Well, Yelp, you did it again. You hooked your Elite members UP. Free food? Free alcohol? Early admission? Front-of-the-line passes? The chance to experience something I’ve never done before? Yep, you spoiled us. I’m pretty sure after this going to a theme park will never be the same.
In case you’ve never heard of Yelp (or are new to the blog), Yelp is an awesome online community where members can rate and review restaurants/events/stores/etc.. Yelp Elite are the extreme Yelpers who are considered the “regulars” on the Yelp site. ANYONE can become a Yelp Elite, the only requirements are a Yelper who has have been yelping for at least 3+ months, consistently writing new reviews, and have that Yelp enthusiasm. Easy enough, right? And as a bonus to show how much Yelp appreciates their elite, once a month they host Yelp Elite events at various locations around their area. I’ve been Yelp Elite since April and have attended two pretty amazing events – one at Samurai Blue in May and another at Ciro’s in June.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to attend any of the other events over the summer due to traveling (but they did all look pretty sweet!). When I saw the announcement for the September Yelp Elite Event at Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens pop up in my email, I may or may not have let out a high squeal and jumped out of my chair. eekkk!!!
Howl-O-Scream is Busch Garden’s version of a haunted theme park. Every weekend from now until Halloween, they shut the park down to regular guests at 6:00 pm and transform the park into a scary, spooky maze of craziness for guests who purchase special Howl-O-Scream tickets. They keep all their roller coasters open, but also open a few themed haunted houses that guests can walk through and have various scare zones set-up around the park.
I grew up outside of Orlando and was a regular fixture at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (see 2008 and 2009 adventures), but I’d never been to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens. Heck, despite living in the same city as Busch Gardens for over a year and a half, I hadn’t been to the theme park since I visited Derek in college, way back in 2006! I was PUMPED for this new adventure. Once again, being a Yelp Elite ROCKS!!!
Last night was Howl-O-Scream’s opening night, which meant all the invited Yelp Elite members (and their guests) would be the first to experience this year’s spooky festivities. In honor of the 13th year, this year’s Howl-O-Scream had an unlucky superstition theme (i.e. 13 is an unlucky number, just as breaking a mirror is 7 years bad luck or jumping on a bed will cause you to lose your head).
As Yelp Elite VIP guests, we were asked to arrive before the park opened for a VIP party filled with free drinks and food (sweet)!
Since Derek was working late, he met us later at the park and fellow Elite Yelper Mary (who only recently gained the status – congrats!) and her husband gave me a lift. We gave them our names and they handed over our VIP badges, passes, and drink tickets.
We also got a cool goodie bag that was filled with some Howl-O-Scream goodies.
I made a beeline for the food.
I was STARVING at this point and loaded up two full plates of food. Unfortunately it was all really heavy, so I didn’t finish all of it. A lot of it tasted good going down (mmm… chicken tenders), but my stomach was not happy with the heavy choices later. Definitely should have stuck to the salads.
I didn’t capture a photo of it, but I also had some of the chocolate covered popcorn they were handed out. I could have ate my weight in that stuff (maybe another reason my stomach wasn’t happy with me?).
Second priority – drinks!
Not much of a selection, but I did have a red wine and then went back for a Bud Light Lime. They were handing out yard glasses with the beer.
I ended up refilling the yard with water and enjoyed beer flavored water the rest of the night.
While we were partying it up VIP style inside with our fellow Yelpers, it started to POUR outside. The VIP event ended at 8:00 and we stretched it out as long as possible, hoping the rain would pass. No dice. Luckily the Howl-O-Scream staff was prepared and started passing out sweet ponchos as we exited the VIP area.
What can I say? We ROCKED the poncho look. I think the yard cups and neck holders really pull the look together. It says “just because we’re locals, doesn’t mean we’re above being tourists for the night.”
And off we went to brave the rain.
(p.s. the poncho really did rock – my clothes were nice and dry all evening.)
Our VIP passes came with a few perks, such as the ability to skip the lines.
If you don’t have a VIP pass, you can purchase a “Front Line Fear Pass” to skip to the front of all the lines for the haunted houses and rides. The lines weren’t terrible last night (opening night + rain = low turn out), but they’re rumored to grow up to 2 hours during the busiest weekends leading up to Halloween. Back in the day my family used to pre-purchase the fast passes for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights so we stood a chance of actually seeing everything (instead of waiting in line the whole time). When it’s busy, the passes are worth the investment.
After hitting up our first two haunted houses (which were just okay – you could tell the houses still had some kinks to work out to really scare everyone walking through), this guy showed up.
Yay! Derek’s here!
AND all the roller coasters opened back up (they had shut them down when it was really pouring outside).
Cheetah Hunt just opened at Busch Gardens last summer. It’s the park’s latest and greatest attraction, so I was excited to finally take it for a test ride.
Holy cow! That coaster rocked! Definitely ranks up there with my top three favorite coasters of all time (right after Rip Ride Rockit Roller Coaster at Universal and the Superman ride at Six Flags). Loved the big drops and loved the high speed. However, riding a coaster in the rain? Ouch.
I think our faces say it all. The rain drops were like daggers and I had difficulty keeping my eye open. The ONLY downside of the coaster.
However, that didn’t stop us from riding it again.
(notice how I look exactly the same in both)
We hit another haunted house, then hopped on Montu.
Fun fact: Montu was my very first roller coaster when I was 11 or 12. Awww…. memories.
My FAVORITE haunted house from the night was the 3D house.
And not only because we made the 3D glasses look good.
Actually, the glasses were pretty sweet. They made all the bight colors pop and glow, giving us all almost a drunk-eye feeling while wearing them through the haunted house. Plus, I was so busy focusing on the glowing props, that I had more than one clown jump out and scare the heck out of me. Nothing scarier than a glowing clown jumping out of no where.
On top of the houses, there were scare zones around the park where costumed characters follow you, call out to you, and try to scare the hell out of you.
They’ll also pose for a picture with you if you ask nicely.
Our last ride of the night – Sheikra (aka the coaster known for the huge drop at the beginning and not much else).
What a blast! With our VIP passes we were able to see the whole park in a little more than 3 hours, without them we probably would have been there until closing at 1:30. I’m telling you – Yelp spoiled us! I’m not sure Howl-O-Scream will ever be the same!
Thank you Yelp and Howl-O-Scream for the awesome evening. Despite the rain, we still managed to have an amazing time and got the most we could out of our Howl-O-Scream experience. Now I’m pumped more than ever for the Halloween season to being. Witches? Goblins? And Vampires? Bring them on!
Have you ever been to Howl-o-Scream? Halloween Horror Nights? Another theme park’s version or scaring guests?