Best Virginia Haunt Experience: Busch Gardens vs Kings Dominion

Over the last two weeks I have had the pleasure of experiencing both Howl-O-Scream and Halloween Haunt on back to back days. The first weekend I did Kings Dominion on a Saturday and Busch Gardens on a Sunday, and the following weekends Busch Gardens on a Saturday and Kings Dominion on a Sunday. Each night was a different experience. I am going to break down each event by what they have to offer and rate those offerings. WARNING: There will be spoilers in this story!

Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream

Every years Busch Gardens Williamsburg wins awards for Landscaping. It is one of the most beautiful parks on the East Coast. It is such a relaxing park that offers up high level themeing, well produced shows, and a few thrills for the family. I am a huge fan of most everything Busch Gardens does. Howl-O-Scream has been a fall staple for the park for many years. Let’s break it down and I will tell you what I like, and don’t like about their Halloween event.

13: Your Number’s Up
(2 out of 5)
This maze is based off your superstitions and fears. Clowns, bugs, heights, and more. The house has been up for a few years and I have never been a fan. If you look at the line for this attraction, you could make the argument that it’s the most popular maze in the park. It could also have a long line due to the slow pace of the house. The maze is located in Ireland’s Europe in the Air ride building and queue line. The maze takes 13 fears and lets you walk right in the middle of them. Some fears you can pick out right away. A few are lost on me and I don’t understand them. This maze has very little scare because half of it is located in the rocky queue line of the Europe in the Air ride which is very long, and narrow making it hard to build or high scares. This is a maze that opens early and you want to get it done before the line overflows in to the parking lot

(3 out of 5)
This maze has been around and untouched for as long as I can remember. The maze used to be part of a larger section that included another house and a scare zone. Lines used to get crazy for these attractions because you waited in 1 line and did all 3 back to back. Now the only thing left is Bitten. The maze is the second best themed maze the park has to offer and is a really long maze. This maze is located in Germany. It is housed in the old ride station of Drachen Fire. The thing that drives me crazy about this maze is how long it has gone unchanged. I feel like people catch on to the fact that is has not changed and know what to expect from the maze. A large chunk of the Busch Gardens general public is season pass holders, ( Coming up, I will tell you how this really hurts Busch) and they know where the scares are.

(1 out of 5)
This is the worst maze in the park. It is very small. It is located in a back stage section of there large theater located in France. It has some good theme elements and one of the best scares in the park (as you leave the maze), but due to its size and lack of good scare time, it is my pick of worst.

Cut Throat Cove
(3 out of 5)
This house is the best house Busch has to offer. Located in the far back corner of Festa Italia, this pirate themed maze is a very long outdoor maze. The maze is best if you go at night since it is out doors. The one think it lacks most is monsters. It seems like the bigger the house, the less noticeable the monsters are. This has the best detail out of any of the mazes at Busch

(3 out of 5)
So imagine you are going in to a dig site for a subway station or tunnel. That is what this maze is trying to capture, but for the most part I think it’s lost on the General Public. Some of the maze has been unchanged since the previous maze, and some parts were changed to adapt the new theme. Best scare in the park is when people are walking by the toilet, and it explodes on them.

Root of all Evil
(2.5 out of 5)
A maze like this should be easy for the Gardens to get right, but never really seams to pan out well. The best scares in this maze come from people who blend in to the plant life you find around the maze. The themeing is good, but its not scary. This is a maze you want to do after dark because its outside. I feel like this maze tries the hardest to scare. Every time I go throw it, it has the most people. But the people who are in it are not good at scaring. Some try to scare EVERY person, not knowing that by doing so they give out there position EVERY time so no one is scare.

Demon Street
(4.5 out of 5)
All I can say is WOW. This scare zone, located in France, turns up the level of themeing. This is by far the best scare zone in the park. Taking the idea that France is on fire, they put fake flames on roof tops, and use lighting effects to really make the area look as if its on fire. They also use fog that has smells burned in to it to make it smell like everything is burning. The scares are good in this area as well because its such a small compact area. Ride Griffon and check this area out at night!

