Howl O Scream FL
10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL 33612View All Details
Paid Parking, Restrooms On-Site, Handicap Accessible, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, Optional Games/Midway, Special Events, You will NOT be touched, Original Characters, Indoor/Outdoor Waiting Line, Indoor/Outdoor Attraction
Team Giraffic Shark reviewed this attraction on September 22, 2017.
Final Score: 8.52
After the lights go down on a day filled with thrill rides and animal encounters at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the gates reopen for a fully immersive, original haunted event. From original characters and haunted mazes to the themed pathways through the park and hundreds of scattered characters in nearly every corner including ride platforms and maybe even the seat next to you on your favorite coaster, there is truly #NowhereToHide. While Howl-O-Scream keeps houses for several years in a row, only changing 2-3 per year, there is still enough variety to revisit year after year. Nearly every house even if it is a repeat house has at least minor, if not major changes. The overall event theme also differs year to year, as well as the scare zone locations and layout. For theme park and haunt enthusiasts, the value of this attraction is unmatched, providing unlimited access to all rides and haunted attractions for the evening at one low price.
The skill level of the cast ranges the entire spectrum while overall averaging out at an above average cast performance. With minimal sound effect triggers for scares, the cast is left to more organic devices such as blowing their vocal cords in your face or making a physical sound with a loud prop (wood clapper, can of rocks, etc.). The few chosen characters on microphone at the front of houses (i.e. UNDEAD ARENA: LIVE, THE BLACK SPOT) seemed to have little script or talking points to drive their character choices, ineffectively setting up the events within their attraction, and relying on commenting on Guest wardrobe and other non-themed comments.
Other haunts, such as DEATH WATER BAYOU had the whole cast warning about venturing further, claiming the Voodoo Queen will cut your tongue out. This admonition was far more effective than the actors mentioned above and was a better overall direction adding suspense to the attraction as opposed to aimless commentary.
One trick that Howl-O-Scream employs quite a bit (and rather effectively, I might add) is camouflaged actors hidden in dark corners. While mostly effective camouflage (except the unfortunate Tron-like grid in DEMENTED DIMENSIONS), the true pay off to these scares are the actors which are great at scaring and then getting back to stillness and camouflage in the dark. These types of scares are the most likely to get even the most stoic haunt goers.
The cast of THE PLAYGROUND gives excellent interactions and the ‘creep effect’ in their black light school yard. ZOMBIE CONTAINMENT UNIT 15 had some great performers that would truly react when getting ‘hit’ with the laser tag guns, as advertised in the instructional posters in the queue. Others, however, would show little reaction when ‘hit’, and some would stay ‘paralyzed’ for far too long missing scare opportunities.
Perhaps the least impressive cast was that of UNDEAD ARENA: LIVE. This may be from flawed design or direction, but the cast was responsible for a lot of misdirection due to moving scenic pieces creating a maze and separating groups. While this is a great idea, it seems as though the cast either didn’t know when or wasn’t comfortable moving the large and heavy doors to block Guests’ path. Also, the large rooms (i.e. referee stripe room) with several actors in it and very little action seemed like a missed opportunity, or maybe something that just wasn’t ready yet. Both times through the house, we walked straight through these rooms past all three actors without an interaction or attempt at a scare, again, probably a challenge to the current design giving them nowhere to hide or nothing to misdirect Guests with.
Howl-O-Scream does a great job on getting costumes on HUNDREDS of actors for each night. Overall, they do a great job on costuming, especially in the highly themed areas.
In the haunted houses, costuming is highly effective especially with the brief glances you get before the actors retreat into hiding. As mentioned above, the camouflaged costumes are really well done, often rendering the actors nearly invisible (MOTEL HELL and DEMENTED DIMENSIONS had some of the best). The half masks in DEATH WATER BAYOU are extremely effective in presenting the voodoo feel and Bayou aesthetic while the tongue victim leaves some costuming and makeup distressing to be desired as his apparent trauma would likely not leave him a clean and blood-less face and shirt.
