Busch Garden’s in Williamsburg for the 15 past years has taken its peaceful and beautiful park and turned it into something a bit more sinister and scary for most of September and October, though it is just as beautiful. In fact, it may even be a tad bit more so with the elaborate lighting and decorations throughout the park.
Howl-O-Scream events begin every evening at 6 p.m. and are designed for the type of audience who wants the crap scared out of them, so most of the time that is not little kids. Actors fill the park dressed as ghoulish characters to jump out and scare guests. So keep this in mind when visiting with children. There are also haunted house mazes set up in most of the villages in the park. Each is themed differently from each other, but all are full of your typical haunted house décor and jump scares. Some have optical allusions to them, making these haunted houses just a bit more thrilling.
We have taken Noah to Howl-O-Scream 4 times now since 2010. The very first time we went, we didn’t think much of the warnings I just gave you. He was 8 and I figured he would understand it wasn’t real, I also know he has seen some spooky things on TV. But what I wasn’t planning on was just how hella scary it would be for him because of his anxiety. (whoops) I also didn’t have a plan for that. That year, this was our big family trip, so he had to suck it up a little bit. He did not go in any Haunted Houses, and we did not stay late in the park after the first night.
We went back to Howl-O-Scream in 2012; Noah was 2 years older so we hoped it wouldn’t be an issue (it still was). Regardless of prepping for it, once it turned 6 pm he would get anxious. We wanted him to get over this fear so figured he needed to do at least one haunted house. So that year we had him go into The Root of All Evil, which is a mostly outdoor haunted house, that isn’t so scary when you enter while it’s still daylight (which is what we did). He didn’t really agree with us, but he at least did it. The following year we tried Cut Throat Cove, which is pirate themed, and also an outside maze. Going with the same philosophy that it was still light out and he loves pirates. He made it through, but did not want to go into any others. He handled that year better because we got his face painted.
I have told him if he really hates the jump scare, and doesn’t want to enjoy the feeling of being scared then he just has to be more aggressive. Not in a physical sense, in fact I let him know he was not to touch anyone, just as they aren’t going to touch him. But he could go through the mazes and the park feeling like HE was part of the “scare squad” that he would be doing the scaring. This year he was willing to finally try Deadline, since has been mesmerized by its outdoor TV’s for years that shows a mock newscast about a gas leak in a subway. This year we were getting a VIP tour. He did well with this one, when people tried to get him he would just say “No thanks!”
After coming out of Deadline I noted to him that this means he has done 3 haunted houses (there are 6) So it’s like he has survived 3 nights of the Five Nights at Freddy’s game he plays. (survival game about crazed animatronic animals coming to get you). This resonated with him; suddenly it is now a competition, something he can beat. So naturally he wanted to go on to other Haunted Houses so he can survive more “nights”. We made it to the Vampire themed Bitten and when Noah went through this one he would say to the Vampires “My blood is full of garlic”. I caught one of the vampires break character for a second to laugh, she smiled, but never uttered a sound.
One thing I have learned with autism, is you have to find a way in to reach them. And that is also true for all people, kids and those who suffer with anxiety, its just a bit more challenging with an autistic child. But once you figure it out, all the more rewarding. We didn’t finish the other houses, only due to time (we were just there for the day) But I know if we head back this year or go next, he will complete all 6 nights now.
Howl-O-Scream occurs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from September 12th-October 26th 2014
Ticket prices are standard prices $75 for adults and $65 for kids 3-9 (the $75 fun card allows you back all fall) and pass holders do not need a separate ticket for this event. If you haven’t purchased a season pass yet, you may want to consider one. Prices start at $10 a month and include free parking and a 10% discount on everything in the park. Which includes Monster Cake…if you haven’t tried it, its spooktacular.
Related-Halloween Tips for Kids with Autism