Category: Theme Parks

2015, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Oni Haunts, Reviews, Theme Parks

Williamsburg, Virginia Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl O Scream 2015

Read all of my haunted attraction reviews here: and Netherworld’s review with photos is here.

I’m Oni Hartstein. I run the big Doctor Who Convention ( and Intervention, the kick ass artist makerspace ( – both in Maryland.

I travel a lot. is my blog of weird things that I like. One of the main things that I like are haunted attractions. Every year Harknell and I cover over 3000 miles to find, review, and spotlight the best haunted attractions, bizarre theater experiences, and offbeat travel destinations. We love our job.



Video Editing: Stephen Baker

Equipment Used
in Car: Sony AS15 Action Cam w/Skeleton Frame and Suction Mount
On Foot: Sony AS15 Action Cam w/AKA LU1 lcd screen Adapter


2015, Attractions, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Reviews, Theme Parks

Williamsburg, VA Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Howl O Scream 2015 Unearthed review – the haunted houses and your best game plan for doing this event

Previously we’ve posted coverage of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Blood Banquet and Monster Stomp show that they are offering for this Halloween season. We also Interviewed Scarlett:

We also did a lot of shenanigans:


This post is about the haunted houses. We went on Media Night:


Normally the haunted houses at Busch Gardens Williamsburg do not change much and are more on the family-friendly side than it’s Tampa counterpart. Every year they deliver a fun experience, but in my opinion it’s always been less about the haunted houses and more about the overall experience and range of cool things to do. Every year they deliver a fun evening of food, drink, shows, rides, Halloween festivities, and haunted houses, but the overall package has been the focus – not the haunted houses.

This year they made some game-changing additions and alterations. Normally the event has 6 haunted houses. Now they have 7. Out of the previous 6 houses they completely scrapped and re-did 2 of those. 13 and Root of All Evil have been replaced by Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge and Cornered. Lumberhack is brand new for this year.

This means that you get 3 new haunted houses. This is huge news without any further detail. Normally BGW doesn’t change it’s haunted houses often so the last time it made sense for me to write a new review and not simply link you to my prior post was 2 years ago.

However there are more details to this story. All 3 new haunted houses are in a class that is highly superior to the other houses. BGW has finally taken the direction we had hoped for all these years and decidedly targeted our demographic while still remaining accessible to most of their general attendee fan base. They cranked it up a level or two.



Lumberhack is outdoors so definitely make sure you see this one after dark, We went during the day and I felt that this made it lose some of it’s punch. That said, it was still very enjoyable. Those who went after dark told me that it was absolutely amazing. The design was great and there were some great props that the actors could utilize for scares inside. The actors showed a good level of skill and even collaborated with each other in certain scenes. The only other caveat to this house (aside from being affected by daylight) was that it is a long walk from the main park area to the house – like 5 or 10 minutes. I did see that they were altering where the queue was in the following days so they will probably work to make this easier. I’d suggest looking at how wide the pathways felt for those who go through during the day. I think if it felt more claustrophobic that would mitigate the affects of the daylight.



This house is also outdoors and affected by the sunlight. We still felt this held up. If you must see one of the outdoor houses in daylight due to time this should be the one that you should choose. The pathing and layout of each room was so well done that even when I missed a scare inside it was still disorienting and fun enough to be a great time. I was really impressed with the fact that this still held up in daylight. I’m sure it would be much better in the dark, but we did have a blast here.

Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge


This house is the “Can’t Miss” attraction of the entire event. This one approached Tampa level. If you don’t know what I mean by that, I’ll explain. This house felt like it was targeted at straight haunted house fans. It had more scares, set pieces, and gore than all of the other houses. It took great usage of the space and even used the giant IMAX-like screens from the now defunct Europe in the Air attraction that housed it. It’s still accessible to younger people, but younger people who would like the next level up from the other houses at the event. Basically, if the Catacombs house (a returning house that you can read my full review of here) is no big deal for you then you can proceed to this one. If Catacombs really upsets you then you may want to skip this one or at least brace yourself for a slightly higher level. This house is in a higher class than the other haunted houses at this event.

If you are a haunt junkie like us this house won’t be a stretch. This is a theme park, so most theme parks can’t ever approach the fear levels that an independent haunted attraction can. That said, you’ll definitely feel like BGW’s Howl O Scream is taking a game-changing step in the right direction.

We had so much fun in here.

These are the moments that people like me hope to see but rarely do. It’s when an event that you like a lot decides to create something that hits your demographic dead on and succeeds. I have not yet been to a theme park outside of Busch Gardens Tampa who has a haunted house that is this well done. This makes a lot of sense since I know that one of the designers from Tampa now works at BGW and worked on this.

Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge is a huge triumph for the park and for haunted house fans. They got it so incredibly right that I am not sure that I have words to describe it. If they keep moving in this direction they will have a world class family event with world class haunted houses that stoke the imagination and creativity of the next generation of haunters.

The TL; DR is that this year’s Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl O Scream went from being a great event that had something for everyone to a great event that REALLY had something for everyone – including me. I’m extremely excited to see what they do for next year. The returning houses are a lower intensity level, but the new houses are definitely a step in the right direction. Scarlett’s Revenge is the biggest triumph I’ve seen this year on my tour.

You can also meet Scarlett at the photo op area, which is another Can’t Miss. The people they have playing her are fabulously saucy. Just the photo op is an event all by itself because of how you get to interact with her. You can even talk to her about her life and she will answer in character.

Your best game plan:

– Enter the park at 10AM, see any shows you want to see and ride any rides that you want.

– Eat before 5:30PM (My favorites are Trapper’s Smokehouse and Blood Banquet) so that when the houses open at that time you’ll be able to fit more in.

– The houses are only open from 5:30-11PM (10PM on Sundays) with sunset happening around 7PM. With only 3 hours to get through all of the houses in darkness you will probably have to go through some in daylight.

– The following houses are affected by sunlight: Cornered, Lumberhacked, Cut Throat Cove. Try and delay those for later if you can.

– Catacombs, Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge, Deadline, and Bitten are not affected by sunlight and can be done at any time.

– The weakest houses are Cut Throat Cove and Bitten. If you have to skip a house, skip these. I actually hope that these are replaced for next year.

– Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge is the best house they have followed by Cornered (affected by daylight) and Lumberhacked (affected by daylight). After that I’d recommend Catacombs and Deadline.

– Make sure you try the pumpkin cheesecake. It’s my fav! :)

You really should not miss this event this year. BGW’s Howl O Scream is not an evening hard-ticketed event like their Tampa location. This event is included with regular admission to the park and you may enter at 10AM. More info can be found here.

2015, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Oni Haunts, Theater, Theme Parks

Williamsburg, Virginia Haunted Attractions: Busch Gardens Howl O Scream Unearthed – Interview with Scarlett

OniHaunts web series brings you this special report: Kara Dennison interviews Scarlett:

First I had my Assistant and Community Manager Kara Dennison interview Tom Baker at (Re)Generation Who ( Now I had her interview a demon. Follow her blog at

Read all of the haunted attraction reviews here:

I’m Oni Hartstein. I run the big Doctor Who Convention and Intervention, the kick ass artist makerspace ( – both in Maryland.

I travel a lot. is my blog of weird things that I like. One of the main things that I like are haunted attractions. Every year Harknell and I cover over 3000 miles to find, review, and spotlight the best haunted attractions, bizarre theater experiences, and offbeat travel destinations. We love our job.

These videos are a companion to the blog, so make sure you subscribe over there, too.



Video Editing: Stephen Baker

Video Shooting: William Chrapcynski

Equipment Used
in Car: Sony AS15 Action Cam w/Skeleton Frame and Suction Mount
On Foot: Sony AS15 Action Cam w/AKA LU1 lcd screen Adapter


2015, Disney World and Disney News, Rants, Theme Parks

My Disney Dooney Nightmare: Dooney and Bourke sells $400 bags, but do they care if they fall apart 2 months later?

UPDATE: I have been contacted by the Disney SVP of Global Merchandise’s team. They have replaced all of my bags with new versions that have leather corners and assured me that all of the bags in stores now have been fixed. Apparently there were 3 months when Dooney was delivering faulty bags which affected this line. I will let you know how my bags hold up. They have asked me to stay in touch to make sure the bags are OK. They phoned Dooney and got assurance that it was handled.

If anyone reading has this problem please contact Disney at this email: and ask for your broken bag to be addressed. Disney is handling this well it seems – just as I would expect from such a great company! I appreciate their help a lot.

I have never owned an expensive bag before. I don’t usually care for expensive bags and jewelry. I actually opted out of having a “real” wedding and informed my husband he’d be in trouble if he bought me an expensive ring because I’m just not into it.

Last October was my 10 year wedding anniversary. I am a huge ‘Disney’s Haunted Mansion’ fan. When I heard that Disney was releasing a Haunted Mansion bag line it was the magic combination that would make me actually want a luxury bag. We figured that since we’ve done almost nothing so far for these types of anniversaries–for a 10 year anniversary this would be a great present.

