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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Halloween Guide: Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream, Disney’s Not-So-Scary and more

Celebrate Halloween in Tampa Bay and Orlando theme parks, the zoo and more. Plus, parties galore.
To celebrate the 20th year of Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens is bringing back icons, the characters that matched the theming of each event. That includes, from left, Dr. Livingsdoom, the event's first icon in 2000 who was in the Haunted Jungle Trail, Death Jockey, Trickster, Voodoo Queen and the Butcher. Howl-O-Scream opens Friday. [Busch Gardens]

You barely get your first whiff of pumpkin spice before the smell of blood and smoke overtake it. We just can’t seem to get enough of Halloween haunts.

Once again, scares are starting earlier and staying later, until the first weekend in November. Theme parks turn into scream parks with movie-quality special effects at Universal and Busch Gardens. There are not-so-scary treats for kids at Disney, SeaWorld and Legoland. And there’s a strong lineup of independent horror masters of the macabre throughout the Tampa Bay area.

That’s because legions of horror fans will go to all of them, and go back again. Hauntworld, a publication for the horror business, estimates that scaring people has grown into a $300 million industry.

With so much to choose from, we have a roundup of attractions and a calendar of some of Tampa Bay’s top parties and events in October. Come, my pretties, and we’ll go to some very dark places.

Howl-O-Scream turns 20

Busch Gardens’ annual scare fest opens with a new haunted house and scare zones. But there’s also a look back. For the 20th anniversary of Howl-O-Scream, the Tampa theme park “unearths long-buried icons of the past,” including Dr. Livingsdoom, Howl-O-Scream’s first icon in 2000 who commandeered the Haunted Jungle Trail. You’ll also find the vampires from the House of Vayne, the fashion show of the undead from 2009, and Trickster, the monstrous clown that was the icon of Howl-O-Scream 13.

There are a record nine scare zones scattered throughout Busch Gardens this year for Howl-O-Scream. Zombies and ghouls interact as guests walk through. The event opens Friday. [Busch Gardens]

There will be six haunted houses this year, including a new one called the Residence. It has all the hallmarks of a typical suburban home, but with a creepy vibe that gets worse as you make your way through a filthy kitchen, past a dinner table set with some disturbing entrees and to a basement that explains why neighbors have been disappearing.

The other houses are a greatest-hits list of mazes of the past with a new twist to the story lines. They are Death Water Bayou: Wrath of the Queen; Insomnia: Patients’ Revenge; Motel Hell: Infestation; The Black Spot: Bloodshed; and Simon’s Slaughterhouse.

But you don’t have to enter a haunted house to get scared witless. There are an unprecedented nine scare zones this year scattered throughout the park. From the front gate to the bushes along the walking path to bungee creeps who spring out of the sky, you can count on some ghoul catching you off guard as you make your way around the park. You’re also likely to find a zombie riding next to you on a coaster or chasing you down on the bumper cars. The place is crawling with them.

PREVIOUSLY: Actor in Howl-O-Scream commercial projectile vomits on ShieKra, and it’s no act

Humor is on display, from the parody show Fiends in the Stanleyville Theater to scare zones like the Meat Market, where banjo music and scary-looking hillbillies greet you with butcher knives and chainsaws. Servers roam the park with colorful shots of alcohol served in test tubes and syringes.

Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 2. Tickets are separate from regular admission. $39.99 and up. Get unlimited admission for all 22 nights for $79.99. A Front Line Fear Pass starts at $35, and a Fright Feast of $29.99 includes a dinner buffet, early access and front-of-the-line access to all haunted houses until 8:30 p.m.

For the first time, the '80s classic "Ghostbusters" is a haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. [ROBERTO GONZALEZ | Courtesy of Universal Orlando]

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights brings films to life

After 29 years of its seasonal, after-hours event, Universal Studios Orlando Halloween Horror Nights has earned a reputation as one of the world’s premiere Halloween attractions.

It’s the priciest ticket on this list, but it’s hard to dispute Universal’s production values, attention to detail or ability to get the rights to some of the most beloved movie and TV properties and turn them into real-world attractions.

This year visitors get a dose of ’80s nostalgia from houses based on Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Stranger Things, right alongside the cutting-edge modern horror of Us, a new house based on the Jordan Peele film that debuted in theaters less than six months ago.

