all photos Eva Gray/Catalyst
In addition to chilly weather and pumpkin-flavored everything, Florida’s “fall” season brings the spookiest time of the year when amusement parks extend their hours late into the night to frighten patrons with haunted houses, roller coasters and paid “scare-ers”. This year’s theme for Bush Garden’s annual Howl-o-Scream, titled “The Dark Side of the Garden,” advertised a zombie ridden park. Many New College students, took advantage of the extra free time over the school’s week-long break to journey to Howl-o-Scream in the Halloween tradition of scare-for-pay fun.
From 7:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturdays, the once family friendly park died and was replaced by the chills and thrills of Howl-o-Scream. Though tickets online were priced at nearly $52.99 many students took advantage of the ‘Twisted Thursday’ package in which groups of four could purchase tickets for just $24.99 on any Thursday night.
Over the break, thesis-student Lydia Dumais organized a group of nine New College students to buy tickets and carpool up to Howl-o-scream.
“The tickets are only 25 dollars apiece and you buy them together in bulk,” Dumais said. “I had wanted to get a group so we could all jointly purchase tickets. So between driving up there and paying for parking and coming back … the whole night was like $30 — to go to Bush Gardens!”
Unfortunately, many of today’s thrifty young people had the same idea. Both Dumais and Catalyst staffer Puneet Sandhu waited over half an hour in traffic a mere mile away from the park. Both strongly cautioned getting there early.
“It was packed. There were so many people,” Dumais said. Despite the staggering crowds of youth however, Dumais claimed she and her gang managed to ride every rollercoaster in the park through the secret of ‘single riders’. “What they do is if you ask right at the entrance of the rides to do single riders, they’ll tell you no. You have to wait until you’re a decent way through the line and just ask any staff person who’s walking by…and if you’re too early in the line they won’t let you do it … But if we got further along and just kept asking they’ll say, “Oh yeah sure, you can go up to the front. You just have to be persistent.” Though the stated wait-time outside Bush Gardens’ newest ride, Cheetah Hunt, read 75 minutes, Dumais assured the Catalyst that she and her friends were on and off the ride in just 20 minutes.
When asked her favorite part of the trip, Dumais exclaimed, “Sheikra! Oh my god it was terrifying! It was just really neat too, doing all these rides in the middle of the night. The whole feel of the park is different because it’s pitch-black.”
“It was pretty dramatic,” agreed Sandhu describing the near 90-degree drop. “Right before we went over the drop I suddenly had a huge surge of regret but then it was too late to do anything about it, because we were already strapped in and going and you don’t want to look like an asshole in front of your friends.”
Designated “scare zones” containing concentrations of mutilated zombies and various monsters spread out across the park and in order to get to other roller coasters or haunted houses, patrons had to face the bloody faces and howls. Gaggles of loud-screaming girls seemed particularly targeted.
“The scarers and zombies that were just walking around the park were probably the scariest part for me,” said Sandhu. “Because I thought if you looked at them, they wouldn’t come up to you but that’s not true. I realized really quickly they’ll target you.”
“I was walking and a zombie came up behind me and was making these like, horrible squelching noises and I turned around and it scared the crap out of me,” Dumais relived. “The atmosphere is really good.”
Scarers could infiltrate large crowds with ease and Sandhu described their power, “There were so many people you had to walk close together and there were some [scarers] that were really inconspicuous looking. They weren’t dressed up but they had something to scare you with, for example there would be janitors walking around dressed normally — they wouldn’t have any face paint on or anything — and then something would jump out of their garbage can. Or there would be women holding these very heavily swaddled babies, you assume, and then something would pop out of there or out of a baby carriage. That was interesting because you didn’t expect it. They looked like normal people.”
Venders clad in outfits ranging from spooky to sexy sold jello shots in big plastic syringes, giving a double meaning to ‘shots’. “I didn’t like the jello shots. It was like $10 for a jello shot. And one, they didn’t ID us — which is ok because I’m 22 years old. They were all red and I guess they were supposed to look like blood were in these really big syringes … So we took those, but I was pretty unhappy because even though they said there was rum in them I felt nothing.
“The adrenaline of being on the rides and being spooked all the time … by one o’clock in the morning we were done,” said Dumais. “For me Howl-o-scream was a cheap, interesting way to do Bush Gardens. I was more than happy to pay the $25 ticket rather than the $80 that it normally is to do Bush Gardens, even if we had less time there.”