Costuming for the scare zones is a bit hit or miss. Again, the camouflaged costumes are VERY well done, most notably the guy in WASTELAND. Since these characters are seen for a longer duration, and frequently in brighter light (tram stops, ride platforms, etc), a little more attention to detail and distressing/staining would take them a long way to being more believable (clean, but ripped, skinny jeans just aren’t scary). Two of the best-costumed areas had to be the clown troupe by CHEETAH HUNT, and the post-apocalyptic WASTELAND. The detail and texture in the costumes, makeup, and props really made these areas stand out. The tall characters by CHEETAH HUNT are really well designed, creating a large character silhouette from performers that are still on the ground allowing them to swiftly move and scare Guests, unlike these characters if they were on stilts. The draping of these characters’ costumes however looks a little haphazard, forced, and inorganic when seen in daylight and brighter areas. This is forgivable however by the creep factor and great scares they provide at their massive scale.
In the areas where a performer has to blend in with a crowd of mannequins, Howl-O-Scream does a great job of matching the costuming of the mannequins to the performer to help set up the scare in the best manner possible. These scares even confuse the keenest eye to these types of scares, rising above some other attractions’ attempts at this effect.
Customer Service: 9
The customer service for Howl-O-Scream matches the top-notch service Guests receive during the day at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The team members are very friendly, helpful, and dedicated to Guest Service and Safety.
The one downfall for our experience was the communication of the Sampler cards. These cards are supposed to give you a food or beverage item at the Howl-O-Scream locations. However, the few stands that we visited said that the cards weren’t valid at their location and were unable to tell us how to locate the places that were accepting these cards. This ended up causing confusion and our sampler cards ended up being unused after visiting a few spots since we were more focused on experiencing all of the haunted attractions. Perhaps some clearer information upon issue of the card could clear up this confusion as well as a clearer indication as to which items were eligible for redemption (small icon on the menu items, light up sign at the front of each location, etc)
Safety overall is taken into high consideration at Howl-O-Scream, but as this was opening night, there were a few minor challenges. In ZOMBIE CONTAINMENT UNIT 15, there was an exit sign that was in the middle of the path causing two members of our team to nearly trip over it, therefore likely not properly marking the designated emergency exit. Also, at the exit and final scare in DEMENTED DIMENSIONS, there is a black knee height wall in a dark corner that we nearly tripped over not knowing which way to walk had we not been scared into the correct direction. This could be avoided with some slight paint treatment on this wall to make it at least slightly noticeable. (Side note: this was one of the best scares of the night. Kudos to this performer and design! Great final scare of a house.)
The first time we went through UNEARTHED, we were bummed that our group was not captured in a photo, though understandable due to the timing of the scare and camera capture. When we went back through just before closing, we were disappointed to exit and see the monitors shut off and team members shutting down the kiosk before all Guests had exited the house. Since the end of the night was rather quiet, it is understandable but on a busier night when the attraction is operating well past closing, it would be great for the kiosk to stay open until all Guests have exited giving them the same experience as previous Guests.
Despite these minor challenges, everyone we encountered was extremely pleasant, and not once did we feel rushed or neglected, as can be the case at other theme park haunted attractions.
Not one area is untouched in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, making the attraction completely different from the experience had during the day. Every area, while dark, is lit with textured lighting, creating a spooky feel and never creating too much light or an unsafe level of darkness. With characters everywhere, from the tram stop in the parking lot to the ride platforms and even the rides themselves, really the only place without actors is the restrooms (thankfully). The blurred zones are very enjoyable, and while there are distinct themed zones, the fact that performers are around every corner and mini unadvertised scare zones make for really fun surprises and atmosphere.
Howl-O-Scream does a phenomenal job of creating an immersive environment allowing the thrill and suspense to never dip, an immeasurable task for their massive park. Many photo op locations make for fun moments with or without performers as well.
