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Busch Gardens will focus on outdoor scares for Howl-O-Scream

There will be 10 outside scare zones instead of haunted houses and other changes to one of the most popular events at the Tampa theme park.

After 21 years of creating elaborate haunted houses for Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens is tweaking its after-hours event to keep the scares outdoors and visitors at a safe distance.

There will be no indoor haunted houses. Instead, Howl-O-Scream will include 10 outdoor scare zones and there will be a cap on how many people can attend each night.

Howl-O-Scream kicks off on Friday. Reservations are required, as are face masks and temperature checks upon arrival.

Open-air scare zones like this will be the norm this year as Busch Gardens attempts physically distant frights at Howl-O-Scream for 2020. [ Busch Gardens ]

Howl-O-Scream began in 1999 as Spooky Safari, a family-friendly Halloween event that featured a Haunted Jungle Trail, a pyrotechnic magic show, a pumpkin patch, hayrides and face-painting for children. Over the years, the haunts and costumes and food got more elaborate as the public showed a growing admiration for horror.

Related: How Busch Gardens won fans with fear at Howl-O-Scream

Outdoor scare zones aren’t unusual for the event. Returning Howl-O-Scream scare zones are Deadly Toys, Dia de los Muertos, First Fear, Hell on Wheels, Little Nightmares and Maniac Midway. New ones this year include Lycan Landing, set in a campground, and the Shortcut, set in a cemetery. The Junkyard is designed as "a surly scrap site” and the Escape features escaped penitentiary inmates.

The corny but popular Fiends stage show, which has been featured at the event since 2001, has been moved from the indoor Stanleyville Theater to the outdoor festival space near the Iron Gwazi coaster. The roller coaster missed its spring opening date because of the coronavirus shutdown, so it will stand silent as the Fiends storyline plays out with Dr. Frankenstein cracking naughty jokes as he prepares to bring his monster to life. Bench seating will be arranged in a physically distant manner to ensure there is space between the guests during the performance.

Related: Coronavirus has Tampa Bay rethinking Halloween

Like so many things this year, the coronavirus pandemic has many rethinking Halloween. Universal Orlando canceled Halloween Horror Nights, and Walt Disney World will not throw Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens' sister park, began its Halloween Spooktacular on Sept. 19, allowing kids to show up in costume and find treat stations and Halloween activities in the park. ZooTampa will start its Creatures of the Night after-hours Halloween event on weekends in October.

Theme parks don’t release attendance figures, but industry analysts have estimated that more than 300,000 people visited Howl-O-Scream during Halloween season in recent years, a crowd that rivals a typical spring break at the park.

Howl-O-Scream is held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting Friday through Nov. 1. Costumes are not allowed. Single-night tickets start at $29.99. howloscream.com.

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