Universal also returns to its roots with a Universal Monsters house based on the classic Universal Pictures franchises — Dracula, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, the Mummy — that carried the film studio through the Great Depression through the 1950s.

Guests walk through the Yeti: Terror of the Yukon haunted house at Halloween Horror Nights 2019. [ROBERTO GONZALEZ | Courtesy of Universal Orlando]

The Academy of Villains dance show for 2019 is Altered States, in which a mad scientist’s transformations manifest in the form of a contortionist, an aerialist and a guy who is just really, really good with a soccer ball.

The park also debuted its all-new lagoon show this year, swapping out its usual Minions and Harry Potter projections for the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, Eleven from Stranger Things and Frankenstein’s monster, which appear dazzlingly projected on the synchronized fountains that spout from the lagoon that separates Universal Studios from CityWalk.

RELATED: We rank the houses worth seeing at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal this year

Runs through Nov. 2. Tickets are separate from regular admission. $67.99 and up, getting more expensive in late October.

Christopher Spata, Times staff writer

The after-hours Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom is running for a record 36 nights this year. [Walt Disney World]

Disney adds new treats to Not-So-Scary party

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party opened earlier than ever at Walt Disney World this year — in mid-August — but it was still packed. It’s the one time of year adults can dress in costume in the Magic Kingdom. The separate ticket is cheaper than regular admission and the crowds are sometimes lighter. Plus, there’s a new fireworks show that fills the sky in a panoramic light display.

The new Not-So-Spooky Spectacular fireworks show presents nonstop 180-degree bursts spanning from Adventureland to Tomorrowland. The display is set to a castle projection show in which Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas plays the hero. The 12-minute show has appearances by Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie, Hades, Ursula, Queen of Hearts and the Haunted Mansion ride’s dancers.

Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” hosts the new Not-So-Spooky Spectacular fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. The show uses projection effects, lasers, lighting and fireworks during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, a separately ticketed event. [DAVID ROARK | Walt Disney World]

The after-hours celebration runs a record 36 nights. Partygoers can arrive as early as 4 p.m. to play at the Magic Kingdom before it shuts down at 7 for the Halloween party, which goes through midnight with trick-or-treat stations and a special parade.

RELATED: How we got 12 Disney FastPasses at the last minute in one day

New additions to the Boo to You Parade include the glowing, floating blue bride from the Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story’s little green aliens and Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. But an old favorite is still around: The Headless Horseman gallops through the streets to kick off the parade.

There’s also a kids dance party with characters from Monsters Inc. and a corny but funny show at the castle with the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus. Space Mountain runs in total darkness for a second year, set to a rocking horror soundtrack. There are also real live buccaneers taunting riders at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and the Mad Tea Party lights up Fantasyland with a laser light production.

Runs through Nov. 1. Tickets are separate from regular admission. $79 to $135 for adults and $74 to $130 for kids.

Kelly A. Stefani, Times staff writer

Indie haunts:

Actors emerge from a simulated farmhouse at the center of the Infected haunted house at Scream-A-Geddon in Dade City. [LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times]

Scream-A-Geddon, I-4 Fear Park and more

You don’t have to pay the big theme park prices for some quality haunts in the Tampa Bay area. Some of the best are home-grown outfits that have become perennial favorites.

Scream-A-Geddon: Now in its fifth year occupying a creepy, remote location, it has haunts, a monster midway and zombie paintball assault spread over 60 acres in Dade City. It boasts six haunted houses and a new Bozo’s Beer Garden. You can also grab a paintball gun and head out to the former hayride trail. $21.95-$35.95. 7:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and then every day Oct. 1-Nov. 1. 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City. (813) 452-5412.

I-4’s Fear Park: This pair of independent haunts is sandwiched between the theme park powerhouses of Central Florida. Fear Park comprises two different companies — Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail, now in its fifth year, and Ominous Descent Haunted Attraction. They may be in the horror game but their story is awfully nice. As it prepared to open for the 2017 season, Ominous Descent was destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Sir Henry’s came to the rescue, offering a space on the field of their venue. The pairing stuck. This joint venture features three different outdoor haunted trails and an upcharge laser tag or escape room. $10-$40. Weekends Oct. 4-27. 2837 S Frontage Road, Plant City. (863) 944-0748.

