Howl-O-Scream 2020: An Experiment in Social Distancing

 But was it really necessary? Lets weigh the pros and the cons.

Howl-O-Scream, 2020

2020 has put us into some... Interesting times. A global pandemic has managed to bring the entire country to a halt and we're having to adapt to the new precautions and safety measures. Add to that, there is seemingly something new happening every day. With that said, Busch Gardens has decided to go ahead and run their yearly Halloween event, despite the pandemic, no doubt to try to cash in on Universal's lack of Halloween Horror Nights. They have taken away the free ticket for top tier passholders (so yes, we paid) and you are required a reservation to get in. Lets go over the event!

Howl-O-Scream Band, 2020

Alright, once you get off the tram, you get your temperature checked, then you go through security, then you go to the gates. If you get there before HOS begins, make sure the let the gate person know so you can get a wristband that will allow you to stay in the park during the transition. They will not ask you (as we learned). If you manage to forget, have no fear, they have wristband people scattered throughout the park to scan your reservation, ticket, and provide you with a wristband. There is no Fright Feast this year, nor are there any traditional houses. You are mainly paying to walk through some scarezones and to see Fiends. Ok, not mainly... That is all you're paying for. We did manage to check out the rock band they had (pictured above) as they jammed out to some Halloween favorites. I have my doubts as to whether they were actually playing or not, but that's another story. This show was a lot of fun, however, I feel like it was just kind of thrown in to say, "look! We added something." I feel like this show should run during daytime hours as just a normal Halloween experience. I also feel as though Busch Gardens should decorate the park and add a full daytime Halloween experience. 

Dia De Los Muertos, 2020

Yes, I know exactly what you're thinking. And yes, everybody's least favorite scarezone did make a return. Except, somehow even more lackluster than before. Due to the new restrictions, most of the scareactors are behind gates, with creative ways to not actually get close to you (see the rope in the picture above). This wasn't unique to this one scarezone, but it was most noticeable here. The one thing I do like about this zone, despite all of it's short comings, is the light that they've added. In the past, I have managed to trip over pallets that they inexplicably had laying around in the darkest parts of the path. It's nice to see that they have now illuminated it. This might actually be why they keep bringing this zone back.

Car, 2020

Ok, every scarezone isn't getting their own section here. Most of these zones you've already seen and already been through. Literally, nothing has changed. There are a few nods to some of the houses throughout. Two of the scarezones are acting as outdoor haunted houses this year, with lines to get in and everything. The Junkyard and The Shortcut. In The Shortcut, they managed to bring the funeral from Death Water Bayou out in the open. You'll find the four paul bearers carrying the casket, and I'm fairly certain that the house (the focal point in the middle) is also from Death Water Bayou. In The Junkyard, you will see the sign for Hotel Shellburn, aka: Motel Hell from years past. That makes sense as it's in Motel Hell's spot. The two zones with the lines will have six foot markers in place. Expect absolutely no one to follow that and no one to enforce that. Also expect a medical expert (Google Ph. D. candidate) to tell you about their personal feelings about the pandemic on at least one occasion, if not more. The Deadly Toys scarezone stuck out more than any other as all of their actors were behind the tree line. There were two or three out and about, but the focal points were all definitely behind the trees. Of course, they also brought back First Fear, and of course, if you came to Busch Gardens before Howl-O-Scream started or you didn't leave before it ended, you did not see this zone. Also beware the trees.

Lycan Landing, 2020

Lycan Landing was one of their new zones this year, and probably my favorite of the bunch. Campground, werewolves... What could go wrong? What makes this zone so interesting, outside of the fact that the actors in this one seem to actually interact, are all of the little nuances. There will be dogs barking, the camper has people inside, there's a ticket booth that has some animations going on (if you have the patience to wait), and there are cars going off, etc. The wolves will come crawling up to you, they will jump out of unexpected places, and this is what as cult of werewolves would look like if there were cults of werewolves out and about. 