I instead have had an 8 month (and still counting) nightmare in which I am out over $800, still don’t have a functional bag, and was unable to get a resolution even when dealing directly with Peter Dooney, and Dooney Creative Director Ian Ray themselves.

My experiences with the Dooney and Bourke top brass have made me feel that they don’t actually care. They may try to care, but it never quite gets to a resolution. I have dealt with people on C-Level for resolutions in the past but this is the first time in my entire life that I’ve still not been able to get a resolution that makes sense.

I’ll have to give you some background so you understand the full ridiculousness of what I’ve been through. First, take a look at some photos of the faulty bags Dooney and Bourke and Disney are selling and charging hundreds of dollars for. Some of these bags were photographed within a few hours of being gently carried for the first time:


Disney parks does a recurring collaboration with Dooney and Bourke where Dooney and Bourke make bags with Disney patterns that are then a limited sales release. I wanted the Haunted Mansion ‘Smith’ bag but it wasn’t in stock when I was there. My husband instead bought me the Haunted Mansion wristlet, tote, and letter carrier on October 12th, the same day it was released for sale. Each of these bags ranged in price from just under $100 to over $200 each.

That same day I saw complaints on some of the Disney Dooney communities that the Haunted Mansion Dooney’s were falling apart. I blogged about it here. I was afraid to carry the bags because of it, but fans on these communities assured me that Dooney was a great company and would fix the bags if they had issues. People told me they had Dooneys from the 70s that still were like new and that the bags have a lifetime guarantee. Some of the women spoke to Ian Ray, who is one of the main designers of Dooney and Bourke and he personally assured them at a Disney signing event that they should carry the bags without worry because Dooney stands by their products.

That is not what I have experienced.

It’s very telling that recently Dooney and Bourke switched from having a lifetime guarantee on their bags to a 1 year guarantee, think of that what you will.

8 Dooney Bags fell apart instantly:

Haunted Mansion Tote: I carried my tote for 2 weeks in which I was as gentle as possible on it. The leather strap frayed and it developed patches on the stress points where the material flaked off and revealed white spots.

Haunted Mansion Letter Carrier: My letter carrier never even had the tags removed and was never carried. Just the way the bag was made – the way the material was folded, caused the material to begin to flake off and reveal white spots. Also the strap it came with was much rougher than all of the other straps – it was as rough as sandpaper and totally different from the straps on the other bags. If I carried it it would surely destroy any shirt I wore. This bag was designed almost like a prank. Carry it, it falls apart and takes your clothing with it!

It’s would seem very clear to anyone who bought and used the bags in the Haunted Mansion line that it looks like the new material they switched to for this bag release is faulty and should be recalled. It’s also clear that they have quality control issues because literally each bag I have seems to be made differently.

I was too trusting, probably because I like Disney Parks so much. I bought into the “Dooney and Bourke stands by it’s products” line. I assumed that – just like 99% of companies I’ve ever bought from – that a systemic faulty bag line would be recalled and/or fixed.

Disney would never stand for this kind of thing, right?

I contacted both Disney and Dooney and Bourke’s customer service. Disney got back to me relatively quickly and told me I could return it, but I was already 1000 miles away at home and it would be difficult to do that. They suggested that I could more easily reach out to Dooney to get the bag fixed, so I did that. I didn’t hear back from Dooney for over 3 months of repeatedly contacting them and when I did the reply was unhelpful and generic.

I now know this was stupid and that I was blinded by my love of the Haunted Mansion and trust in Disney Parks. On my next trip I bought the newly reissued Haunted Mansion Smith bag that I had originally wanted to the tune of over $400.

In what will likely be known as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life, I figured that with all of the complaints they must have fixed it, right? What company on earth would find it an ethical situation to sell high end bags that fall apart in just weeks after purchase? Especially a company with a reputation like Dooney and Bourke. Disney wouldn’t still keep selling it, would they? Disney prides itself in good quality, so I trusted that these bags were improved if they were still selling them.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid of me.

Haunted Mansion Smith Bag: My first Haunted Mansion Smith bag had to be returned the same day that I bought it because there was a quality issue with how the inside was sewn. The Cast Member in the shop assured me she had so many Dooneys and they last forever and that this must have just been an old shipment because they had issues, but had fixed them.


So I got a second one and the zipper came off right there in the shop. The CM went in the back and got me a new bag from the most recent shipment and again assured me that these were the new ones that were made better.

My Smith bag lasted about 6 weeks before exhibiting the same flaking issue.

The worst part is that Disney is still selling the faulty bags even today. I just came back from Florida and I saw at least 6 Haunted Mansion Smith bags in the jewelry shop on Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom. Hundreds of women have had the same problem I have had. If you just use it for a special occasion you may not encounter this. But if you actually use the bag every day for 1-3 months you’ll eventually see this issue.

I spoke to the shop manager at Disney and she played dumb, but eventually revealed that she was aware of numerous complaints about that bag. I found it interesting that until I pushed her with my now deep knowledge of this bag line she pretended to not know about it. She told me I could get my money back from Disney if Dooney would not oblige.

Unable to get a resolution from Peter Dooney and Ian Ray:

I was unable to get a helpful reply from Dooney and they had up to 3 months to get me a reply.

I got frustrated and sent postal mail to Peter Dooney himself. I figured that he’d want to know this was happening since his name is on the bags. He handed my correspondence off to Ian Ray who told me he’d like to handle getting my bags fixed himself.

I was concerned because the email that Mr. Ray sent me was long, somewhat “rambling”, and more focused I felt on excuses. He also asked me to not publish the email. I didn’t publish it at that time because I am not unreasonable or a jerk. I understand if things go wrong – it’s all good if you make it right.

Unfortunately they did not make it right.

In his email I didn’t hear a lot of what I felt was needed: solution-based thinking. He explained to me that all of Dooney and Bourke was having quality issues. He stated that the Disney bags are the same quality level as their other bags, and said that this is why I had such a bad experience with customer service. They are literally getting so many complaints that they cannot handle it.

I’m like, that’s great. So they took a large amount of my money, didn’t deliver a solid product, but you want me to feel sorry for you?

Still, I remained polite and positive.

Ian Ray sent me a bag for free since I had to send my bags to him to get them repaired. The bag he gave me was a Disney Flower and Garden Festival bag. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his help – because I did.

Well…the strap came apart in under 2 months on my free bag and the color flaked off on the strap a little. I had to superglue it together to keep using it because I do not own another purse.

Wrap your head around this.

The freaking free bag they sent me to apologize for all of these bags I bought falling apart, fell apart.


The dark blue/black dye on the side of the bag is also starting to blur/bleed, but I am having trouble getting my camera to pick that up.

Mr. Ray told a friend of mine who met him at a signing event that they will repair the bags no problem and they stand by their products. Just 1 day later he emails me to tell me that oops, they don’t have any replacement Haunted Mansion bags in stock and can’t fix them but he could put dye over the white spots to cover up the flaking.

Why would I want this? They’ll just keep flaking! That is not a fix!

I politely declined and decided to try and work with the Disney side since the store manager in the Magic Kingdom told me they’d refund me.

Ian Ray then mysteriously stopped replying to my polite emails at that point. I requested to have my bags sent back to me as I would ask for a refund from Disney. However I know he received my emails because after I phoned Dooney and Bourke I was able to find out that my bags were in the process of being shipped back to me.

The situation currently at hand:

This is a sad situation in which Dooney and Bourke’s failure is directly impacting Disney’s reputation. I hope that Disney realizes this and takes action. I am not the only person who is extremely upset by this.

It’s been an epic nightmare since October when I bought these bags. Disney sent me to Dooney. Dooney sent me to Disney. I was ping-ponged back and forth which wasted a lot of my time. I am afraid they will push it such that I can’t get a resolution by next October when my warranty is up.

I emailed Disney about this because their store manager told me in April that I could get a refund. However Disney customer service told me I’d have to get a Dooney and Bourke gift card to buy a regular Dooney bag.

I never wanted a Dooney and Bourke bag. I never would have bought a Dooney. I bought it because it was a Disney Haunted Mansion bag and I purchased it from Disney’s store right on Main Street USA in Florida. I am still being ping ponged back and forth and each company is passing the buck to the other company since October!

For the first time in my life, I got a bit…direct…with the CSR after first apologizing because this was totally not her fault. Allegedly Disney will now give me a Disney gift card if I can find all of the receipts.

Cross your fingers, guys.

The sad thing is that I was treated terribly, but I received better treatment from Dooney and Bourke than most of their customers.

The Haunted Mansion Smith bags that are currently in the Disney parks shops all probably have this issue. They are still selling them. DO NOT BUY THEM. I am still fighting to get my money back and I don’t even have a purse I can use. I am not sure I’ve ever been treated worse in a high level item customer service scenario. I hope that someone high up in Disney reads this and understands that this is happening and this is the opposite of how Disney strives to treat it’s customers.

Disney’s partnership with Dooney is turning into an epic negative experience that is leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouths who were unfortunate enough to buy these particular bags. I don’t know why after all of the complaints that they’d continue to sell these bags in their stores. That’s the part that upsets me the most.

You can see some photos of the faulty bags here.