When The Queen Mary decided to reinvent their Halloween event in 2010, nobody was sure it could be done. Dark Harbor was born and put the struggling venue back on the map. When Creative Director J.J. Wickam wanted to bring a circus theme to the Dark Harbor event in 2012, people groaned. It turned out to be a revelation, yielding the amazing Ringmaster character. Last year, when the flavor of voodoo was introduced, people wondered if it would work. We now have the Voodoo Village maze and the Voodoo priestess entertaining guests. When Talent Director David Wally whispered in our ear that this would be the strongest year for Dark Harbor ever, we skeptically waited. When will we ever learn?
The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor opens its doors for the 2015 Halloween season this weekend and is, by far, the best year of Dark Harbor ever. As Wally predicted, the event is executed with such a level of polish that it shines above any previous incarnations. Back this year are the wonderful mazes, Circus (in the dome), Soulmate (located in the aft of the ship), B340 (located in the front of the ship), Deadrise (located on shore near the Queen Mary) and Voodoo (in the old Shopping center). New for this year is the haunting maze Lullaby (onboard the ship), the all-new Freakshow (onshore) and the all-new Anubis Paintball Adventure (onshore).
In this review, we will focus mainly on the mazes and experiences. We intend to review the shows and acts on the stage a little later.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty of it all. The mazes first.
Enter the bayou of brutality! Protected by the Voodoo Priestess, the Voodoo Village has been overrun by the traveling gypsies of the Ringmasters Circus and they dont like visitors. A nightmare of necromancy for all those who enter, Voodoo Village takes you through a maze of sinister spells, macabre ceremonies and evil spirits. Of course, even if youre lucky enough to survive the gypsys sanctuary and the southern crypt of death, youll still need to get through the deadly swamp where gators are the last thing youll have to worry about.
Located in the old Village shopping center, Voodoo boasts an impressive run time, leading up, down, around, in and out of the labyrinthine cluster of buildings at the entrance to Dark Harbor. The Voodoo priestess rules supreme with all of the subservient villagers at her mercy.
The maze follows nearly the same path as last year, save for a few surprises. Entering the fog-laden path at the beginning of the experience, we make our way into the village. Sacrificial alters bathed in blacklight surround us as traditional zombies leer at passerby. Venturing deeper into the possessed populace, we see that this bayou atmosphere is deceptive. Danger is around ever turn.
The talent in this maze knows what to do and why they are doing it. Each of the actors had very specific behaviors, dialogue, banter, and interactions with our group. This was not one long trail of people popping out of dark corners to scream at us. This was a descent into a village under a nasty spell.
The scares here, while not aggressive, were effective nonetheless. Not everything has to be in-your-face and this cast and crew gets it. Nice work!
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and experience the worlds most horrifying circus! Face your greatest fears as you wander through a terrifying tent of terror inside the cavernous dome located next to the Queen Mary. Disorienting illusions, maniacal magic acts, and a cadre of sideshow freaks are certain to shock, stun, and startle even the bravest of souls.
Inside the gigantic dome sits the shortest of the mazes at Dark Harbor. Circus is a hyper-saturated homage to the twisted nastiness of the big top. Entering the dome, we see a sinister display of carnival props. Before us is a devilish clown, whose mouth we must venture through to get into the maze. Once inside, veterans of years past will see the familiar mirror maze scene. However, all bets are off after that. Things have been drastically reconfigured here and there, with new scenes added while others were cut. Imagine coming to a ball pit, and at the far end, a grinning clown stands waiting. Yes, that happens. Here guests must return to their childhood Chuck E. Cheese memories and dive into the plastic ball pit. Inventive, fun, and disturbing, we wonder how the ball pit will fare when things get busier. We all thoroughly enjoyed this maze. While short, it did not suffer from brevity.
