We were invited out by Busch Gardens Williamsburg to experience Howl O Scream 2012. See pictures and details of that here. This will not affect the honesty of this review – nor would they want it to. BGW is one of the best parks in America and they do outreach so they can keep that level of quality.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl O Scream is a yearly Halloween event in Williamsburg, Virginia. During the day they have shows, festive food, and family friendly activities. After 6PM the haunted houses open up. There are still family activities available but most of these houses are for older kids and above. Click here to read my run down of the event details. Click here to see my vlog about the fancy invite they sent me in the mail.
We had gone to BGW HoS 2 years ago (2010) and had experienced some issues. While the park was amazing during the day, we actually weren’t physically able to get through more than 2 of the the haunted houses due to 3 houses being fed from 1 giant line. This hurt our ability to enjoy the event.
In 2012, BGW has made some very good changes. I’d like to see them keep going in this direction. The strobes on non-haunt exposed walkways are gone and there is 1 new haunted house called Root of All Evil. They took our advice and got rid of the snarling mega-line that daisy chained 3 houses into 1 path. Each house now has their own line which makes waits much more tolerable. They increased the storyline around the Deadline house – it now has its own video and front facade that was very impressive. They have a Quick Queue system in place to allow out of towers to get past the crowds in 1 night. They added more shows, and developed The Lady of the Garden as an icon.
I have not interviewed anyone about this topic yet, but it seems to me that they are investing in this event over time and evolving it toward a more premium experience.
BGW HoS could go from a good event to one of the best events in the country very fast if they made 3 changes:
1. Make it a hard ticket event.
2. Don’t allow season passholders in free.
3. Stay open till at least 11PM.
The biggest issue I see occurring are parents of small children who arent there for the Halloween event becoming angry at actors if their child gets scared. I think this event should be focused on teen and above and parents who feel their child is ready for Halloween can make the informed decision to buy the hard ticket for it. Baby carriages are like small boats these days and really clog up everything – not to mention bottle feeding babies next to a chainsaw man really throws the mood off.
The crowd levels are high and the hours HoS runs posed some issues. The event starts at 6, but it doesn’t get dark until 7:30. The park closed at 10 on the day we went. At least 2 of the houses are open air. This means you go through in total daylight (not scary at all) unless you wait until 7:30. That gives you only 2.5 hours to get through all 6 of the houses. This is impossible without Quick Queue.
We barely did it with Quick Queue and still didn’t get the time to see any shows.
That’s a lot of analysis I just did, but I did it because these guys are so close to being seal-slappingly ridiculous amazing.
I recommend you go to BGW HoS, but you have to have a concrete plan if you want to see everything.
My advice to you is to see as many of the shows as you can during the day. Buy Quick Queue for the houses. Go through Fright Fair and Root of All Evil last as they are open to the sky. The other houses (I believe) are all enclosed.
I would advise the park to place a note on the map about which are open air to help people plan. A better idea is to just fully enclose them. Ideally, I hope they stay open later to allow us more time in darkness. The new bar they have makes me think this is what they plan to do in the future. It seems to me that the bar is a crowd pleaser for Halloween fans and will make them a lot of money.
The people who don’t approve of the bar are usually the people with small babies who I feel shouldn’t be at this event. This is not the target audience for haunted houses. HoS needs to be a hard ticket event. I cannot stress this enough.
The houses are mild when compared to their Tampa location. However, they are making important steps in the right direction which makes BGW the most interesting Halloween event to watch in my opinion. I am very excited to see where they go in 2013. It looks to me like they might be evolving toward a more premium experience, which would be awesome.
So how were the houses?
Root of All Evil: This newest house needs some work. I think if they built inward to make it seem more claustrophobic or put people above you on wires to surround you a bit more it would help. We got lost in the house twice due to ambiguous pathways. Actors had to tell us that we went the wrong way. I really liked the integration of The Lady of the Gardens in this house.
13: Your Number’s Up: 13 was pretty cool, but it’s coolness was almost it’s downfall. One room inside this house was so awesome that it caused a huge backup. The good news is that the trick worked – the bad news is that it delayed us for quite some time and made the second half of the house a slow-moving line.
Catacombs: THIS WAS NUTS! I had the most fun in the house I have to say. It was well-done and we went through with a dude who was so scared it was hilarious. (Man, if you are reading this, email me!) He was screaming throughout the entire thing and grabbing on to my shirt calling me “mommy” and apologizing for almost ripping my shirt off. Afterward he left the house and ran in circles for a bit before giving us hugs and running away. Well done, Random Stranger! I am proud of you for getting through that! :D It was fun.
Fear Fair: We went through this one in the daylight, so it was a fully lit outdoor maze. I do not advise going through this in the daylight.
Bitten: Some of the rooms in this one were very cute and I did like a lot of it, it needs to be tightened up a little and the actors need to be given mics (like the ones in Tampa’s Vampire Casino had) rather than cans to shake. I had one absurd interaction in here where a Vampire came up to me and shook a can at me. She didn’t mean for it to be like a baby rattle, but that’s what it looked like. It seemed so funny I almost burst out laughing. Why are all of the Vampires shaking cans?
Dead Line: Deadline was the best house. Solid.
I personally would like to see them up the scare levels and focus on pleasing Halloween fans rather than the whole family. They have some solid concepts here and a couple really good houses. The others just need a little bit of fiddling to perfect. They have next to no competition for large scale quality haunts in this geographical area so they could easily become the Halloween Horror Nights of the Mid-Atlantic. I hope to see it grow every year!
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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