Howl-O-Scream returns at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

September 11, 2023, 2:15 PM · It’s hard to believe that Busch Gardens Williamsburg is staging its annual Howl-O-Scream for a 24th year. The Virginia park’s Halloween event is one of the best you’ll find at a regional theme park combining mazes, scare zones, shows to create a well-rounded event. This year’s Howl-O-Scream features five haunted houses, one of which is completely new, while the other four have various tweaks from last year’s versions. There are also five scare zones (or Terror-tories as the park calls them), and a lineup of five returning shows from last year.

This year’s new haunted house is called Lost Mines: The Descent, which is located inside the Escape From Pompeii show building. Previous haunted houses in this location have had some type of connection to the Italian setting for the ride, but Lost Mines has not such link, though a subterranean setting does still fit with the ruins of Pompeii. I thought the use of a mine setting was unique for a haunted house, and I cannot recall any other Halloween events using this trope. There are some well-done special effects and excellent sets throughout, but the pacing of this house could use some work with long stretches between actors and an overall flow that is pretty typical for a new house. As with most haunted houses, I would expect the BGW team to make some tweaks in the coming weeks to improve the performances and adjust the timing of effects. I do think Deadline, the house that occupied this space for a number of years, was better than Lost Mines, but there’s potential here if for no other reason being the unique setting.

Of the returning haunted houses, Nevermore: Chapter 3 not only featured the biggest improvement from previous years, but was my favorite house of the night. The Victorian-era themed house is located in the former Drachen Fire station building (behind Verbolten). Nevermore, as you would guess, leans into the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and is loaded with tons of props, effects, and an excellent soundtrack. Sound is something that some haunted house designers overlook by piping random screaming and ominous background music that has little to do with the house’s theme. Nevermore appropriate uses harpsichord-dominant melodies with underlying cackling ravens sounds. On our run through this house, the cast were great with superb pacing of performances and effects.

Another returning haunted house located near Nevermore is Witch of the Woods: Scorched. Outdoor haunted houses are always difficult to execute, and while the setting of Witch of the Woods is ominous in the wooded are behind where Drachen Fire once stood, there’s nothing particularly scary about this one. I think the biggest problems with outdoor houses is that with wider walking paths and enough ambient lighting to see what’s coming, there’s very little tension created. The cast of Witch of the Woods does a decent job trying to create an imposing atmosphere, but even the finale scene falls flat. The most unfortunate part about Witch of the Woods is that it requires the longest walk through backstage areas to reach, and it’s impossible to tell how long the line is.

Killarney Diener: Infested is another returning haunted house with some notable improvements. Located in the building that once housed the park’s motion simulator theater (more recently playing Battle for Eire), Killarney Diener takes guests through a 50’s-era diner with great props and costuming. As in previous years, I still feel like the pacing needs work because of the long narrow hallways necessitated by the layout of the path that takes guests along the original ride queues and backstage maintenance hallways. The previous theme of this house, Thirteen, did an excellent job of using these long hallways, but the production staff haven’t figured out how to make these work with the diner theme.

The last house is Death Water Bayou: Full Moon, which is located behind Roman Rapids in Festa Italia. This house is much improved over last year, but still has a problematic layout with guests walking between numerous tents themed around the supernatural side of New Orleans. This house relies heavily on phosphorescent paint and tons of black lighting effects. There is also a tent that utilizes green lasers to create a very cool look to the room that affords actors a unique opportunity to startle guests. The constant use of unique lighting in this house is what sets it apart and really improves the overall impact from last year.

Howl-O-Scream features five zones that the park refers to as “Terror-tories,” with Fest-Evil new to the lineup for this year. Fest-Evil is located in Festa Italia and brings a Mardi Gras theme to the land in lieu of previous years’ circus theming. Fest-Evil fits with the area extremely well, and the characters, who primarily gather around the Tempesto entrance, are going to be extremely popular with guests.


Of the returning Terror-tories, I really like Scary Tale Road, which is located in Oktoberfest, and contains various portrayals of well-known fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm.

Scary Tale Road

The park has packed a lot into a relatively small space, but it also means scare actors don’t have a lot of places to hide or space to perform. Other returning Terror-tories include Ripper Row (around the Globe Theater near the park’s entrance), Meat Market (in New France between InvadR and Alpengeist), and Gorgon Gardens (in Italy near the Battering Ram and Flying Machine).

Meat Market

There are some excellent costumes and sets across all of the Terror-tories, including human statues, chain saw butchers, and bobbies. The entire lineup of shows returns from last year, highlighted by the always entertaining and popular Monster Stomp on Ripper Row, which debuts at the end of September. Howl-O-Scream runs most operating nights through the end of October and continues to be one of the best regional theme park events in the country.

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Replies (3)

September 12, 2023 at 11:32 AM

Random question and I think you are the person to ask. I'll be at BGW in a few weeks and wondering what to expect in terms of ride closures? I like the sky ride, river cruise, and railroad but considering how things have been here with BGT and SWO you never really know what to expect. Haven't been to BGW in years.

September 12, 2023 at 11:55 AM

The sky ride was actually running when I was there last Friday, but does typically close at night during Howl-O-Scream. It's been kind of hit or miss for most of this season in terms of operating (often do to windy conditions).

The river cruise has been even less reliable in terms of operation, mostly because of the renovation of the Rhine River bridge (between Germany and Italy).

The train has been regularly operating all season from what I've seen.

September 14, 2023 at 12:59 AM

Thanks for the info, took the little one to SWO for Spooktacular last year on Halloween weekend and it was blazing hot and packed. Figured going to BGW in late September would be a good mix of nice weather and manageable crowds.

Also after reading your post I looked the Rhine River Bridge on Google Maps street view and saw the banners said Anheuser Busch and Big Bad Wolf is there lol.

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