Busch Gardens Howl O Scream 2018 Review

Monday, September 24, 2018
It is no secret that I am obsessed with Halloween. I have been this way since a small child and it is my favorite time of year. Halloween kicks off the holiday season and is full of fun, scare, treats and surprises. Residing in Tampa has it's perks....Busch Gardens hosts Howl-O-Scream every year, where on select nights in September and October they turn the park into a land of horror.
When we moved to Tampa in 2010, we started attending Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream. There has only been one year over the past eight where we missed attending (2014, wedding, honeymoon and crazy busy). We even had an engagement shoot at one off the Haunted Houses, Death Water Bayou! 
I was very excited when Busch Gardens invited me and Gabe back to check out this years Howl-O-Scream during their VIP party. I've been on the road non-stop over the past month and we had an off-weekend with no plans. Perfect timing! My equally Halloween obsessed friend Corey also went and we had a great time checking out the houses and riding rides.
I can say with 100% certainty that this years Howl-O-Scream was our favorite. On the way home, Gabe and I chatted about how Busch Gardens raised the bar on expectations with their annual event. There were multiple scare zones this year including Meat Market, Maniac Midway, Camp DOA, Deadly Tots, Hell on Wheels and Dia de los Muertos. Busch Gardens did great with elevating the guest experience and all three were way more than someone jumping out with a chain saw to scare you.
If you found yourself in odd numbers, your single rider guest was from another world as Monsters rode the rides with guests. This happened to Corey with a Clown. I would have said NO. She's braver than me. As much as I love Halloween, I HATE Clowns. There were quite a few of those in attendance. All around, we were super impressed with 2018 Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream. Except the addition of clowns everywhere.
Corey riding a ride with a Clown
We were able to check out nearly the entire park with the a Front Line Fear Pass. This pass allowed us to go to the front of every ride and haunted house. We never waited in line for anything we did, which allowed us to visit all 6 Haunted Houses, watch our favorite - the "naughty nurse" Fiends show and ride 4 roller coasters in less than 4 hours. If you are going to Howl-O-Scream, trust me and purchase the add-on. They start at $35 and include 20% off at the gift shops.

Insomnia - Photo by Busch Gardens Tampa
One of the new Howl-O-Scream haunted houses in 2018 was Insomnia. We found ourselves in a haunted asylum, where doctors keep their patients awake forever through twisted treatments. Each door was a new nightmare, and there was a scene with counting sheep that I will never forget. 
Simon's Slaughterhouse - Photo by Busch Gardens Tampa
Simons Slaughterhouse 
Another new house for 2018 was Simon's Slaughterhouse which takes place inside of a Meat Market full of cannibals. The house smells like meat and if there was any place that could turn me Vegan, it was here. This house is intended for 17+ and I am thankful to be writing this on a Monday night, where we have Meatless Monday's in our house.
The Black Spot - Photo from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
The Black Spot
You can't be in Tampa without a Pirate themed Haunted House. It's only natural! When Saw Tooth Silas, an infamous pirate, decides that one should no longer exist, he marks them for death. Victims are then sent to The Black Spot, where they meet their horrifying end.

Death Water Bayou - Photo from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
With the Voodoo Queen at our Engagement shoot
Death Water Bayou
This house will always be my favorite. When Death Water Bayou was announced in 2013, staged in a New Orleans Swamp - I knew we had to get Halloween themed engagement pics done there. We love everything about Halloween and were having a destination wedding in NOLA. I was so happy Busch Gardens allowed us to have our shoot there so this house will always mean a ton to me. I was thrilled to hear Death Water Bayou was making a return in 2018. The house starts off by introducing you to the Voodoo Queen and throughout the house, many New Orleans staples turn into dark magic.

Unearthed - Photo by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Another crowd favorite returned this year - Unearthed. In "Unearthed" you go through an excavation in the park leads which leads to the discovery of an old house and a sinister force. The force does not want you to exit and you have to navigate your way through with a flashlight.

Motel Hell - Photo by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Motel Hell
Motel Hell was the last house we visited of the night. It's a haunted house based in a vacant hotel full of paranormal presence from its former owners. Every turn had a new horror.

Howl-O-Scream 2018 will run from September 21st through October 28th. Click here for more information and follow hashtag #NoWhereToHide to live through other peoples experiences!

