I’m a huge Busch Gardens Williamsburg fan and fall is just about my favorite time to take my family. The crowds are way down as people tend to forget the park is open Friday through Sunday. Busch Gardens is beautifully manicured and easy to navigate any time of year, but when you take out the crowds and the heat it’s just about perfect. But at 6PM the park “goes dark” with Howl-O-Scream, and you’ll want to know what to expect if you come with kids.
On a production level NOBODY does live theater (and Howl-O-Scream at its heart is theater) like Busch Gardens. Howl-O-Scream is terrific at scaring your pants off…which is the point, right? It’s just that there are different kinds of scary: Harry Potter scary, Hunger Games Scary, Chuckie Scary, Clown Scary (or is that just me?)…
Howl-O-Scream is NOT marketed to kids, and whether you take your kids to each attraction is going to be a personal parenting decision. You know your kids better than I do. I’m giving my impressions as a guideline, not a judgement.
In the public areas (during the day) there’s a good amount of “scary” decor, but it tends more towards camp than horrific in daylight and I don’t think it impacted any kids of all ages I saw at the park. Now if your kid is scared of Chuck E. Cheese, tread carefully! Once 6PM rolls around, body parts start hanging from the rafters and costumed characters come out of the woodwork. Again, the costumes tend more towards zombie Renaissance Faire than truly terrifying, but they’re definitely more in your face. With the Deal Kids I wouldn’t feel the need to be out by 6, but if I had sensitive kids I might want to keep the clock in mind.
Two shows made for Howl-O-Scream are scheduled during the day. One I would recommend for anyone, the other I would tread carefully. Fiends is a Young Frankenstein/Rocky Horror mashup that I found hilarious and totally harmless: sure the “nurses” wore hot pants and there were a few off-color jokes, but I’ve seen more offensive material on Gilligan’s Island. Highly recommended, especially for the Werewolf Duran Duran solo. On a related note, I would skip Igor’s “Fright Feast” in favor of Fiends show as Busch Gardens has so many on-site dining options that it seems a shame to choose a buffet. I’m especially a fan of the ribs and grilled chicken at Trapper’s Smokehouse in New France.
Monster Stomp on Ripper Row is the show that might require some thought before attending with your kids. Again, LOVED the show, especially the lead female signer who’s a dead ringer for Kari in Mythbusters, but the show begins with blood from Jack’s blade splattering the audience and the effect is repeated about 1/2 way through. I talked with a 10 year old who thought nothing of it, but the effect was definitely gasp-worthy. I might just warn the kids in advance and go anyway because the rest of the show was high quality Broadway type production in a bite-sized format. 2 sections of the show-which had nothing to do with the story- stood out. One was a “stomp” style drum routine with bones and other graveyard debris; the other a hilarious dance featuring day-glow skeletons. (Note to Busch Gardens: Any chance of getting these 2 scenes isolated and played once a day for a family-friendly Halloween show? Just a thought.)
Now on to the Howl-O-Scream attractions: here’s where I have to inject a real note of caution. I went through 13, your number’s up, which is widely thought to be the “tamest” haunted house. I left with 2 thoughts:
- Wow, that was technically brilliantly done.
- There is no way in h@ll I’d bring my kids in there!
Now I entered thinking they would be fine. I mean Deal Kid read The Hunger Games when he was 9…how much scarier could it be?
So. Much. Scarier.
From the entry where you have to squeeze your way through an airbag surrounding you on all sides (for the length of an entire room!) to the screams by Cuckoo’s Nest patients strapped to hospital beds to an entire hallway of dismembered clown parts (!) the haunted house was beyond any state fair/corn maze/rotary club haunted house by a factor of 100.
I wanted to be sure my reaction wasn’t unique so I stood by and watched as people exited the house. In a 5 minute period I spotted one tween girl laughing about the attraction and 4 (2 girls and 2 boys) others come out sobbing. I’m sure the kids who left sobbing begged to go in the first place thinking it would be like their local haunted house. They had NO IDEA.
Now if you’re an adult, or have teens, I wholeheartedly recommended getting your guts scared out by Howl-O-Scream. But with my kids, I’ll happily go to Busch Gardens for a fall visit all day and leave the after dark fun to the grownups.
If you go, Busch Gardens annual passes can be a great value as you get into Howl-O-Scream in addition to all of next season for $120. Timed right, you could visit Howl-O-Scream next year, too! The fact that you can pay monthly with no interest makes it much more like a Hulu/netflix subscription and also makes me consider the 2 or 3 year all park Platinum pass more within reach. One strategy I’ve heard work well is for one member of the family to get the annual pass to get the free parking and food benefits and to buy discounted tickets for other family members.
Have you been to Howl-O-Scream? What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments.