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Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW BGE) Discussion Thread

P. 455: Opening night of Howl-o-Scream!

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Been a lurker here for a long time, It's about time I started posting on TPR.

 

I'm planning a trip to BGW October 4-5 and I'm wondering what to expect. I know that Halloween events draw more customers, especially towards the end of October. What order should I hit all the rides? I know in some parks this can make a huge difference. It's been over 10 years since I have been to BGW so there is a lot I need to see. Also any inexpensive hotel recommendations? I'm looking for something with free breakfast too....a coaster enthusiast needs unlimited food .

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It shouldn't be to bad since it's early in October. I went last year in late September and the crowds weren't bad overall. I suggest hitting Verbolten first as it usually has one of the longest lines. Loch Ness and Alpengeist usually tend to have the shortest lines or walk ons so I you shouldn't have to be in any hurry to hit up those rides. If you want to ride Mach Tower, do it while you have the chance, that ride is unpredictable.

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I would count on Saturday night being very busy, thanks to Howl-o-Scream (I usually avoid the park on October Saturdays). But there's always Quick Queue, which does include haunted houses. They have some different dining options during HOS, as well, such at Igor's Fright Feast (a buffet with a show) in Ireland and the Blood Banquet (a buffet in Germany with vampire characters lurking about).

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Blogger Preview Night for Howl-o-Scream!

 

Halloween has come early to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, as Howl-o-Scream opened on Friday, September 12! Halloween is getting to be more like Christmas, in that parks and retailers get into it a little earlier each year, and why not? This is a big money-making holiday for theme parks.

 

BGW held a "preview" for the park and haunt blogging communities that night, too, with a comp meal at Igor's Fright Feast, reserved seating for Monster Stomp on Ripper Row, and "Escort VIP" access for three mazes: 13 Your Number's Up (which focuses on 13 types of "phobias," ranging from fear of the dark to fear of the dentist), Deadline (which explores an excavation for a new subway goes terribly wrong), and Cutthroat Cove (which features, you guessed it, scurvy pirates). The remaining mazes are Bitten (vampires), Root of All Evil (a "possessed" garden and greenhouse), and Catacombs (a brush with ghouls under the streets of Paris). These are all returning mazes, and for my money, the best of the bunch is Catacombs, thanks to its especially creepy atmosphere that gives the ghouls plenty of good hiding places. Root of All Evil is the weakest, as much of the cast there needs to learn the difference between "scary" and "annoying." (Lots of banging on an oil drum constitutes the latter, by the way.)

 

So, what's new at HOS this year? The major news is Monster Stomp on Ripper Row in the Globe Theatre in England. This marks the third version of the original Monster Stomp, which was a small-level show in what used the be the Canadian Palladium in New France (where the scrambler is now). It moved to the Abbeystone Theatre in Ireland for a number of years as Monster Stomp Revamped, until it was replaced by Fiends. There are no vampires in the latest version, but Jack the Ripper gets a lot of play (not to mention victims). The show features a few holdovers from past versions, such as the dancing-skeleton bit, but this version is "darker" than in years' past and makes good use of the new projection, sound, and lighting technology in the Globe, which was upgraded for the London Rocks show this year. I'm not a "park show person," but I did enjoy the latest version of Monster Stomp. Yes, it features the same selection of 1980s songs that you've heard before, but the staging is quite elaborate, and it moves at a quick pace. I'm sure many of the original show's fans are glad that Monster Stomp has returned to BGW.

 

There's a new "Terror-tory" (that is, scare zone), as well: Wendigo Woods in New France. A "wendigo" is a demonic "man beast" in Native American folklore (particularly in Canada). The scare zone is supposed to be some sort of military installation built to contain the wendigo; of course, something goes TERRIBLY WRONG. It's tough to gage things on opening night, as the park will tweak houses and scare zones during HOS, but this one needs some work. The military types did yell at guests a bit, and others whimpered about needing to saved. There's an animatronic wendigo in a cage that didn't do anything when we walked by, but I did bump into a friend in the park that night who did see it in action. I have no idea whether there's a wendigo character wandering around the scare zone, but maybe we just walked through there at the wrong time and missed it (I'll be checking it out again later).

 

The Blood Banquet at the Vampire Point Hotel in Germany also has a new show--and a better menu that Igor's Fright Feast. Both cost $22 for adults for the show and the buffet, by the way.

 

Here's a look at what's new at Howl-o-Scream 2014. My thanks to Koy, Emily, and the rest of the park's PR staff for inviting us to the park and giving us a chance to experience this year's event.

