Haunted houses are back with a vengeance for Howl-O-Scream in 2021! For 28 killer nights, this haunting Halloween event takes over Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, promising its usual screams and shrieks all night long. Last year, due to COVID-19, the event only featured outdoor scare zones and its signature show, "Fiends." This fall, Howl-O-Scream is back in all of its glory with three new fear-filled haunted houses (and two returning houses with fresh scares!). Eight scare zones, two unpredictable hordes, "Fiends" and a skeleton band called "The Rolling Bones" provide screams, laughs and everything in between.
We visited during opening weekend, and Busch Gardens knocked it out of the park (or should I say graveyard?). The houses provided all sorts of scares! We truly didn't know where each scare was going to come from next — whether it would come swinging in our faces via wires, reach out from below or sneak right up behind us and follow us into the next room. The scare zones were also devilishly entertaining as the scare actors used lots of creative improvisation to interact with us. As always, the entertainment is also top-notch and the event even provides frogs with the opportunity to conquer their favorite coasters and thrill rides in the dark. With so much to see and do, it's no wonder Howl-O-Scream Tampa was ranked #1 in Florida on USA Today's list of 10Best Theme Park Halloween Events. If you're up for the frights, keep reading to learn all about Howl-O-Scream!
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Dates & Ticket Information
Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream is a separately ticketed event that runs on select nights from Sept. 10 to Oct. 31, 2021. The park typically closes to daytime guests at 6 p.m. before it turns into a place of terror from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. to midnight on Thursdays and Sundays. 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. Though this year, we experienced more crowds earlier in the season — this makes sense to us because there's likely more demand now that the houses have returned after not being part of the event last year.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Dates
- Sept. 10-12, 17-19, 24-26
- Oct. 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-31
You can now purchase Howl-O-Scream tickets through Undercover Tourist. Tickets start at $41 per night and are date-specific so peak nights will be more expensive. Prices also increase as the date gets closer. Advance pricing will not be available after 6 p.m. on the event night at the front gate. At this time, advance online reservations will be required — if you purchase a single-night ticket, the reservation will be included. You must bring both the Howl-O-Scream admission ticket and the park reservation for entry into the event.
If you can't get enough of the scares, the Unlimited Admission ticket is back, which provides admission every night of the event! Reservations are required and you must book separately.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Haunted Houses
Are you brave enough to enter the haunted houses? This year, three new haunted houses will terrify the bravest of frogs. Plus two houses from the past will come back from the dead to frighten guests in new ways.
NEW! The Forgotten
Ever wondered what goes on in the shadows? While the human uprising continues above ground, a swarm of hungry vampires plot their revenge beneath the streets and throughout the sewers. Roam the halls of their horrendous hide-out and eventually come face-to-face with the vampire king. Will he let you return to the world of the living ... or are you destined to become the newest minion in his undead army?
In terms of set design, this house was by far our favorite. The neon lights and gothic aesthetic truly make this maze a work of art. This house was also home to one of our favorite scares of the night. We don't want to spoil anything ... just make sure to take a few peeks over your shoulder on the exterior pathway into the house just after you pass the skeletons and protest signs. You never know where these vamps might be lurking ...
NEW! Cell Block Zombies
Make your way through the dark, damp halls of Purgatory Penitentiary where the inmates are hungry for more than justice. As ferocious guards shuffle you through processing, the lavatory, the prison yard and confinement, you'll find yourself at the mercy of the carnivorous criminals who have been locked up in here for ages. Incarceration is for eternity in the afterlife and it's up to you to break out before you "meat" your gruesome fate.
From the blinding lights of intake to the pitch-black darkness of the cell block, we were toadally immersed in this debut maze. The blood-stained walls and horrifically revolting toilets are enough to make you feel sick alone. The scares in here don't just come from the zombies trying to eat your faces, but also the guards yelling at you to move it along — before it's too late. We love the concept of this house, and we can't wait to see it improved upon whenever it makes its repulsive return. Since it's one of the houses near the front of the park, expect a long line at the beginning of the event. We highly recommend saving it for later, as we noticed it was a total walk-in toward the end of the night.
NEW! Witch of the Woods
You can't say you weren't given ample warning. Against your better judgement, you wander into the dark woods — the setting of an ominous legend and an inescapable curse. The moment you trespass into the abandoned village where the demonic disciples of the witch await, your fate is sealed. This evil enchantress powers her magic with human sacrifices, so best of luck getting out of here alive.
