Review: Howl-O-Scream 2021
A new terror has risen from the tides of the family fun attraction known as SeaWorld. Howl-O-Scream makes its debut this Halloween, and it’s horrifyingly memorable. Before Howl-O-Scream, San Diego had had such attractions as The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park and Scare Ventures. But as far as “destination multi-haunts” go, there was only Scream Zone and the revamped The Haunted Hotel: Disturbance. Haunt-Seekers in San Diego County now have a new Halloween theme park attraction and potential mainstay to attend.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Review: Scare Zones
Howl-O-Scream offers two kinds of Scare Zones: the traditional Static Scare Zone where the actors stay confined within a certain zone usually next to their props; and a new concept called the “Roaming Scare Zone.” These scare actors roam around the park in their respective themed costumes. We like this idea, because it really gets rid of the idea of a “safe zone.” We are all for attending a “scary theme park” with the expectation of getting scared no matter where we stand. We guess if you want to feel safe, you can run to the bathroom or enter a store.
According to the SeaWorld website, they offer six static Scare Zones and four roaming ones. It can be a bit challenging to tell which one you are in unless the props and surroundings reveal the theme. For example, on the website it describes “Graveyard” like this: “There are evils that can’t stay buried forever. Some of this cemetery’s long-term guests are dying to meet you”; and it describes “The Hauntings” like this: “This forest is not what it seems. Evil is watching…hiding in plain sight. You’ll need more than luck to avoid being taken.” Therefore, you must be prepped to know what to look for so you can differentiate which scare zone is which and what a roaming scare zone is. To give a couple hints about the ones described above; you’ll know it’s the graveyard when you see a mausoleum inside a tunnel. However, there were so many people walking through that we almost missed it. For the latter scare zone, we assume it took place in the area with natural trees which was close to the entrance to the Simon’s Slaughterhouse maze. As for the roaming scare zones, just look for a bunch of similarly dressed actors without any surrounding theming props or sets.
The six Static Scare Zones are Deadly Toys, Graveyard, The Sirens, La Llorona, First Fright, and The Hauntings. The Sirens stood out to us because of the theming, the pirate ships, and the amount of mist; we could clearly see mermaids sitting on rocks. This was nicely done. First Fright was fun because of killer clowns who aren’t afraid to get in your face; plus, they have their school bus in the background, surrounded by fog and appropriate lighting.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Review: Mazes
Nightmare Experiment tells a story of a once happy and calm Sunny Meadows Hospital transitioning to the complete opposite. An experiment has gone awry and affected both the staff and the patients. The rooms are themed appropriately, and we could clearly tell whether we were in the staff area or a patient area. We saw patients of all types and in all areas of the hospital set. This is a brightly lit maze by haunt standards. Therefore, there was very little room for error in terms of set decor and props. With spacious aisles and walkways that are also easy to see, this maze not only made you almost feel like you were in an actual sanitarium/hospital; it was also ADA compliant.
In Death Water Bayou, the maze starts off in a cemetery with a Victorian funeral procession; what could go wrong – right? As we turned the corner after the funeral scene, we saw gates with a large arch that read “CEMETERY” – but we were on the backside, looking out. We don’t know what’s creepier: the anticipation of passing through cemetery gates or suddenly realizing you’re already inside the cemetery with no escape. As the haunt continues, it encompasses a deep southern/Louisianan feel – everything from the cemetery to the bog, to the swamp witch and Voo Doo and black magic rooms. This is another complete haunt that did not veer off from its title.
Simon’s Slaughterhouse is perhaps the most grisly maze on the premises, but it is also fun. This is your old school gory haunted house with a butcher theme. Inside this meat packing plant, an evil has occurred where the animals are fighting back. What is fun about it is the writing on the walls before each turn. Since it’s Simon’s Slaughterhouse, the font on the walls incorporates a bit of “Simon Says,” warning you about the next room: i.e. “Simon Says Chop Chop.” Eventually, you’ll get to “Meat Simon” if you are able to somehow survive the butcher and the freezer.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Review: Show
The featured show at the Nautilus Amphitheater is Vampire Circus, which is blends dark comedy with acrobatic and circus feats. This show is impressive to watch with gravity defying stunts and also entertaining with comedic sequences in between the stunts. It provides a great rest-stop so that you can continue to evade monsters from the roaming scare zones. We enjoyed the opening sequence where the ring leader brought out all his ghouls and goons – similar to theme parks unleashing their monsters at the beginning of the evening. Of course, some of them ran into the stands, giving the audience more than they bargained for.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Review: Other Activities
The rides are open for anyone who wants to experience them in the dark. There are also three themed bars and an underground dance club. So if you’re really scared of these roaming scare zones, you can escape to one of these places.
Howl-O-Scream 2021 Review: Conclusion
We attended Seaworld: Howl-O-Scream with no expectations because it is a first year haunt. Many parts of the park are bare and empty; the event is concentrated on the mid to upper east quadrant from the entrance. For a first attempt, SeaWorld got it down. We highly enjoyed the scare zones and loved the idea of “roaming scare zones.” Though it could be challenging to differentiate the static scare zones from the roaming ones, there is nothing bad we can say about their performances; each actor seemed to be into their role, and it felt as if there were more actors in a single scare zone here than some places have in their entire park.
As for the mazes, we did not expect them to have as complete a feel as they did. There were no noticeable black plywood walls or empty dark corridors. On top of the full staff of actors, the sets and props were appropriate to the themes, and everything made sense.
Besides expanding to fill out the park, our wish for the future is to have more visible signage and directions. Since there is no physical map, only mobile, if you have a weak internet connection or no juice, then you are out of luck trying to navigate the park, because it is a pretty sizable one. Some arrows pointing to scare zones and mazes would be appreciated. Larger/taller signage for the Vampire Circus show would have been nice as well.
Lastly, we would like to see the business hours expanded to 1am or 2am. With so many scare zones and four major attractions, it would be hard to do everything with a general admission pass. Even with a front-of-the-line pass, you may feel rushed, especially if you enjoy lingering in the scare zones and watching the show, which ran for over 30 minutes.
Howl O Scream 2021 Ratings:
SeaWorld: Howl-O-Scream reminded us a lot of Knott’s Halloween Haunt and, if expanded, it could give Knott’s a run for its money. The pricing for general admission is comparable; front of the line access is much less as well. It is a great option for San Diegans to Halloween theme park without having to drive over an hour to reach it.
Howl-O-Scream continues at SeaWorld until Halloween Night. Tickets range from 44.99 to 54.99 and Front of Line starts at 29.00. The address is 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, CA 92109. For more information, visit: https://seaworld.com/san-diego/events/howl-o-scream/