A notoriously haunted nearly century old cruise liner – now permanently docked in the Long Beach harbor – hosts one of the most chilling, most effective and most believable Halloween events you’ll ever find.
The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is a separately ticketed event that runs twenty-two select nights between September 29, 2016 and October 31, 2016, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday as well as the last Wednesdays of October and Halloween night itself. In its 26th year, Dark Harbor features six different haunted houses – one of which is brand new for 2016, as well as a large scare zone, rotating live bands and entertainment shows, an upcharge voodoo-themed paintball range, a new 4D theater show as well one carnival ride with a very interesting history – Sinister Swings, formerly the Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
Do you dare go back to where it all began? Meet the mastermind, the creator and now the protector of the Queen Mary. The Iron Master has returned to reclaim the precious vessel he built, fiercely guarding it from the antics of the freaks and ghouls. Follow his maddening journey… if you dare step aboard.
One thing Dark Harbor understands exceedingly well is the value of an event icon character – and the new maze every subsequent season becomes that character’s foreboding permanent home. Intrepid belongs to the Iron Master, creator of The Queen Mary, and who apparently has a disjointed mind marred by a total lack of imagination.
So – the convoluted backstory centers around this spot being the location where the Queen Mary was originally constructed, beginning in 1930. Nothing about that is clear in its execution. The backstory of this maze is without a doubt the worst part.
Scenically, Intrepid is a really poor quality attempt to pull of a steampunk themed haunt. At its core, the majority of this maze is nothing but chain link fences, some sporadic plywood and plastic tarp to create really low-rent feeling sets.
For some reason that I’m still unable to process, the first scene is that of a passenger train – one that you inexplicably enter through the center of the cow catcher on its front? But after passing through a single cabin, the train theme is dropped all together for, I don’t know, budget scrap yard?
This maze, from start to finish felt like the lower end of something you might find at a Six Flags Fright Fest. Let that sink in for a minute.
The scenic of this maze is without a doubt the worst part.
With no real story to speak of, and the world’s worst haunt scenic, I suppose it should come as no surprise that there’s also not really any notable scares to be had. I don’t blame Intrepid’s cast for this however; it’s impossible to get into your role when your role is essentially nonexistent. There’s plenty of actors to be encountered here, but none of them have any impact beyond cheap boo scares – again – because there’s just no impact they’re able to make in this one.
Branching paths that – in truth – seem to exist more an ADA accessible route that bypasses the staircase and catwalks near the start of this experience find themselves uses as a regular part of Intrepid, with no clear regard for the fact that the bypass route clearly misses most of the show. We recommend you stay to the left and proceed up the flight of stairs before you if given the choice.
Intrepid was a major disappointment – because on the whole Queen Mary does a great job with their mazes, and typically the new one is always the one to see that year. Not this time, unfortunately. The hopeful saving grace is that Dark Harbor as an event has proven they aren’t afraid to completely redesign a returning maze- so perhaps in 2017, a lot of the fundamental design issues with Intrepid can be corrected.
The scares in this maze are without a doubt the worst part.
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of nightmares. The Lullaby maze takes the visitor on a spine-tingling trip through the story of little Scary Mary. Gone, but certainly not forgotten, Mary is looking for playmates to join her on the other side of hell. Will you succumb to the youngster’s pranks and tricks, or will you escape with your soul intact?
I think it’s probably a scientific fact that when you add cute children and toys to something scary, it just transforms it into the purest form of nightmares. Lullaby embraces this fact and uses it to its advantage to create the most frightening maze of Dark Harbor.
This is the story of Scary Mary, the little girl ghost who drown aboard the Queen Mary decades ago – yet who never left. She just wants a friend. To keep. Forever.
Tucked away in the bowels of 80 year old notoriously haunted ship, Lullaby would intimidate even the bravest souls of your group – even without any scenic decor added. The near pitch black, claustrophobic passages, and natural creaking and moaning of the ship itself are disturbing enough, but when you factor in some of the best scenic dressing at the event with a great – albeit minimal by design lighting package, you really end up with a special kind of haunt.