Maniac Midway, 2020

Again, expect this zone to be stripped down from everything you remember it being. Gone are the interactive features (fortune teller being the most notable). This zone seems to be here mainly to mark a midpoint to the park and give everyone somewhere to gather. The beer and pretzel shop is a good place to stop and grab some refreshments. The beer selection is just as boring as you remember it being, but if you have a friend who's still new to craft beer, you'll find something inoffensive for them. The pretzels are delicious, and as much as I wanted one, they couldn't keep up with the number of people trying to get one (of which, people were definitely not six feet apart). I ended up getting a pretzel dog and it was just as exciting as it sounds. I'd strongly suggest it. There's also the Dragonfire Grill and Pub, of which seemed to be the only big dining hall open (Zambia Smokehouse closed seemingly before the park did). I take that back, Zagora is also open if you're looking for something a little... Simpler. There are also the usual carnival games in the area, which makes the whole circus theme come together. 

Hell on Wheels Inmate, 2020

What would Howl-O-Scream be if it weren't for their signature drinks? In years past, we have always been completely disappointed with their liquor drinks, but this year seemed to be different. You'll have to forgive my awful memory, as I don't remember what it was that I got. It was a mized drink, I believe using tequila as the base. Was actually really good without being too strong. They're fine to be enjoyed (in moderation) during the night. Stormy, on the other hand, got both of the shots that they were offering. One was tequila based and one was vodka based. The one thing we will point out here is that the shots are supposed to be served cold. There were quite a few places around the park that weren't serving them at temp. As far as the snack booths around the park go, they seemed to start closing right around the time that you'd want to get a snack. 

Hand Washing Station, 2020

Lets talk about safety and what Busch Gardens is doing to keep people safe. And that is, almost nothing. There is one handwashing station set up (not far from a bathroom at that), there are quite a few sanitzers set up throughout the park, but there is no six feet rule enforced just about anywhere (have fun at Fiends!) and seemingly only about half of the staff is enforcing the masks. Now, wearing a mask during this event sucks. There is no way around that. I don't mind wearing a mask and I found myself buying drinks just to have an excuse to get a break from wearing it every so often. It's hot and the mask relaxation zones are pretty sparse (as I suppose they should be). Most of the scarezones, the actors are keeping a good six feet away, however, in some of them, they aren't. Just be prepared for a lot of inconsistency when you go. Their website has a warning that pretty much says, "If you catch Covid, it's your fault!" 

Covid Warning, 2020

Fiends, 2020

Now lets talk about the real reason you are coming this year, Fiends. Last year we got a cryptic message that they were ending Fiends. It not only didn't end this year, but it seemed to gain in popularity. Of course, it probably helps that there were only two show times. To those of you who may be coming to Howl-O-Scream with your young child because they're "really mature" or "like scary things" or whatever, I would strongly advise against bringing them to this show. It is raunchy, it uses adult humor, there are a ton of half naked people. Everything that makes for a good show! Dr. Freakenstein has been missing since last year. They have found him quarantining inside the mansion. Just one problem: Igor wants to party. With appearances from Dracula, the Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein himself, The Mummy, and of course, the nurses. There are many shots taken during the show, especially one directed at Universal for cancelling Halloween Horror Nights, which, to be honest, Howl-O-Scream should've done also, especially given that this was half of an event. The new outdoor venue was... Well, nowhere near as comfortable as the theater, but it seemed to fit a lot more people, which was needed because this show was packed. They do have markers on the chairs marking off three feet at a time, but no one near you will respect that. That said, I'd definitely make it a point to check out this show.

Doll, 2020

Things to know before you go:
  • Bring your most breathable mask. Trust me, you will need it.
  • If you get there early and stay for the whole event, you will miss one of the scarezones.
  • You will be hard pressed to find food and snacks during the event. 
  • If you're looking to finish the entire event in one night, I would suggest starting at the midway and catching the band inside Dragonfire as soon as the event starts (7:00), it's a 15 minute show. Go through Deadly Toys, Dia De Los Muertos, and Hell on Wheels and hit Fiends (assuming the times are the same every night, 8:30pm). Hit The Junkyard next, then circle back through the Garden Gate Cafe (grab a beer), and make your way to Little Nightmares. Go through The Shortcut, then circle back through Lycan Landing. If the line is short enough, go back through The Shortcut, or go back through Lycan Landing, through the midway, and catch the last zone The Escape over by Montu. 
  • You are not getting a full Howl-O-Scream experience. Howl-O-Scream is one of my favorite events every year and this was... A bit dead.
Six Feet Please, 2020

What is your favorite Halloween attraction? Do you think Busch Gardens should've waited to do the full event? 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. 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!

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