Zombie Containment Unit 15: This noisy, strobe-lit laser shooter was a lot of fun. Fun is the operative word here; given the arming of laser guns, this wasn’t a scary maze and was instead a kinetic, short blast through a zombie-infested warehouse. The zombies managed to hide really well, especially towards the end where they caught us off guard more than once!
Being a laser shooter, the zombies all wore circular LED targets that we had to aim at. The strobing meant that throughout the twisting corridors, you were still seeing circular lights where there weren’t any. This had us looking in the wrong place a lot of the time, allowing the zombies to sneak up on us!
Unearthed: This was our favourite of the night, the standout feature being the sound design. It was almost disorienting, the wall of noise bombarding us at every turn. It was loud, really loud, as well as sounding completely unnatural; feeling like you’d just stepped into the mouth of Hell! Elsewhere, the set design echoed the idea that this was an age-old house that had been left to rot. And the puppetry used to bring some of the creatures to life topped it off. As far as personal experiences go, we had a brilliant couple in front of us, the guy was screaming constantly and at one point, picked his girlfriend up and held her in front of the impending threat! We had as much fun watching him as we did experiencing what ‘Unearthed’ had to offer!
Motel Hell: When we first stepped into this, it was initially a letdown – the set seemed incredibly basic straight after Unearthed. However, by the time we entered the second room, we could see that it honoured the theme well. It felt like an actual motel. There were some good surprises here, our stand out was the actor disguised as sandbags in the corner of one of the rooms! The other thing that we appreciated about this house was that it stuck with the motel location. We didn’t jump to other sets with no reason or explanation. There was also a scene taking place at the motel pool which was really nicely detailed.
Circus of Superstition: The Last Laugh: Not much to say about this one – another clown maze so you know the score, gaudy colours and clowns! Where this haunt stood out was in its theme of superstitions. One section played on the superstition of broken mirrors with mirror-covered walls and sound effects of shattering glass. Another was populated with black cats. The standout though was the ladder room that forced you to walk under ladders, I can only imagine how scary this might’ve been to someone genuinely superstitious!! The use of 3D also helped elevate it slightly beyond being a generic clown maze.
The Black Spot: This haunt wasn’t particularly interesting or scary. We didn’t find the set to be as impressive as the others were. The exception being the scene where we walked through the ship as it was sinking. The floor was spongy as though it was water sodden and they had thin strips of plastic hanging from the ceiling that gave the impression of dripping water as you walked through them. Beyond that, this was quite a tepid walkthrough.
Zombie Mortuary: This was a cool house, similar to ‘Motel Hell’ in that it stuck with its theme and didn’t ‘warp’ you to other locations. It also felt a bit more subdued sound-wise, helping to give this a different atmosphere to the other houses. Somber is the best word to describe the tone. We especially liked the scene where we went into the walls with all the rats stuck to hanging glue traps. There were very noticeable temperature and smell effects throughout this haunt too, we especially felt this when we got close to the freezers.
Death Water Bayou: Death Water Bayou had a great swamp theme; it was very easy for us to believe that we were stumbling through boggy marshlands with the lingering smoke selling the effect extremely well. They had a good jump scare in this maze where actors were on bungee cords, jumping out of the darkness towards you and then snapping back in the last second. We’ve never experienced anyone literally leaping out at us before and it completely caught us off guard! Elsewhere, we found that the actors seemed more camouflaged here than in the other mazes with more than a few catching us out, especially the actors that were wearing ‘pumpkin hats’. The one criticism that we have about this maze is that the ending falls completely flat. Tonally, it didn’t fit with the rest of the path; especially as the character greeting us here was friendly!
Only one of these had a name (that we could tell) but there were three distinct scare zones in the park. We attempted to record these – apologies for the quality! We learned after the fact that holding the camera right in front of you isn’t the best angle to capture walkthroughs! And yeah, they’re pretty dark too but we still think they give off the tone accurately.
Wasteland was the named zone and was closer to a haunt than a scare zone having an actual entrance and exit. Inside, the theming for the area was by far the best of the three but it was also the least interactive. Actors would appear from hiding areas, bang on something and then simply slink back into the darkness. It looked nice but didn’t do much beyond that.
Then there was the playground zone that had some cool pieces of theming here and there such as the twisted playground games and apparatus. The actors here were the liveliest of all the zones.
The final zone was werewolf themed and was our favourite. It was the least themed, with very few pieces of decoration scattered along the walk but it really didn’t matter because the werewolves themselves were so imposing. The path was dark and foggy so the first hint that you had of their presence was a pair of glowing eyes piercing through the mist. When you did see them, they didn’t jump out but purposefully lurched towards you, which was a change of pace to the way the actors performed in the rest of the park. Rather than being ‘jumpy’, it felt more sinister.
An enjoyable, light-hearted dance show centring on the imminent US election where classic monsters vie for votes, mainly through dance! Obviously, not being from the US, some of the humour was lost on us but we still had a good time and it made for a nice half-time break from the haunted houses.
The houses all had a unique feel from each other. Even though we didn’t like ‘The Black Spot’, it was still distinct from the other attractions. Busch Gardens had clearly gone to a lot of effort to ensure that each haunt had its own identity and that they’re very well themed.
The batching was also much more generous at this event, we were sometimes allowed into houses in groups as small as six. If you’ve been to ‘HHN’, you’ll know why that’s such a refreshing thing and worthy of being pointed out!
Not a great deal! The event ran smoothly and we didn’t really encounter any issues throughout the evening. The scare zones were a bit lacking, as though they were an afterthought compared to everything else on the night. But no-one goes to these events for scare zones, they’re just cool little extras so we can forgive that!
Howl-O-Scream (2016) Busch Gardens Tampa
Compared to the other main event in Orlando, we'd choose to return here first. From an operations point of view, the batching was a lot smaller and queues didn't get ridiculously long. The houses themselves were also a lot more engaging and interactive. And not being tied to any IPs meant that the event could really offer a varied plate of scares. If you're in Florida for Halloween, make the effort to get here, you won't regret it!
Ticket Price: $45.99 to $70.99 depending on the day visited.
Address: 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL 33612