Part II: The Happening
We headed through the park from the first Haunted House, talking about how much we enjoyed it, still excited...but as we went, walking through the park, bunching close together as we'd reach the foggiest, darkest sections of the paths, anticipating the thrill of being startled in the dark...nothing happened.
Not a thing. No performers waited in the dark to scare us, no werewolves or zombies, no one.
It wasn't even one of those, "It's quiet--too quiet," nights, because of course we were surrounded by throngs of people, pressing in on us, so that I'd kept looking around, checking to make sure the seven of us stayed together in a group.
Mostly, it was just like a regular day in the Gardens, except for the fog, and that disturbed me, because when I attended HOS before, there were designated scare zones all around the Haunted Houses, and then there were guys in camouflage, and even a Carnival section with Dia de Las Muertas characters. This is right out of my previous (very favorable) review of HOS last year:
The fog effects and creatures walking around scaring you were *fantastic*. You couldn't see the characters until they were right up on you in most cases. The werewolves were are favorites, though the Owl tried to surprise a huge, hulking walking ghost by hiding behind it, figuring it would take a while to turn around--and ended up being startled himself by a scary clown with a chainsaw! I don't want to spoil any of the surprises for you, but they are really good at distracting half your group on one side while someone comes up on the other and scares the rest of you when you aren't expecting it at all!
But now, no chainsaw-wielding clowns or ghosts were to be found.
We passed rides with long lines, saw the Phoenix and made a decision to ride it because at least one of our party had never been on it before. The Phoenix (in case you haven't, either), is a big boat ride, not like an African Queen let's-go-down-the-Amazon boat ride, but a suspended one that swings like a pendulum. We wanted our group member to experience it because he didn't believe the ride actually completed at least one complete 360 revolution, holding you dangling upside-down in your seats.
So we waited in line for the Phoenix, pulled down our over-the-shoulder harnesses and carefully kept our arms out of the way for the waist one, which comes down on its own. The guys in our party told the newbie rider to brace his knees, because apparently once the waist restraint comes down, the pressure on *ahem* certain parts of the male anatomy is intense, and only worse once you hit that complete 360 and are fighting against gravity. Oh, and there is an added "click" which tightens it further when the ride attendants first start the ride, too.
This time, for the first time ever in all the years I have been riding it, the Phoenix swung back and forth, going ever higher, gaining momentum, holding us just barely upside-down at the peak of its swing--with an incredible view of the clouds and the stars beneath us--and then slowed down, the swings declining, until we were once again at the bottom, on the ride platform, and clambering out again.
No complete revolutions! I've never gone on the ride and had it not complete at least one 360 before. A couple of the guys in our group suggested it was because riders were maybe misbehaving, spitting on people or something (I later verified with operations that this ride, in an emergency situation, can be made to swing right down to the bottom to stop, but that "you'd know it if that happened, because it's fast. Like immediate." But, according to her, the ride cannot simply be cut short, just that emergency stop option. So this was, apparently, a fluke?).
We were disappointed, but that was just one thing, right? Well, that and no scary performers anywhere. But we still had a lot of the park to cover.
And then we went to the Haunted House in the Timbuktu theater, Zombie Mortuary, which we'd been looking forward to, and the line was unbelievable. Up both the ramps to the stage, zigzagging all over the place. We were told by some attendees exiting that the wait was at least an hour and a half, and we had no reason to doubt them based on what we could see.
So we decided to come back around, and hit the HH at the very back of the park first, because we figured the wait times couldn't really get any longer than that. Some people were bound to leave early, right?
So we kept traversing the park--and cool, creepy, scary, startling performers with amazing makeup conspicuously failed to jump out at us from the depths of the darkness or the obscuring clouds of fog.
We deliberately chose the darkest parts of the paths, the roads-less-traveled. Still nothing; other than pretty lights on the bridge to Stanleyville and masses of attendees, we might as well have been walking down any road in the dark. Actually, any other road might have been scarier in the dark.
We rode Kumba, because it was there more than anything, and because the line was shorter than anything else--though normally, when the park is open, there's barely any line at all, so it was actually longer than typically.
Our spirits diminished, but still hopeful, we came to another new haunted house, Nevermore, only to be turned away. Nevermore was closed (no reason for why it was closed, no anticipated wait time. Just, "Come back later," we were told). So we continued on.
The Vampire Casino Haunted House was next, and from what we could see of the line it was long, but at this point we were ready for some fright night, so by accord we joined the queue.
And so we waited--and as we came around the sign and slipped behind it, our spirits raised, thinking we were close. We zigged and we zagged, and kept on zigging and zagging, and as we turned a near 90 degree turn in the line, we realized that what had been visible to us before--what we had mistaken for THE line--was in fact only a very small portion, like the tip of the iceberg visible to the Titanic right before the crash that sunk it.
We were over 45 minutes in line, and damned if we weren't even halfway through this thing already. There was no way to go back--throngs of people waited patiently behind us--and certainly no way to go forward but to continue on. Later, we would see tour groups, with their telltale lighted necklaces, passing us by without a care in the world, enjoying their front-of-the-line privileges. Murmurs in the crowd grew ugly; I heard disgruntled attendees all around me saying things like (actual quote) "Dude, this sucks, we should have gone to Halloween Horror Nights," and, repeatedly, "I've never seen the lines this long!"
