Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is known worldwide for the unique mixture of animal and amusement park. Besides the vast animal areas their roller coasters like Kumba, Montu and SheiKra reach top rankings at various roller coaster polls every year.
Every year during fall however there is another highlight to be experienced: As one of the largest and best known Halloween events in the nation Howl-O-Scream is held at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on 18 nights in September and October. For the eleventh time the most brave and fearless guests can venture out to experience a total of 5 scare zones, 8 haunted houses and 3 large evening shows.
This year its all about the infamous rock band MyX with their attractive lead singer Sylvie who will hold their Tampa debut for the Halloween season. The history about the probably hottest underground rock band at this time though is mostly shady and only partly known. In their early days the band from Los Angeles still played under the name YX. Together with their lead singer Alex Wood they toured through various clubs but since his mysterious disappearance many things have changed in the band. Not only did the band's name change to MyX but the sound their music got noticeably darker thanks to Sylvie, who now has total control over the band as their new lead singer. She distinctly denies every rumor that she might have something to do with the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend Alex: “I think of him every time we get on the stage” the green-eyed singer says. “Sometimes I think that I recognize him in the audience – but its only the many lights that trick me once again”. Shortly afterwards Sylvie throws her black hair back, crosses her fingers on the level of her heart to a X and adds, noticeably touched: “He will always have a place in my heart”. We just cannot fully believe what she said at this moment...
Even if you are outside the horror houses you are not save from spooky creatures at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. In five scare zones completely redone for the 2010 season creatures of the night are greedily awaiting new visitors. On the enormous grounds of the park our path leads us through the following zones:
Xtreme Fanatics – still a few meters before entering the park area we meet the so-called X-treme FANatics of the band MyX. They built almost something like a shrine made of music instruments and TVs for their one and only idol Sylvie. All around they live their pure enthusiasm and aren't afraid of anything to prove that they are the biggest and most devoted fans of all times. Some even take their love to such extremes that they carve a bloody X in their bodies. A well done and atmospheric introduction about whats awaiting us this evening.
Light of Doom – Our path takes us deeper into the park but suddenly we enter a very atmospheric zone with an impressive blue lighting. Countless banks of fog make it hard for us to see anything at all and behind every corner a new threat awaits us. It seems that we have to deal with beings from another world. The play with light in almost total darkness is a lot of fun and scare actors are playing their part with much motivation. It's very hard to distinguish between visitor and scare actor in the dark.
Crazed Love – In this section its all about broken hearts: Suddenly we find ourselves right in the middle of the love chaos of several characters. Meet the dominant housewife, voodoo-summonings, black widow or murdering husband – all actors know how to put us in their situations. There is no way of walking by and watch whats happening – at every corner we are talked to, cursed to or begged for help.
Road Trip – What happens if students from college take on a road trip to travel after their most loved rock band MyX is not too hard to guess. After their bus broke down with total damage they stranded inside the darkest forest imaginable. We reach just this area and just like the students we encounter the creatures of the night – half human, half monster, nobody really knows for sure.
Spiders and Snakes – Fear of spiders or snakes is throughout taken care of in this zone. We are being confronted with creatures which are trapped in giant spider webs, threatened by gigantic Boa Constrictor snakes or have already mutated to a horrendous mix of those themselves. We were especially impressed by some surprise effects here.
There is a vast selection of shows at Howl-O-Scream for us to enjoy. At MyX Live we experience an exclusive live concert of Sylvie and her band. There she performs accompanied by a cheering audience and her X-treme FANatics. But there is not only enthusiasm and cheering at the concert as it seems that some protesters have mixed under the fans that are anything but happy with MyX and their music. They show their resentment with signs and repeatedly clash with the fans. A really very cleverly staged situation where its the most fun to be caught in between the two sides.
At the Desert Grill Theater we experience Blood Relations – a musical revue that tells the story of murdered lady Betty Blood and tries to find her murderer. The lovely neighborhood is inspired by living persons of today's life like Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods, Justin Biber or Miley Cyrus. Everything is accompanied by explicit language, a lot of black humor and sexy dancing.
No less obscenely is Fiends at the Stanleyvill Theater – here, Dr. Freakenstein is taking on a record-breaking dance party. With horror characters like Count Dracula, the Werewolf, the Mummy right to Frankenstein's monster everybody gets a personal performance. This feast for the eyes is accompanied by sexy nurses that lead us through the program. Entertainment from its most beautiful side.
Additionally there are many arcade games, great photo opportunities with actors, a large selection of eateries including a dinner show, the Howl-O-Scream Shop of Horrors for the appropriate souvenir and Club X, an exclusive party location to dance into the night for everybody over 21 years.