Ports of Skull
(2 out of 5)
Lame. This scare zone covers a big area, and does it with very little monsters. They have some great photo spots, a bar to wet your whistle at, but lacks in a scary vibe.

Ripper Row
(4 out of 5)
This area is located at the very front of the park. Really great area because its compact and already highly themed. The idea is your walking the streets of London and Jack the Ripper is lose. The best scares however come from the ladies and there loud fans. Very unsuspecting tool for scares.

Vampire Point
(3 out of 5)
This is a very small area with a few good scares. There is not a lot of effort put in to themeing the area, but the monsters often have the best makeup. This area is best watched well enjoying dinner at the Blood Banquet

Wendigo Woods
(2 out of 5)
This place SUCKS. This is the new attraction for Busch this year, and other then the entrances to the area, I feel like all they did was toss up some blue netting. Very week scare zone, with very few monsters. Half the monsters are military people pushing you around. My least favorite part of both haunts is this zone.

(5 out of 5)
I have nothing bad to say about Fiends. It grew as my second favorite show to my first. I love how it is so re-watchable. I love the actors (especially Igor), I love the naughty nurses, and I love the production. This is my favorite thing at both haunts.

Night Beats
(2.5 out of 5)
This is my least favorite show at the park, but that does not mean its bad. One of the things Busch does very well is shows, and if the worst show is still good, then they are doing something right. I understand the story line, and like the actors, but not a big fan of the songs used in the first part of the show. It picks up towards the end.

Monster Stomp on Ripper Row
(3 out of 5)
I have been watching Monster Stomp since its beginning. This is the third and biggest stage it has used at the park. This year we lost some “stomping” and replaced it with singing. I really enjoy the projection effects the show uses, but it lost something in its last switch. I don’t feel like it’s the show we all grew to love. It’s not a bad show. Just not the show we used to know.

Blood Banquet – $22.00
(4.5 out of 5)
This is not just food. Its food with a show. The show is cheesy and funny with likeable characters. The food is amazing, and unique. This is not food you will find any other time during the year. The cast is able to do small improve to make the show rewatchable. Its worth the money you pay to eat, and makes me happy to see two departments like food and entertainment working together for an experience.

Quick Queue – $40
Price is comparable to Kings Dominion, but with Kings Dominion offering more houses, and the new Skeleton Key rooms, Kings Dominion takes the cake for their Fright Lane.

There are some other small things that really make Howl-O-Scream stand out.
– Inoculation Station: a picture opportunity with naughty nurses, and a chance to get a Jello Shot
– Crow’s Nest Grill: Great hotdogs and some Spiced Rum soaked Bacon
– Open Casket: a Vamp bar with great themed drinks

Over all review of Howl-O-Scream is just okay. They have great themed food, and entertainment, but when it comes to being scared, they need more monsters and need to instruct them better on how to do it. Over the last 5 years we have seen more and more houses and scare zones disappear and are not replaced. This is disappointing because it seems like there events draws so much more people. Right now both Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens offer there Halloween event free to season pass holders. I think both really want to make that jump to an upchaged event, but are waiting to see what the other will do. Busch Gardens was able to do this very easily with Christmas Town because it was something new and could start doing it with the up charge. Making both these events an upcharge is a good idea, because that means more money can be used to make the events better. This event is dyeing and I really only see it getting worst, unless we see them make the upcharge jump.

Kings Dominion Halloween Haunt

Kings Dominion has been in the fast lane of Halloween for the last 5 years. About the time Busch started losing a grip on Halloween, Kings Dominion put all their chips in by hiring Haunt specific people who could work on the event year round. Since then we have seen incredible detail in the new houses, and revamp of old ones. Scare zones with from simple fog and lights, to elaborate set pieces, and structured themes. Kings Dominion is raising the bar for other VA haunts to try to follow.

Maze of Madness
(4 out of 5)
This new maze takes place in the bumper car building. The theme is very similar to season 2 of American Horror Stories. You have a doctor who is doing some experimenting. The detail is incredible in this house. The scares are just as good. Watching some of the monsters use the props in this house and the way the move or position there body is scary.