An employee with a galvanized tub full of ice and cold drinks planted herself near the middle of the line. One of our party had a sore throat; all of us were thirsty, so I ponied up for bottled water for all, parched myself. The employee asked me how I was enjoying my night, and so I told her, honestly, that I was disappointed, but that there was nothing she could do about it; I explained the long lines and lack of performers.
She took her time getting me my change and the crowd moved up, taking my group with them, who hollered back to me. As I went up to join them--barely any distance at all, and passing only those people who had already seen me stop to get water--an inebriated guest tried to stop me, sure I was cutting in line. I hurriedly explained the situation, holding up the bottled water, pointing to my group who were waving at me just ahead, and continued on, though he continued to rail at me, proffering some choice expletives at my back. I couldn't blame him for being upset--I would have, too, if I thought someone was trying to cut in line.
Apparently, as others in the line shared with me, at some HH, employees were not just granting front-of-the-line privileges to the VIP and Tour guests, but "their friends" and, allegedly, one entire "group of school kids" (the "kids" might have been in their teens; I have no way of knowing, but HOS is definitely NOT intended for young kids!).
When I reached my group, I went to put my change in my pocket, only to find that the employee who taken so much time with it had over-charged me for every bottle of water, $3 instead of 2.50, while asking me why I was not enjoying my night.
Whatever. It was only a few dollars, right? But I was getting annoyed. And I had about 45 minutes to wait.
So I pulled out my iPhone and went to the HOS mobile site, trying to find wait times, contact info, someone I could call to find out why HOS was going to hell in a handbasket this year.
There's no contact info on the mobile HOS site, and the Busch Gardens one had only a form to submit which didn't render right on the iPhone, even if I could have typed well in the sized-down-for-the-phone textbox.
So, still with plenty of time to kill, I Googled until I found some phone numbers. Two turned out to be only-open-during-bankers'-hours useless. The third got me through to a real-life person who had no authority and didn't know what to do but did tell me that there were updated phone numbers and gave me two more. One of those was disconnected. The other was a voicemail.
Right, I said to myself, that's it, I'm going to talk to Guest Relations in person before we leave tonight.
Finally, after an hour and 28 minutes (I know because I checked my phone when we got in line, and I also put my timer on once we got halfway in, since, again, I had all that time to spare while I was waiting), we reached the entrance to Vampire Casino, where a performer at the door was doing a comedy skit in character. I didn't hear much of it, though, because there was so many people going in that he would get drowned out, and besides after waiting all that time no one spared an extra moment to engage with him, which took away from his schtick.
I have to say that I was not in the most receptive mood for the HH by this point. The Owl's girlfriend was worried she might get really scared (she didn't), so I placed myself in the middle of the group in front of the two of them (nothing scares the Owl. It's almost eerie).
So it was probably my annoyance that had me muttering, when the 'bartender' in not-at-all scary chalky white makeup thrust her face into mine,"Oh, don't even."
She took one look at my less-than-impressed face and turned away, murmuring, "Huh, you must have kids..."
And I had to smile.
This HH, the one we had waited in line for an hour and a half to get get into, was honestly very meh. It wasn't as good as the first one we went in, and it would have had to be much better to impress us at this point. Plus, although lots of characters tried to scare us, their preferred method was just popping out and yelling "HA!". I remember just once thinking, "Hmm, I didn't expect that one." I don't remember being scared even once.
90 minutes for a less than 10 minutes experience does not a happy group make. I think the Owl's girlfriend was the only one not miserable at this point, because she wasn't going to have nightmares when she went to sleep. The rest of us just felt we had spent half our night in line so far-- and seen only two haunted houses, rode only two rides.
We trudged on, and reached Gwazi, where half the party decided to give just one more ride a try. The rest of us, me included, sat down on a bench (Gwazi is a wooden roller-coaster that has a known bumpiness issue that leaves some of us with headaches afterward).
Now, at last, after more than four hours since we had seen some of the front of the park, we found entertainers in costume.
No one had shown up to entertain the crowds during the interminable lines. None in Timbuktu, Stanleyville, Congo or Nairobi. None, the full length of the park from just right of the Moroccan Village entrance area at around 7:30 until now, when we reached Gwazi, which is just to the left of the Moroccan Village, at 11:26.
Four hours with nothing.
But now, finally, at Gwazi we saw werewolves, scaring guests and posing with them, a zombie with a walker (scary makeup, although this zombie made no attempt to surprise or scare anyone), and a zombie groom who actually seemed enthusiastic about his job and had some talent at it. He snuck up on the people sitting at the caricature stands, alarmed others on the benches, and completely freaked out a number of unsuspecting people strolling along the path. Some of the Werewolves, howling, took off in a group, while a few remained behind. One even used our group as cover once our friends came out and we started talking about what to do, standing with us and nodding his head, his back turned to the crowds on the walkway, until he saw a likely target to scare.
We waited 50 minutes, all told, for our friends to get out of Gwazi, so we had plenty of time to observe the guests and entertainers (and for me to take notes). I think, if we'd seen more of this kind of stuff anywhere else in the park, we'd have had a better night in spite of the lines and not getting in most of the Haunted Houses.
But, of course, we didn't.
So, at just about midnight, half of our group, including me, decided we'd had enough, and would take that first car home.
After I had a little talk with the folks in Guest Relations.
Next in the series: Part III: The Reckoning