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After attending the opening night gala for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, Florida, I was worried that, after such a pleasurable experience, I wouldn’t really be able to enjoy Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream event, a mere hour away.  I wasn’t really digging the whole fashion-show-themed House of Vayne storyline (I mean, aren’t we all a little sick of vampires?) and the majority of the houses were recycled houses from previous years (which is usually my one major gripe about the event both in Tampa and in Williamsburg, Virginia).

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Paul and some hot vampire babes!

Luckily, my fears were unfounded.  Celebrating its tenth year, Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream event may not have the type of production design you’ll see at Universal Studios, but what they lack in finances, they make up for in great scares and unique attractions.  The event this year really made it feel like you couldn’t escape the scare – there were very few “dead zones” in the park – that is, areas where nothing scary was set up.  Even non-scarezone areas had scareactors hidden, and they stepped up the game in unexpected scares.  This year was definitely a fantastic year for the event – check out my full review after the jump!

Entering the park a little before 6, my wife and I attended Club Envy, one of the two main “waiting queue” events this year.  Typically, rather than just hoarding every guest waiting for HOS into a specific area of the park (which they do also), Busch Gardens (heretofore refered to as BG) offers a Fright Feast event, a family-friendly buffet followed by one of their big shows (this year it was Full Moon Cabaret: The Magic of Jason Byrne).  This year, they offered an alternative as well – Club Envy, a 21-and-up dance club with loud awesome music, vampire babes (and dudes), liquor, and hors d’ oeuvres.

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Me, Mrs. Awesome, and some Club Envy dancers

Hoping to get our drink on, my wife and I opted for the adult-oriented club, and thought it was fantastic.  The dancers were energetic, the food was plentiful, and 2 drinks were included with the cost of admission!  Definitely worth the money.  We got to hang out with some of the actors of the event, who were all very happy to talk to us and pose for photos.  The music was fun, and it certainly was different than what I’m used to from a theme park experience.  The only downside?  There were only 6 attendees.  That’s right – only 6 people bought the Club Envy pass, which was a big dissappointment for us and, I’m sure, the park as well.  I was really thinking this would catch on, and I hope it still does, because it would be a shame if it didn’t do well and didn’t return next year.  If you’re still on the fence on attending the Club Envy or Fright Feast events, they are both worth the money but, if you’re old enough, go for Club Envy.  Besides…they serve CRYSTAL HEAD VODKA!

After being released, we quickly made our way to one of the two new houses this year, Nightshade Toy Factory. Check out my full review of each house below!

100_1352Nightshade Toy Factory

Best house of the night, hands down.  Imagine a sick, twisted Willy Wonka but with toys instead of candy.  Evil teddy bears, a baby doll that actually pees on you, and one of those spinny tunnels that makes you lose your balance.  This house was a ton of fun and we actually hit it twice because we loved it so much.  Great work on this on, BG!

100_1349Reconstruction: The Doctor Is In

This house has been there the last three years and I can honestly say that I don’t see the attraction.  It’s basically a plastic surgery-gone bad motif, with an evil surgeon mixing people and machines to make monsters. But it’s not entirely scary, honestly.  Even now, I’m having a hard time remembering most of the house and I’ve seen it THREE TIMES!

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The 13: The Messengers Motorcycle Club house has never been my favorite.  Basically, taking place in a biker bar, where cannibalistic bikers seek 13 sacrifices, the haunt has never really struck me as scary.  There are some good jump scares, like loud bike noises and, of course, chainsaws, but I don’t get the biker thing.  This year totally caught us off guard, though.  A girl came up behind us asking if she could walk with us because she lost her group and wanted someone to walk through the house with her.  We agreed, and she held on to my wife’s arm while we walked through the house.  That is, until The Messengers grabbed her and took her away!  She was an actress!  A great touch from BG, and totally unexpected.

100_1378Delta Epsilon Delta: Pledge Week

One of the scareactors at Club Envy said that the point of this house wasn’t so much to scare you as it was to make you uncomfortable.  The premise isn’t similar to the movie Sorority Row, as I originally thought.  Instead, it’s about a sorority that tortures and kills people!  I wouldn’t say it made me uncomfortable, but it’s still a pretty good house.  Not my fave of the night, but a welcome addition to the lineup.

100_1387Taste of Blood

While nothing has changed about Taste of Blood in the three times that I’ve gone through it, I really do enjoy the house.  It’s, essentially, a vampires in the subway theme.  How do they piece together?  Damned if I know.  This year’s HOS “mascot,” Ms. Vayne, actually pops up in this house, floating above the ground and talking to you, but it’s kind of a waste since you’re mostly rushing through the house to avoid being scared anyway.

100_1389Trapped in the Walls

Trapped in the Walls is typically one of my favorite HOS houses, but after three times and little to no changes in the house, it’s beginning to wear out its welcome.  It’s still got tons of good scares and the premise, about demons in a house where a family was murdered, lends itself to some awesome set pieces and good gore.  If you haven’t hit the house, make sure to check it out.

100_1390Death Row Vengeance

My favorite house from last year returns this year returns this year and is just as good – the story, about a haunted prison, has some fantastic sets (including one where ghosts float above you) and a ton of innovative ideas.  A must see house, and one of BG’s most elaborate.

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THE REST

This year’s four Scarezones – Carnaval Del Muerto, Unearthed, Banshees, and Werewolves, may not have been overly spectacular, but they were all very well done, and managed to get some good scares in, despite being outside.  I enjoyed the costuming particularly in the Carnaval zone, and think it would make for a great house.  Actually, all of the scarezones would make for great houses.

My favorite thing about BG this year was the “hidden scareactors,” seemingly-regular people who turn out to be scareactors in disguise.  There’s a lady holding a baby, another pushing a carriage, and a guy pushing a trashcan.  Get too close, and prepare to be startled!  I really enjoyed the hidden aspects, like those, or the scareactors hidden in non-scarezone parts of the park.

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At the front of the park each year, BG puts on a little show for each icon.  This is the one thing I wish Universal would have taken from them – while The Usher at this year’s HHN may have had a presence in the park, and particularly at the front of the park, I really enjoy the shows that HOS puts on.  This year, a short fashion show erupts in violence as the models vamp out and drag a poor unsuspecting fool onto the stage to feed.  As they bite down on him, water erupts from the stage, splashing all around!  Good stuff.  (I really enjoyed last year’s Raven Twins show).

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Another welcome addition this year is the SHOP OF HORRORS, a Halloween store IN the park!  In addition to the usual event-themed shirts, you also get shirts based on the two new houses, and a ton of other cool merchandise.  The only downside is that the shop really should have an online presence.  There was some great stuff I would have purchased, but would have no idea how to get home – ordering online from home would be much preferable.

So is the new stuff enough to warrant hitting Howl-O-Scream in Tampa if you’ve already been?  I’d venture to say yes, primarily on the strength of the two new haunted houses.  If you’ve never been before, instead opting to check out Halloween Horror Nights, make sure you venture out to Tampa this year as well, as this year’s Howl-O-Scream is great fun, and definitely worth the time for those looking for a good scare!

Some links of note:

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