Lullaby takes place over several floors aboard the actual Queen Mary herself, leaving passengers required to climb and descend several steep staircases although their journey. There’s just something about that which is so unnatural in a haunt – so non-traditional that it really makes Lullaby stand out as something truly unique.
If that’s not creepy enough – along the way, you’ll pass the notoriously haunted indoor swimming pool, believed to be *the* most haunted spot on the entire ship, and site of the drowning death of an actual little girl on one of her trans-Atlantic sailings. Whether you believe in ghosts in real life or not, there’s something unquestionably unsettling about the mood about The Queen Mary, and perhaps more so than any other section of it, within the passages Lullaby maze.
Lullaby checks off all the boxes to create perfect storm for great haunt scares. Its narrow passageways are so dark that it’s easy for scareactors to hide in plain site right in front of you. The authentic setting will unnerve you on its own, and some great scenic and atmospheric effects truly immerse you into the storyworld.
New to Lullaby this year was a branching path, where guests could head left or right through different parts of the ship to receive unique experiences before rejoining the original path. Unfortunately, what results seemed to be one path with a show and the other bypassing it – creating two experiences that were definitely not equal in quality depending on which way you go. We recommend you stick to the left at the split if possible.
Dark Harbor’s cast has long proven they understand how to truly interact with guests in their haunts – and Lullaby is always one of the best examples of that. Where most scareactors elsewhere believe the key is running around and screaming in your face, Dark Harbor has always recognized the value of suspense. Several moments in Lullaby specifically have you traversing long, straight hallways through the old ship. At the end of that hallway, just like in a horror movie stands a lone scareactor. Your natural human reaction becomes “oh my gosh, what is she going to do? What is she going to do?! I know she’s going to do something!” But here – nine times of of ten she literally… does…. nothing. And let me tell you, that suspense, and that apprehension is far more effective than any boo scare ever could be. It messes with your head in the most psychological way – and it never gets any less unsettling. I know because at Dark Harbor, and in Lullaby especially, it happens *a lot.*
The cast also does a phenomenal job of embodying their characters. Each portrays their role with a darkly sinister childlike whimsy. They’re all dead kids, and they just want to play with you. At least to start. It creates an incredibly creepy mood that just cannot be matched.
What would drive a man to madness and murder? That’s the question B340 attempts to answer as we take a schizophrenic sojourn into the psychotic mind of Samuel the Savage. Tight spaces, darkness mixed with flashing lights, and pulse-pounding noises would drive anyone to the brink of insanity. Beware the wrath of violence of Samuel the Savage and be careful not to lose your head or your mind!
B340 dives in to what might happen if someone had a psychotic breakdown on one of The Queen Mary’s trans-Atlantic crossings. Trapped at sea for days on end with no where to run can do number on the mind – not to mention the innocent victims in his path. Each step of your journey through Samuel’s world becomes more twisted, more demented and more bloody.
Some epic scenic moments await in B340 – but honestly they are more because of the actual physical layout of the ship than any decor that’s been added for Dark Harbor. As with Lullaby, B340 includes many narrow passageways and steep staircases, a whole lot of dark hallways and an infinite number of hiding places for Samuel the Savage and the sinister figments of his imagination.
Your journey begins in the mind of Samuel – quite literally. You navigate the claustrophobic passages through the tissue of his actual brain (for some reason) in a moment that doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense in the context of the maze, yet still creates an unsettling mood.
From there, you see Samuel descend into madness, from his childhood classroom all the way up to his cabin on the ship, full of the blood all those who crossed his path.
The cast throughout B340 proved as always to be completely engaged in their roles and dedicated to bringing their characters to life. They were aggressive, angry and disturbed – which in this case are all good things.
Again, the layout of the ship and the inherently supernatural feeling of your surrounds only serves to significantly amplify the sense of intimidation this maze creates, making B340 always one of the more memorable experiences at Dark Harbor.
