Previewing Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Fall may be my favorite theme park season. Smaller crowds, shorter waits, but probably my favorite thing about visiting a theme park in the fall is Halloween events. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and preview their Halloween event, Howl-O-Scream.
I had been to Howl-O-Scream once before, and that was five years ago, before I even started writing for Coaster101. (You can read my review of Howl-O-Scream over on CoasterRadio’s blog.) Obviously, a lot has changed as the event has grown in the last five years. As part of the preview, we were able to get a sneak peek of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Two Escape Rooms, as well as the new haunted maze, Frostbite. Following Frostbite, I tried to hit as many of the mazes as I could before the park closed.
I’ll give some thoughts on each of the mazes I experienced as well as the five “Terror-tories” at Howl-O-Scream.
No Escape: The Case Of The Haunted Hotel & The Case of Mr. Karver
The first thing that we previewed were Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s two escape rooms, both of which are located in the Wilkommenhaus gift shop/ice cream parlor adjacent to Land of the Dragons. During Howl-O-Scream, park guests (in groups of up to 6) have the opportunity to solve puzzles and clues and escape each room. Each room is elaborately themed and features a scare-actor that plays into each respective story.
Note: We didn’t actually participate in the “Escape” part of the Escape room, instead just toured each room.
The Case of the Haunted Hotel
The Case of the Haunted Hotel was the first escape room we entered.
As the story goes: “Many weary travelers have sought refuge in this once-grand lodging, few have ever been seen again. Dark secrets lurk behind every door and a feeling of malevolence permeates the very air. Right this way to your room – don’t worry, we’ll take care of the luggage. Welcome to No Escape: Case of the Haunted Hotel. Keep your wits about you and unlock the mysteries of this cursed hotel or once you check in, you will never check out. We hope you enjoy your stay…permanently.”
This escape room was themed like a hotel lobby, complete with a guest registry and bell-hop to assist you in checking you in. One of the doors was opened, but I didn’t get the chance to see inside before the bell hop closed it off. The actor playing the bell hop was great!
The Case of Mr. Karver
There was a TON of detail inside the second escape room, The Case of Mr. Karver. The puppet master has created new works of art for his evil encore, and it’s up to you to stop his evil machinations from becoming reality. Searching for clues, you will try to uncover the location of his secret workshop and, if found, attempt to stop him from making any more of his monstrous dolls.
To me, this felt like it would be the tougher of the two escape room experiences, just due to the amount of props in the room. The highlight to me was the scare actor who played a demented workshop employee. He was incredibly creepy, but did an amazing job.
The No Escape experiences can be experienced for an additional fee at Howl-O-Scream.
From the escape rooms, we were among some of the first guests to go through Howl-O-Scream’s newest maze, Frostbite.
Located inside of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Curse of DarKastle dark ride, Frostbite takes full advantage of the ride’s screens and layout to create a great maze.
Frostbite now consumes all those trapped within. Those who dare to walk through this fortress are exposed to a harrowing array of chilling elements, from a fog-shrouded graveyard to a creepy cavern filled with frigid creatures. The cold is not the only bone-chilling resident of the castle, however. For the ice has teeth … And this frost … Bites.
These photos don’t do the maze much justice, but the ice theme was definitely present throughout the maze. There were several scenes where it appeared that people were trapped in the ice walls, and there were multiple scare actors throughout the maze, including a few sliders and bungee scares.
The walk-through element of the maze utilized only one side of the DarKastle ride track, so if you didn’t know that the building housed a dark ride, it was very difficult to tell.
From Frostbite, we were planning to head to Catacombs, one of two mazes that were operating on my last trip five years ago. Unfortunately, there was a technical issue somewhere inside the maze, and we weren’t allowed to enter immediately. I did manage to get a great photo of Griffon against the clouds from the queue while waiting, though.
Rather than continue to wait, we continued on our clockwise tour of the park, and took in a showing of Fiends, one of three shows at Howl-O-Scream.
Fiends follows the story of Dr. Freakenstein as he tries to create his newest evil creation. The show features several musical numbers from several classic monsters, including the Wolfman, Dracula, and creature from the Black Lagoon.
There were several hilarious moments that took place during Fiends, including a really funny Game Of Thrones reference (“Winter is coming…buy your tickets to Christmastown!”)
I highly recommend checking this show out if you visit Howl-O-Scream.
Next up, it was time for Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge, our second maze of the night. This maze takes place in the former Europe in the Air building, which will soon become Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s new VR Motion attraction, Battle for Eire.
Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge explores the story of Scarlett—a furious demon who wields a deadly deck of magical cards she uses to summon her evil minions. Journey through the unearthed structure she once called home and experience the splintered labyrinth of horrors and the revengeful wrath of this demon scorned.
If I had to pick a least favorite house at Howl-O-Scream, this would be it. I found the story a little difficult to follow, and even though the maze was very, very well themed, there was nothing particularly scary I noticed while walking through it. It may have been my place in the group I was with, but I rarely was targeted by scare actors, which felt limited in the maze.
After leaving Unearthed, I spent some time walking around Ireland, where I saw some of Dr. Freakenstein’s previous experiments.
The next maze was Deadline, which is located in the ride building of Escape from Pompei.
Deep underground, construction of the newest line of the Pompeii Metro was moving smoothly until an ancient pipe was accidentally struck. First presumed as steam, a strange gas began leaking and everyone trapped inside quickly became infected by it. The difficult decision was made to cut off all communication to the outside world. The Deadline was off the grid.
Deadline was also very elaborately themed, and had several great strobe and electricity effects, as well as a unique horizontal “air curtain” that you had to effectively crawl under in order to progress through the maze. I’d rank it tied for 4th of the 6 mazes I experienced.
We walked through the Sideshow Square Terror-tory (more on that later) on our way to the next maze, Circo Sinistro, which was the new maze at Howl-O-Scream 2016, and proved to be my favorite maze of the night.
No one knows when or where the tents will rise, but all who see them are drawn to find out what lies inside Circo Sinistro at Busch Gardens.
Circo Sinistro featured my two favorite maze scenes of the night, with the Ringmaster room, which is full of what appears to be all mannequins, but upon further inspection, that isn’t the case. Another great room was “Room Roulette,” which combines a “Choose your own adventure” with a haunted maze. It’s a very unique haunt element, and I loved it.
Cornered, Howl-O-Scream’s haunted Corn Maze (Corn-ered, get it?) was next our next stop.
It’s 1977 and a picturesque farming community is in an uproar over the ongoing disappearances of its residents. Each time someone goes missing, an intricate corn husk doll is left behind leading many to suspect local corn-farmer Jasper McCobb. The McCobb farm has fallen into disrepair since the death of Jasper’s mother. Could the missing townspeople be somewhere in the maze of maize? Join the search party and find out.
Cornered was unique because it had a back-story video playing outside of the queue. I don’t know what it is about Corn Mazes, but I find them terrifying, especially at night. It was a very well themed maze, and there were plenty of great scares.
Our final maze of the night was Lumberhack, located back behind Verbolten’s big drop.
More than 50 years ago a logging camp was abandoned after a horrific accident where saws ripped into human flesh instead of tree bark. Tragically, the loggers perished … only to inexplicably awaken from death sometime later filled with inhuman rage. The undead loggers rampaged until every living thing in the camp had felt the bite of their axes. Now the forgotten lumberjacks lie waiting for unsuspecting campers to stumble into their den of the damned.
Lumberhack and its zombie loggers provided the best scare of the night for me, and it came by way of a giant saw blade on a zip-line. That’s as much as I’ll spoil. Like the rest of the mazes, the attention to detail was great, though this maze could have used a few more scare actors.
There are five terror-tories in Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which serve as a walkthrough point between Haunted mazes. Due to time limitations, we didn’t get to experience many of these in the dark, walking through three terror-tories in the daylight, Vampire Point (Between Alpengeist and Frostbite), Demon Street (Near Griffon) and the newest Terror-tory, Axe Alley (Near InvadR).
Sideshow Square was probably my favorite of the Terror-tories, because it had the most interaction with Scare Actors. My favorite Scare-actor was a woman in a “fortune-teller” booth who had a surprise for anyone who got too close.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to walk through Ripper Row while the park was open, and though it was the way out of the park, there were no scare actors when we were exiting.
General Howl-O-Scream Photos
I loved the attention to detail at Howl-O-Scream. The park does a great job making sure no stone is unturned while preparing for the event.
There was fog everywhere during Howl-O-Scream, which only added to the spooky atmosphere.
In side the Festhaus, the stage has been converted for the Night Beats show.
For a comparison how how the park transforms after dark, look no further than the Open Casket Bar.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream Rankings
1) Circo Sinistro
1) Sideshow Square
2) Axe Alley
3) Demon Street
4) Vampire Point
NR) Ripper Row
Howl-O-Scream takes place on select nights at Busch Gardens Williamsburg through October 29. For more information, be sure to visit the park’s website!