This house also has a skeleton key room that is located right as you walk in to the waiting room of the hospital. You are escorted to the left and down the hall to a room. You are met by a man in a dipper. He instructs you to look throw a bin of dirty dippers to find a key to exit the room. The small is down right nasty. Once you leave the room, you are dumped right back in to the story line where you left off.

Zombie High
(3.5 out of 5)
I love the idea of this maze. A high school over run by zombies. You make your way in to different class rooms. Well doing this you here a monster giving announcements over the PA system. There is so much you can do with this theme. My only complaint is its too small. They don’t have a lot of room to work with and the size does not make you feel like you’re in a high school.

The skeleton key room in this maze is a claustrophobia room. One of those long hallways with inflatable walls on each side that you have to push your way throw. The big difference in this room is it’s almost like a maze.   It’s very hard to find your way out!

Corn Stalkers
(5 out of 5)
BEST MAZE EVER! Every year the Haunt crew at Kings Dominion does something different to this maze, and every year it gets better and better. This year along with some big changes in the maze itself, the really did a work up on the queue line you stand in. The really make you feel part of the scare before you even enter the maze. Once in the maze you have to find your way in the corn with a ton of monsters jumping out at you.

This was not the greatest skeleton key room. I am not sure the point of it, but we were split up and had to find our way in a maze of white walls before entering the corn field. Once we got to the corn field we then had to enjoy the maze without the company of your group, but in the group of strangers that were walking by when you excited the skeleton key room.

Blue Ridge Bloodbath
(3 out of 5)
You get the joy of riding the antique cars well being scared on this one. Its not really a maze, there are some scare that could happen. The worst part about this attraction is its very limited capacity. It is outside so you want to wait tell its dark, but once it is dark the line is crazy long. Interesting, this year they used a lot of the part of the Minors Revenge maze that did not come back this year.

No Vacancy
(4 out of 5)
I love the level of themeing in this maze. It’s crazy how detail it is and some of the cool high tech effects that are used. This is also one of the houses that has a crazy big facade on the outside of it that really makes you feel like you’re going in to something scary.

Club Blood
(4 out of 5)
This is about as risque as Kings Dominion is willing to get when it comes to adding sexy to its Haunt. Over the years we have seen the haunt get better and more detail has been added, but one thing that has not changed is the sexy cage dancing vampires. Busch Gardens has really pushed sexy with their naughty nurses and they definitely take the prize for “Sexiest” Halloween event. This maze is one of my favorites every year.

The Skeleton Key room on this maze is by far my favorite. Midway in the maze, you are instructed in to a privet bar area with a vampire pouring blood shots in a shot glass. You are instructed to drink, and when you do you are then aloud to throw up if needed. I gagged like crazy, but managed to keep my turkey leg down. This is what Haunts need. I am not scared easily, more so when going in to a haunted house. But if you can make me feel uncomfortable… YOU WIN! Making me drink nasty stuff = Uncomfortable. Hot girls flirting with me = Uncomfortable. Sticking my hands in to hold and having no idea what’s in them = Uncomfortable.

Doll Factory
(3 out of 5)
I feel like this maze was the first to be really highly themed. But over the years has been unchanged. The monsters still have some scares in the house, but for the most part we see them coming due to the fact we have been here before. This was once one of my favorites, but due to the lack of changes its falling a bit. Still well themed, and very detailed.

Slaughter House
(3 out of 5)
This is another maze that has not changed much. It did a few years ago, with some cool looked effects and smells, but still slowly becoming a house that is getting stale.

The Skeleton Key here was another one that made me uncomfortable. They have 4 holes that you have to stick your hand in to and find a key. Each hole has something different and each hole has a different member of the group digging around in it. So I may feel bugs, but someone else gets slime. I think this is a tactic that Club Blood should use! Make some taste great, and some nasty.

(1 out of 5)
This maze is the worst maze at both parks. It has a very limited amount of space to work with and never has housed a maze that was any good. The Alien themed house has no scared, but does have crazy monkeys!

Cleaver Brothers Carnival
(3.5 out of 5)
This is a very cool scare zone. I really like all the added set pieces that are added to scare zones at KD. This one features a lot of lights in the shape of a tent above you. Give you the feel you are inside a tent. Also has some very creepy clowns.

