Da'Shrine: An African Caribbean Restaurant

  T he building has been sitting for a while. Lets explore what finally took over.  Da'Shrine, 2023 L et me start this one off by stating that I am in no means an expert on Africa, their cuisine, or their culture. Da'Shrine claims to be a mixture of African and Caribbean cuisine. They are sporting a restaurant with a rooftop bar. If you had been to The Refinery prior to coming here, you'll know how the rooftop bar was set up. Unfortunately, the bar wasn't open when we went due to some maintenance that needed to be done before they could open. They did manage to use the space well, though, given how small the building actually is. They also have music playing from the TV, which is fine, but you can't hear the bartender over the bass. But that's not why you're here. Old Fashioned, 2023 T he bar is a square bar sitting against the back wall when you walk in. They have a decent selection with six beer taps as well. The bartender was telling us about some unique

Howl-O-Scream 2019: Spooky Season Starts Now

 Another year in the books. Time to talk about it.

 Howl-O-Scream, 2019

Howl-O-Scream has officially been a staple of the Tampa Halloween scene for 20 years! My first year going was all the way back in 2017, and it's only gotten better since then. This year brings forward one brand new house, nine scare zones, and a new Fiends show (featuring Dr. Freakenstein, Igor, and everybody's favorite naughty nurses). But Stormy, Ryan, Chris, and I, along with our new friends Gina and Jenny, made the trip and have some opinions. Before we begin, full disclosure: Stormy and I are platinum level passholders. We did not pay for the entry ticket. We did pay for our Fright Feast upgrade. We were not paid by Busch Gardens to write this review (we'd be very surprised to find out that Busch Gardens even knows who we are). The opinions that follow are Exploring Tampa's alone. Lets get this started!

Fright Feast, 2019

Before we even get into the event, it should go without saying that the Fright Feast is the absolute best bargain you will ever get out of a theme park Halloween event. Pictured here are some buffalo chicken strips with mac & cheese and the shrimp creole I believe it was. Look, the food is typical theme park food. It is what it is. But the upgrade was cheap enough (I have a top tier pass, so I'm not sure what the normal price is) and it comes with some really cool perks. The first perk is in the name. You do get an all-you-care-to-eat "buffet." I say "buffet" because the plates are already made, you just walk up and grab the plates that you want. There are six different plates you can grab from and a multitude of desserts, as well as an unlimited soda cup (good while the feast is going on). While you eat, the characters from the famed Fiends show come out to keep you entertained, and to give you a glimpse of what's to come later in the event. But on to the best part about Fright Feast. Now that you're nice and full and wont need to eat for another hour or so, you get into the event a half an hour before the gates open. This means that you get into the houses a half an hour before the gates open. Read that one more time: You will be the only people in the house. Once that half hour is up, you then get a full hour of fast pass access. So, you're still one of the first people in the houses, and still one of the only people in the houses (this is true for every house except for seemingly Death Water Bayou, which is their most popular house). In that hour and a half, we managed to get through every house and still had time to go back through one or two more if we wanted. If you're going to go to this event, get the Fright Feast. Just trust me. 

Bunny, 2019

Now lets talk about the scarezones. Yes, all nine of them. Most of them were really good... Some were severely lacking. 

The 20 Years of Fear scarezone was one of the coolest concepts HOS has had over the years. Problem being, if you were already in the park when the park closed, if you had Fright Feast or some other upgrade, or for whatever reason weren't by the main entrance during opening, you missed it. And it's not like you can leave the park to experience it, then go back. The idea was cool, and I understand the idea behind it is to get people coming into the park excited, but it didn't work for everybody. And, if you're like me, you stay until the end of the event... You wont get to experience this scarezone. 

Then you have the Little Nightmares scarezone, which I believe to be one of the newest. It was a really cool concept, but it was really, really bare. There is one good scare involving a bungee rope, but outside of that, there's not much. It had a very "Trick Or Treat" vibe to it, minus Sam and his sucker. 

Dia de los Muertos is still, to date, not only my least favorite HOS scarezone, but my least favorite haunted attraction scarezone, ever. I don't understand why this was a thing in the first place, nor do I understand how a team of people thought this was a good idea. Take a well established cultural holiday that has almost nothing to do with Halloween, then turn it into a happy go lucky dancing section complete with bright colors and a lot of light and you get this scarezone. You also get the same experience at the Sesame Street area of the park during the day.

The Carpe Noctem zone was... Well, it was there. Not much else to say about that one. There wasn't much to the zone (at all), but the costume design of the characters was interesting. It has a lot of potential. but needs more to the actual set. Gothic vampires are traditional, if not predictable, but every good haunt can pull this one off. 

Camp D.O.A. hit the ground running when I first saw it, and it has gotten even stronger this year. With a ton of set design, a ton of costume and makeup work, and a low visibility due to fog, it all works perfectly together. This is also one of those scarezones where the story makes sense, something that a lot of the newer zones are lacking. 

Hell on Wheels was a zombie outbreak scarezone. I went through it last year and wasn't even sure if it was a scarezone, it was THAT empty. This year, that problem no longer exists. The sets are gorgeous, the actors play their parts really well, and the story blends together seamlessly. My favorite set piece had to be the doll that was manning the gun on the car. 

Meat Market is, above and beyond, HOS's best zone to date. The cannibals are serving up dinner. And it's you. They are lurking in every corner, looking for fresh meat to sell in their stalls. Will you be brave enough to shop? This set is meticulously pieced together, with even the most basic of pieces looking like they belong. The actors in the area work really well together, with some actively chasing you and others simply running shop. 

There was also the unofficial scarezone of the pest control peeps from Motel Hell and one of their insects wandering around by the Meat Market and trying to scare people as well. Cool idea... Would've helped to have had the bugs vs the pest control. 

