We were invited to attend the opening night of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s annual Howl-O-Scream event this year, and a rainy one it was! Despite the constant rain for a good portion of the evening, all houses were running and the scares were heavily flowing all around the park.
This year, Busch Gardens has made a number of improvements to the event, including THREE new houses for a total of seven houses (I believe the most ever), including a concept and theme, Unearthed that involved the talent of the producer of The Blair Witch Project.
For those avoiding any kind of spoilers, I’ll start with a non-spoiler summary and say that, for the value, there’s nothing out there like Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream event. It’s not a separately ticketable event, which means that if you have a season pass, or a day pass to the park, you don’t need to pay any extra to stay for the event. In addition, some of the BGWHOS activities are available during the daytime for you to enjoy. If you’ve never been before, you absolutely should check it out. If you have, you have no reason not to attend to check out the additions to the event, which are primarily (more on that later) strong enough to warrant repeat visits.
No new terror-tories or noticeable additions to the terrortories were made this year, and unfortunately with the rain, we didn’t experience the event at top shape, but I do want to make special call outs for Demon Street, Ripper Row, and Wendigo Woods. These terror-tories easily rival anything you’d see at the “bigger boys” down in Florida and have great photo opportunities and interactions. Ports of Skull and Vampire Point were unfortunately the most affected by the rainy portion of the evening, and I look forward to returning to them for another visit.
Unfortunately, the shows will have to wait for another review as I sadly didn’t have enough time to experience them. Still, even if it made no improvements, Monster Stomp on Ripper Row is a MUST-SEE and, as I mention in my video, is something you can view before the park even converts to Howl-O-Scream event themeing in the evening.
Sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to hit Catacombs on opening night, but I heard that there were some improvements made to the house from previous years.
Bitten – At this point a BGWHOS mainstay, Bitten really is an elaborate house that only suffers from the fact that it’s been repeated for a number of years. The house itself, located behind the Festhaus and (presumably) in an area that doesn’t require it to be taken down during the year saw some notable enhancements this year that added to the scares. It’s vampire themed (if you didn’t get that from the name of the house), and features different kinds of vampires, but primarily more classical Dracula/Dracula’s brides type characters. My favorite aspect of the house is the Wojciech Kilar score from Bram Stoker’s Dracula playing throughout. If you’ve not seen it before, you’re sure to find a ton to like in this house, and some great detail. If you have, I’d still check it out for the enhancements made.
Cut Throat Cove – Presumably a little barren due to the weather opening night, we proceeded through a good half of the house before we saw our first scareactor. Cut Throat Cove’s strength is in its length – it takes quite a while to get through, and involves a series of tents with different scenes (a pirate bar, a mirror maze, etc), connected by an outdoor pirate village. Again, pretty elaborate and I really enjoy the house typically, but not the best experience due to the rain on opening night. Also, recommend saving this house for an evening walk through – walking through before nightfall reduces the scare quotient tremendously.
Deadline – Though I didn’t identify any noticeable enhancements in Deadline, the house itself has always been a strong one. Located under the popular Escape from Pompeii ride, Deadline tells the story of construction in a subway that releases a gas, causing anyone in the subway to go insane. You have bathroom scenes, electrical rooms, and a finale in an actual subway train. In previous years, this house has opened up earlier than others, and is entirely indoors, so a good first house to hit.
Lumberhacks (NEW) – As you enter Lumberhacks, a young man asks you to find his girlfriend, who went to the old haunted lumber mill and hasn’t returned. It’s fun because you also see him coming out, and it adds to the experience. Lumberhacks is the kind of fun haunted experience usually reserved to non-theme park haunts – the ones at local farms or experience via hayrides. It’s almost entirely outdoors and in the woods, and is a great new addition to the BGWHOS event. My only complaint here is that it’s VERY short, or at least seems to be, but there are some setpieces (which you can see in the video below) that are super impressive.
Cornered (NEW) – Occupying the area that in previous years housed Root of All Evil (the house associated with the previous BGWHOS event theme Cursed), Cornered is a lengthy experience and solidly the best haunt offering of this year’s event. The sheer number of setpieces, the cornfield experience (never an actual cornfield maze, though), the scarecrows, and the way it all pieces together all make for an excellent haunt. I don’t recall noticing any specific storyline (though the house begins with a man looking for his son, so there may be one), but do you really need one to be scared of spooky scarecrows and creatures?
Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge (NEW) – Taking over the area previously reserved for the 13: Your Number’s Up, Unearthed is the house that BGW has been promoting heavily this year. Bringing in Hollywood producer Robin Cowie (The Blair Witch Project) to lend his talents to the concept of the house, there’s so much buildup and interesting story to this house, I couldn’t help but go in with high expectations. Unfortunately, the house itself, in my opinion, was weak in telling the story and getting across the idea of an excavation that uncovered Scarlett’s house. I love the idea of bringing in previous HOS icons as her minions, but only half made an appearance in the house, and Scarlett herself only appears in person once (though there are a number of oddly hanging mannequins dressed as her). There are some decent rooms in the experience, but I think it suffers a bit from the space chosen for it – repurposing theaters used for the Europe in the Sky ride, and projecting a sort of vortex to (I guess) signify you entering and exiting Scarlett’s world. I went through the house twice to give it another chance, but I just didn’t have a solid experience with it. Hopefully future weeks will have it seeing improvements.
I look forward to getting back to Busch Gardens Williamsburg again to check out their Howl-O-Scream event when the weather is a little better. Even with the rain, I was able to enjoy each house, a Vampire dinner, and more. There’s enough new here to justify going back if you’ve been in previous years, and with the value that it is for the level of experience that you can, there really is no rival out there in that capacity.
For more on BGWHOS, or to buy tickets, check out the official site!