Nightshade Toy Factory: Son of Nightshade
Delta Epsilon Delta
Death Row Vengeance
Trapped in the Walls
But now its time for the actual core attractions of Howl-O-Scream, the haunted houses. Seven of eight houses are included in the admission of the evening Halloween event. For the 8th house Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is taking on a whole new concept.
Alone (A personal experience in horror) – For an additional charge of about 25 $ if purchased in advance or 35 $ if purchased directly at the park you can walk through this house completely alone. As a reward you get a special Alone T-Shirt. Alternatively you can also invite up to 3 friends to try to survive this house together. An interesting idea that was very popular on our visit.
MyX: Revenge Rocks – In this house its all about the band MyX. We enter a club where Sylvie is giving a concert this evening. In front of this club some protesters against MyX gathered once again and try to prevent us from entering. After getting past them, to the backstage area and finally uncovering the dark secret of the band we find ourselves being hunted and trying to escape the club alive. This house has a totally fitting atmosphere, many unexpected shock effects, great ideas and a detailed setting.
Nightshade Toy Factory: Son of Nightshade – What seemed like a harmless toy factory for us at first very quickly turns into a very real toy nightmare. One top scene comes after the next. We especially liked the very narrow toy puppet corridor about in the middle of the house. Here you have to squeeze through literally a mountain of cuddly toys, always thinking that some of those cute animals might suddenly come to life. The interesting theme of this house is executed brilliantly.
Delta Epsilon Delta: Extreme Rush (DEDer) – A dark past surrounds the student fraternity of the delta epsilon delta sisters. This year ??? alumni return to their old house during Rush Week 2010 to welcome their new victims. The queue line is already very well done past the rock formations of the Splash Ride. Once inside the house there is terror and fear on maximum with another D.E.D. Sister waiting behind every corner. And after leaving the house on a park bench there is one truly special shocker for all visitors.
Deconstruction: The Doctor Is Out of Control – Right at the beginning Dr. Edgar VonAngst welcomes us to his dungeon of horror. The deeper we venture into his house the more obvious are the terrifying experiments this mad surgeon performed. We stumble upon bodies sawed in halves, tortured souls and body parts in masses. For us this most definitely was the house with the highest splatter, gore and disgust level.
Death Row Vengeance: No Escape – At the Grey Echo Penitentiary nobody is safe anymore. Our only goal is to stay alive. We run past electric chairs, abandoned cells and countless freak and disgusting experiments. The scare actors really know how to play their parts in here, also the sometimes two story high scenes are very well done and have several surprising special effects.
Taste of Blood: A Different Vein – A subway became the resting and hiding place for countless local vampires to protect them from the threatening sunlight. While at daylight they live from eating rats once the darkness of night crawls in they come out of their hiding places and we are their next victims. Hordes of vampires hunt us down and even an impressive floating scene can be experienced here. Sometimes we wonder if the decoration around us might in fact come to life after all.
Trapped in the Walls: Ghostchasers – This house made the headlines years ago when the horrible distorted remains of an innocent family had been found inside the walls. We are amongst a research team that wants to find out the truth about what happened back then. Whilst at the beginning we harmlessly squeeze through the old walls between foil and canvas covers soon we find ourselves face to face with the inhabitants of the house. Demons were trapped inside the walls and have been released by the work of the research team, bringing terror to each and every living soul. This house has a great pace and gets more and more intense right to the end.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay doesn't miss a chance to advertise Howl-O-Scream as one of the biggest and most popular Halloween events of the United States. But is this self-proclaimed entitlement justified?
Absolutely! It's nothing short of impressive what level of creativity, individualism and industry-leading horror moments the creators at Tampa thought of. The event lasts 6.5 hours on weekends and it seems to be over already far too soon. All of the houses are very large, perfectly themed from beginning to end and have their own unique special touch. All scare actors are top notch motivated and even the themes themselves are so diverse that they cover almost the entire horror genre. The main theme around the rock band MyX and Sylvie is presented with stile and gives the whole event a very mysterious touch. The other shows also don't fail to satisfy with bold language, sexy moments and lots of grossly humor. Just everything you would expect from a mature Halloween event.
If you are looking for points of criticism the only thing you might complain about is the sheer vastness of the park itself because of which the scare zones are a bit far off to each other. For themselves though these zones are very well created. What's also worth mentioning is that all 6 of the park's large roller coasters are operating during the event. And every roller coaster enthusiast will surely appreciate the night rides on Montu, Kumba or SheiKra.
Howl-O-Scream takes place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening beginning September 30th 2010. The specific dates are Sept 30th – Oct 2nd, 7th – 9th, 14th – 16th, 21st – 23rd, 28th - 30th and 31st Oct. Ticket prices and additional information can be found at www.myxrocks.com.