TASCO Field of Screams: For the last 14 years, the city of St. Petersburg’s teen program TASCO has put on one of the best scares in the area. Usually held at Boyd Hill nature preserve, this year it moves to the nearby Pinellas Pioneer Settlement. This is not for young children. $10 in advance at city facilities, $15 day of. 7 p.m.-midnight Oct. 25-28. 2900 31st St. S, St. Petersburg.

American Victory Ship: Undead in the Water: At Tampa’s only nautical haunted attraction, you can traverse multiple decks of this historic WWII cargo ship armed only with a blacklight to avoid zombie stowaways. $15. Weekends Oct. 4-Nov. 2. American Victory Ship at 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa.

Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, and musician Alice Cooper will be celebrity guests at Spooky Empire convention at the Tampa Convention Center Oct. 28-Nov. 2. [JC Olivera | Sipa USA via AP / Tampa Bay Times (2014)]

Spooky Empire convention brings celebs and scares

The convention nicknamed “the dark side of comic con” arrives on Halloween weekend.

Celebrities expected to appear at Spooky Empire include Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, musician Alice Cooper and all four members of Twisted Sister. There will also be appearances by Tony Todd (Candyman), Mia Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby), C.J. Graham (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) and many more. Expect exhibits, after-parties, vendors, a kids costume contest and prizes. The convention actually starts with a film festival, celebrity autographs, kids zone, costume and cosplay contests, live music, seminars, a tattoo festival and question and answer sessions with artists, authors and filmmakers.

Multiday passes $80-$90. $20, 12 and younger free (Oct. 31), $20-$50 per day. 5 p.m. Oct. 31, 1 p.m. Nov. 1, 11 a.m. Nov. 2-3. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. (954) 258-7852.

Kid-friendly theme parks

Busch Gardens Sesame Street Safari of Fun: For the Fall Kids Weekends, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster, Grover, Rosita and other Sesame Street characters dress in Halloween attire for dance parties with fall-inspired activities including trick-or-treating, crafts and a hay bale maze. Kids are encouraged to dress in costume. Included with admission, which starts at $84.99 online. 11:30 a.m. Oct. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27. Busch Gardens, 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. (813) 884-4386.

Busch Gardens Sesame Street Safari of Fun will have Fall Kids Weekends through Oct. 27. [Courtesy of Busch Gardens]

Brick or Treat at Legoland: Costumed families can experience a spooky, kooky Halloween event with exclusive entertainment, a scavenger hunt, Lego photo ops, the popular Brick-or-Treat Trail and fireworks. Included with park admission, which starts at $84.99 online. Children ages 2-12 who come dressed as pirates for the first weekend of Brick or Treat Oct. 5-6 will receive a free ticket to visit the park again before the end of the year. 10 a.m. Oct. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27. 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven. Toll-free 1-888-690-5346.

Brick or Treat for Halloween at Legoland will have entertainment, a scavenger hunt, Lego photo ops, the popular Brick-or-Treat Trail and fireworks. [Legloland]

SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular: Kids can dress in costume for this water-themed Halloween “fantasea” with trick-or-treat zones, whimsical sea creatures and live shows. Included with admission. New this year: a Sesame Street Halloween Parade on weekends from Saturday through Oct. 27. Admission starts at $84.99 online for ages 3 and up. There is a Halloween weekend deal right now that gives one free child admission (ages 3-9) on weekends only Saturday to Oct. 27. 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28-29, Oct. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27. 7007 SeaWorld Drive, Orlando. Toll-free 1-800-327-2424.

New this year at SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular, a Sesame Street Halloween Parade on weekends from Saturday through Oct. 27. [SEAWORLD | SeaWorld]
At the SeaWorld Halloween Spooktacular, kids can dress in costume for this water-themed Halloween party with trick-or-treat zones, whimsical sea creatures and live shows. [SEAWORLD | SeaWorld]

Mark your calendar: Upcoming Halloween events

Creatures of the Night: ZooTampa stays open late as a colorful cast of eerie characters, fearsome animals and immersive Halloween adventure zones take over. This year brings two new scare zones, Twisted Tale Trail and Rising Waters. $26.95-$29.95. 4 p.m. Oct. 4-5, 11-12, 18-19 and 25-26. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 935-8552.

