As I sit down to write this review, I'm still not exactly sure what I saw Saturday night at Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Howl-O-Scream 2012. This being my third year in a row at the event, Saturday felt like a bizarro world compared to the past 2 years. The first two were fun romps through a beautiful park with a multitude of scares and a terrific atmosphere.
This year felt like a hollow shell of an event.
My friends and I reached the park around 4:30 in the afternoon this past Saturday, an hour and a half before the event was scheduled to begin. Since my two companions had yet to ride Verbolten (a review of which can be found here) we decided to head over there and hit that. After waiting a little under an hour in line, we reached the station.
Before going on, I have to give the park a shout-out for giving the queue video inside the travel agency a Halloween overlay. Very well done.
The ride itself is still spectacular. I know I had originally said I still preferred Griffon to Verbolten, but I think I have to reverse that now. The ride is just such a complete package, even though I still think the ride path and building could use some more theming and greenery.
After we got off the coaster, we decided to hit Das Festhaus for a bite to eat before the event kicked into gear. We walked by this year's "Open Casket" bar where the bartenders are dressed up as Vampires. It's a nice touch. When we entered the restaurant, we found that one of this year's new shows "Night Beats" had begun on the central stage, so the place was packed. Luckily, we found a seat and I got a terrific carved turkey sandwich for dinner. The foot at BGW is phenomenal.
Night Beats was a highly entertaining way to spend dinner. I missed most of the story, but from what I gathered it was a vampire/ghost cabaret show, and they sang plenty of great songs. The singers were all talented for the roles, and there was some nice playing around with the audience. Overall, a nice way to kick off the Halloween event.
Unfortunately it was mostly downhill form here.
Exiting, we stopped at Open Casket for a drink, and then wandered towards the front of the park to pick up my camera which I had stashed in a locker for the time being. I was excited to use the DLSR for the first time in a them park. Unfortunately, the conditions of HOS just didnt't lend itself all that well to my desires. The event felt so empty, I just didn't find a lot of interesting shots to take. There was a nice shot of the Loch Ness Monster reflected in water, but I didn't have the time to get a good vantage point on the busy bridge I was on.
While walking, something hit us very quickly. The atmosphere was just not there. The streets had light theming compared to the past two years, and there were basically no actors in the streets. This year, BGW decided to go the "horde" route and have roaming bands of actors going all over the park. The bad part is they only had TWO hordes in the event. If you're familiar with the park, it is huge. There's a lot of ground to cover for two hordes, and it just leaves the park feeling empty. I'm not exactly sure what the rationale was for this change, but it's definitely taken away from the event.
And the streets weren't the only thing that were empty. The houses were too.
The first one we hit was Catacombs, which is a maze that's been around since I've been going to the event. It's themed to Paris's underground mass graves, and was the only house I'd call good from the entire night. Well staffed and the actors were giving their all.
Next, we headed to Deadline, the house that I ranked as the best last year. The story is while digging for a new subway system in Pompeii, the construction released a gas, turning people into zombies. Again, this house started off strong, but fizzled out near the middle. I went through 2 or three rooms straight with no actors, or one actor that just kind of stood there. The final two rooms were almost barren, and the best effect/scare from last year was wasted without an actor.
Then came Fear Fair, the haunt themed to a deadly traveling carnival. This one was strong last year as well, with demented clowns and interesting scares at every turn. This time I went through a few of the tent mini-mazes without seeing a single actor, including areas where there was supposed to be a featured character.
After three mazes, we were feeling pretty down on the event, and left Italy and headed back towards Verbolten and the Oktoberfest area. Here, Bitten had almost a two hour wait, so we headed over to the new Root of All Evil maze, dedicated to the icon of the event, The Lady of the Gardens.
Oh geez...this maze...
Was completely and utterly terrible. It was themed to the Lady taking over the BG landscaping department. You start off by taking a picture, which completely takes you out of the moment. Then, you go through a series of deserted greenhouses and what amounts to a hedge maze. The first outdoor section had potential, with a scareactor in a fountain and the Lady of the Gardens.But the guy in the fountain just kind of waved his hand at us and the Lady of the Gardens was just out in the open, negating any scare. The rest of the actors, the ones that were there, just kind of laughed and waved gardening implements at us.
After this, the event was almost over, and a thunderstorm was on its way, which closed the rides we wanted to do. Instead of getting caught in the rain, we decided to head for the car, ending our night.
Overall, the event just didn't have enough scareactors to be effective. The streets and houses were both almost barren, and the theming in the streets just wasn't up to par compared to previous years. Making the lack of actors worse were the attempted "scares" of the ones there were. They were just not effective at putting you on edge, often times telegraphing their scares. Also, the feeling of deja vu with repeated houses definitely got to me this year. I think the park needs more than one new house a year to be considered elite.
I'm not sure I'll be returning to the event unless there is a marked change in the way things are done. I hope that happens, as I love the Williamsburg park and love a good haunt. Here's to hoping.