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Busch Gardens, Disney, Universal debut Halloween haunts earlier than ever

Tickets are already on sale for parties and scare zones, including sold-out nights in August at Walt Disney World.
Busch Gardens will bring back Howl-O-Scream earlier than ever, starting Sept. 10, and unlike last year's open-air scares, there will be haunted houses and scare zones scattered around the park.
Busch Gardens will bring back Howl-O-Scream earlier than ever, starting Sept. 10, and unlike last year's open-air scares, there will be haunted houses and scare zones scattered around the park. [ Busch Gardens ]
Published Jul. 28

It may still be the middle of summer, but Halloween plans at Florida’s theme parks are already brewing, including sold-out nights in August for Disney World’s new Boo Bash.

Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream will return earlier than ever and once again features haunted houses, unlike last year’s more limited open-air scares. It’s also bringing along a member of the family, SeaWorld Orlando, into the horror game.

And Universal Orlando, which scratched its plans for Halloween Horror Nights last year, already has tickets on sale. It will bring back the creepy Jack the Clown character and has revealed some haunted houses based on classic horror movies.

Universal aims for high-intensity scares, while Disney stresses that its Boo Bash is more family-friendly and fun. Busch Gardens and SeaWorld have elements of both. Both parks will continue their daytime, kid-friendly festivities, but the after-hours separate ticket for Howl-O-Scream is not recommended for children.

Busch Gardens and SeaWorld

Though the Tampa theme park has put on the after-hours scare fest for two decades, this will be the first year that SeaWorld, which is owned by the same parent company, will offer an intense Halloween experience also called Howl-O-Scream.

You can expect scare actors, like this one from 2020 poses to pop up in unexpected places during Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens.
You can expect scare actors, like this one from 2020 poses to pop up in unexpected places during Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Howl-O-Scream will feature five haunted houses this year in Tampa. In addition, there will be eight scare zones scattered throughout the theme park and “unpredictable hordes” of monsters who can jump out of the bushes at any moment. The Fiends! musical will once again be at Festival Field and the Rolling Bones cover band will perform at Dragon Fire Grill.

The event will run on select nights from Sept. 10 to Oct. 31. Depending on the date, single tickets start at $29.99-$50.99 at the two parks; there is a new two-park ticket for $89.99 to visit both parks. You can get unlimited admission to both Howl-O-Screams for $139.99.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to seaworldentertainment.com/howl-o-scream.

Universal Orlando

Halloween Horror Nights 2021 tickets are now on sale, and Jack the Clown will be back for the return of Universal Orlando’s fright fest. The creepy clown has appeared as an icon of Halloween Horror Nights multiple times over the years.

For the first time ever, Netflix' s series "The Haunting of Hill House" will bring its ominous presence to Universal Orlando Resort in an all-new maze for Halloween Horror Nights 2021..
For the first time ever, Netflix' s series "The Haunting of Hill House" will bring its ominous presence to Universal Orlando Resort in an all-new maze for Halloween Horror Nights 2021..

Haunted houses that have so far been announced for this year’s event include mazes based on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, inspired by the famed 1974 slasher film, and the Bride of Frankenstein character. Other houses announced for the theme park’s 30th scare fest will be a house based on Beetlejuice and The Haunting of Hill House, a Netflix series. Ten mazes are expected for the 2021 event, as well as scare zones and live entertainment.

Halloween Horror Nights kicks off Sept. 3 and runs select nights through Oct. 31. Pricing varies by date, ranging from $70.99 to $97.99. The most expensive evening for advance online sales is Oct. 30, the Saturday before Halloween. The at-gate price for a single night is listed as $122.99.

Tickets and vacation packages are now on sale at halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando.

Walt Disney World

Boo Bash, an after-hours offering at Magic Kingdom, begins on select nights starting Aug. 10. Tickets went on sale as early as June 8 and many dates quickly sold out. The park, which has slowly been adding more capacity, put more tickets on sale but there are still several sold-out nights, including its first four party nights in August.

There will be character "sightings" rather than meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom's Boo Bash. The after-hours Halloween party will have some of the elements of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but there are more limits such as no big parade or fireworks.
There will be character "sightings" rather than meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom's Boo Bash. The after-hours Halloween party will have some of the elements of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but there are more limits such as no big parade or fireworks. [ HANDOUT | Walt Disney World ]

Tickets start at $129-$139 for August and September nights, and $159-$169 for October nights, though all of those are currently sold out.

There was a backlash among Disney fans over the event’s high price tag and shorter hours than the event’s predecessor, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. In previous years, guests were allowed to enter the park at 4 p.m. for an event that started at 7, an hour after the Magic Kingdom was closed to regular guests.

For the Boo Bash, guests will be able to enter Magic Kingdom at 7 p.m. and the party starts at 9, giving guests a shorter window to explore the park before the Halloween festivities begin.

Instead of the hugely popular Boo To You parade of Disney characters and villains, there will be Halloween-themed “cavalcades,” which are basically mini-parades. They feature a single float and a small group of characters popping up around the park, including the fire-breathing dragon Maleficent float.

Disney usually puts on a Halloween-themed fireworks show for this party, but not this year. And there will be character “sightings” instead of the usual meet-and-greets.

But there will once again be trick-or-treating throughout the park. Allergy-free candy options will also be available.

And this is the one time of year you can wear a costume to the Magic Kingdom. Costume masks are not permitted for adults; they can only be worn by children younger than 14. The creative costumes by the fans are some of the best parts of Disney’s Halloween parties, like when you see The Incredibles family walk by or a group of men all dressed as Snow White.

For tickets and information, go to disneyworld.com.