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We entered through uber secret Gate A next to Ireland.

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First stop--food (and a show).

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"You'll be seated behind the abnormal brain at table 31, sir."

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Here's the menu. The food was just OK (the spice cake was pretty good, though). I think this menu is meant more for families and kids; the Blood Banquet has a more interesting menu. But you can get beer and booze at both meals.

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Here's the buffet area.

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This show is an offshoot of Fiends over in the Abbeystone Theatre in which Igor, Dr. Freakenstein's assistant, has opened his own restaurant and night club.

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Igor really knows how to make an entrance.

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But even though his name is on the sign, . . .

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. . . and he gets some help from his buddy Swampy (another character from Fiends), . . .

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. . . it's all about the Naughty Nurses.

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It looks like Igor has given up on trying to upstage the Nurses' obvious assets . . .

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. . . or has he?

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The show itself is OK as a smaller, more family friendly version of Fiends. But I wish they had curry wurst on the menu like they did last year. I'm also a bit surprised that the cast didn't come out and work the room for guest photos (as they do during the Sesame Street show and meal during the summer).

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Whoa! Never mess with some dude who carries around an eagle!

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This way to Ripper Row.

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Just turn left under all the Jack-o-Lanterns.

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Welcome to Ripper Row.

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Noted!

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"Ghastly murder"? My god--where?

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This is the star of Howl-o-Scream this year.

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Yes, it's all about Saucy Jack.

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Eww!

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I remember this headless umbrella lady from past years.

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I don't know Jack. Really, I've never met Jack the Ripper, so I don't know him.

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The Ripper strikes again!

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The "guys doing percussion on a coffin" bit is from previous versions of the show.

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I'm sure a lot of folks were happy to see the return of the dancing skeletons, but they are bit jarring when compared to the darker tone of the rest of the show.

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Aw, isn't that sweet . . .

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. . . eww! Jack spoils yet another romantic moment.

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Beware the "boogie, boogie, boogie" eyes!

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Well, looks like everything's pretty much gone to Hell now.

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"We hope you all enjoyed the show . . .

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. . . because horrible death awaits you outside!" More to come.

Edited by cfc
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So, what else is going on at Howl-o-Scream?

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"Whew! I'm glad I escaped all those maniacs in the theatre . . . OH MY GOD!

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We beat a hasty retreat from Ripper Row . . .

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. . . only to find this guy at the end of 13 Your Number's Up.

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What? He's the park's director of entertainment! I just heard his give a talk at the Monster Stomp show, the poor man.

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So, what about Wendigo Woods?

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Perhaps there's an answer here.

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This is one of the yelling soldiers . . .

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. . . and this is one of the whimpering ones.

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But where is the "Dangerous Specimen"?

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Yeah, wendigos are such slobs. They don't even wash their hands after using the toilet.

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"We do not 'drink beer' at this installation, sir! We perform 'thermal research'!"

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All the better to watch wendigos from, I guess.

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Unless I miss my guess . . .

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. . . this is the "Dangerous Specimen."

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"Wendigo no like truck!"

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The other side of Wendigo Woods.

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Meanwhile, over in Germany, Count Valdtastic is getting his crew into shape.

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I heard that this show is an improvement over last year's; however, for me, it's all about the tri tip on the buffet.

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So what else is happening at HOS? Well, there are vampires on the prowl.

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And vampires that serve cocktails.

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On Demon Street in France, it's all about fire and chainsaws.

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"Er, boo and stuff."

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The Demonic DJ is back.

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As is the merchandise.

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Again, with the "Keep Calm and" shirts. This one refers to the spooky "Cursed" song in the commercials for HOS.

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Aye, thar be pirates, too.

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Well, good night--if I can survive Ripper Row long enough to get back to my car.

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Alright did my first walkthrough of all the scare zones this year. I stayed in each area for about 15-20 minutes (more for the better ones) and hung around a few actors to see how they worked. Made a few mental notes about the props and scenery. Overall I had a good time.

 

Let's start from first to worst.

 

Demon Street (5/5) - The Hot Wheels party by day cranks up the heat at night. Scares are plenty and the actors do an EXCELLENT job of working off each other. Two chainsaws were roaming around but the non-chainsaw guys were just at good getting group after group. Did a bit of people-watching and it was very entertaining. Flames on the rooftops still look great, although I felt there were more flames last year. The biggest issue is that there were only 4-5 actors roaming but they were very effective.

