2014, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theme Parks

Tampa, Florida Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Howl O Scream 2014 review – Cursed

Busch Gardens Tampa’s version of Howl O Scream in Florida is very different from the one in Williamsburg, Virginia. Tampa’s Howl O Scream is a hard-ticketed night time event that is targeted toward teens and above looking for a scary Halloween event. It is not targeted toward children.

You’ll noticed from my past reviews that every year the haunted houses at Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream never fail to impress true haunted house fans like ourselves. The creativity level is at an all time high in this park.

Last year we did feel that the event was more subdued from it’s normal energy level. It lacked scare actors on the street. It felt like their were some cuts to the budget which did impact our personal enjoyment.

This year they brought the energy level back up with more scare actors and added some great haunted house experiences.

The Haunted Houses:

Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream’s haunted houses function in cycles. Out of their 7 haunted houses 1 gets totally redone every year and the rest get altered and evolved. They also have a very extensive upcharge haunted house not included with the event’s general admission that could function as a destination all by itself. You can read my review of Alone, their previous upcharge haunted house here which I felt was one of the best haunted houses in the country when it was operating.

The upcharge house seems to be functioning on 2 to 3 year cycles before it gets redone into a new haunted house. The current upcharge house is The Experiment.

I will review The Experiment in a separate post. Yep, I did it this year regardless of my personal thoughts on the general concept.

This cycle system is a great way to keep it fresh and deliver a solid product in my opinion. Why? Because every haunter worth their spooks knows that actors and implementation are what makes a truly great Halloween event. Busch gets that right. Not only do they have some of the best actors and the best theme park actor training program in the country but the alterations done to the returning haunted houses are often amusing and additive rather than subtractive.

For example one year we had a vampire casino. The next year the casino had been condemned. This was not an excuse to simply shut off the lights. They actually redid it significantly.

This year I noticed that some of the returning houses were not changed as significantly as in past years but that didn’t matter to me because the houses they did leave intact are very strong. For example Zombie Mortuary is probably on my “Best Of” list. Circus of Superstition is a 3D clown house.

I hate clown houses and 3D houses because they are overused concepts that are rarely done right. Busch did them right. This is a good house.

Why? Again it’s because they execute everything well here. They aren’t using the concepts to be lazy.

For most of the returning houses you can refer to my past reviews of them here and here. I am going to focus on the new house and the overall ecosystem for the purposes of this review.

Deadfall:

deadfall

“The ghosts of long lost memories reach into the present and will NOT be forgotten! These spirits from the past lurk in the shadows of this Victorian garden and greenhouse, longing to drag unsuspecting guests into their world. Can you escape before becoming a permanent resident of Dead Fall?”

Deadfall was amazing from beginning to middle to end.

deadfall24

The scenes were staged in uncommon but effective ways that clearly sets it apart from the pack. The mirror effects in here were absolutely fabulous. I have not seen some of these things done at any other haunt in my tour.

deadfall1

It was an absolute triumph for the folks involved in it’s creation and an absolute pleasure to walk through. Of course the actors were all on point as usual. I feel that the last handful of years BGT elevated their work to be such a strong product. This haunted house is another example of it.

In my opinion this happens because of their focus on creativity and innovation within their smaller than Universal Studios budget. Ironically having less resources is what consistently seems to drive people and organizations toward greatness. That is what I am seeing here again.

General Atmosphere and Shows:

The park atmosphere is welcoming and friendly. The food is phenomenal at this event with the Pumpkin Cheesecake being a fan favorite for good reason.

pumpkin-cheesecake

You’ll find many cookies, cakes, and even southern BBQ waiting for you here.

bbq

Yes this is a ginormous fn bacon braided pretzel called the “Bacon Pretzel Fury”. Challenge accepted:

bacon-pretzel

cookies

They had a mini show at the front of the park featuring the Cursed monsters attacking someone and posing for photos. I felt this was very nice and really added to the festive atmosphere.

cursed-front

Conclusion:

Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream did a great event for 2014. The haunted houses are strong and demonstrate a high level of creativity and innovation that would satisfy most haunters who appreciate the execution of great haunts like I do. The scareactors in the park were plentiful and roaming about at will performing complicated improv scares rather than relying on the usual boring lunge and scream that you would see at most other theme parks.

My one criticism of the event is that the Cursed theme of the event and the merch that went with it didn’t speak to me. It was too generic to really hold me and had nothing to do with the haunted houses other than being a system that served the event to the park guests.

Both Tampa and Williamsburg shared this branding this year with Tampa taking the most advantage of it and actually having the monsters in the park. It still left me cold. I felt it was less effective than throwing together someone in a costume as an icon when it came to selling the merch and serving the event to the park guests.

I appreciate that they did a theme but I hope for something that I can identify with more next year. I didn’t purchase any merchandise this year because of this.

That said, Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream 2014 is a great event. I feel that they are the leader for Haunted House / Halloween events in central Florida.

I think that some of the locals who have not traveled as extensively as I have fail to recognize how abnormally above par Busch Gardens Tampa is for their Howl O Scream event. I go to hundreds of these across the eastern seaboard. I can confidently tell you that almost no one adheres to this level of quality at a theme park.

Busch Gardens Tampa’s Howl O Scream has the most innovative haunted houses, the best actors, and the best execution all around. You are doing yourself a disservice if you only see Orlando’s Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and fail to make the hour drive from Orlando to Tampa to also see this.