[singlepic id=1918 w=320 h=240 float=right]For the 2010 Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens made a point to advertise that no place in the park would be safe. For the most part, the theming and scares have indeed been ramped up this season, but there are still some areas of the park that haven’t quite measured up. That being said, this year’s Howl-O-Scream is still the best I can recall.
Entering the park, you’re greeted by the Grim Reaper, just as in years past, but the change in this year’s HOS is evident as soon as you get through the turnstiles. You are immediately greeted by slow, haunting music, the sounds of horses walking through the area, ravens, the faceless inhabitants of the hamlet and a giant bird-man. The streets of Banbury Cross have taken on an orange and blue hue with hundreds of ravens watching you from the buildings and cables. The scare actors in this area don’t speak and, for the most part, don’t even make a sound other than the sudden opening of their umbrellas beside unsuspecting guests. The tactic is very effective for those that have fear triggered when someone is quietly following them or sneaks up on them. Don’t go into this area expecting to have a scare actor jump out at you from behind a corner, this area executes theming and story better than any other section of the park.[singlepic id=2129 w=320 h=240 float=left]
After passing through Banbury Cross you come upon a Scotland being watched over by ghosts in the trees. There are no dedicated scare actors in this area, but from time to time you will get a surprise coming from the bushes across the path from the Highland Stables and get startled by a random high pitched scream. The theming is well done, and no dedicated scare actors in the area is not detrimental in my opinion as the wondering if someone will come out of the bushes or from behind a hay bale is enough to increase your heart rate.
The scene is set for Killarney as soon as you come upon the bridge separating Heatherdowns from the Irish themed hamlet. Pumpkins hang from cables overhead throughout the area, which is clearly more kid friendly than the upcoming sections of the park. Monster Stomp Revamped and Jack Is Back are both housed in this section. Early reviews of these shows are varied, but my opinion is that the park has done a good job with both shows. Jack Is Back is for kids. There is absolutely nothing scary about the show, but the goal of the show is obviously to be fun, not to scare the viewer. Monster Stomp Revamped has a few parts of the show that may be startling to some small children, but is still a really fun show and I noticed no children having any problems while in the theater.
The Wild Reserve has been transformed into a place overrun by giant spiders. It is complete with oversized spiderwebs and cables that carry spiders over guests heads as they walk through the area. Again, there are no scare actors jumping out in this section, but there are people on platforms in the trees lining the paths to send spiders across the cables. Don’t expect too many screams here, but I did see quite a few people get startled by the spiders traversing the cables. This area is very dark and could be unsettling for people that have a problem with spiders.
[singlepic id=2136 w=320 h=240 float=left]Aquitaine is home to arguably the best maze of the event. Catacombs was my favorite last year, and the park has made this unique maze even better this year. It has been extended by 60 ft. and features more turns and a more claustrophobic feel than the 2009 version. Everything good about the maze last year remains, but it has been improved upon with the changes mentioned. The theming in the hamlet itself has also been improved upon, with rats and the skeletons of their victims all over the place. It does have an over the top feel of France suffering from a bout with a rat induced plague. Don’t miss checking out the live rats living in the incinerator directly in front of the Catacombs line. As far as scare actors, there were none on the first day, but some of the actors from Catacombs were wandering about the area on Saturday night.
New France is by far the scariest part of the park. It seems that something about the sound of chainsaws scares almost everyone. Stay in this area for longer than 10 minutes and you’re guaranteed to see at least one group of teenage girls running through the crowd screaming as they are chased by one of the woodsmen. The only issue I have with this area is the story and theming. There are static werewolf models throughout the area and the “woodsmen” seem to be dressed more like butchers than loggers. It seems a bit disjointed to me, but, the sheer number of scares somewhat makes up for the seemingly disconnected theming and storyline. Most people probably won’t even think about that, in fact, most people will probably just try to get through this section as quickly as possible to avoid being chased.
Rhinefeld is now home to vampires. Vampires that enjoy making as much noise as possible as they slide towards you. The always popular “sliders” are now located in this area and are as effective as always. When they are there that is. It’s very possible that I came through during a break period but about midway through the event on Saturday, none of them were in the area. Nonetheless, the area is well themed, even if it isn’t the theme I was expecting to see in that area. It is an improvement over last year, which saw absolutely no scare actors in the area, only boarded up windows and torn pieces of cloth. You should be aware that in this area someone could come sliding up behind you at any time.
[singlepic id=2144 w=320 h=240 float=right]Oktoberfest has no scarezone theming to speak of. It houses Frankenrock in Das Festhaus and Bitten, Hunted & Harvest Hollow in Festhaus Park. Other than that, the only Howl-O-Scream theming is some smoke near the San Marco bridge and the Howl-O-Scream store, which is located in Der Marketplatz (Wiki). Bitten has remained pretty much the same as it was in 2009. It’s good, but there were no new surprises. The same is the case with Hunted, except it was reversed from the 2009 version. This was actually an improvement since it makes entrance and exit of the maze much easier than last year. Harvest Hollow is a bit longer this year than it was last year and also features small shacks the scare actors can use to hide in. There are also plenty of hay bales and cornstalks for the cast to use. While this isn’t the scariest area in the park, there are still some effective tactics used by the cast to get some scares.
The witches in Italy have been moved from the area near the bridge to Escape From Pompeii to near the Teatro Di San Marco. The scare actors in this area are pretty good, they don’t do a lot of running around, so they seem to rely on creating distractions and then sneaking up on you. Cursed, located behind the Roman Rapids in Festa Italia is perhaps the most improved maze since last year. It still isn’t the scariest maze, but the level of theming is fantastic. Revenge of Pompeii is exactly the same as it was last year. This was apparently not supposed to be the case originally, but do to various issues, it ended up that way. There are scare actors near Pompeii, but it seems there are only one or two at any given time.
[singlepic id=2130 w=320 h=240 float=left]While the 2010 Howl-O-Scream is not perfect, it is an improvement. The “scare everywhere” idea is a new one for the park this year. It’s an idea that I’m sure would be executed perfectly if there was no such thing as a budget or concern about a family friendly park becoming too family unfriendly after 6 pm. That being said, it’s my feeling that it is being executed as well as it can be with those concerns and issues in mind. Also, the event is not static, the park is actively conducting surveys on what guests think of the event. Concerns expressed by guests will obviously be reviewed and taken into consideration when deciding on improvements to the event.
I’m impressed with the direction the park has decided to take Howl-O-Scream this year and I hope for additional improvements in the weeks to come. This review is obviously only valid for what I experienced during the first two days of the event. As the park makes any changes, I’ll be updating this review to take those changes into consideration.
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