Scare actor Rachel M. Cockman poses for a photo at ZooTampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times]

Riverwalk Trick-or-Treat: Costumed kids and their families trick-or-treat for candy along the Riverwalk. Stick around for a movie in the park (7 p.m.). Free. 4 p.m. Oct. 26. Water Works Park, 1710 N Highland Ave., Tampa. (813) 274-7439.

An Eerie Evening at the Tampa Bay Hotel: Visit the Henry B. Plant Museum after dark to hear costumed characters tell creepy tales from days long past. Learn about spirit photography and create your own haunting image. Refreshments will be served on the veranda. 16 and older. $30, $25 members. 7 p.m. Oct. 25-26. Henry B. Plant Museum, 401 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 254-1891.

Haunted River Tour: Costumed characters and “batty fiends” join you aboard a boat to share tales of ghosts and haunted facts on this roughly 45-minute water taxi ride along the Hillsborough River. 10 p.m. sailings available on select days. $25, $20 children. 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Oct. 4-6, 11-13, 18-20 and 25-27. Pirate Water Taxi at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. (813) 390-3711.

Nightmare on Franklin Street: Tampa Theatre’s annual Halloween series is back with more films, tours and events. And for the first time, there are two live shows, one from popular horror-comedy podcast The Last Podcast on the Left and one with Barry Bostwick, star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oct. 18-31. For a schedule and tickets, visit

iHorror Film Festival: The Cuban Club, 2010 N Avenida Republica de Cuba, Tampa, will host this horror film festival of short movies on Oct. 5. This has previously been an online-only event. For a schedule and tickets, visit

Guppyween: At the Florida Aquarium, Harry Otter invites young witches and wizards to join him at Codwarts School of Fishcraft and Squidery. $10 costumed kids, regular admission adults. 9:30 a.m. Oct. 26-27. At 8 a.m. Oct. 26 there will be a sensory friendly version ($5-$8). 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 273-4000.

13 Ugly Men Halloween Party: The 21st annual “party with a purpose” is a charity fundraiser for the 13 Ugly Men Foundation. There will be DJ dancing and entertainment. Benefits Gigi’s Playhouse. $30-$35. 8 p.m. Oct. 25. Cuban Club, 2010 N Avenida Republica de Cuba, Tampa. (813) 248-2954.

Fantasma Fest: Ybor City’s Halloween celebration includes a Little Monsters Promenade, where kids can trick-or-treat down historic Seventh Avenue on their way to a pumpkin patch with more than 2,000 pumpkins, face painting and pumpkin activities. Free. 11 a.m. Oct. 26. Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave, Tampa. (813) 453-9048.

Big Monster’s Bed Race: Also part of Fantasma Fest, teams design beds on wheels and race at breakneck speeds to see who has the fastest bed. Free. 3:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. (813) 453-9048.

Legend of the Pumpkin King Parade: Part of Fantasma Fest in Ybor City, join the Pumpkin King for a costumed parade down historic Seventh Avenue. Free. 7 p.m. Oct. 26. Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa.

Hauntizaar: More than 24 vendors sell handcrafted wares in this Halloween- and Day of the Dead-themed art bazaar. Free. 11 a.m. Oct. 19. Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 895-6620.

Largo Halloween Spooktacular: Kids can join a costume parade at this not-so-spooky fall carnival with trick-or-treating, carnival games, inflatables, a petting zoo and a costume contest. Free (trick-or-treating), $7-$10 (activities). Noon-9 p.m. Oct. 26. Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive. (727) 587-6740, ext. 5014.

Halloween in Pinellas Park: Costumed kids can follow the Halloween Treat Trail gathering “Treats You Can Trust.” Free. 6 p.m. Oct. 31. England Brothers Bandshell Park, 5010 81st Ave. N, Pinellas Park. (727) 369-5746.

Ybor Ghost Tour: Stroll the haunted streets of Ybor City with a ghost guide to hear where bodies are hidden and horrors of the Cuban Club. Reservations are required. $25. 8 p.m. daily through Oct. 31. King Corona Cafe, 1523 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. (813) 386-3905.

Thriller Dance Lessons: Learn Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance and prepare to take part in the worldwide flash mob on Oct. 26. Free. 2 p.m. Sept. 29 and Oct. 13. Bayou Dance Club, 6541 102nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park. (727) 228-1315.

Kelly A. Stefani, Times staff writer