Gale has been haunting Dark Harbor looking for a soul mate since her mysterious disappearance. A meandering maze of mystery, Soulmate is where Graceful Gale lures potential suitors with her charm. Beware of her minions, whose job it is to chop up her suitors and reassemble them into the perfect man. Once you’ve been smitten by Graceful Gale, there is no escaping…even after death!
Add a little jealous vengeance over a long-lost love into the mix of a supernatural tale and you’re sure to end up with a hair-raising experience. There’s something so haunting, so intriguing about Graceful Gale. She’s beautiful, yet clearly dangerous. You know she means you harm, yet your still instinctively drawn closer to her.
This is the demented tale of a desperate lover so determined to find the perfect mate that she’s willing to create one with pieces of her past loves – and that story flows through clearly and chillingly from the moment you enter Soulmate.
Although a returning maze, this year’s Soulmate takes on a completely new path through the hull of The Queen Mary, making use of a large majority of scenes ones regulated to a premium upcharge Encounters haunt Dark Harbor tried their hand at for the 2014 season. What results is a completely new experience for Soulmate mixing authentic – and unnerving – areas of this haunted ship into the tale of Graceful Gale like never before.
This maze is an interesting mixture of elegance and gory brutality. Scenes depict The Queen Mary in her hayday, the outfits Gale plans to wear to that evenings big Masquerade where she holes to find her Soulmate, and the terrifying seamstress rooms where she’s been sewing together her perfect mate, regardless of the fact that the body’s she’s taking those pieces from happen to still be alive and screaming for your help.
Scenically, I’d be remiss to not mention one bizarre omission; The story of Soulmate builds to that masquerade party – and in its prior years, that was the grand scale finale of this haunt. This year, however, as part of the maze’s re-configuring, that masquerade party scene was cut entirely. What results is a story that builds to… nothing, with the scene that is in simple fact the entire purpose of this story now completely nonexistent; a pity for such a fantastic maze, and honestly the only reason it did not receive the full 5 Keys it otherwise rightfully deserves.
As with Lullaby and B340, Soulmate – the third and final maze actually aboard the Queen Mary herself greatly benefits from an inherently creepy atmosphere even before the show itself begins. Great effort is made with additional set dressings that only bring it to another level – but it’s the cast of Soulmate that really bring this experience to life.
Truly embodying their roles – these scareactors bring their characters to life – or death, as it were – in the most believable of fashions. During my journey through, I had what will perhaps be the single best actor interaction I’ll ever receive in a traditional haunt. Early in the experience, a young Graceful Gale, boarding the Queen Mary to set sail on her voyage, and ultimately find her true love, stopped me personally and had what probably ended up being a full four to five minute one on one interaction with me that rivaled even any immersive theater production I’ve encountered. She told me how she “remembered me” – and didn’t know from where, but knew that I was here for a reason. She knew our paths where meant to cross on this night – almost as though we were in fact soulmates.
Without a doubt, this created the most effective, most chilling set up you could get to an already solidly spooky story that resulting in the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
Deadrise is a WWII escort ship that helped guide The Grey Ghost through enemy-infested waters. After a fatal crash during one of their dangerous voyages, Deadrise sank to the bottom and has been resting in her watery grave in the depths of the sea ever since. The wreckage of Deadrise has once again been called into service by the star of Dark Harbor, The Captain, to escort him and his armada of ghosts and monsters into a battle against the living to reclaim Dark Harbor.
The legend behind Deadrise is a compelling one, but its execution is simply no match to convey it. A haunt intended to be the rightful home of The Captain, who in essence is the most important icon character Dark Harbor has comes across as an afterthought from the guest experience.
Beyond a somewhat cool entry statement with the sunken warship facade, there’s not much more scenically to see in Deadrise. Although certainly better than Intrepid, this haunt is essentially a series of large metal shipping containers, camo netting and metal fences.
Even in its debut year, this was the weakest maze on the Dark Harbor slate (though Intrepid has certainly found a way to stake claim to that title now.) One can only hope that 2017 may finally see a replacement for this one.
