After COVID-19 necessitated a stripped-down Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in 2020, the event will look more like its pre-pandemic self for this year.
Busch Gardens announced Wednesday that the 2021 event will see the return of haunted houses — three returning and two all-new experiences — along with eight scare zones around the park.
“Park guests will find nowhere to hide as zombies, deranged clowns, werewolves and more stalk their prey throughout eight scare zones while unpredictable roaming hordes lurk in the darkness,” the park said in a press release.
The event will also feature two stage shows: “Fiends!” will once again take over the outdoor Festival Field Stage for a “monster dance party” with Dr. Freakenstein, while a classic rock cover band called The Rolling Bones will perform at the Dragon Fire Grill.
The 2021 event will also have an earlier start, beginning on Friday, Sept. 10 and running for 28 select nights through Halloween. One-night tickets are on sale starting at $30 and unlimited admission passes, offering entry for all 28 event nights, will cost $80.
Notably, the press release from Busch Gardens mentioned nothing about any COVID-19 capacity limits or other pandemic-induced changes. The park, like the rest of the SeaWorld chain, is no longer requiring that fully vaccinated guests wear face coverings indoors or outdoors — which, because the park is not checking any guest’s vaccination status, amounts to having no mask mandate.
The typically busy Halloween event season at Central Florida theme parks was much quieter in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. Universal Orlando canceled Halloween Horror Nights last year, opting instead to open some of its already-completed houses during daytime hours. Disney World also nixed its kids-oriented Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. A slew of independent, drive-thru haunts tried to fill the void, both for fans and the performers accustomed to working the theme park events.
In 2021, Halloween Horror Nights will be back, though fans are clamoring for more house announcements. Disney opted to go with a new Magic Kingdom event called Boo Bash, which will last only three hours per night, but cost close to the same as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary at between $129 and $199.