Special Effects: 8.12
While Howl-O-Scream provides less special effects than some competitors, the ones they do employ have great effect and are well placed. The houses are extremely well lit for the most part and highlight the design and actors and any special effects, while hiding elements they don’t want you seeing (Best lighting in DEATH WATER BAYOU, DEMENTED DIMENSIONS, and THE BLACK SPOT).
Notable special effects are the caving wall and “jaws of death” in UNEARTHED, the kitchen portal effect in DEMENTED DIMENSIONS, lighting ‘embers’ effect and paint treatment in CLASS DECEASED, and those freaky ghost swings in THE PLAYGROUND.
Without giving spoilers, when I first visited a few years ago, the “stunt effect” in DEATH WATER BAYOU caught me by total surprise, especially having back-to-back scares, the placement is spectacular. It’s sadly unfortunate to see this effect placed in multiple attractions now, as it makes it less special and more expected. Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing, and variety would greatly help in this case, maybe exploring some different stunt styles to scare in different ways.
Overall, in areas when a theme is given, Howl-O-Scream does a good job at delivering solid themed elements. Notable themes are the voodoo New Orleans atmosphere of DEATH WATER BAYOU, where nothing feels out of place or out of that world (short of some voodoo masks that look like they could also belong in a tiki hut) and THE BLACK SPOT, creating a pirate atmosphere including treasure rooms, creaking pirate ships, and mermaids. The one confusing passageway was a near black hallway with no light except some that leaked in from above. This seems to be a missed opportunity for a great disorienting hallway effect, possibly a simulated thunderstorm with strobes, “rain”, and wind or something similar, but this dead spot seemed like a missed opportunity in an otherwise great themed house (unless this, in fact is “the black spot” the house refers to).
UNDEAD ARENA: LIVE had a great concept and potential but seemed to be a bit off on the theming, falling somewhere between a sporting event and a game show, but not clearly designated as one or the other. Many elements seemed out of place or misdirected leading to a confused theme and unclear concept.
DEMENTED DIMENSIONS had some great themed areas but some others that were unclear as to what they were supposed to be or what exactly the dimension was representing, the haunt almost being an excuse for a non-theme attraction with a new theme around every corner and lacking a unifying theme altogether.
MOTEL HELL similarly has some areas that are greatly themed around a motel (including front desk, laundry room, shuffleboard courts, hotel rooms, pool, etc) but also some confusing rooms that don’t really make sense in a motel (dentist, room of faces, graveyard, etc)
UNEARTHED had perhaps one of the best themes overall matching the distressed construction workers with a truly haunted house where horrific things are happening deep underground.
Fright Effect: 7.66
Howl-O-Scream, while not necessarily the scariest attraction you’ll visit, definitely has a wide variety of fright effect. They don’t heavily rely on animatronics for scares, nor do they rely on sound effects to plus up a performer’s scare. Of course they have these, but they use them sparingly and to maximum effect. Occasionally performers will use their voice or make a practical sound versus hitting a button causing a deafening sound diminishing the need for a good scare performance out of the actor. It is truly great to see a wide variety of these scare tactics to create more surprises and unexpected moments as well as more connection to the actors.
ZOMBIE CONTAINMENT UNIT 15 is possibly one of the least scary houses as described above as the bright LED targets ruin most scares and the moments of ‘paralysis’ cause the performers to miss scare opportunities. The performers do a good job with their environment but it is a challenging atmosphere to scare effectively in.
DEMENTED DIMENSIONS has some fantastic camouflaged performers providing great pop out scares and some animatronic use to provide distraction offering a great variety and levels of scare.