 

Vampire Point (4.5/5) - This was not the crew I saw Friday night. Even though all the actors were out in the open, like Demon Street, they all played off each other very well, causing distractions and giving good scares. The area was also very well-staffed with enough actors to cover the entire area. The actress right at the Rhinefeld gate and her partner were a fantastic duo. The biggest thing that keeps this area from getting a 5 is the complete lack of props for the actors to use or to build the atmosphere on. Last year there were a few shacks around the plaza, the windows were boarded up all over the place, and the clock tower looked great. This year, the area is unthemed outside of Blood Banquet and the statues on the Rhinefeld gate.

 

Wendigo Woods (4/5) - The actors were doing a much better job under the cover of night and the makeup looks much nicer. That being said, it's still kinda hard to differentiate between the actors and guests (not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing). I think they could've added a bungee scare and a few wendigoes and it would work better. Some of the actors played off each other quite nicely but I could tell there were a couple missed opportunities here and there.

 

Ripper Row (2.5/5) - The perennial BGW Fans favorite was relatively weak IMO. No umbrella lady photo ops and only 5 actors roaming the entire area. They did a good job of interacting with the guests and snagged a few scares but the short staffing sorta ruins the area for me. Not sure if I liked the makeup either (they all pretty much looked like they were coming in for vampires but ended up getting sent to Ripper Row instead). Plus I expected a bit more theming than the dismembered body part arch thingy and the false building in front of the Globe. I think the park did a better job of theming the area last year.

 

Ports of Skull (1/5) - This isn't really a scare zone/Terror...tory as it is a total joke. The only actors that had any effective scares were the ones on the troll bridge. Everyone else pretty much stood around and was largely pretty friendly (which is nice and all but it doesn't really make the atmosphere any scary or put me on edge). The bungee guy was away and the theming is almost nonexistent outside of the bar and the photo op. And the makeup is terrible too. Pix of the pirates don't do it justice. I tried to keep myself from cracking up when I saw them.

 

So final verdict...

1. Add more props. The park seriously had a head start on HOS prep and it STILL felt like they were lacking decorations in MANY places. That's pretty disappointing.

2. Hire new makeup people. Everyone outside of Wendigo and Demon Street looked exactly the same, just with different clothes. The pirates were especially bad.

3. Staffing, as always, is an issue. Keeping current park employees from joining scare squad was a HUGE mistake.

4. Festa is a complete joke AGAIN. How does one of the best areas during CT manage to get away with no theming during HOS? Seriously guys. Here's to hoping Diavalo next year means a better looking HOS.

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^I think part of the problem with Ripper Row's theming is that they don't want to cover up the Union Snacks shop. As I recall, there was a "Scotland Yard" facade there last year. I might go back to night and check out the Terror-tories again--opening night is always a little tricky.

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I was there for a few hours on Sunday night, and the staff in the Terror-tories were doing a better job than on Friday. The Wendigo animatronic does, indeed, lurch back and forth a bit. I still think they need an actual "monster" running around in addition to the military types. More was going on in Ripper Row, as well.

 

The mazes were more active, too.

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Did all 5 mazes last night and a second Bitten walkthrough. Ranking from first to worst.

 

Bitten (5/5) - the maze everyone loves to hate comes out on top Sunday night. Consistent scares and the atmosphere is still great. Did a solo run before close and everyone pretty much wanted a piece of me. It was awesome. Some of the actors were a little off but not bad for opening weekend. This was pretty much the only maze that didn't seem to suffer from any major staffing issues both times I walked through.

 

Cut Throat Cove (4/5) - maze still screams Cutback Cove, but the actors did a pretty good job overall (aside from a few scenes here and there). Just wish they'd drop the hanging things and actually focus on making the maze look legit instead of a backyard haunt or a repurposed Fear Fair. Also a lot of dead room where the actors were supposed to be.

 

Root of All Evil (2/5) - Ehh. Some of the actors were decent enough, but didn't get as many scares as I expected. Wish the rest of the guille suit guys and chainsaw guys were back since there was only one of each in the entire maze. My friends loved it though. If they brought back the living statues, the alternate paths, and the pond guys, it would be so much better. Some areas felt really short staffed.

 

Deadline (2/5) - Still lots of dead room and bleh lighting (luckily I went through at night so my eyes adjusted). At least the maze looks nice. Subway car was cool as always though and firecracker guy always gets a jump out of me. You could tell most of the actors were pretty new at this.

