The spooky season looks a little different this year. While some Halloween events have been canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, Howl-O-Scream has made its revengeful return to Busch Gardens Tampa in a whole new way. For 19 nights, this haunting Halloween event takes over the theme park, promising its usual screams and shrieks all night long. However, with the elimination of haunted houses, this modified experience now features open-air scare zones, limited-capacity admission with required reservations and physical distancing. Face coverings are required (however, costumes and full-face coverings are not allowed). We hopped over the first weekend to check out the event and report back on the modified hoppenings.
While we had concerns about how the actors could maintain distance and still scare guests, we were overall impressed with the execution. Not having houses was a bummer, but we liked how two of the new scare zones were basically mini houses — narrow, one-way pathways with a limited amount of people being let through at a time. One of the scare zones — The Junkyard —was actually in the same location as one of the houses last year. Here are more details from our visit to this year's event!
Howl-O-Scream 2020 Dates & Ticket Information
Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream is a separately ticketed event that runs on select nights from Sept. 25 to Nov. 1. A new date, Oct. 29, has been added as well. The park closes to daytime guests at 6 p.m. before it turns into a place of terror from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays (and Oct. 29). However, you may enter the park as early as 5 p.m. You'll receive a wristband to put on yourself, so team members will be able to know you're there for the event (and they may ask you to show it before entering certain sections of the park before it is cleared of daytime guests).
In general, crowds are historically lighter on Sundays and gradually increase as it gets closer to Halloween.
Howl-O-Scream 2020 Dates
- Sept. 25-27
- Oct. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, 29-31
- Nov. 1
You can purchase tickets directly through the Howl-O-Scream website. Tickets start at $29.99 per night, and are date-specific so peak nights (Oct. 17 and 24) will be more expensive. Prices may also increase as the date gets closer. To help maintain physical distancing during the event, advance online reservations will be required. When buying a ticket, you will receive a park reservation at the same time. You must bring both the Howl-O-Scream admission ticket and the park reservation for entry into the event. Space is limited, so we recommend hopping to it as early as possible!
Howl-O-Scream 2020 Scare Zones
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a rather large park that covers a lot of ground, which means plenty of space for the creatures of the night to scare you while you walk around. Because there are no haunted houses this year, the scare zones are the main thrills. There are a grand total of 10 scare zones, including four brand-new ones and six returning ones from last year. Here's what you're up against!
NEW: Lycan Landing
It’s always a full moon at this campground and the park rangers can’t hear you scream. When the campfires burn out, will you escape the glowing eyes leering through the trees or will you share their cursed fate? The most memorable moment from this scare zone was facing a werewolf stroking a dismembered human hand as it hung from its mouth.
NEW: The Shortcut
Cutting through the cemetery may seem like an easy way out, except when the corpses rise from the ground to invite you into their graves. While the scare actors stay off to both sides of the narrow pathway, the sidewalk leaves just enough room for one party at a time. It's a one-way scare zone with a bunch of thrills packed in it, including ghostly figures and terrifying tombstones. Team members pace people through The Shortcut, so be prepared to wait in a line. If the line is particularly long, come back to it later in the night (we did this and only waited about five minutes).
NEW: The Escape
In this treacherous realm, chaos reigns and rules are made to be broken. The escaped inmates of Grey Echo Penitentiary seek their own twisted form of justice and they’re ready to deliver your sentence. Some are still protected in their own cells, but others roam loose for an electrifying good time.
NEW: The Junkyard
You’ll find more than spare parts as you explore this surly scrap site. Will you make it out in one piece or be devoured by the haunted rubble? Like The Shortcut, The Junkyard is a one-way scare zone, which allows for some personal time with the inhabitants of the dump. The loud barking dogs and back-up beeping from trucks really add to the junkyard atmosphere. Avoid when the Fiends show ends because the line can get long as it's closest to the Festival Field Stage.
As soon as you hop off the parking tram, you're already in the middle of the first scare zone. First Fear brings back popular figures from the past, including the mad scientist, Dr. Livingsdoom, who was the very first icon of Howl-O-Scream in 2000. With the possibility of Trickster the monstrous clown sneaking up on you before you even enter the turnstiles, Howl-O-Scream gets its first frights in early. (If you arrive before 7 p.m., you'll miss this scare zone, as the event ticket does not allow re-entry. But don't worry, you'll see them on your way out!)
