We were recently invited to opening night of SeaWorld San Diego’s first-ever Howl-O-Scream. The established nighttime Halloween event, which has been taking place at other properties since the 1990s, brings to Southern California haunted houses, scare zones, original shows, and themed food and beverage. The separately-ticketed event runs now through Oct. 31 on select nights.
By Carly Caramanna
The media event began with a sampling of the themed food that is served throughout the park and exclusive to the ticketed experience. Highlights included a creepy cannoli filled with colorful cream and a delicious Bloody Lucy, a play on the Midwest delicacy, the Juicy Lucy — a burger stuffed with cheese. Roaming entertainment also was found throughout the reception that included a tarot card reader and demented juggler.
Howl-O-Scream kicks off each evening with a ceremony called The Gathering. A zombie ringleader conjures up the park’s roaming scare actors and creatures as they come running through the park’s entrance to officially start the event. This was a thrilling and engaging way to begin the event and I recommend arriving in time to catch this show. This took place near the front entrance at the steam punk-themed Underground Dance Club which featured a DJ dance party all evening.
The first house I visited was also closest to the park entrance and adjacent to the Underground Dance Club. Nightmare Experiment was a medical-themed house that I felt lacked a bit of inspiration as it was generic in theming. This is not to discredit the scare actors inside, as they nailed their roles. The storyline is interesting — it centers on an experiment at a sleep clinic that goes horribly wrong — but I don’t think that was conveyed exactly in execution. Since this one is closest to the park entrance, it quickly garnered a line at the start of the event. I would suggest saving this for later in the evening as the line died down, and instead, head to one of the other houses first.
At the exit of each haunted house is an outdoor bar cohesive with the overall theme. Nightmare Experiment’s libations were found at a perfectly themed and aptly named, AmBARlance. Here, guests can sip on cocktails served in IV bags and syringes next to an abandoned ambulance. It was fun and perfectly tied together with the house.
I next headed to what proved to be my favorite house of the evening, Death Water Bayou. The New Orleans-themed house featured immersive set designs and the best scare actors of the evening. As the crowds in the park died down later in the evening, I was able to experience this several times with no waits. This was the most eerie of the house offerings, with elements of voodoo and graveyard scenes, and I experienced several jump scares. My favorite scene took place outdoors as you made your way across the murky bayou and into a questionable-looking house.
Murder She Floats was the Mardi Gras bead-adorned bar at the exit of Death Water Bayou. Themed after an abandoned parade float, the cocktails here were some of my favorite of the night and featured a whiskey forward poison apple drink and a spiced pumpkin cocktail. At this watering hole, you can purchase the popular blinking skull mugs which sold out early on in the evening. I would suggest heading to this house first as it’s in a back corner of the park and a bit of a hike from the entrance.
The third and final house was Simon’s Slaughterhouse. Full of twists and turns, this lengthy house was themed to an abandoned meat processing plant that had fallen into the hands of a demented butcher. Although this didn’t have as many jump scares, it was well-themed and featured standout scare actors and costuming. Simon’s Screamatorium served up vomit shots and the ‘bloodiest mary’ at the exit of the house.
Another highlight of the evening was the “Vampire Circus” — a stage production that combined circus-like acrobats with twisted, spooky theatrics. Taking place in an abandoned cemetery with an accompanying blood-pumping soundtrack, the show set on display a variety of skilled acrobats and contortionists. It was impressive and an overall very entertaining show with humor sprinkled throughout and moments of audience participation. There are just two shows per event, and I think this is something you wouldn’t want to miss.
Six difference scare zones were scattered throughout the park — First fright zone, Deadly Toys zone, Graveyard zone, La Llorona zone, The Sirens zone, and The Hauntings zone. There was room for improvement in this element of the event; at many times I didn’t realize I was wandering through one. There were two exceptions though: Deadly Toys and The Sirens.
The Deadly Toys zone featured an incredible set piece themed to a child’s bedroom and very impressive scare actors emulating children who interacted with guests passing by. It was very creepy, but a standout moment of the evening. The Sirens was equally impressive and grand in scale with spooky mermaids, a pirate ship and knockout lighting that set the overall mood.
Three attractions were open throughout the event offering a new vantage point of riding in the dark on Electric Eel, Manta, and Journey to Atlantic. On our visit, wait times were nonexistent for all three and this event may be a good time to experience those popular daytime attractions with little to no wait. This adds significant value to an already reasonably and fair priced event.
For an opening year event, we were also impressed by the amount of merchandise offered that included shirts donning sayings like ‘Future Ghost’ and ‘Guess I’ll Die.’ A favorite was the Howl-O-Scream logo shirt in a retro-like, colorful design. The displays themselves also stood out as they were very ornate and drastically changed the entire mood of the retail store.
For add-ons, the front line fear pass is an upgrade that allows expedited entrance to 3 haunted houses of your choice, while the extreme fear version adds on 3 thrill rides along with the houses. On our visit, the lines were fairly short, but I could see this being a useful option if the evening of your visit is particularly busy and you’re hoping to experience everything including The Vampire Circus and attractions during the 5-hour event. The Howl-O-Scream VIP tour is another add-on that includes front of line access to all attractions and complimentary beverages through a guided small group tour.
Overall, the inaugural year of Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld San Diego exceeded our expectations in many ways. There were some standout houses, scare zones, dedicated talent, and impressive designs. With tickets starting at just $44.99, it is certainly worth a visit. Unlike other theme park horror events, you can likely experience everything this has to offer without being in a constant state of rushing to the next attraction. We can see this event really taking shape over the next few years and becoming a premiere haunted event in Southern California.
You can learn more about Howl-O-Scream San Diego at HowlOScream.com/CA.