 

Catacombs (1/5) - My friend said it best. This maze is staffed with 15-year olds. There were a few good scares and as usual, the change in layout is always nice, but the actors mostly weren't that great. The whispering at the start of the maze was pretty much the best scare in the entire maze and that's pretty much just an audio track. One of the employees had to light the way for us because the maze ended up getting conga-lined a few times. Huge disappointment since this maze has been VERY consistent the past few years (aside from opening weekend last year). I just hope this whole lack of scares is just the maze going through first weekend growing pains.

 

13 (1/5) - Went through the maze as the sun was going down. Should be renamed Fear of Empty Rooms. A good scare every once in a while, but not enough to really do much for me. The first few rooms should be called "Fear of getting lost to the point where you accidentally wander into the employee break area" and the room right after the bedroom should be called "Fear of bathroom/locker room smells". I felt so bad for the actress having to sit there all night. Her clothes probably reeked at the end of that. Did I forget to mention the half-themed rooms? Even the waiting room was missing the chairs and table.

 

Overall opening weekend thoughts.

- Short staffing as usual (or everyone's just on break)

- Half-themed rooms in some of the mazes. Seriously Busch, you got a head start on the whole HOS decor. There's NO excuse for half-themed rooms.

- Allow current employees to hire for HOS. A lot of the actors from previous years are gone because they can't work HOS so its all new talent. That usually leads to weaker mazes and scare zones.

- Fix the lighting in some of the mazes or staff them to guide people, especially after sundown when its still bright outside. I've run into enough walls, people's ankles, and accidentally wandered into a few break rooms by mistake simply because its so hard to see.

 

All three shows are running great this year. Go see them now! Shame the park cut outdoor shows in the Italy restaurant. Dig it Up was good and Miracles was AMAZING.

 

Saw Chuck leaving Cut Throat Cove. Said a quick hi.

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I think the big problem with Root of All Evil is that it doesn't have an ending. You get the feeling that it's building to some big finish, but all you get is an annoying walk through strobe lights.

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My problem with Root is that it's just not scary. The unique scares they had in 2012 were replaced with really boring, generic scares you find in all the other mazes. If you combined the atmosphere in the current maze with the unique scares they had in 2012 (the living statues, the people in the ponds, the split pathway with awesome jump scares on both sides), you'd easily have one of the best mazes in the park.

 

I also noticed everyone's timing was a little off so the scares were either predictable or they ended up being ineffective. Or maybe that's just me. I'll check back a few times during the season to see how the actors hold up.

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^I haven't cared much for Root of All Evil in any of its incarnations; it just never made any sense to me. There's nothing particularly scary about a greenhouse full of standard flowers you can see growing in anyone's backyard.

 

Now, if they had a mutant man-eating plant, then you might have something.

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Not so breaking news, but somebody complained in the VA Gazette that the severed head props the park placed everywhere are offensive due to recent events, so the park promptly removed them. Such a shame.

 

Here's the article on WAVY to back it up. Click.

 

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — Busch Gardens Williamsburg has removed some of its Howl-O-Scream displays after complaints from park guests that headless figures were reminiscent of the recent ISIS beheadings.

 

Park officials said in a statement Wednesday that the Halloween-themed displays are sometimes graphic, but they’re fictional and not intended to provide commentary on world events. But in the court of public opinion, views are mixed.

 

“That’s not … consistent with the Halloween spirit at all,” said Hartley Bond, who took notice when the image of severed heads made its way into a local paper.

 

But Norman England, another park attendee, doesn’t think world events come into play at Howl-O-Scream.

 

“It’s Halloween. I would not associate one with the other, you know? That’s how I feel about it. People go there for the scariness, and what’s happening in the Far East is entirely different.”

 

According to a Busch Gardens, the props in this year’s event were designed and purchased several months ago, before the ISIS beheadings. Despite that, a park spokesman said some of the props have the unintended consequence of appearing insensitive and are being removed.

 

“I think it was good that they pulled it,” Bond said. “I think it was out of order and insensitive to public sentiment. So, I’m glad they responded.”

 

The full statement from Busch Gardens is as follows:

 

Many of the scenes depicted at Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream are graphic in nature, but they are fictional and are not intended to provide commentary on current world events. The props in this year’s event were designed and purchased several months ago. In light of recent events, some of these props have the unintended consequence of appearing insensitive and are being removed. Busch Gardens apologizes for any offense they may have caused.

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