Busch Gardens Tampa provided me with two VIP tickets to experience Howl-O-Scream. I was not required to write a post and this review was at my own discretion. As always, all opinions are my own.

CHICAGO at Straz Center Tampa

Thursday, September 20, 2018
On Tuesday night, my husband Gabe and I went to the opening night of Broadway’s CHICAGO at Straz Center Tampa. I became a fan of CHICAGO in 2002 thanks to the Academy Award®-winning film movie starring Richard Gere, RenĂ©e Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones (the movie was based on the stage musical). At that time of my life, I had never been to a Broadway show (aside from Annie when I was 5 years old) and seeing CHICAGO quickly became a bucket-list for me.
From the opening act, the songs and dance captivated the audience. I recognized the majority of the songs from the movie and the cast did an amazing job with them. This is a true musical, where the show goes from song to song. The singing and dancing was non-stop and CHICAGO dazzled me. What I loved most about the show is that CHICAGO has a bit of everything - fame, fortune, lust, betrayal, love and of course "all that jazz"!
One of the very unique parts of this musical is how they integrate the orchestra. The CHICAGO orchestra is actually part of the show and the main part of the set. The cast interacts with them throughout the night and it was really neat to see them play.
If you aren't familiar with the story of CHICAGO, it is based around two woman named Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart who were arrested for different murders (Velma murdered her sister and husband and Roxie murdered her lover). The girls end up with the same lawyer, thanks to the jail Mamma, who makes side money for selling their fame to the press. The story follows their lawyer as he decided to take on both cases which ends up becoming a media circus of headlines. The women fought for the spotlight and pulled a ton of tricks not to be outdone against one another, all for the final prize of fame and fortune (and of course to be freed).
I could clearly see how CHICAGO is the recipient of six Tony Awards®, two Olivier Awards, a Grammy®, thousands of standing ovations and now the No. 1 longest-running American musical in Broadway history.

CHICAGO Showtimes at Straz Center Tampa
click here to buy tickets
Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, September 20, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.
Friday, September 21, 2018 | 8 p.m.
Saturday, September 22, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Saturday, September 22, 2018 | 8 p.m.
Sunday, September 23, 2018 | 2 p.m.
Sunday, September 23, 2018 | 7:30 p.m.

10 reasons you should go on Norwegian Cruise Line

Monday, September 17, 2018
Two weeks ago I had a last minute opportunity to go on my first NCL cruise on the Norwegian Sun. My friend Corey asked me to be her plus one and with a quick shift of scheduling (and a super cool boss), I was able to join her and her family on a last minute cruise.
I've been on over 20 cruises combined between Royal & Carnival but the NCL was a first for me. We went on a 5 night cruise out of Port Canaveral and went to Key West, Cuba and Great Stirrup Cay Bahamas.
The Norwegian Sun is one of their smaller vessels. It holds 1,936 passengers and 906 crew members. Half the crew to passengers meant amazing customer service and support on the ship. Although the ship was older, it was renovated and I personally liked the smaller ship as it didn't take hours to find your group.

Here are 10 reasons why you should book a Norwegian Cruise Line vacation!

Free at Sea
Prior to going on this cruise with Corey, I have always been very intrigued with the variety of free options cruisers get to choose from when booking a NCL. You can choose up to 5 free at sea offers (depending on your cabin type) which include: Free Unlimited Open Bar; Free Shore Excursions; Free Specialty Dining; Free Wifi Friends & Family Sale Free. This is fantastic for cruisers of all type. Personally, I would always select the Free Unlimited Open Bar and Free Specialty Dining as those two things are the packages I typically upgrade to. This method allows you to customize your vacation based on your personal preferences.

Freestyle Dining
I always select anytime dining when on a cruise. It allows you to pick and choose when you eat. However, you will likely end up waiting for a table. Not on NCL - all dining is anytime so you don't have the option to select pre-set early or late dining times. We ate nearly every meal in the dining room and I was shocked at how quickly we were sat and offered a glass of wine. Freestyle dining is the way to go!

