Howl-O-Scream returned in 2003 with a focus on fear, featuring six haunted houses, five scare zones, and two shows.
- Darkheart’s Fear Fair (New)
- Escape from Insanity: Residents’ Revenge
- Ripper Row
- The Mortuary
- Demented Dimensions
- Whiplash (New)
- Speed Demons (New)
- Grisly Gardens
- Agony Express
- Eternal Reward (New)
Howl-O-Scream 2003 ran for a total of 15 nights between Friday, September 26, and Saturday, November 1. The event operated on each Friday and Saturday evening from 7:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Thursdays, October 16, 23, and 30 from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The theme for Howl-O-Scream 2003 was Fear Has a New Face, with the tagline Caution: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide. Fear, the Dark Prince of Howl-O-Scream, served as the icon for the event, the human embodiment of all things that frighten.
There were a total of six haunted houses at Howl-O-Scream 2003, with Darkheart’s Fear Fair being the only completely new one. It featured a maze that had both indoor and outdoor portions and allowed guests to choose one of four paths through the carnival-themed house. Co-chair of Howl-O-Scream 2003 Scott Swenson was quoted in an interview saying, “As they go through the house, they come to several forks along the way and, depending on which way they choose, they’re going to end up having a different experience.”
The roles reversed with the doctors locked up and the patients taking over at Escape from Insanity: Residents’ Revenge. A version of the theme from Summer Place played as you entered the hospital, with many of the scenes repeating from the previous year but with a twist now that the inmates have taken over. One scene utilizing special effects was the “bug room” where it looked like thousands of bugs were crawling all over the white walls, ceiling, and floor.
The other houses that returned from the previous season were Tortured, Ripper Row, The Mortuary, and Demented Dimensions which again used 3-D glasses and effects.
Five scare zones were scattered around the park, with new areas Whiplash and Speed Demons joining returning zones Cursed, Grisly Gardens, and Agony Express. Speed Demons saw post-apocalyptic punks terrifying guests.
Fiends returned with sultry singers, Naughty Nurses, and host Dr. Freakenstein. There were four performances of Fiends scheduled each event night at 8:00 p.m., 9:15 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 11:45 p.m.
Replacing RIP-TV was Eternal Reward, a new pop culture parody show where audience members helped decide the fate of performers. The show was held inside Desert Grill each event evening with five performances – 6:30 p.m. exclusively for Fright Feast guests, then open to all attendees at 7:45, 9, 10:15, and 11:30 p.m. It was written and directed by J. Michael Roddy, who had previously worked on shows and concepts for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. The show centered around finding out who killed Frederick Edward Allen Richards (F.E.A.R.) and the audience got to choose who did it. The suspects were members of his family including his wife, a girlfriend resembling Britney Spears, a Justin Timberlake inspired son, or a brother who may have reminded the audience of Ozzy Osbourne. The show included lip-syncing, dancing, and pop culture references.
Opening weekend was Freaky Preview where Platinum Passport Members received free admission on September 26 and 27. Other passport members could get tickets for opening weekend for $15.95 in advance or $19.95 on the day of. Regular guests could get tickets for $24.95 in advance or $29.95 on the day of. Guests visiting Busch Gardens during the day could upgrade to include Howl-O-Scream on those evenings for $19.95.
General admission for the rest of Howl-O-Scream 2003 dates was $49.95, with passport members receiving a discounted rate of $19.95 for off-peak nights and $29.95 for peak evenings. Day guests visiting Busch Gardens Tampa could upgrade their tickets to include Howl-O-Scream for $29.95 on peak nights or $19.95 for off-peak. Special discounted tickets were available online through a promotion sponsored by Pepsi for $29.95 for any night. Guests could also upgrade any single night Howl-O-Scream ticket for between $29.95 and $34.95 to a Recurring Nightmare Pass and receive unlimited admission on all “off-peak” nights of the event – October 3, 4, 10, 16, 17, 23, and 30.
Upgrades included the Fright Feast Dinner Show at Desert Grill, VIP Fear Tours, in-park Sleepovers, and hotel packages beginning at $69.99 per person. Fright Feast allowed guests to begin their Howl-O-Scream evening early with a buffet meal and exclusive performance of Eternal Reward at Desert Grill. The menu included Garden Greens, Potato Salad, Marshmallow Delight, Pasta Primavera, Vegetable Medley, Rice Pilaf, Mac & Cheese, Meat Pie, Seafood Creole, Chicken Dijon, Chicken Fingers, Country Ribs, Bread Basket, and an array of Dracula’s Desserts. Non-alcoholic beverages were available from the Werewolf’s Watering Hole, and Anheuser-Busch beer and wine were available for individual purchase at the Beastly Bar. Following the performance of Eternal Reward, guests received early access to the haunted houses. The cost for Fright Feast was $18.95, with a $2 discount for passport members. Groups of 50 or more could also get discounted pricing at $15.95 per person.
Three different tiers of VIP Fear Tours were offered, all of which required separate admission to Howl-O-Scream. “The Viewing” option took up to 15 guests for a three hour guided tour with front of the line access to all six haunted houses, a walk-through of the five scare zones, priority reserved seating for the shows, 20% discount in gift shops (excluding film, cigarettes, and vending carts), and a complimentary stroller or non-electric wheelchair rental if needed. The cost was $34.99, with a $5 discount available for passport members and advance purchases.
The second tier option was “The Funeral” and included everything in the first tier plus Fright Feast Dinner Show and front of the line access to the major attractions. The tour was approximately five hours in length and cost $74.99 per person or $69.99 for passport members and advance purchases. The top tier option was “The Embalming” which was a private guided tour for the whole evening, including everything in the lower-tier options. It required a minimum of two people to book and cost $129.99 per person or $119.99 for passport members and advance purchases.
Howl-O-Scream Sleepovers were offered for guests in 7th through 10th grade on October 17 and 24, 2003. The program cost was $75 per person, with passport members getting a $10 discount. Included in the price was admission to Howl-O-Scream 2003, front of the line access to the six haunted houses, animal interactions, fun activities, and overnight accommodations in Mzinga Lodge on property. Dinner and breakfast were also included, and the sleepover ran from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning.
Advertising for Howl-O-Scream 2003 included it being rated as the #1 Haunted Theme Park Attraction by Haunt World Magazine in 2002, and Haunted Attraction Magazine called Howl-O-Scream “the new king of Florida Halloween events.”
Auditions for the “Creature Crew” were held on several Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons in August 2003 at the entertainment building at the park. There was another round of auditions held on September 30 and October 1 for substitute and replacement scare actors. No experience was necessary, and training, costumes, and makeup were all provided by the park.
Additional details on Howl-O-Scream 2003 at Busch Gardens Tampa will be added in the future.
Howl-O-Scream | Press Room – accessed 9/20/2003
Haunted Attraction Magazine | Issue 40 – accessed 2/23/2006
Howl-O-Scream | Fiends – accessed 10/15/2003
Howl-O-Scream | Fright Feast – accessed 9/20/2003
Howl-O-Scream | VIP Fear Tours – accessed 9/20/2003
Howl-O-Scream | Event Dates – accessed 9/20/2003
Howl-O-Scream | Eternal Reward – accessed 9/21/2003
Howl-O-Scream | Sleepovers – accessed 9/23/2003
HAUNTFREAKS.COM | Howl-O-Scream 2003 – accessed 12/9/2004
Howl-O-Scream | Auditions – accessed 6/21/2003
Howl-O-Scream | Auditions – accessed 10/1/2003
J. Michael Roddy | Biography – accessed 2/18/2019
Last update: February 9, 2021