If you’re ready for a right, rollicking scare-fest this Halloween, then SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have some screams in line for you - Howl-O-Screams, that is.
Yes, the now joint programmes of the sister theme parks are back for an even bigger horror extravaganza, highlighted by their own unique style, starting on September 8 and running on select evenings until October 31.
This double helping of fright night specials has been part of our Halloween scene since 2021, when SeaWorld followed in the ghost-steps of Busch Gardens for the first time, adding an extra layer of the macabre to its regular attractions.The Busch Gardens version dates all the way back to 1999, when it was seen as Florida’s only rival to the Halloween Horror Nights presentation at Universal Orlando, but now there are three fully fledged scare-ific opportunities for fans of the genre.
Just to start with, Howl-O-Scream shouldn’t in any way be confused with SeaWorld’s kid-friendly Halloween Spooktacular presentation, which runs on select days from September 16 to October 31 and is included with regular park entry.
The night-time version is a separately ticketed event at both parks (as it is at Universal), and is definitely not recommended for children under 13 (we might even say under 15, in all honesty) as it goes for the full horror effects, with dry ice, strobe lighting, intense theming and roaming scare-actors who really add a gruesome touch to the occasion.
So, after all that preamble, here are the key details from SeaWorld and Busch Gardens for their twin terrors this year:
“Under the cloak of the night, the sinister sisters prevail, promising skull-shivering scares beyond your worst nightmare, giving you more screams than any other theme park.”
Well, at least that’s the basic premise this year, with three new Haunted Houses for 2023, along with two reimagined ones. And then there are four new Scare Zones, expanding the sirens’ eerie empire. From a petrifying pier to a toxic wasteland, guests will experience shadow-stalking fears around every corner all through the night.(sounds enticing, doesn’t it!).
Of course, there are thrills of the more routine type to go with the chills, as guests can soar to “death-defying” heights on the standout roller-coasters Manta, Mako, Pipeline: The Surf Coaster and Ice Breaker.
In addition, SeaWorld also offers the chance for guests to “quench their thirst for fear at a fiendishly interactive bar or feel the monstrous electricity of a live show.”
The Haunted Houses are as follows:
D3LER1UM666 Laboratories: New for 2023, this takes visitors beneath the surface of the sea for a voyage into the darkness of a seemingly inescapable research headquarters, a mystery that must be solved before time runs out.
BENEATH THE ICE – The Meltdown: The second of this year’s new Houses, this transports guests to Arctic terrain, where the icy touch of Frost has been captured, but is now waiting for evil twin sister Flame to rescue her in a riot of fire and fear.
DEAD VINES: Nawlins Nightmare: The final new set-piece venue is a hellish journey through the Louisiana Bayou, under threat of alligators and ghouls galore, where the witch-like Hex dares visitors to feel her wrath and evade the jaws of her horrific home.
The two returning Houses, which have both been updated for this year, are Captain’s Revenge: Drowned in Darkness and the true gore-fest of Blood Beckoning.
Guests can face their most frightening fears and the scariest spooks in three brand-new scare zones, too:
Toxic Turmoil – Trek through a lethal landfill of mutant creatures, humans, and even plants hungry for a fright. Amid the chemical chaos there are surprises in store, but as you might expect, not everything is as it seems.
Blood Light District – Venture into a borough known to tempt the faint of heart. The beauty and beckoning of their inhabitants are a curse, binding victims in bond and blood.
Carn-EVIL Pier – Fun transitions to fright in the cloud of the night as freaks, barkers and demented clowns welcome guests to the show.
Four returning Scare Zones will pair with the new ones. They are: Portal of Passage; Frozen in Terror: Alive in the Ice; Witchcraft Bayou; and Terrors of the Deep.
The Howl-O-Scream experience would not be complete without SeaWorld’s darkly entertaining, high-energy shows like the haunting “Siren’s Song” and the pulse-pounding musical performance starring the one and only Jack the Ripper in the award-winning “Monster Stomp.”
Like most after-hours spooky events, Howl-O-Scream’s fantastic frights would be incomplete without bites and flights. Returning for the 2023 event is the Longshoremen Tavern where longshoremen are dying to entertain those who enter their doors. A few scare zones away is the restoration of Siren’s Last Call, a hideaway for the Siren’s followers and home to the signature drink, The Siren’s Kiss. Alongside the speciality bars are frightfully good food offerings like the Vampire Burger, Dead Flesh and The Ofrenda.
While the idea will be similar at the Tampa Bay park, the five Haunted Houses and six Scare Zones will all be completely different to SeaWorld’s.
Those brave enough to attend will also experience new horrors this year, including an all-new House, two new Scare Zones and the latest interactive entertainment offerings.
This year, new terrors hailing from the afterlife and iconic frights will make even the bravest souls whimper in fear. Fan-favourite Houses such as Stranglewood Estate, Witch of the Woods, and The Residence: Home for the Holidays will also return.
Here’s the full Haunted House line-up
DH Baggum’s Circus of Fear: Come one, come all, to the most terrifying show you’ve ever seen as this House makes its debut in 2023. Ringmaster DH Baggum brings you all his monstrosities that are sure to make your spine tingle and your blood run cold.
The Stranglewood Estate: Ms Stranglewood is back for more haunts and has something sinister waiting behind every corner. Once a lively home filled with laughter and lavish parties, it is now filled with darkness and the spirit of evil. Welcome back to the Stranglewood Estate.
The Residence - Home for the Holidays: Here’s another House that is making a haunting return, but things are definitely not as merry as they may seem as the party lights turn to party frights.
Witch of the Woods: The Witch is back, and just as wicked as ever. Curiosity has brought many travellers into this dark forest, but only bone-chilling stories and dying screams make their way out. With each step deeper into the woods, the prospect of survival quickly fades as demonic disciples hunt wandering intruders through their abandoned village.
The Forgotten: Uprising (Reimagined) – Be Brave. Be Fearless. Survive the Night. The people must rise up against the vampires before they take back the city and kill every human in their way in this updated version of the 2022 classic.
In addition to the welcome return of four of last year’s most infamous Scare Zones, including The Junkyard, Beyond the Veil, The Shortcut and Ravens Mill, two new super-scary venues will join the Howl-O-Scream parade next month.
Big Ed’s Demolition Derby – Step into the twisted and adrenaline-fueled world of Big Ed’s Demolition Derby. He has pulled together some of the roughest, toughest and meanest baddies from all over Howl-O-Scream and brought them here to compete - but there’s always room for some surprise guests. Step up and see how long you can survive and navigate this automotive nightmare.
Sin City Zombies – On the outskirts of the Vegas strip lies a rundown motel, home to some of the best entertainers ever to live, and overrun by zombies who run rampant. Try your luck and hope your number wins because this is one town you don’t want to lose in.
Guests will also be able to enjoy the all-new Rock the Grave at the Festival Fields stage. This explosive, high-energy live stage show promises to merge the worlds of alternative, classic rock and pop into an unforgettable experience.
Rising from the grave for a 2023 repeat is the high-energy and pulse-pounding live musical performances by The Rolling Bones at Dragon Fire Grill while guests looking for death-defying acts and stunts won’t want to miss The Cirque X-Scream, performing at Stanleyville Theater.
And, if you prefer to be on stage instead of watching others, try a turn behind the microphone at the all-new Scare-E-Oke experience at Gwazi Plaza, where guests can select their song and take a memorable photo of their turn in the spotlight.