You know when you were little and couldn’t sleep because of the monsters in your closet? This scare zone brings those childhood nightmares to life. In this scare zone, stare down the small figures, who stand still in front of random ominous doors dripping in blood. The stillness is just as bad as someone jumping out at you. Oh, and watch out for the bushes ...
Hell on Wheels
In a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a zombie biker gang, the survivors will destroy anything in their way of getting food and supplies. Bikers zoom past you and zombies with chainsaws stumble in your direction as rock music blares into the night.
Dia de los Muertos
This area is more of a dance party than a scare zone to honor the spirits who have gone before us. While the festive music, elaborate set pieces and colorful lights make it seem a bit out of place, we appreciate the fact that it doesn’t disrespect the Mexican holiday traditions … and that it gives us a bit of a breather.
Crazy clowns have invaded the Pantopia section of the park to wreak havoc once again. Last year, they were more spread out and lurking behind corners, but this year, they stuck to a central area in Pantopia. Good news? You just have to muster enough courage to walk through their domain. If you're not too bothered by clowns, you can even get a socially distanced selfie with one of them.
This is another scare zone that ruins childhood memories. You'll know you've entered the Deadly Toys scare zone once the background noise turns into creepy laughter from children. The life-sized stuffed animals are NOT cute and cuddly but instead creepy and crawly.
Special Entertainment and Thrill Rides
Fiends is the event’s signature stage show, which takes place on the Festival Field Stage for outdoor performances at 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. each night. Bench seating is arranged to accommodate physical distancing for a limited number of guests. It revolves around Dr. Freakenstein, who hasn't been seen since the quarantine started in the monster world. The comedy show traditionally features raunchy humor and dance numbers, along with the latest pop culture references. Expect lots of social distancing jokes and Dr. Freakenstein carrying a large container of hand sanitizer. If any young ones do happen to tag along, it’s best to sit this one out due to its NSFT (not safe for tadpoles) material.
Can’t get enough screams from the haunted houses and scare zones? Busch Gardens’ most popular thrill rides are open during the event, including the latest ride, Tigris! Here’s a full list of the available rides:
- Cobra’s Curse
- Falcon’s Fury
- Cheetah Hunt
- Sand Serpent
When we needed a break from the scare zones, we hopped on our favorite coasters. Wait times were low throughout the night, especially later. We walked right on to Sand Serpent and spent 10 and 15 minutes in line at SheiKra and Tigris, respectively.
Howl-O-Scream Food, Drinks and Merchandise
Howl-O-Scream seemed to have fewer special event food and drink offerings this year, but you can still find booths around the park. The Fiends show had its own bar at the Festival Field Stage. Some of the restaurants such as Zagora Cafe remain open as well. The event's infamous alcoholic shots in syringes are also back, so you can use that liquid courage to fuel an adrenaline rush that's needed for the scare zones.
Find event merchandise at the Emporium located near the park's entrance. This gift shop is where you can find all of the event souvenirs, including T-shirts, baseball caps, shot glasses and more.
Survival Tips for Howl-O-Scream 2020
Buy tickets in advance
Since Howl-O-Scream requires a separate ticket from regular park admission AND a park reservation, be sure to purchase your tickets early online. Not only will this save you from waiting in line at the entrance, but you can also keep extra cash in your wallet. Additionally, you don’t want to wait in case the event sells out for the night.
Leave the tadpoles behind
Based on the violence and gore, the event is targeted for adults. We left Lily and Tad behind with the grandfrogs! While teenagers and children are allowed to attend, we do not recommend it for tadpoles younger than 13.
Despite the sun going down, the hot and humid Florida weather keeps September and October nights warm. Dress in clothes that allow you to stay cool, and opt for comfortable shoes. Avoid wearing costumes or full-face masks. However, regular face coverings are required. For the safety of the scare actors and other guests, costumes are not allowed.
Pay attention in scare zones
I may be stating the obvious, but be aware of your surroundings as you walk through the scare zones. Even though the scare actors have to stay six feet apart this year, some of them are still roaming around freely. But they will not touch you, and you should not touch them. Also, listen closely to what they have to say because they like to improvise. Be courteous of fellow guests too. You may have the gut instinct to run away at the sight of a clown, but you have to be careful not to bump into anyone else.
Pose for a frightfully fun picture
There are event-exclusive photo ops scattered around the park. Our favorite was the colorful skeleton head wall at the Dia de los Muertos scare zone!
Are you building up enough courage to go to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay? If you attend, let us know which scare zones was your favorite!