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Fear and fun on the rise at area theme parks
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Fear and fun on the rise at area theme parks

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After the area’s theme parks had to scale back or cancel their planned Halloween events last year, both Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion have brought back their Halloween celebrations with a vengeance this year. Both parks are offering new mazes, new shows and an abundance of ways to get scared during the spooky season.

BUSCH GARDENS

At Howl-O-Scream, the ambiance is that of a massive Halloween party, complete with party zones and BOOze bars. Matt Klepeisz, Busch Gardens’ public relations manager says, “This year is a return to the Howl-O-Scream that people remember from 2019 with even more scares. The scares are more intense, the theming is incredible, and it is a great opportunity to revel in the fun and fear of Halloween.”

With three new haunted houses and two returning favorites, four “terror-tories” and four shows, Busch Gardens has clearly used last year’s hiatus to think up some of the most shocking ways to welcome back guests. Busch Gardens’ newest mazes are a mixture of genuine fright and unique concepts, such as the “Killarney Diner,” which takes guests to a 1950s throwback diner full of horrors, as visitors witness monstrous actions, all while upbeat oldies blast throughout. The dissonance of the playful music mixed with the terrifying scenario that has been crafted makes this Busch Gardens’ best new maze.

Perfect for when the sun goes down is “Witch of the Woods,” a maze that takes visitors to the outskirts of the park, an intimidating sight before the attraction even begins. Once inside, villagers warn of the dangerous witch who has brought panic upon their homes, which only builds the anticipation for what could be around every corner. Finally, “Nevermore,” an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired haunt, is full of references to the writer’s classic gothic works, yet the tone sets a distinctive style from what one expects from a typical maze.

Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens

Also returning are two fantastic favorites: Dystopia, set in a post-apocalyptic world with some superb set design, and Circo Sinistro, with a circus theme that takes guests under the big top, and through a twisty, disconcerting puzzle full of unnerving sights that makes this the most frightening show on earth.

Yet just because you’re not in a maze doesn’t mean you can rest easy. Busch Gardens’ has new “terror-tories” full of creatures ready to make you jump out of your skin. The park has added two new areas, including the cursed village of “Hexed Hollow,” and the blood-splattered “Meat Market.”

But for those who want to sit back and be entertained by the ghouls and monsters of Busch Gardens, there are plenty of new and returning shows to enjoy. “Phantoms of the Festhaus” provides plenty of creatures singing popular hits, while the ensemble performance of “Skeletones” or the drum-beating “Zombeats” are more impressive than spooky.

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Before the Howl-O-Scream begins at night though, there’s plenty for kids to do around the park. “The Count’s Spooktacular” has everyone’s favorite “Sesame Street” character celebrating the holiday, and with costume parades, a hay maze and trick-or-treating available throughout the park, there’s a good deal of things to do for visitors of all ages.

KINGS DOMINION

Halloween Haunt at Kings Dominion

At Kings Dominion, the park is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Halloween Haunt. Not only does the park continue to put on an impressive spectacular, but this year’s Halloween Haunt truly feels like a celebration of these past two decades. With a combination of new and old attractions, Kings Dominion finds a way to pay homage to the event’s past, while still making it feel fresh.

Kings Dominion’s mazes are intended to terrify audiences at every turn, with excellent designs that misdirect the guest while some spooky creature comes after you unnoticed. “Condemned” feels like a nightmare straight from “Resident Evil,” while “Blood on the Bayou” presents a claustrophobic trip full of voodoo and swampy scares. “Cornstalkers” and “Trick or Treat” also take tried-and-true concepts, but with creatures packed around each corner, these mazes are chilling, never allowing the visitor an opportunity to let their guard down.

This year’s newest addition is full of disturbing takes on some familiar tales. “GrimmWoods, our newest maze, is based on some classic fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Not only is this an eerie new theme, but it is also in a secluded area of the park that most guests have not been to in many years. It is definitely a must-do haunted attraction this year,” says Scott Clemons, Kings Dominion’s director of marketing and sales.

Full of fun interactions with iconic characters, and a journey that takes you through surprising parts of the park, GrimmWoods is certainly a wonderful new addition to Halloween Haunt.

Kings Dominion’s various scare zones are just as impressive as its mazes, as “Cleaver Brothers Carnival” turns part of the park into a nightmarish carnival, and “Uprising” features zombies that will rise out of the fog to feast. Among these many fears are some fantastic shows, with new acts to catch like “Black Widow Burlesque” and the “Big Top Band” scattered throughout the park, while returning shows like “Blood Reign” and “Heads Will Roll” mix great choreography with favorite hits.

For kids, the “Peanuts” gang is ready to celebrate The Great Pumpkin Fest. Characters like Snoopy and Charlie Brown have meet-and-greets while dressed in their trick-or-treating best. There’s also Franklin’s Scarecrow Hollow hay maze, Sally’s Pumpkin Painting Patch and plenty of walk-around characters.

This year, both Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion have yet again done a phenomenal job of bringing terror to their respective parks with their events. Busch Gardens’ Halloween party aesthetic is a delight, and full of imaginative and unique mazes, while Kings Dominion creates some genuinely frightening haunts that show after 20 years, it still can find new ways to scare. If you want to have some legitimate nightmares come to life, enjoy a charming experience with the kids, or just want to be part of a massive Halloween party, both Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream and Kings Dominion’s Halloween Haunt are exceptional options.

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