(4 out of 5)
Very narrow scare zone with lots of monsters and lots of set pieces. This is right outside the entrance of No Vacancy. Seems like every year more and more parts are added to this area.

The Lair
(2 out of 5)
This scare zone is very well done but also very small. It’s a Vampire themed area that is located in the arboretum. It’s very hard to see due to the amount of fog used, and the fact that it’s harder for the wind to wisp the fog away.

(4 out of 5)
This is a huge scare zone on center walk way. Lots of steam and weird monsters talking around. This features the biggest scare zone set pieces in the park. Massive oil rigs and other huge things. Very cool area.

Feary Tales
(2.5 out of 5)
I always feel like this should be the creepiest area, but it always falls short. I like the concept of fairy tale characters and monsters coming to get me, but it never plays out that way. The detail is always good, and the lighting is very cool. Just not my favorite.

Primevil: The Kuru Curse
(3 out of 5)
Located by Volcano, this scare zone has crazy head hunters coming out of the bushes. This is the most graphic and gore filled scare zone. People being cooked, stuck on spikes, and more. The location is great because it uses a less known path to creepy you out.

Skeleton Crew
(4 out of 5)
This show is new this year and I was very surprised by it. It has a very All Wheel Sports feel to it, but its in a temporary theater located outside of Backlot Stunt Coaster. Features some amazing acts and uses cool special effects. Best seen when its dark. This is my favorite Haunt show at KD.

Eternal Jamnation: Lost Souls
I only saw a few minutes of this show, so I am not going to rate it. I liked what I was seeing, but was rushing to get to Cornstalkers before it closed.

Blood Drums
(3 out of 5)
I am not a big fan of this show, but many people love it. It’s a drum line style show that uses all kinds of stuff as drums. This is at many Cedar Fair parks and has been at KD for several years. I would normally love this style of show, but for some reason it always comes off as “blah” to me.

Overloard’s Resurrection
(3 out of 5)
I love it! Gather at the front of the park, and kick of Haunt with a bang! The show has monsters coming out from back stage, and gathering at the front of the park. Then the Overlord comes out and gives them a little motivational speech. Then they turn on you, and make their way to their houses. There are some fireworks used as well. I am not a huge fan of the Overlord lip sinking the speech. I wish there was a way they could do it live. Also I really like what Six Flags Great Adventure does with this. They parade there monsters throw the park, to a stage in a remote location in the park. Then they put on a big show to kick off their event. I feel like this would be better at KD, because the front gate has hundreds of people entering at this time, and it creates a mess of people trying to watch the show and get in to the park. Also because fireworks are used, one side of International Street is shut down for a short time. I think they could get the same effect if they did this on the stage under the Tower, or maybe even further in to the park.

VIP Dinner Experience – $35.00
(5 out of 5)
All I can say is WOW.  This was by far one of the fanciest in park dinning experiences I have ever been a part of.  The price is a little more then I would like to pay for a meal at a park, but that’s not to say the food did not live up to the experience.  There will be a whole blog done up on the meal itself, but I can say the 4 parts of the meal were all amazing, and I left full.

Fright Lane with Skeleton Key – $40 – $50
(5 out of 5)
Not only is this a must for a Saturday Night, but the added value of the Skeleton Key rooms is amazing. It’s very comparable to Busch Gardens Quick Queue, but it offers so many more houses and the Skeleton Key rooms on top of that. This is a much better deal.

Over all I am always pleased with the direction Kings Dominion is going with their Halloween Haunt. The detail in the mazes and scare zones are amazing. It seems that they have twice the amount of monsters Busch has. The shows are better than years passed, but not as good as Busch. I really wish KD could push it even more. Add the Hanging style show that Knotts does. Get sexier in the houses and shows. Offer more unique alcohol options. But over all this is the better haunt event in VA

Better at a Glance
What park is scarier? Kings Dominion
What park has better shows? Busch Gardens
What park has more mazes? Kings Dominion
What park is sexier? Busch Gardens
What park has best detail in haunts? Kings Dominion
What park has better food? Busch Gardens