Busch Gardens disappoints with Howl-O-Scream

Halloween. A time when people WANT to be scared. In the United States, it is traditional to start seeking out venues to PAY to be scared, usually starting toward the end of September.  Amusement parks around the country gear up for this time of year by replacing normal attractions with those of a more macabre tone. My two local parks, Cedar Fair’s Kings Dominion and Sea World’s Busch Gardens Williamsburg are two parks that generally go all out for October.

Clown HordeBusch Gardens Williamsburg (here out to be called BGW) slants toward a more family friendly environment while Kings Dominion warns parents not bring small ones after 6pm and, in fact, shuts down it’s kiddie area (Planet Snoopy.)

At a ‘passholder appreciation’ event recently, the GM for BGW promised that this years Howl-O-Scream would be the best yet. Scarier, a new maze, scare hordes instead of scare zones would cover the entire park and leave no stone unturned. A new show in the Oktoberfest area would replace last years bawdy and very adult themed ‘Fiends’ show, which was being moved to a smaller venue (Abbey Stone Theater) and better signage warning parents about the nature of that show. This years event sounded great. In addition, the whole thing started earlier than last years Howl-O-Scream and the first night allowed pass-holders to bring a friend for free.  Wonderful.

Problem is that they failed miserably.

BGW is my favorite park, I need to say that right away. I love them. They are consistently a great place to take your family. Good food, great atmosphere, spectacular rollercoasters (but not enough of them) and the place is just gorgeous. They do a terrific job during the season.

Halloween events, however, are the weak spot and this year, oh my.  I don’t know if they just don’t have enough people or if it was just first night jitters, but it seemed amateurish and more like a dress rehearsal than the real thing.

Many of the mazes, where you go to get scared, were light on fright, weakly themed and poorly covered by ‘scarachters’, the cast members who dress up to scare. In fact one maze, Fear Fair, which is supposed to look like a county fair, had just four such scarachters. IMAG1183

The newest maze, made up of thousands of plants and trees, was supposed to be the scariest. We waited just over an hour to get into the maze.  My wife was startled twice, but only because she was diverted by another guest. Too many people were let through at once, which spoils the scare for most in the group, especially if you are near the end of the group.  In one case, in the Thirteen maze, the whole thing just stopped. Standing in one of these things, for five or more minutes, with nothing happening, really ruins the experience. Add in non-functioning effects and you just get bored.

For a major theme park to have this many problems during a highly publicized event is not good. Yes, I realize that nothing is perfect, but when you drive hours to such a place and pay good, hard earned money, you do expect something close to smooth and somewhat what was advertised, not what was delivered during the opening night. The park is a fifty minute drive for us and we have season passes, so we will go back and try it again, but what about the family who drove two, three or four hours to there, spent $64.95 a person to get in, plus whatever the food costs are…I’d be pretty mad and would want a refund.

Perhaps the worse part about it are the hours.  Most of the mazes open at 6pm, but the whole park closes at 10pm. That gives you just four hours to do it all.  We spent over an hour waiting in line for ONE maze.  Imagine if you had to endure that, plus thirty to forty minutes for two or three others. That gives you little time to do anything else. When asked about changing the hours, the GM shrugged his shoulders and said something about the family nature of the park and that no time change was planned.

While this park has never had a spectacular Halloween event, at least when compared to, say, Kings Dominion, they have done much better in the past-like last year’s event. It is very disappointing that they failed to pull this off in such spectacular fashion.

I will write a follow up to this after we go back, so, stay tuned!