THE BLACK SPOT has grown immensely from last year, moving from what was a pretty walkthrough with a few pop out scares to an aggressive scary pirate environment, and probably one of the most creative and effective scares of the whole event. (Avoiding spoilers, but shout out to the prop and scenic team for this scare early in the house)
UNDEAD ARENA: LIVE has good potential with great setup for distraction scares but little follow through with the scare after the distraction (The body part puppeteer is one epic distraction). Sadly though, the cast seems disjointed or poorly placed in order to effectively deliver team scares. As mentioned before, the large empty rooms with two or three actors in it are simply a waste of space and actors, as there is little to no point for these rooms at this time. Since we visited on opening night, hopefully this experience will improve as the cast gets more experience and become comfortable with the misdirection elements.
MOTEL HELL features some great scares featuring actors hidden among the furniture and surroundings of the motel but also has some missed opportunities for delivering some strong scares after building tension in certain scenes, especially in the anticlimactic outdoor finale. While the outdoor finale highlighted a creepy performer as a perfect distraction to a scare that was sadly missing to round out the last moments of this house.
DEATH WATER BAYOU is a well-oiled machine at this point, having been open for several years now. The scares are good and solid, however it lacks the freshness and excitement of the other houses, all either being new or heavily updated for 2017. The performers hit their marks and delivered good scares but this house didn’t stand out as much as the leading house as it had in years past for us.
There is SO MUCH to do at Howl-O-Scream! Even if it is a quiet night, you can easily stay busy from the time the gates open to the time they send you running out. At a general admission price of 40 dollars, it is definitely a bang for your buck. If you are looking for a premium experience and looking to hit all the houses as well as rides on a more busy evening, I would definitely recommend the upcharge front of line passes, giving you one admission to the front of the line at each house (and ride, for an added upcharge).
With each house averaging around 5 minutes to walk through, the night definitely keeps moving, especially on a quieter night (weeknights generally).
There are two shows offered, FIENDS (a pop culture parody show) and INSIDE YOUR MIND with Joshua Seth (a mentalist show). While we did not see FIENDS this year, it is a fun show, though on a busier night could definitely stand to be missed in an attempt to catch all haunted houses. However, if it is raining, or if your feet need a break with some air conditioned entertainment, I would recommend this fun show.
We did see INSIDE YOUR MIND this year, and if mentalists are your thing, then go for it. However, the tricks he performs are not unlike those seen by mentalists on TV talent shows, and as such there is nothing of true wow factor or great originality here. Again though, this is a great opportunity to get indoors and sit down, and with the theater attached to a restaurant it’s a good time to see part of the show while you grab a bite to eat or enjoy a cold beverage.
When you visit Howl-O-Scream, here are my recommendations if you are running out of time and have to select certain haunted houses over others:
-Do NOT miss UNEARTHED, this attraction has grown so much since it’s debut a few years ago, and is one of the shining stars of the event this year. Similarly, do NOT miss DEATH WATER BAYOU, as this attraction has great theme, inventive scares, and a great layout.
-Feel free to pass by UNDEAD ARENA: LIVE this year. While this house has a creative concept and has great potential but the execution and final product isn’t the best and scares are scarce. I have faith that Howl-O-Scream will overhaul this attraction throughout the season or for next year and rework scenes that ended up lackluster as well as relook at some of the clunky set pieces inhibiting the cast from misdirecting and splitting up Guests.
-If ZOMBIE CONTAINMENT UNIT 15 is any more than a ten minute wait, save this attraction to the end of the night if you have time. While a great concept featuring laser tag technology, the queue moves very slowly due to equipment distribution, and the indoor portion of the queue is extremely stifling and stagnant, nearly unbearable in the Florida fall. The zombies have bright white LED targets that do not properly interact with the guns, leading to Guest frustration and the inability for performers to scare with a bright white light on their chest. The design of the haunt, while a disorienting maze, is not much more than chain link fences, wood pallets and barrels. At the end of the maze, the equipment is retrieved, and you aren’t presented with a score, or even a winner of the group, defeating the entire purpose of a competitive laser tag style attraction. Overall, it’s fun, but doesn’t provide the theme, scares, and overall experiences delivered in all of the other attractions. For laser tag enthusiasts, it might be on the top of their list, but don’t expect a score to give you bragging rights over your friends.
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