There’s nothing ground-breaking in the way of scares in Deadrise. A fairly decent sized cast for a lesser quality haunt, but each interaction essentially equates to simple boo scares. As with Intrepid, it’s not so much that the cast here isn’t enthusiastic, but that there’s really not much for them to do. With virtually no scenic and almost as little evident story to play off of, there’s not much more they’re literally left with than to jump out and scream in your face.
Being a fully outdoor haunt. Deadrise also makes use of a fireball and water cannon effect – the latter of which has been amp’ed up to to blast out an utterly offensive amount of water that will leave you completely drenched from head to toe. There’s just no need for that on a cool fall evening after the sun has long since set – and when you factor in this occurs in a maze that is already one of the worst at the event, it only makes all the more difficult to accept.
Circus – Big Top Terror
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and experience the world’s most horrifying circus! Face your greatest fears as you wander through a terrifying tent of terror. Disorienting illusions, maniacal magic acts, and a cadre of sideshow freaks are certain to shock, stun, and startle even the bravest of souls.
It’s unquestionably the most thematically out of place maze at Dark Harbor – an event where everything connects back to the lore of the legendary Queen Mary ship herself – but hey, I’m a huge fan of evil clowns so who am I to complain about that. Circus is home to former icon character, The Ringmaster – because, you know, luxury cruise liner.
In past years, Circus was scenically one of the best haunts to be found at Dark Harbor. Unfortunately, this year it has (again) been completely reinvented nearly from top to bottom, this time not for the better. What once was a maze full of compelling, twisted sets sadly now feels like a transplant from Six Flags Fright Fest.
This year’s Circus comes across as being very downgraded in scale and quality from its original roots. In fact, one of the most epic gag’s from last year’s version, a literal ball pit you had to climb into and traverse has been cut entirely, in favor of simply scattering those balls throughout the maze, which in turn creates a massive potential trip hazard in the dimly lit space.
I was very disappointed to find that this year’s Circus ultimately felt like the “budget version” of a once truly fantastic haunt.
As with all mazes at Dark Harbor – one constant saving grace is that you can always count on an energetic, engaged cast of scareactors. The sinister clowns in Circus bring their wacky characters to life, playing psychological games with guests trying to find their way out. What results is a delightful balance of fear and comic relief that feels entirely appropriate given the thematic setting.
Circus makes fun use of a full fledged mirror maze as for a portion of this haunt, complete with clowns lurking around corners, truing to lure you into walking into a wall. There’s also a few notable moments straight out of a carnival fun house like moving slider plates on the floor – something not commonly found in a haunt.
Beyond the six haunts, the entire midway at the base of the ship that makes up Dark Harbor is one massive scare zone. Unique to this event is the complete lack of safe areas. Even major haunt players like Universal or Busch or Knott’s have sections of the park intended to be safe havens; areas where those more prone to getting frightened can catch their breath without worrying about a monster chasing after them. At Dark Harbor, every inch of the park is fair play, meaning you’re never safe from the threat of a lurking scareactor.
The magic of Dark Harbor lies without question on the three haunts aboard the ship herself. Now permanently docked in Long Beach harbor some eighty years after her maiden voyage, standing frozen in time as a monument to a bygone era, The Queen Mary is recognized as one of the most historically haunted cites in America. The ambiance aboard is entirely unsettling, and enough to make even the biggest doubters believe in the possibility of the supernatural.
Passing through hallways of this vintage lost world can be overwhelming enough, but taking into account that the majority of the haunts exists in areas never meant to be seen by guests – the very bowls of the ship, unfinished, ugly, narrow, industrial passages – the experience just becomes all the more unsettling.
Add into that mix some of the most energetic and engaged scareactors you’ll find during the Halloween season and you’ll no doubt understand why The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is a truly special event that is difficult to match – and one of my solid annual Halloween traditions.
Venue: Queen Mary
Location: Long Beach, CA
Dates: Select Nights September 29th – October 31st
Hours: 7PM – 12AM or 1AM depending on the night.
Cost: $20 – $24 for General Admission $35 for Fast Fright (Highly Recommended)