Busch Gardens pulled out all the stops for their longest house in Howl-O-Scream history, using both outdoor and indoor elements. This near seven-minute maze takes you into into the heart of the forest where creatures lurk in the shadows and villagers warn you of your frightful fate. Before you know it, you're in the temple where the witch's loyal followers worship and are subsequently guided over the bridge and into the village where they harvest their sacrifices for her. The elaborate sets give the scare actors plenty of room to play in here so no two runs through this house will be the same. That is ... if you survive the first time.
Death Water Bayou: Blood Moon
The Voodoo Queen has evacuated the bayou ... but not before leaving a dark curse on its inhabitants. When the sun sets and the moon rises, fangs start to grow and eyes start to glow. The swamp now belongs to a hungry pack of werewolves hunting for human flesh. Keep an ear out for snarling growls. That sound will be your only warning before these voracious lycanthropes pounce.
Death Water Bayou is a Howl-O-Scream staple and while it's undergone a slight re-theming this time around, this house does not disappoint. While there are some traces of voodoo left behind, the wolves rule this land now and are hiding in the trees and bushes awaiting your arrival. Don't let the smiling faces at the entrance to the bayou fool you. As soon as you come out the other side of the spiraling tunnel, it's open season and you're the prey. This house has some of the most unexpected scares of the event so keep your eyes open all the way through. (Because of the spiraling tunnel effect, you may want to skip this house if you are prone to vertigo.)
It's a seemingly normal house on a seemingly normal street in a seemingly normal neighborhood and yet ... some neighbors have started disappearing. Don't let the white picket fence and lush green lawn fool you. The Clark family is not as picture-perfect as they seem. Suburban terrors and domestic demons await you in this returning maniacal maze.
Enter the house from Hell. Literally. This maze is as creepy as it gets. As you make your way from the kitchen to the bathroom to the garden and every room in between, you'll encounter a family who will stop at nothing to please their dark lord — and their sacrifices are as gruesome as it gets. Just remember not to touch the roses ... or the flowers won't be the only thing that gets trimmed.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Scare Zones
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is a 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. There are a grand total of eight scare zones — plus two unpredictable hordes of clowns and butchers with chainsaws — scattered around the park. Ghost, murderous toys, witch doctors and more stalk their prey in the scare zones, while the roaming hordes lurk in the darkness. Here are the three new scare zones and four returning ones you'll have to conquer to make your way through the park. (The eighth scare zone is hidden and things are skulking in the darkness, awaiting your arrival.)
Displaced by ravenous werewolves, the witch doctors have fled the bayou and set up shop in their very own scare zone where dark magic and ancient curses fill the air. We had a lot of fun in this zone, both at the beginning and end of the night! One of the scare actors in here even asked me for Flora's name so he could chase her through the zone. (She got her revenge by having me go first through Death Water Bayou.) Find these shamans outside the Moroccan Palace Theater.
NEW! Skeleton Crew
Ramble through the ruins of a shipwreck as the salty seamen plunder the land of the living for bounty. In Davy Jones' Locker, the only currency is human souls. Fair winds, matey. Remember, dead men tell no tales. Find these undead buccaneers in Jungala.
NEW! In the Shadows
The Wendigo and the Slender Man are just a few of the myths and legends that are silently lurking in these dark woods. This scare zone is truly enough to turn any mistrustful skeptic into a doomed believer. Don't be surprised if you see some glowing eyes staring at you from within the bushes. Find these monsters near Sesame Street Safari of Fun.
"Cut through the cemetery," they said. "It'll be quick," they said. Well, "they" didn't know that restless souls and rotting corpses have risen from the grave to drag you back down with them. Packed with ghostly figures and terrifying tombstones, this scare zone gives us a peek of what's truly waiting for us on the other side. The faceless nuns, in particular, creeped us out as they rang the bells of the decrepit church. Find these (un)happy haunts in Nairobi.
Every day is garbage day in this demonic dump. Just be sure to get out of here before you're lumped in with the rest of the terrifying trash and tossed in the incinerator! This scare zone features a ton of loud noises and a lot of metal-on-metal so if your ears are sensitive, you might want to avoid this one (which you can toadally do since it's off to the side). Find these devilish dumpster divers in Morocco.
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, you 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. Find these trick-or-treaters in Serengeti Outpost.
This is another scare zone that ruins childhood memories. You'll know you 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. Find these dastardly dolls in Pantopia.
A team of menacing butchers and a pack of creepy clowns make their way around the park throughout the night. We saw the chainsaw wielders start and end the night right outside of Zagora Cafe — chasing anyone who dared cross their path. We ended the night walking through the circus near Guest Services and witnessing our lives flashing before our eyes as a clown whacked a mallet inches from our faces. We also saw the clowns hanging out near Iron Gwazi earlier in the night.
