With a scary virus going around, Busch Gardens delayed the opening of Howl-O-Scream, its annual Halloween after-hours event. The 2020 version of Howl-O-Scream is full of face masks, social distancing and some cheeky jokes and scares to lighten the mood.
The event has 10 open-air scare zones instead of a mix of haunted houses and scare zones as in years past. It was nice not to wait in long lines for a haunted house, but scare actors couldn’t get in your face, so the scare level is reduced to a simmer. Also, the wait time for riding the coasters seemed longer than usual for a Howl-O-Scream night.
Still, the costuming and makeup are top notch and there were a few actors who managed to make me jump, like the maniac biker gang at the Hell on Wheels scare zone in Gwazi Plaza that unexpectedly roared up behind me.
The Junkyard was the best of the scare zones, located behind the Xcursions gift shop. It has a narrow path that meanders around creepy set pieces with some great scares from actors popping up in unexpected places. Don’t be put off by the long line to get in. The line moves swiftly as the workers space out the guests by groups.
Some scare zones like Maniac Midway in Pantopia and the creepy Deadly Toys section in Jambo Junction (with an awesome chainsaw-wielding teddy bear) had a great look but the creeps and ghouls were placed behind a hedge or on a platform away from the visitors. It’s the right thing to do to keep your distance, but in years past one of them would have hovered over my shoulder or growled in my ear for a real scare. This year, they just make a menacing howl from afar.
Lycan Landing in the Jungala area of the park also had a more haunted maze feel, though a bit shorter than Junkyard. It is crawling with werewolves as guests try to make their way through the terrorized campground. It had great costumes and a really fun cast.
The Shortcut is designed to look like a pathway through a cemetery. This scare zone runs alongside the Skyway ride between Stanleyville and Pantopia. Like the Junkyard, guests can only enter at one point. There were a few creative scares as you meet the Grim Reaper and reanimated corpses. Pay attention to the pallbearer scene.
If you aren’t a fan of being startled, the Dia de los Muertos zone in front of the Moroccan Palace Theatre is a fun and colorful section that celebrates the traditions of Mexico.
That leaves the “Fiends” show, a comic musical starring Dr. Freakenstein, stocked with a cast of naughty nurses and vampy vampires. It’s on an outdoor stage this year on the festival field near the Iron Gwazi coaster. I usually roll my eyes at this one, with its vulgar humor and winking references, but this year it is littered with just enough quarantine humor to make it worth the time. You can get a seat on a bench at a good distance from other audience members for productions at 8:30 and 10 p.m.
There are jokes about the CDC (Center for Deadly Creatures) and orders from Amazon Primal, an appearance by “Tom Brady” and my favorite crack: “I ate so much bread I gave myself a yeast infection.”
The “Fiends” dancers are also a marvel of sexy, toned and athletic artists going big in their moments.
Howl-O-Scream runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 1. The event starts at 7 p.m. but the park will let you enter at 5 so you can get some extra coaster time. You can also catch the last hour of BierFest, which runs through Nov. 15 in Gwazi Plaza with specialty food and craft beer kiosks.
Howl-O-Scream runs until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 11 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets start at $29.99, and reservations must be made in advance at howloscream.com. All guests and staff must wear face masks unless eating or drinking.