Overall, the scarezones that are good are really good. One huge problem I did have is that there were three or four scarezones that would merge together in front of the Meat Market. They didn't always make sense. It was a minor complaint, though. 

Scareactor, 2019

The houses, on the other hand, are some of HOS's strongest features. Over the last three years, I've only really been in one or two really weak houses. While HOS typically has seven houses, with the construction to Iron Gwazi going on, this year there were only six with one brand new house. Now, full disclosure: I went though these houses using Fright Feast. That means that some of the houses we were the only people in. This also means that some of the houses I went through were still preparing for the night. That said, this is what I got out of them.

Insomnia: Patient's Revenge: This takes the house from last year, with the sleep clinic, and adds the concept that the patients are now running the clinic. Honestly, it felt like an unneeded change, but they added it. There were some really cool added features, and some that didn't work so well. The spider scare from last year has been dulled significantly, but there is a killer new scene that can't be described, but you will know it when you see it.

Death Water Bayou: Wrath of the Queen: This is the same voodoo inspired house it is every year. Nothing has changed and that is ok with me. It is still the most popular house at HOS, so if you're doing Fright Feast, make it a point to get this one done early.

Motel S(hell)burn: Infestation: This was my favorite hotel to stay at prior to the bug infestation. If we're talking about unnecessary changes, the addition of the infestation was just... Rough. While the changes in the house brought the feel of the house down for me, it's still a solid house in its own right. Worth a walk through or two.

Simon's Slaughterhouse: This was probably my favorite house this year, and I can't believe I'm actually saying this. Undead Area: Live and last year's incarnation of this house were my two least favorite houses at HOS ever. That said, this year, the cannibals are alive and well. The house is now full of actors and ready with the scares. If you don't like a lot of blood and gore... Well, this isn't the house for you.

The Black Spot: Bloodshed: Was one of the houses that was so dark I couldn't see anything in. I spent the overwhelming majority of my time in this house looking at the floor, trying not to trip over props or actors. But pirates always make me happy, so this house is a must hit anytime I go. Do you have the black spot?

The Residence: I was fortunate enough to see the opening scene, which gave off a very heavy Resident Evil 7 vibe... And that was it. There was NO light in this house and I spent the entire time tripping over every prop they seemingly had in the house. Actors were jumping out and attempting to scare me, but I was so focused on the ground that I couldn't tell you anything more about this house.

That said, I do intend on going back, so I'll update the reviews as I see fit.

Howl-O-Scream, 2019

Some of the new features this year were really cool, from the photo ops to the alcohol booths, and everything in between. One of my new favorites was the Pick Your Poison bar. Four tarot cards are laid in front of you. You pick one of the cards and get the drink that is on the back. After you take your shot, you then go to the board in the back, pull your card off the wall, and the card will predict your future. Once again, passholder discount. Not sure how much this costs a regular person. Add to that, another year of Fiends (link is not safe for work), where Dr. Freakenstein is preparing for the apocalypse. Fun little show with lots of dancing, singing, and raunchy humor (if that's your thing). Add to that, riding coasters (and other rides) in the dark and with zombies is always an interesting experience. 

I Saw The Sign, 2019

Some suggestions I have for the event itself, as someone who has absolutely no pull once soever, are as follows:

- Create a signature drink for the event. Lets be completely honest here, the mixed drinks you do sell kind of suck. They aren't good. At all. This could EASILY be solved by bringing in a mixologist with experience in batching. When the drinks taste good, you can charge more, more people buy them (at the higher price), and there's a lot less complaining. You did really well with the pick your poison, but you need to go all in on a single drink that's unique to the event. Batch it, create a tacky plastic cup for it, sell it. Make it happen!

- Turn the lights on in the houses. Seriously. I don't want to be tripping instead of enjoying the houses. I'm not talking about bringing in a massive flood light either. Something simple that, at the very least, marks the path could work wonders. I did trip over props my first year there, I don't want to do that again any other year because something isn't lit just right. 

- When it comes to upgrades (Fright Feast, Front of the Line, etc) offer up some sort of promotional upgrade (upgraded lanyard?). It will help you push the upgrades and make patrons of your event feel a little more special. 

- More. Shows. Please. Fiends is great. Unfortunately, it's only Fiends. Otherwise, you can go dance with the DJ's (which I also like, but alas) but there's nowhere to just sit and be entertained. You have plenty of theaters, even if it's just a RHPS show or a dancing show... Something that will draw some people away from the houses and scarezones and allow you to bring in more people. There is no shortage of ideas either, and you have the talent to pull it off. A live band playing Halloween inspired songs? A stunt show? I'm sure you could even pull off an awesome ice skating show, assuming you're able to bring in talent. 

Overall, this was a really strong event. You're now 20 years in. Lets make the 21st year the craziest it's ever been. And I know you can pull it off!

Fiends, 2019

Things to know before you go:

- While there are designated "scarezones," there are actors all over the park. Some are more obvious than others. 
- Fright Feast is easily the best upgrade you will find at a theme park. Buy it, use it, enjoy it. 
- Try to park as close as you can to the exit. You're welcome.
- If you're going to drink, stick with the craft beer. Their mixed drinks aren't worth it. 

Have you been to Howl-O-Scream this year? What are your favorite houses? Leave a comment below. If you'd like more information on Tampa, check out my YouTube Channel and if you'd like to support my efforts, don't hesitate to buy a shirt from our Spreadshirt (we have new designs!).  Also, don't be afraid to click subscribe and you'll instantly be notified whenever a new entry is posted. If you'd like to meet other people who love Tampa, consider joining our Facebook Group. Thank you all and I will see you next time!