Special Entertainment and Thrill Rides
Fiends is the event’s signature stage show, which takes place on the Festival Field Stage for outdoor performances twice each night. Bring your depraved sense of humor as the deranged Dr. Freakenstein takes his motley crew of monsters on a wild vacation to Las Vegas. The comedy show features raunchy jokes and dance numbers, along with the latest pop culture references. It's absolutely hilarious, includes rockin' songs and is a great way to rest your feet for half an hour. 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.
The Rolling Bones
This skeleton band rocks out to classic rock anthem covers at the Dragon Fire Grill. Enjoy the live performance while fueling up on a pre-fear feast.
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 rides that will be available during this year's event:
- Crash Test Zombies (yes, the zombies ride with you, and their friends stalk the area too)
- Cobra’s Curse
- Falcon’s Fury
- Cheetah Hunt
We started the night by hopping onto Cobra's Curse and Cheetah Hunt. Both had wait times lower than 20 minutes and we didn't see anything much higher throughout the course of the night.
Howl-O-Scream Food, Drinks and Merchandise
Howl-O-Scream typically has food and drink booths around the park. The Fiends show even has its own bar at the Festival Field Stage. Some of the restaurants such as Zagora Cafe usually remain open as well. The event's infamous alcoholic shots in syringes return year after year, so you can use that liquid courage to fuel an adrenaline rush that's needed for the haunted houses and scare zones.
Brand new this year is the Blood Bar, an outdoor bar steps away from The Forgotten haunted house that's serving up new signature cocktails (Swamp Water, Witch's Brew and The Bite Jell-O Syringe Shot). You can find beer, hard seltzers and spirits here, as well.
You can also find event merchandise at Marrakesh Market and the Emporium, both located near the park's entrance. This is where you can peruse all of the event souvenirs, including T-shirts, baseball caps, shot glasses and more.
Survival Tips for Howl-O-Scream 2021
Buy tickets in advance
Since Howl-O-Scream requires a separate ticket from regular park admission AND a park reservation, 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.
Purchase Front Line Fear passes to skip the lines
Lines for the houses were LONG this year! We think there are two main causes: 1) The houses are back after not being available during last year's event so there's pent-up demand, and 2) There are only five houses so there are fewer lines for people to spread out in the park.
Luckily, you have the option to buy Front Line Fear passes (single-use, front-of-the-line access to the houses) or Front Line Fear Extreme passes (single-use, front-of-the-line access to the houses AND rides). We think it's well worth the investment, as some of the Front Line Fear lines were walk-ins or had significantly lower wait times. The longest express line we personally encountered was 30 minutes on a busy Saturday night. Unfortunately, there's no way to check wait times for the houses unless you ask an employee at the end of each line.
Avoid the houses in the front of the park first
If we had done anything differently, we'd probably hop to the back of the park first. As we mentioned before, the new Cell Block Zombies house had a very long line early on in the night. We'd recommend taking advantage of The Forgotten first. Then, knock out the older houses, The Residence first followed by Death Water Bayou. Both of the new houses in front of the park — Cell Block Zombies and Witch of the Woods — had short lines toward the end of the night.
Splurge on upgrades
If you really want a special night to remember, spring for the Ultimate V.I.P. Tour. You get to create your own up to seven-hour experience with a private tour guide, exclusive experiences and unlimited access to the haunted houses and thrill rides. The cost (which starts at $229 per person; a minimum of two guests) includes admission and the private tour itself, unlimited front-of-the-line access, private complimentary beverage locations, reserved seating at "Fiends," a complimentary photo and free preferred parking.
Interested in how the houses are created? Take the Behind the Scenes Tour during the day. You get to learn about the scares and the set behind one of the houses. It also comes with a unique photo opportunity and a one-time priority access to one of the houses at night during the event. It costs $29.99 per person.
Enjoy reserved V.I.P. seating for the popular "Fiends" show and receive a complimentary cocktail, bottled water or soda at the Fiends show bar for $19.99 per person.
Leave the tadpoles behind
Based on the violence and gore, the event is targeted for adults. We typically leave 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. 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. The scare actors like to get super close to you. 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
The scare actors at Howl-O-Scream are delightfully interactive and are hoppy to pose for a photo with you! Just be wary of their dark magic.
Speaking of photo-ops, Busch Gardens debuted a new concept that we really hope to see again in the future — there are cameras inside the houses, perfectly positioned to capture frightened faces! You can scan a QR code on a sign outside of the house to view and purchase it.
Are you building up enough courage to go to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay? If so, let us know what you're most excited for!