By Jaimz Dillman
Scream. Shout. Let it all out. This is the tagline for Sea World Orlando’s 2023 version of Howl-o-Scream. The adventure park gets spooky after dark with a team of sirens who take over and compete with each other to collect the souls of attendees. Really, it could be renamed Sexy Sirens A Gogo. We attended opening night and were able to see pretty much all of this year’s offerings.
Starting off with the first of 5 haunted houses, we went into Delerium Laboratories. The start was pretty cool, something different from other houses we’ve seen in the past. And that’s a lot. This maze was pretty long, twisting and turning down really long hallways, which left us with stretches of unmanned areas. It would build tension at first but then you’d wonder, “Hello? Is anyone here?” Friends of ours who went later said their experience was packed so maybe we caught an off time. I was also strapped into a Scare-cam so seeing details was difficult with a spotlight in my face but I still appreciated this one.
I feel like I can mention the next 3 at once because they were pretty much the same as last year with maybe some tweaks here and there. Dead Vines, Captain’s Revenge, and Blood Beckoning were all very familiar to what we experienced last year. Although Dead Vines did give me a couple of good scares. Beneath the Ice is noted as new this year but it really didn’t stand out as anything different honestly.
The scare zones are dark and smokey- this park gets darrrrrk. A few roaming actors and stilt walkers slunked around ambling towards guests asking for help or warning to stay away but mannequins filled in a lot of spaces making me wonder if this was filler where scareactors should be. The standout here was the Blood Light District walk-through area where sexy vamps dance in red-lit windows enticing those passing by to possibly stay… for life.
Live shows are sprinkled through land, sea, and air conditioning. Siren’s Song is back with an outside theater-in-the-round show that has a much more cohesive storyline this year and the dancing is top-notch. The Sirens are here and they’re pissed plucking “volunteers” from the crowd for sacrifices. A seriously sexy show.
Monster Stomp tells a Jack the Ripper story again through song, dance, and amazing percussion performances. This is a crowd favorite as shown by the screaming fans during the one we saw- which was the last one of the night.
This didn’t deter the high energy of the dancers, nor the soulful vocals from the 2 leads. But the highlight here are the drummers who choreograph slamming knives into a wooden coffin along with intricate paths around each other making it look seamless but you know that’s anything but easy. What I love about this show is there’s something for everyone. There’s a lot of representation on that stage and you can tell there was a conscious effort from casting and directors to get the best for the role and not the usual cookie-cutter theme park performers. And I’m here for it.
Unfortunately, Cursed Lagoon only had a few showtimes that crossed with other things and we weren't able to catch this one but it’s held in the pearl divers pool so it’s sure to deliver some kind of creatures of the deep.
We caught a set of the Longshoremen performing in one of the seaside bars and enjoyed their interactions with patrons who stopped in for adult libations. These actors have a tight camaraderie with each other which shows in lighting-fast quips and insults to each other. The late-night shows get a little more tongue-in-cheek for adults, too.
Finally, the food and beverage offerings were much more plentiful than our previous findings. The first bar at entry featured mixed drinks including a pumpkin ginger fizz we thoroughly enjoyed… at $15 each… before tip. There’s also a series of grown-up drink pouches all named for each Siren icon- Hex, Flame, Frost, Scratch, and Darkness. These fruity mixes may give you a sugar overload rather than a buzz but if you’re into themed cocktails, it’s a fun option. Along with 7 Deadly Sins wine and seasonal brews, tastes are covered across the board.
Although, the bartenders should probably brush up on their event offerings as a few we asked had no idea what we were talking about when we asked just what the seasonal brews were. We’ll chalk it up to it being opening night and info may not have gotten to everyone. Just know, that if you come for cocktails, have deep pockets. A single beer ran us $17, before tip. We caught some of the snack options including the zombie taco (hot Cheetos dust, yum!), unfortunate teriyaki chicken (aptly named, meh), and Mac n’ cheese (I mean, it’s Mac n’ cheese!). Other items we saw on menus included a Vampire burger, Bloody ribs, and Sidewinder fries. Skip the pretzel skull. Cute idea, but not a great execution. To stretch your dollar HOS offers 2 sampling lanyard options- one for $75 and one for $40- in case you’re planning on visiting the food carts. I did miss the mealworm and cricket stand from last year. That was a fun experience!
The one thing about this year’s event that really stood out to me was the makeup, prosthetics, and costuming throughout. Beautiful airbrush work from Blue Whale Studios (Emmy-nominated team behind WandaVision) was so much more effective than just throwing a mask on everyone and saying go. (I’m looking at you theme park down the road.) It’s the kind of talent and effort you can really appreciate after you realize how much it’s missing elsewhere.
Although for its 3rd round, HOS Orlando is still in its growing years (Big Brother in Tampa debuted in 2000) the event seems to be growing and stretching in a positive way. It’s no small feat to contend with other heavy Halloween hitters in town but HOS has found some loyal fans making this an annual tradition already.
For tickets and info visit https://seaworld.com/orlando/events/howl-o-scream/