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Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream turns family theme park to adults-only scream park. Credit: Busch Gardens.

By Amy Drew Thompson

I’ll say it for the record: Tropical Halloween is weird. It’s not Fall-ish. Leaves aren’t changing colors or crunching underfoot. Pumpkin-and-spice scents don’t make as much sense where the average high is 84. To its credit, Florida adapts.

Case in point: Guavaween, a beloved, Latin-infused affair that attracts tourists, out-of-towners and locals with a desire to stay in party central, infuses additional carnival-iciousness into the already-colorful district of Ybor City. Costumed revelry ensues. Family-friendly events are hosted morning to evening: trick-or-treating in the area’s fashionable and funky shops and eateries, spooky story time and the like. The night belongs to the grown-ups, culminating in the creative, outrageous and undeniably Halloweenish Mama Guava Stumble Parade.

The Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn, with its ornate iron balconies and romantic four-poster beds will put you literally steps from the action while guests at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina in the adjacent Channelside district can catch the city trolley right out front with ease. Those interested in a more traditional (read: gloriously horrifying) Halloween experience might opt for the Hyatt Place Tampa Busch Gardens for its proximity to the theme park and its after-dark Howl-O-Scream affair where scare zones, haunted houses and other ghoulish fare add more adrenaline to its collection of thrill rides.

Laws of counterculture dictate that in a conservative society, for example, its members would be more liberal. In a peaceful society, they’d be warlike. And in a beachy community — where bare feet, boat drinks and tan lines are the norm — they are Goth. This subculture’s Tampa home is the aptly-named Castle, an Ybor City fixture since 1992 where the ironic vampires of the Sunshine State get their Bauhaus and absinthe on. Don’t be off-put if it’s not your thing; the Castle is a friendly place, a melting pot of genres musical and social. Revelers from all walks come for Mondays’ ʼ80s Nights, New Wave Thursdays and Saturday’s “No Boundaries” party, when people-watching is its most epic. Wear your dancing shoes; black eyeliner, ornate chalice and morbid sense of ennui optional.

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Freelance travel writer and former PLAYGIRL editor Amy Drew Thompson’s bucket list includes being a zombie extra in a George Romero film. Her website,, is decidedly less gory.

Tagged: Family time, Florida

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