’t hear me” issue.

You still will have a terrible time full of fail.

When using the phone in the new LifeProof case without headphones I got complaints that I was muffled and that I could barely be heard.

On the bright side, they did reinforce the volume button on the new generation of cases (AKA the one they sent me as a replacement), but it’s so reinforced that it’s really hard to use the volume at all now and your calls will sound muffled. It feels like the plastic is more rigid on the new cases, but somehow the construction feels cheaper. It’s harder to get the case off and on. I discovered this when trying to quickly remove my case so that the person I was calling could hear me.


LifeProof cases are waterproof and a great form factor that I absolutely love the idea of. The design is marred by quality issues, issues with the cumbersome headphone adapter cord, and call quality / muffling issues. The longer I use my LifeProof case the less I like it.

I still have not found my perfect iPhone case: a slim form factor, protection from damage, and waterproof. If you require a nice-looking waterproof case LifeProof may be your only option but for the $79.99 price I’d recommend you get a cheaper ziplock bag-style case.

Normally I could say “if you are ok with putting up with the annoying cable you will like this case” but the fact that calls are muffled with the case on when not using headphones tells me that almost no one will like this case. I hope that they sort out these issues because if everything were working correctly with this case it would be the absolute best case on the market.

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 Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Review: Vampire Wine Tasting

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This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

Full disclosure, I have been extremely jealous of Oni’s talk about food and wine tastings at Busch Gardens recently. If I’d had more time, I would have gotten in on them early on. But envy aside, I’m very happy that this is becoming a “thing” for them. The German cordial tasting at Bier Fest was well run and very interesting, so when I heard there was a “vampire wine tasting,” I was very excited.

At first, I thought the “vampire” part of the title was just a theming conceit for Howl-O-Scream. But there is literally a Vampire Vineyards, so named because said vineyards were originally located in Transylvania. They’re now in California, and the Vampire Wine Tasting at the park introduces you to four of their wines.

The tasting is set up in a corner of Der Marktplatz across from Curse of DarKastle. Be ready with your ID over at the cash register, which is in the opposite corner, and bring your receipt over to the tasting table (and be ready to show your ID again — they’re very thorough about that, but also very kind). The tasting will run you $14.95, which also includes a Busch Gardens wine glass — bring that back, and you can get wine tastings on future trips at the refill price of $9.95.

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One thing I’ve loved about both events I’ve done like this in the last few months is the people running them. They’re knowledgeable, but that knowledge is conversational and accessible. I never felt out of my depth with high-flown descriptions of what I was trying, nor did I walk away feeling underinformed. For the Vampire wine tasting, our hostess was a friendly lady named Ruby who was very cheerful and could answer all our questions as we went. She claimed to be relatively new to these particular wines, but we’d never have known without her saying so.

The wines themselves were nice — a pinot grigio, a chardonnay, a “Vampire Red” winemaker’s blend that was four different reds (which I can’t remember off the top of my head), and a cabernet sauvignon. The third was my personal favourite, but all were good. Granted, it’s hard to tell a stranger if they’ll like a wine. That’s what a wine tasting is for. But as there are two reds and two whites, you have a decent chance of finding something you’ll enjoy.

We were told that Vampire wines aren’t as widely distributed in, say, Total Wines or grocery stores, so they may be harder to find. However, if you find something you like during the tasting and don’t want to order online when you get home, they do sell it at the park for between $20-30 a bottle depending on which you choose (the Vampire Red is the priciest).

I’m really enjoying how widespread the wine and cordial tastings are becoming at the park, and the Vampire one was perfectly themed for Howl-O-Scream. These have also opened me up a lot more to going to tastings, as the few I’ve gone to outside the park in the past leave me feeling awkward and uninformed. The friendliness and accessibility of these is great, both for people who want to try new things and for people like me who are extremely picky about their drinks and want a little help finding something for the cabinet.

And yes… I’m getting me some of that Vampire Red.

Visit the Howl-O-Scream Dining and Spirits site to find out more about the event’s Spirit Bars and to book your wine tasting in advance.


