PHN 2009: Paul invades Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream!

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream

Recently, I took the opportunity on a chilly Saturday evening to attend Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s annual Howl-O-Scream event.  The event in Williamsburg, Virginia has rarely lent itself to having quite the same extreme scares that you’ll get from its Tampa cousin.  I don’t know if it’s limitations imposed by the state or the city, but, as opposed to Tampa’s House of Vayne (and previous year’s Death Jockey and Raven Twins), Williamsburg has always had the same mascot – Jack, a pumpkin headed scarecrow guy who’s kinda scary, but fun for the entire family.

In fact, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has always been a much more family-friendly event than its Tampa brethren, which is welcoming and frustrating at the same time.  It’s a bit of a bummer not to have something on the scale of the Florida houses and themes up here in VA.  However, one contributing factor may be that Howl-O-Scream isn’t a separately ticketable event – that is, your day pass/season pass will get you into Howl-O-Scream, whereas both Halloween Horror Nights and Howl-O-Scream Tampa (and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party) all cost a separate charge.

More after the jump!

Still, despite the lack of a more mature theme, Howl-O-Scream Williamsburg does offer plenty of family-friendly enjoyment and even a couple of decently done houses, making it more than worth the trip.  Here’s what I thought of each house.

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Cavern of Darkness – The first (and last house) of the night was also the worst.  Not that it was horrible – in fact, though the location was odd (I think they did it behind the scenes of one of their rides, and in the waiting queue area), they did a good job decorating it and making the best of it.  However, the scares just weren’t there.  The actors didn’t seem to do anything other than stand, lean against the wall, or lie down on the ground.  It wasn’t a good start to the night (or an end, really).

Bitten – Located behind the Festhaus in the same location as last year’s Grimm Hollow’s Deadtime Stories, the location was great, and the house of was well decorated.  One thing I’ve noticed this year is the heavy reliance on non-human actors.  Not animatronic, mind you.  Just…fake vampires and monsters.  While I don’t mind that being used to throw you off the scent of a human scareactor sneaking up behind you, when it’s used in place of a human scareactor, I’m not a fan.  Good re-use of some of Deadtime’s props though.

The Hunted – Just like Deadtime Stories and Tormented Tales for the last two years, Bitten and The Hunted are a one-two punch.  You wait in one VERY LONG line to get into Bitten, then basically leave that house, walk through a scarezone, and are led directly to The Hunted, which is a werewolf based haunted house.  While nothing compared to the Wolfman house I experienced at Universal Studios Orlando, The Hunted was a pretty decent  house, and had some good werewolf costumes and, while not entirely scary, was extremely well done.

Cursed – This house was pretty awesome, if for nothing else than the fact that it seemed to NEVER END.  Every time I thought the house was over, we’d turn a corner and go right back into it.  Not only was it long, it had very good production values.  The story of this house, about the witches of the woods, was kind of lost to me, just because there didn’t seem to be enough scareactors for as large of a house as this was.  Still, despite the lack of scares, a well done house, production-wise.

Revenge of Pompeii – the one returning house from previous years.  To my knowledge, Revenge of Pompeii has been around for as long as there’s been a Howl-O-Scream.  Built in the behind the scenes of the park’s Curse of Pompeii ride, there’s not a ton of interaction with live scareactors, but there are quite a bit of animatronics included in this house, included a giant spider, a room of skeletons that shoot out of the wall at you, and a ton of cool little special effects.  While the house is relatively unchanged, it still manages to hide its age well, and be one of the best houses in the park.

Catacombs – Far and away, the best house BGW had to offer.  Sadly, also the shortest.  Catacombs is easily only one-third the length of Cursed, and, walking out of it, me and my friends looked at each other and wondered if we had maybe made a wrong turn and missed half of the house.  Still, as short as it was, BGW really put a lot of effort into this one – walls made of skulls, walking through eerie catacombs.  Truly something on the production level of what I’m used to seeing down in Florida.  It’s just a shame it was so dang short.

Unfortunately, one common thread I noticed in all of the parks I attended this year is the lack of emphasis on the scarezones.  Busch Gardens Williamsburg also has this shortcoming, with one VERY good scarezone that you have to walk through to get from one house to the other, while the rest of them are sparsely populated and lose all of their effect by the sheer number of visitors trying to pass through it at the same time.

While I can’t fully recommend dishing out the dough to hit Howl-O-Scream on its own (especially since the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster has been shut down), if you’ve got a season pass, you’d be foolish to miss out on it.  Truly the biggest Halloween event in the area!

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