The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor has returned to the fright and delight of haunt and horror fans. Yes the maritime monstrosity that began as a reboot of the venue’s attempt to compete in a jam-packed, southern California haunt market has not only survived but thrived to become a Halloween tradition.
Celebrating its 10 year anniversary, this haunt features 6 mazes (5 returning and 1 new), two performance stages, countless bars, and a relentless army of scare actors that carpet the carnival atmosphere. Dark Harbor is still a haunt worth visiting. With this auspicious year, everything that fans have grown to love about Dark Harbor is here. The downside is that everything that fans tolerate continues as well.
Entering the event we are treated to a long corridor of aged spires, lighting, and drifting fog. Monsters creep in the shadows and we entered the gates of Dark Harbor. In front of us lay a haunted vista of mazes, stages, creatures of the night, and the iconic Queen Mary as the backdrop.
There are three walkthroughs on the historic ship and three onshore. Let’s take a look at them here.
Everything you have heard about B340 is true. Follow the lead detective on the scene as he uncovers the sinister truth behind one of the most notorious criminals to ever invade the luxury liner. According to ship and police reports during a cross-Atlantic voyage in October of 1948, passenger Samuel was deranged and dangerous and went on a bloody rampage against passengers and staff before being captured and locked in Stateroom B340, only to vanish. When police entered the room, the blood-soaked walls, cruel carvings, and no sign of Samuel launched a mystery that to this day remains unsolved. You don’t want to be the person who finds him.
The brutal story of B340 returns, having us relive the nightmares of Samuel the Savage. As the story goes, he is a tortured soul. We begin at the scene of the crime and dive into the mind of a killer.
This maze is still an effective bit of storytelling but something felt very off on our trip through. To be fair, this was only the second maze of the night, not 20 minutes into the opening of the event. Keeping that in mind, we found that the talent had yet to fall into a groove and begin feeling their characters. The jump scares were there, but the finesse was missing.
Regardless, we intend to return and explore B340 further for more effective scares.
Upon the Captain’s orders – the Ringmaster has returned to The Queen Mary with her collection of freaks, allowing guests to sneak beyond the curtains to unveil the horrors lurking within the shadows of the big top. Hosting a menagerie of monsters and sinister creatures, the one and only Ringmaster returns with unadulterated and unbelievable horrors for all who step inside Circus! But don’t let your guard down. She is always looking to add another cohort to her traveling show.
Oh, Ringmaster…how we love you. The Circus is back, and it looks as good as it ever has. Approaching a creepy tent, we enter to find a myriad of freaks waiting to greet us. Lured in, we are lost in a collection of disorienting scenarios and confronted by the sublimely terrifying creatures that call the circus home. This nasty little maze has been refreshed a bit here and there to nice effect. That’s not to mention the ball pit.
Tech was solid in this maze, with lighting and sound doing a nice job to keep us on our toes. The actors in this maze were easily the most engaging of the night, with favorites including the bearded lady, the clowns in the ball pit, and the animals. There is a certain mischievous nature to the scares here as opposed to the aggressive nature of most others. This is a phenomenal way to kick off the night and is highly recommended.
Let The Feast begin. Our evil Chef has emerged from his watery grave to overtake our dank and dark kitchens and will present a four-course meal guaranteed to fright! On the menu this fall, Chef has prepared an Amuse Bouche of angst and anxiety, followed by our first course of death and despair. Indulge in our main course of manic paranoia concluding with a dessert of dismay and terror. Come have a seat at our table, but don’t stay too long or you might end up on the menu!
The cannibalistic Chef returns in Feast. We enter the ship’s galley and begin the journey through the haunted passageways and cabins. Serving trays and room service carts litter the landscape as we make our way to the kitchen. Of course, this is where we discover what type of protein Chef prefers to work with and we must somehow escape.
What began as a very promising reinvention from last year has stagnated. Again, being the third maze that we opted to experience, we could see that the actors were finding their place. Having only been open for just under 40 minutes, the talent was still finding footing. Setting that qualm aside, the route for this walkthrough has been reconfigured in the second half to baffling effect. Beginning in the galley, the maze digs its way down to the engine rooms of the historic ship. Let’s be clear, the Queen Mary is historic and it is impressive. But the new route only serves to circulate guests and leaves a story far behind.
Set up a play date with Mary, who is always looking for a new friend. Mary allegedly drowned in the First Class swimming pool aboard the ship back in ’52 and has been rumored to be haunting the ship ever since. Self-proclaimed medium Marty Roberts is hired to investigate this phenomenon by leading an exploration to the famed swimming pool and changing rooms. Be on the lookout for a little girl with a Teddy Bear, beckoning you to play games. But be careful, Mary’s friendships last forever.
For our first maze of the night, we chose to start at the front of the ship with Lullaby. Technical difficulties kept the attraction from opening on time but we were allowed in soon enough. All of us were fully aware of Scary Mary and her ill-fated trip to the first-class pool, but this year a new approach to the story was used. Retracing the steps of a psychic investigator, we awaken the spirit of Mary and are beckoned to play. Sadly, the idea falls flat.
