*Note – All photos in this blog were taken by Randy Davidson. You can follow his work on Instagram handles bgwphotofan and randy.davidson.photography. Check him out. He’s absolutely incredible.
On Friday night, September 23, Busch Gardens Williamsburg Insiders (check us out on Facebook) was invited to participate in a VIP/Media preview night for their annual Howl-O-Scream event. Preview might not be the correct word considering it took place at the beginning of the third weekend of Howl-O-Scream, but honestly, I like it that way. Sure there are perks to seeing everything before anyone else, but with most haunt events, it takes a week or two for the actors to really hit their stride in delivering a frighteningly fun experience for the guests. I was honored to be the representative from our Insiders group and since my daughter was asked to cover the event for Buckeye Coasters (you should check them out too), I asked my friend and incredible photographer to join me. This would allow me to concentrate on video footage while he could do what he does best and get incredible photos.
The night began with a reception in the lobby of the Globe Theatre. This will be the home of the popular show ‘Monster Stomp on Ripper Row’ which will open on September 29. The park outdid themselves with the decor of the lobby as well as the food and beverage. We were given a Howl-O-Scream themed deck of playing cards as well as a blinky cup (the shrimp cocktail was in these cups). I don’t drink, but I’ve always wanted a blinky cup and now I have one! Available for photo ops was also the evil game show host that is one of this year’s iconic figures for the event. I could try to describe it all, but I’ll let Randy’s photos do the talking.
We finished up at the reception about 30 minutes or so before the HOS festivities began. We ventured out into the park along with B.T. Parks to check out the event. Part of our event credentials gave us front of the line access not only to all of the haunted houses, but also to all of the coasters and thrill rides in the park. I hadn’t planned on riding anything, but since we had the time and we could skip the line, I couldn’t say no to a ride on the park’s brand new Intamin multi-launch roller coaster, Pantheon. I’m always smiling after a ride on that.
Now onto the stuff you really want to read about. Considering I’ve actually never tried to film a walk-through of a haunted house, I wanted to make sure to go through the two mazes that utilize some outdoor sections first while we still had daylight. That way, if the indoor house videos didn’t come out (we couldn’t use any extra light source), I would at least have those two. As it turns out all of my house videos came out pretty well, so I’ve got all five.
Death Water Bayou is a new maze for HOS this year. It has been a favorite at Busch Gardens Tampa for several years so we were excited to see it moved up to Williamsburg this year. The house is located in Festa Italia and goes back behind Roman Rapids. If you’ve been to HOS before, this occupies the site where Circo Sinistro used to be.
The maze takes us from the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras back into the mysterious bayous of Louisiana. Something sinister lurks back there and you will encounter surprises at every turn.
Even in the daylight, this maze provided some solid scares. The theming is fantastic, and while you can certainly tell that this is a re-imagining of Circo Sinistro, that doesn’t detract from this maze at all. From a visual standpoint, this maze looks incredible. The bayou room itself utilizes fog and lasers to make you truly feel like you’re walking through the swamps. This is a definite upgrade from Circo, which had certainly run its course at the park.
While heading to our next maze for the night, we passed through Gorgon Gardens. This terror-tory is located in the Italy Garden section of the park where Garden of Souls used to reside. Again, this is an upgrade from it’s predecessor in large part because of the incredible costume and makeup job done on these actors. The human statues are mesmerizing and the Medusas are phenomenal.
Our second haunted house of the night would be a returning house from last year, Witch of the Woods. The park made a few changes with this maze from last year, most notably with the entrance point. The maze location is the same, but you now enter from what used to be the exit and vice versa. This maze reversal along with what I’m assuming was a desire to keep the traffic flow for Witch of the Woods and Nevermore Chapter 2 separate means that you have a LONG walk to this maze. You go to the right of Das Festhaus and through a backstage corridor or sorts along the train tracks and behind Drachen Fire field where you will finally reach the entrance to the maze. When well staffed (which it was) this maze delivers. Even in the daylight, I got several really good scares thanks to some smart use of misdirection.
I was going to wait until the end of the blog to rank the houses, but I’ll go ahead and drop a spoiler. Nevermore Chapter 2 is my favorite. I’ve now been through the house on three different occasions, and even my worst pass through this house was fantastic. Moving it from the old Darkastle building to the Drachen Fire station led to a much better experience than last year. Tight quarters and a much more cohesive story line make this house absolutely fantastic. Multiple works of Edgar Allen Poe are represented as you journey through his house. So many good scares. I can’t say enough good about this maze.
After finishing up in Nevermore, we made the lengthy trek over to the Ireland section of the park where our next haunted house was waiting. On the way we would venture through three more terror-tories. The first of which was Scary Tale Road. In this area, your childhood fairy tales become nightmares.
Upon leaving Scary Tale Road we ventured across the bridge into the Meat Market. This returning terror-tory is certainly the bloodiest, but it’s also one of the most fun. Great interaction from the cast and wonderful visuals.
One more terror-tory to venture through before arriving in Killarney was the new for this year Dead A Head. Located in the France section of the park, these seemingly charming French aristocrats are secretly after any unsuspecting victim’s head.
We finally arrived in Killarney Village just in time to take a trip to Killarney Diner. This returning house is a favorite of many, and as a total package, it might be the best overall house in the park (even though it’s my #2). A 1950s diner taken over by zombies…I mean, how can that not be amazing. The sets, the costumes, the details are all things that make this such a strong house even if it isn’t the scariest. This house is always a blast to walk through.
That leaves us with one terror-tory and one house left to go. We left Killarney and made our way to Ripper Row. This returning terror-tory is still my personal favorite. It’s not the scariest, but the storytelling as well as the interaction with the guests make this a wonderful scare zone.
Our final house of the night was the other new house, Inferno. This maze is in the lower level of the Escape From Pompeii show building. You are taken on a journey through hell in a maze that is somewhat based around Dante’s Inferno. Visually, this house is absolutely incredible and it certainly has the potential to end up being the best house of the year by the time HOS is over. There is so much tension that is set up in the early stages of the house that it just continues to build all the way to the final scare.
I want to say a huge thank you to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for inviting us to this fantastic event. We had a wonderful night. Be sure to check out Howl-O-Scream every weekend Thursday – Sunday from now until October 31. You won’t regret it.
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