Specialty Dining
The Norwegian Sun is one of their older and smaller vessels, yet I was pleased to find they had 7 different options for Norwegian Cruise Line specialty dining. The newer/larger ships have even more. We dined at the Moderno Churrascaria, which is a Brazilian Steakhouse. If you're familiar with Texas de Brazil, it was very similar but on a cruise ship. The salad bar was incredible and all meats were carved tableside by Pasadores. Like most Brazilian Steakhouses, it was unlimited. I highly recommend it. Other restaurants I was interested in but didn't have time to try was the high end Mexican restaurant, Los Lobos Cantina and Cagney's Steakhouse, who is known for their truffle fries.

NCL was voted for best entertainment at sea by Cruise Critic. We saw a few comedy shows which had the audience howling. Other cruise lines have Broadway productions, including Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages. You can even see a Cirque De Soleil show at sea! I'm not usually one to sit through a production on a cruise ship, but Broadway is a whole different story. We played Deal or No Deal twice and Bingo once. Some ships even have a murder mystery show!

The NCL Sun had a wide variety of bars, which were packed at all times (this is what happens when everyone gets the drink package!). We were likely to be found at either the Champagne bar (which was also the specialty martini bar) or the pool bar. Some of the ships feature Howl at the Moon, which was one of my favorite bars back in the day, along with a Fat Cat Jazz Bar. NCL is known for their Mojito's, which I will say were better than the ones we had in Cuba!

Fun & Games
Where do I start. I fit in perfect with Corey's family. They were all about playing the games on the cruise ship. From trivia to slot tournaments, we did it all. On NCL, you get a activities card, which is signed off by the entertainment team each time you participated (or won) a game. Points were tiered and and the end of the cruise, you turned your card in to trade it for a variety of merchandise. We became that family who were known on the ship for doing every single game. I laughed so hard, my abs hurt. As a "family" we won quite a few contests,  including the what's in your bag - which I tied for first place. I had to run around the pool deck, looking for random items. I was so out of my comfort zone and loved every minute of it. My prize was a t-shirt that said "Feel Free To Call Me Champ".

Ports of Call
Norwegian Cruise Line has a wide variety of sailings. Basically, if you want to visit a country, it is likely NCL will cruise there. From Asia to Cuba to Australia, they've got you covered. Four years ago when Gabe and I got married, we almost booked a NCL in Italy as part of our honeymoon. For our particular sailing, as mentioned, we visited Key West, Cuba and the Bahamas. I was very excited to visit Cuba. I will post about our experience soon but I will say this. I am happy I got to go to Cuba, but it wasn't what I imagined. Key West is always a fun port, and I introduced Corey and her family to my two favorite bars (White Tarpon & Irish Kevins). In the Bahamas, we stopped at NCL's huge private island, Great Stirrup Cay.

Private Islands
Speaking of Great Stirrup Cay - NCL has a ton of private islands. We visited the island on our last day. Like most cruise lines private islands, Great Stirrup Cay offered a variety of activities, bars and food. We tried out snorkeling and considered going SUP. Since everyone had unlimited drinks, the bars were free (however didn't have as many options as the ship). The island was huge, built to accommodate the newer / larger NCL ships. Being they're double the size of our ship, we had the island pretty much to ourselves. The food options a BBQ including a variety of salads, burgers, chicken, ribs, hot dogs and pizza. They offered vegetarian / vegan options upon request. There is also a brand new complimentary Abaco Taco bar which we tried out. Also, being this is a private island, the Casino did not have to shut down while we were docked. It was a slice of paradise and the perfect way to end our cruise. We did hear that Great Stirrup Cay now offers an excursion to go swimming with pigs. This launched the week after we returned home. This is an ultimate bucket list item of mine and I will be returning to go swimming with piggies.

Spacious Rooms
Corey and I shared a Family Balcony Stateroom which was 221 sq ft. It had a King bed that converted into two twins and a pull out sleeper sofa. The room would hold 4 people and had 2 sets of dressers, a mini fridge and a closet with storage shelves. I never once felt cramped. The balcony was spacious, but we sadly didn't spend too much time out there. You can see my video walk-thru.

Customer Service
I was very impressed with Customer Service on the Norwegian Sun. We had VIP Embarkation and Disembarkation, which allowed us to get private entry and exit on the ship. From the restaurant staff to the entertainment crew, everyone was above and beyond.

Overall, I was very impressed with NCL. I would absolutely go on another cruise with them. It was a great time, we laughed so hard that I didn't have to do any ab workout this month (I think they still hurt 2 weeks later). Have you ever been on an NCL cruise?
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