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Haunt Review: Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld Orlando

By Jaimz Dillman

Opening on the tail end of the SeaWorld Orlando regular day park hours, a separate makeshift entrance was created for the night dwellers attending the event titled "Scratch the Surface" this year. And that's a pretty good summary of the overall event. Just 2 years into its incarnation down I4 from Busch Gardens, the Orlando park seems to still be finding its groove.

There are some pretty great highlights, however- the first bar area is inviting with thumping club music, sexy siren gogo dancers, and themed drinks. At almost $15, the Siren's Call was priced pretty steep in a standard cardboard cup but a candy straw was a fun touch. And as the bartender was quick to point out he didn't set the price.

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Moving through the entryway, sirens seem to have quite a hold this year, dancing and gyrating on every kind of platform, scare zone, house, and show.

A large merch store displayed loads of Howl merch and some other spooky offerings. Some made sense. Some most certainly did not. A small sign amongst the tshirts noted a 5% surcharge would be added to each sale in addition to tax, but no one could tell us why.

There are 5 houses scattered around half of the massive acreage of the water and amusement park. Routes guide you easily enough but, understandably, a lot of the more kid-friendly areas are not open during this event and you're detoured to get around the closures. Note this- Howl doesn't post wait times. You just kinda have to eyeball the line and jump in and see. The night we attended wasn't too packed and the longest wait seemed to be no longer than 30 minutes.

In the grand scheme, I can see what they were going for. Although casting has had a challenge filling scare actor roles (Which is noticeable in a few houses with 2-3 empty rooms as you move through) there are quite a few surprises that were impressive. My pick for standout house was Deadly Vines. The sets were playfully decorated, the actors were having a lot of fun in their roles, and the concept was well-executed. I'm hard to scare and I screamed a few times during my visit.

Other houses had a few lacking areas such as sparse decor, confusing theming, low or no sound, and some... um... interesting choices for an indoor/outdoor house and the noises coming from tents. Ahem.

The scare zones were well done and well lit to be able to see details. The 50's set werewolf area, the voodoo bayou, and vampire areas were the most memorable although there are sneaky bush dwellers that had perfect timing to startle passersby.

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I looked for any kind of mention of themed foods or drinks on the website and there's no mention of anything special. I asked several team members if there was any such thing and no one seemed to know. After we were pointed to one of the two main restaurants open to serve, we discovered a whole stretch way past the counter service that was exactly what we were looking for.

Little food-service shacks offered items such as a Jacked (as in the Ripper) Up Burger, Ripped up Ribs, and Bloodstained candy apple. We opted for the ribs- deep fried served with hot honey sauce and pickled onions. Good, but I could only eat one.

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Another booth boasted crawling cravings of the bug variety- Chipotle cricket chicken sandwich, grasshopper tacos, and ant pretzel rods. Attendants were out front enticing folks to try the alternate protein so I stepped up and tried a cricket. Not bad. Not for me.

More bars are open for service through the trails and each offers some sort of entertainment ranging from singers, dancers, aerialists, or fiesty comedians. These are the spots to sit a spell and enjoy spirits of the drinkable kind. Especially in the Longshoreman Tavern - remember this is an adult event and the comedy can get spicy. But it's all in good fun.

Finally, we visited 2 of the 3 live show offerings- The Siren's Song (there they are again) and Monster Stomp. Time didn't allow for us to catch Lurking in the Depths, but as it's at the mermaid tank, I'm sure it's a popular one.

Siren's Song happens outside in a 360-degree round of raised stages with more dancing, more promises of collecting souls, and heart-racing music. Some things started to feel repetitive to what we'd already seen but the actors were very into selling their story, plus, makeup effects from Blue Whale Studios (run by Emmy-nominated Jonah Levy) were spot on.

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My pick out of the two is Monster Stomp as it's inside- so won't be downed due to weather- and it's beautiful to watch. A Jack the Ripper theme appears (again) through a loose story told by two powerful lead singers, a bevy of beautiful dancers, and damn fine drummers.

Going in, you have to remember this is still building. There's a really good foundation built and there are a lot of things that work really well. And at a price much more affordable, it'll be interesting to see how it grows and transforms. After all, the demand is there if the Orlando park continues to offer the frights at night in addition to the return of the daytime family-friendly Spooktacular.


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