Sure there are 9,000 resources out there if you are planning a family trip to Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream in Williamsburg, Va., but what if you are going without kids? Grown-ups like Halloween too! I hit the park on Howl-o-Scream’s opening weekend and got everything you need to know to take advantage of the adult side of Busch Gardens.
Buy Before You Go
Buy your tickets online because who wants to wait once you get there? If you’re going any time soon, you might as well buy the Fall Fun Card, which gets you unlimited visits through October 30 for $80, the same price as a single-day ticket. If you are coming in from out of town, consider the Fall Bounce Ticket, which includes seven consecutive days of unlimited visits to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg for $99. If you have a AAA card, you can buy a single-day admission ticket for $66 through October 30th and the ValPak website also offers some discounted ticket options. If you plan to return a couple of times throughout the year, it’s also worth looking into season passes, which are good for a year and include discounts on parking and purchases inside the park, including food and alcohol.
Consider Quick Queue
You’re already making a solid financial investment in your day at the park, so I’d strongly suggest spending the extra $55-$65 depending on the day and purchasing a Howl-O-Scream Quick Queue Pass, which lets you skip the line on all eight of the Howl-O-Scream Haunted Houses as well as on five additional rides: Alpengeist, Apollo’s Chariot, Curse of DarKastle, Griffon, and Verbolten. When we were at the park on night two of the Howl-O-Scream season, some of the regular lines were up to 90-minute waits and we never waited more than 5 with the Quick Queue pass. I know it’s pricey, but if you plan to only go to the park once or twice a season, why not get the most out of your visit? There are other versions of the Quick Queue and additional Insider Tour Pass options, but this option seems like the best use of your money for one day at the park without kids.
Try to Escape No Escape
Also new this year, Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream includes a No Escape Experience option. There are two different “escape room” style experiences you can choose from—in one you use clues and solve puzzles to find the location of a monstrous doll maker’s workshop and in the other you try to catch Jack the Ripper—6 players can play at a time. Prices range from $30-$40 per person before 4 p.m. and from $40-$50 after 4 p.m., so I’d plan to go early and start your visit with this if you want to give it a try.
Plan for Wine Tasting—Heck Yeah!
On my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Busch Gardens has updated the park’s offerings to reflect Americans’ increasing wine consumption. France, Germany and Italy all offer wine tastings for $14.95 each or you can purchase all three for $29.99.
If you go in the afternoon, put this near the beginning of your agenda because some of the areas close up shop around 6 when the Howl-O-Scream crowds start rolling in. Since we went later in the day, I only had time for France and Germany—c’est la vie. France offered a sweet sparkling wine, a vouvray, a rose from the Anjou region and a Bordeaux—I really liked the flavor and complexity of the Bordeaux. In Germany I tried a sparkling Riesling, a dry Riesling, an off-dry Auslese Riesling, a sweet Dornfelder red, and a holiday Glühwein.
I was impressed with the wine staff at each location—the individuals leading the tastings were passionate, friendly, and knowledgeable. When I asked Paul, the gentleman leading the German tasting, to refresh me on the types of German Rieslings and where Auslese fell, he easily rattled off the list, from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese.
Or Just Plan to Drink Wine
In addition to the tastings, you can also purchase full bottles of wine to drink throughout the park. Yes, you read that correctly. And, you can purchase a full wine bottle cooler bag with a shoulder strap for just $10. I’m already planning to grab a bag to go with the $22 bottle of French sparkling wine I spied for next summer.
If you prefer wine by the glass, the regions all also offer refillable wine glasses—buy one for around $15, bring it back every time you come to the park, and receive a few dollars off every glass of wine you buy.
Find Virginia Wine
One of my more random discoveries, the bar next to the line for the Bitten haunted house had a surprising stash of Virginia wines. Thanks to this hidden gem discovery, I ended my evening with a glass of Barboursville Cabernet Franc.
Grab a Beer and a Break
As most amusement-park-going adults know, it’s not worth discussing where to find beer in Busch Gardens, because there is some variety available about every 4 feet. That said, if you want beer, a seat, and—depending on the weather—some air conditioning or rain shelter, Grogan’s Pub in Scotland is a solid stop. It may not have the largest beer selection, but the taps are generally clean and the beer tastes fresh, making it a solid stop to relax and knock one back between rides or haunted houses.
Grab Craft Beers and a Charge
You’ve been in the park for about three hours, your iPhone is at 3 percent, and one of your friends rushed off in pursuit of that sexy vampire from Bitten. Where do you go? Well, the new Brauhaus Craft Bier Room inside Das Festhaus boasts 30 beers on tap with both local and national options alongside a multi-device charging station. Talk about perfect—you can relax, sip a cold one, and watch your charge rise while your friend makes a fool of himself.
Get Festive With Howl-O-Scream Drinks
During Howl-O-Scream you will notice more bars set up all over the park with all kinds of special libations. I chose to make a stop at the Inoculation Station—props to Busch Gardens for fun with a theme—and try Scarlett’s Potion, which comes in a light-up glass.
If sweet drinks are your thing, you will love this libation that tasted like alcoholic raspberry lemonade. The first round in the fancy glass is $10 and refills are just $8—you can also use the same glass for other similar libations throughout the park. There are also a variety of alcoholic, themed, daiquiri-style beverages to be found throughout the Howl-O-Scream areas, as well as hot mulled cider for chillier nights. Just for you, my dear readers, I did try a Gelatin Syringe, which was basically a return to college.
Hit the Baargh
The Pirate Baargh in Italy is set up like an actual bar with stools that are perfect for grabbing a drink and relaxing while you watch people flow through the park. And, the name, who doesn’t love a good pun?
Busch Gardens is still somewhat lacking in the gourmet food department, but the newly opened Marco Polo’s Marketplace in Italy does have some nice options, including a hearthstone oven for flatbread pizzas, an Asian grill, a Mediterranean Market with fresh options like hummus, and my favorite—a build your own cannoli station where you can choose from a variety of toppings to make an indulgent sweet treat. Beyond that, my second dining pick is Trapper’s Smokehouse in New France for smoked ribs and chicken.
Shop on the Way Out
One of the other things that stood out was that some of the stores actually had interesting merchandise. My favorite spot was La Belle Maison in France. There were eye-catching handmade soaps if you’re in from out of town and need gifts for friends, as well as some fleur-de-lis serving ware I would like to have in my apartment.
The shop in Germany had some pretty neat beer steins and boot-shaped glasses with different military logos on them that I could see making great gifts. In Italy I was tempted to buy a masquerade mask that felt like 1980s Madonna meets KISS.
Even in New France I saw a few leather bracelets I wouldn’t mind adding to my collection.
In France, my eye was also caught by some customizable wine signs and platters. I could see the “tasting room” option making a perfect wedding gift for a couple with a penchant for collecting wine.
Leave a Little Early
Check the park’s closing time on the day you go and plan to get the heck out of there at least 30 minutes early as the end of the night is packed, not only with families leaving, but with moms coming to pick up kids that have been dropped off. On my most recent visit we stayed until closing time and the wait to get transportation to the car, then to exit the parking lot made me wish we’d backed up the entire day to leave before the mass exodus.