We enter the maze and, after passing through a hallway of torn sheets (a haunt staple we might add), we get to…a bar. An odd choice for a maze about a child that drowned in a pool. Breezing past this feature, we push on into the darkness. An old-school standard resolution television plays cheesy video of Marty Roberts inspecting the ship for ghosts. We make our way down a dimly lit hallway and come upon another television setting up the character of Marty Roberts and his ham-fisted approach to ghost hunting. Then down into the pool dressing rooms we go.
Here Scary Mary, and a host of drowning guests, beckon us. It goes without saying that Mary is having a much better time than her victims, all of which warn us from their watery grave. Let’s be real. Kids are creepy. Dead, drowning kids from another era are downright insufferable.
We have to give props for the new take on the Scary Mary storyline that includes a cheesy investigator and the creepy playmate vibe that Mary has going on. But the execution is way off. Had we not read the description of the maze, nearly the entire storyline would have been lost on us.
Regardless of the misgivings mentioned, this still features one of the best scenes in any of the mazes at the event. Get to this one early.
A young shipbuilder’s obsession with his creation, the unsinkable Queen Mary, lured him to the moment that would forever seal his fate. Presented by an evil sea witch with the promise of immortality and success, his choice was made, and his flesh was exchanged with the steel from the only thing he ever cared about: his ship. Follow the path of wicked choices and wrongdoings to see what lead the Iron Master to become the horrific half-metal creature spending eternity in an iron Hell.
Intrepid was beautifully re-imagined by haunt design team Plague Productions last year and we again have the chance to return to this nightmarish landscape. Nearly everything is the same as previous years, save for a few adjustments. This also features one of the most effective scenes for scares in any of the mazes at the event.
When we visited this maze later in the evening, it seemed the cast was coming into their own. Clever scares and good use of space were hallmarks, not to mention their energy. The second best maze of the night, Intrepid delivers a strange collection of environments that tell a story well enough.
Brace for impact! It’s all hands on deck as a rogue wave has hit the Queen Mary, causing confusion and fear as the ship turns completely on its side, in danger of capsizing. Will the Captain right the ship? Or will he lead her and all souls aboard into a watery grave, never to be seen or heard from again…
Easily the best maze of the night, Rogue is also the newest. Telling the tale of a rogue wave that nearly capsized the beloved Queen Mary, we are given a cinematic and surprising start. Situated inside a mini-dome, Rogue puts us in the bridge as a wave of epic proportions barrels toward the Queen Mary. This is actually a beautifully done effect. We then survive as crew members and soldiers alike fight for safety.
Rogue reminds me of the days when Dark Harbor took chances and succeeded. Rogue is not perfect. But its ambitions are epic in scale and the execution is grandiose enough to convince you to buy into it. Yes, the talent is top-notch in this maze but the continued urging to “Go! Go! Get to safety! Keep moving!” tends to wear thin. This maze also features one of the more bizarre and wonderful endings to any Dark Harbor Maze. LOVED IT!
After killing the mazes, we took a stroll and took in the scene. The tapestry of talent continues to impress. Scares, laughs, and even dancing are on the menu with hundreds of wandering performers engaging at every turn. Truly this is one of the best collection of monsters out there. The Captain, The Voodoo Priestess, The Ring Master, Graceful Gail, Scary Mary, they are all out there, wandering, interacting, entertaining, and creating moments on a level that no traditional theme park haunt can pull off.
Once inside the event, you can easily dive in and have a good time. But the same issues that plague this event continue to haunt it much like the ghosts on the storied ship itself.
This is the haunt with what could be considered the most difficult parking situation. Situated on a tiny port, Dark Harbor simply does not have space on-site to offer visitors. If you insist on parking right next to the ship, you will be asked to pay a hefty price. Fortunately, there ARE alternatives that might be more merciful on your wallet. Dark Harbor has offsite parking options at $27 with a free shuttle service to the venue. Our advice, GO TO THESE LOTS!!! The shuttles are clean, they run every few minutes, and the ride is quick, dropping you off right at the entrance.
While the look of the food stalls has improved vastly over the years, going from a cheap county fair look to themed facades, the prices have consistently risen to egregious levels. Nearly $15 for a turkey leg and $6 for a bottle of Vitamin Water is even more than Disney charges at their parks. Truly absurd.
Tips on Enjoying Dark Harbor
- Look for the “Happy Haunting Hour Admission” ticket option on the Dark Harbor website, hit up Goldstar for ticket deals, and consider going on off nights like weekdays or Sundays.
- Have dinner at any one of the restaurants near the event prior to arrival.
- PARK IN THE OFF-SITE PARKING SPOTS
- ARRIVE EARLY or simply plan on buying the Fast Fright option for the front of the line access to mazes.
Dark Harbor is not the easiest event to produce. It is literally built from nothing, with temporary structures that need to be put up, used, and then removed without a trace just like any other fair or transitory event. Then there is also the fact that they are constructing walkthroughs for thousands of guests that snake through The Queen Mary, a historical landmark. We laud the effort put forth to produce this event at such a tricky, yet picturesque spot
We plan to return to Dark Harbor again, with the tips provided above and expect to have a killer time.