 MUSIC MONDAY: Nick Az – Chase Lights (ft. i built the sky)

Download this (in my free debut EP) for free at: https://azofficialmusic.bandcamp.com/
Tabs at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/uus2j1qz1kdzatz/AABKI3i_W9mjqdIdztKRchvga?dl=0

This is the first single and title track to my upcoming debut EP “Chase Lights” this December 15, 2015!
Full Album Stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X7TIFWvlfQ

Bandcamp: https://azofficialmusic.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/azzofficialmusic
Instagram: https://instagram.com/nickazurin/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nickazurin

Video/Mix/Composition: Nick Azurin
Mastering: Sivert Henriksen
Film: Liam Warburton
Album Art: Arwin Wang

‘i built the sky’ endorses PRS Guitars and Bareknuckle Pickups

Gear Used: Mayones Setius 6 Katatonia, BIAS, Shreddage Bass, Logic Pro X

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 OniHaunts 2015 Awards = Oni’s Most Loved Haunted Attraction Recommendations for 2016

Most people do their awards at the end of the season. I think that’s pointless in my case because:

1. At the end of the season I’m tired of doing this and tired of everything except sleep.

2. Awards are essentially my list of your best bets for the following year.

3. If I still like a haunt a year later, that means my recommendation was solid.

I announce my awards at the beginning of the next season. The 2016 haunt season has begun, so here we go.

How I Choose Haunts:

It’s unfair to compare a large haunt to a small haunt or to compare a theatrical haunt to a startle scare haunt. They are apples and oranges. I simply look at everyone I visited that year and highlight who is doing some Next Level Shit that deserve attention on a national stage. After the season ends, who am I still thinking about that blew the doors off of Halloween?

This means that there’s a lot of great haunts that I am not honoring in this post. This doesn’t mean they weren’t stellar – it just means that my awards are supposed to be guides to who is really shaking the scene up for the better. And my awards aren’t easy to get.

In the past I’ve given awards named for what the haunt is doing. For example, if a haunt was innovating beyond the norm, I may design an “Innovation Award” for them. If I feel they are legendary, I may design a “Legendary Award”. The “Brutality Award” is always reserved for the haunt that can get Harknell and myself so riled up that tears might come out of our eyes. Again – not easy to do. We’ve seen it all. Or so we thought.

2 haunts obliterated us last year and 1 redefined the genre. For the first time ever I’m giving out 2 WELL-EARNED Brutality Awards in 1 year. Sorry, rest of the country – Pennsylvania is criminally insane and apparently the nation’s capitol of kick ass haunts. No other state (so far) comes close to the intensity and quality that I see so much of in Pennsylvania.

OniHaunts 2015 Awards:


Vault of Souls – Tampa, Florida: Read my review here.

Vault of Souls has no startle scares so those who do not like haunted attractions will also like this one. You partake in an elegant evening out where you somehow end up socializing with several ghosts. You get to put together the puzzle of what happened. This is not an escape room – more like a living interactive theatre experience. It’s spooky, innovative, and proving to the world that you don’t need to be “X-TREEEME” to be good. The most memorable attractions ever created are theatrical in my opinion. Anyone can chase someone with a chainsaw. Not everyoen can create a world that you can walk into and explore.


Halls of Horror - Palmerton, PA: Read my review here.

One Brutality Award goes to Hall of Horror and that should be no surprise. They are now the only haunt to have won 2 Brutality Awards from me. SERIOUSLY. They are always just THAT MUCH CRAZIER and THAT MUCH more …well..brutal than the rest. Read my review to see why. These guys are a definite jewel in the haunted attraction industry’s Holy Shit crown. What the HELL is wrong with you guys?!?!! OMG.


Reaper’s Revenge – Scranton, PA: Read my review here.

I’m genuinely shocked that Reaper’s Revenge is not as popular as Bates and Pennhurst.

More people NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS ONE HOLY SHIT. If you haven’t gone here I feel sorry for you. Genuinely sorry that you are so incredibly deprived. RR almost got an Innovation Award because THEY ARE INNOVATING THEIR ASSES OFF in there, but that does not encapsulate the sheer scope and precision with which this haunt is executed. The staging is beyond anything I have seen anywhere else. They build upward and around you in all directions – even in the hayride. A year later I still remember that and the eerie eyes throughout the forest. I still remember the usage of vintage recycled carnival rides. Its just insane. Perfection.

These guys have the best hayride I have ever been on in my life. Period.

Do not be fooled by the modest front end of this one. You will get SMASHED in here if you aren’t prepared. All of the other haunts in the country should come here and pay attention. RR can teach the entire industry a thing or 2 about innovation, staging, and just plain terror. The had a house that was lights out. Darkness. Those always suck.

NOT HERE. That one almost had me past the hyperventilation point – and it’s because they used darkness as a tool, and not as an excuse to be cheap.

NEXT. LEVEL. SHIT. And they aren’t just pretty and well-staged – they are god damn fn TERRIFYING. They got both James and myself to the hyperventilate point where I was almost glad to be through with the attraction. THAT INTENSE. Enjoy your Brutality Award, you crazy, insane people.

Read my haunted attraction and immersive theatre reviews for more info about haunts in the eastern, southeast, and midwest USA.

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