A Whole Lotta Halloween Screamin’ in Florida

Group of young adults running through the park with a red rollercoaster in the background and fog. Through the fog you can see a scare actor with scary zombie makeup.
By AttractionTickets.com’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
The big Howl-O-Scream events at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens are lining up a true scream-athon!

You’ll have to forgive us if we’re hiding behind the sofa for this week’s blog, but it’s all about the latest Halloween announcements – and the promise of an even more gruesome Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld this year.

Now, Susan isn’t really a fan of the in-your-face scare factor that the likes of Howl-O-Scream – at both SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in Tampa – and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights represent, and even Simon admits you can have too much of a good (or bad?) thing.

And it looks like this year’s Halloween season is going to put those feelings to the ultimate test with the three big scare-athons from our major theme parks. In short, there’s going to be a LOT of Halloween Screamin’ this autumn.

For AttractionTickets.com customers new to Orlando’s annual fright-fest, these are all set-piece, separately ticketed events at the Universal and SeaWorld parks on select dates from the end of August (in Universal’s case; from early September at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens) right up to November 2. 

Typically, the parks close to day-time guests at 6pm, and then re-open for the full horror-filled evening, with a variety of completely themed haunted houses, scare zones and live shows, featuring what they laughingly call “scare-actors” but who are really purveyors of night-time terror. 

Two women clutching onto one another and screaming at something off camera with a large lake and the iconic SeaWorld lighthouse in the background.

They pick up where the horror films leave off, with a mixture of elaborate indoor settings and roaming outdoor nightmares that are especially effective in the more tranquil environments of Busch Gardens and SeaWorld.

Which brings us neatly to Howl-O-Scream. This particular Halloween “treat” has been a part of the Tampa park’s signature special events since 2000, and has quickly become a yearly highlight in competition with Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, serving up a mix of its own creative grisly delights that work particularly well in the more spacious confines of a park with plenty of dark corners at night!

This year’s HOS programme at Busch Gardens runs for 29 evenings from September 6 to November 2 and features five haunted houses and eight scare zones, plus two live shows and what they like to call Scare-E-Oke (but is just a themed version of karaoke). It runs from 7pm to midnight and, like its fellow Halloween events, it is deemed “for a mature audience” (i.e. not for children under 13).

A dark and blurry image of a man screaming whilst holding an axe which he looks like he's about to hit the camera with. He has face paint on and an apron.

Of the five houses, Shadows of Wonderland is all-new for 2024, a clever riff on the Alice in Wonderland tale but with a completely twisted take. In their words: “Step back into Wonderland, but not as you remember it. This warped dreamscape has come from years of torment under the Queen of Hearts’ reign of terror. Once playful characters have become bitter shadows, their anger fueled by Alice’s abandonment. Now, you must confront the distorted reality and face a vengeful Queen who wants Alice and you gone.”

Sounds like fun? There’s plenty more! The other four Houses are all either returned or reimagined for this year, and include Witch of the Woods: Rise of the Coven and the vampire-filled The Forgotten: Uprising, which was one of the big hits of 2023.

The Scare Zones feature five all-new scream scenes, most notably the Viking-themed Ragnar’s Wrath and Sawgrass Slaughter: Legend of the Skunk Ape, with a super-spooky Everglades vibe, while the Dragon Fire Grill stage will welcome new show The Reckoning, which promises the “ultimate judgement day in the fiery depths of hell.” So, just a quiet night out, then?!

While Busch Gardens’ Halloween frolics are well established, SeaWorld’s version (running for 26 nights in 2024) only made its debut three years ago, and added its own maritime spin on the themed horrors, introducing the evil Sirens as their signature speciality, boasting their own scare zone as well as a stage production. 

Three women dressed as sirens in blue lighting, one green, one black and blue and the other icy blue. They are wearing textured clothes and have matching hair. Each of them are in the middle of a dance with their arms out reached.

This week’s big news highlighted the first of their five haunted houses, Farm 51, which aims to deliver a haunted farmhouse where “eerie rustling in the cornfields” is a prelude to an alien takeover and other extraterrestrial shenanigans, close encounters of the frightful kind, if you like.

In all, there will be five houses – four of which will feature new themes and content – and seven scare zones (including three new ones), as well as the two headline shows, Monster Stomp – a full 25-minute musical stage production with a Jack the Ripper theme – and the multi-stage outdoor set-up of Sirens Song, both returning from 2023.

For the latter, SeaWorld promises that we can look forward to something of a new take on the Sirens, insisting: “Their song may be fading, but Hex has joined the call with a hunger to fill her swampy domain with fresh victims.”

Room with curtains and green and red lighting above TV's which look like they are playing CCTV footage. There are three adults sat with drinks all laughing with one woman holding her hand above a red button with white lighting around it.

For those who like an alcoholic libation with their screaming, you will be able to choose from fully five dedicated bars, two of which will also be new to the Howl-O-Scream setting. But, true to form these days, it looks like SeaWorld will be taking a leaf out of Universal’s book and only drip-feed us the additional details of the houses and scare zones over the course of the next few weeks.

That is fine by us, though. We can only take so much bloody carnage at one time, and rationing it out allows us to come out from behind the sofa for a while before the next “dose” of Halloween terror drops into our Inbox!

NB: For parents with young children, don’t miss SeaWorld’s daytime event, the Halloween Spooktacular, on select dates from August 31 to November 2, which is geared especially to their age group and features lots of fun trick-or-treating as well as live entertainment and plenty of fun characters. It is also included with regular park admission, so there is no extra ticket required.