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
Another returning maze is the brilliant Deadrise. Guests enter the broken hull of the sunken vessel and are treated to a pre-show. Yes, that’s right, a pre-show. In the first room, we hear a transmission that explains the awful fate of the crew members lost at sea. After it is explained that the dead soldiers are returning to the surface, ready to reclaim the harbor, we are let loose into the maze. This is the first time we encountered a pre-show at Dark Harbor and we like it.
The large wooden palette to our left slides open and we are let loose. Dead soldiers and navy men pop out from every dark recess along the path. Foggy corridors conceal nasty monsters ready to strike. This is the strongest we have seen Deadrise, ever. We aren’t sure what it was; was the talent on point? or are we more afraid because we understand the premise more? All of the actors were intense and spot on.
Something must also be said for the tight reconfiguration of the path and its surrounding scenery. Far more claustrophobic than in years past, Deadrise sells the danger and the sense of fear wonderfully. As flames blast into the night sky from overhead flame throwers, monsters attack and scream. There is even a surprising geyser of water that shoots off randomly.
Deadrise was a sensory overload. The actors in this maze deserve nothing but the highest praise for their work. The set design and configuration was genius too as it confused and disoriented .
We have to say that this was one of the highlight mazes for us.
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 youve been smitten by Graceful Gale, there is no escaping
even after death!
Soulmate tells the story of the beautiful, but murderous, Graceful Gale. This deceptively white-clad figure is looking for a few parts of a few good men and she is collecting her favorite pieces. Continuing to add more narrative oomph to the mazes at Dark Harbor, Soulmate features a pre-show room too. Once the set up is given, we are off and running.
Just plain old good advice, even if it is inside a maze.
The further we get into Soulmate, the closer Gale is to cobbling together the perfect man. Tailors, costumers, doctors and other creatures are after human flesh. Essentially a repeat of last year’s walkthrough, Soulmate is a solid entry into the collection of mazes based on the ghostly residences of the ship. There was one interesting change made to the climactic scene at the end of the maze. A heart, with arteries stretching to the corners of the room, hovered, pumping blood as Gale dances about the room. A nice touch.
What would drive a man to madness and murder? Thats the answer 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!
As with all of the mazes, the brilliant B340 has enjoyed adjustments and polish to work on driving the storyline home. After an oddly shaky beginning, we are literally let loose into the mind of a crazy man. Samuel’s mother wanders aimlessly in a hallway. “He’s a good boy,” she says over and over. Synapses fly around the room thanks to some pinpoint lasers, selling the idea that we are about to enter the brain of Samuel.
We see flashbacks of his more traumatic experiences. Some of them include Catholic School and overbearing teachers that remind this poor soul that he is not worth the trouble.
The one lost opportunity here is the boiler room scene. Again, just like last year, we cross the bridge that hangs precariously over the cavernous boiler room of the ship. We could faintly make out the white shape, chained to the walls in the depths of the room The problem here is that there is no wow factor. Samuel was an evil guy. Why didn’t we see him burning in hell? Certainly a few fluttering lights and a soundtrack of a man screaming would easily remedy that.
Despite its flaws, B340 was still a solid piece to the ensemble.
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of nightmares. The new 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 youngsters pranks and tricks, or will you escape with your soul intact?
Let’s just come out and say this: any maze that starts off with the funeral for a child is, in a word, ballsy. Following in the patterns of both Deadrise and Solumate, the all-new maze Lullaby begins with the titular child in an open casket while a priest eulogizes her. We soon learn that this wasn’t just any little girl. This was a bad seed. This was a mischievous little water nymph bent on playing… underwater. We dive into the drenched playground of Scary Mary and Lullaby. Mary is looking for a playmate or two, and we are continuously tempted along the journey to join her games. The brilliant direction, casting, and makeup and costume give a unified, haunting look to the multiple actors playing the murderous tyke. It creates the consistent feel that this little monster is everywhere. Veering into B340 territory, we tap into the twisted psychosis of this evil little girl. Toys and playthings are strewn about through long corridors. Full playlets are party of watery displays, covered in seaweed and algae. Of course, we end up in the pool area where the original Mary supposedly drowned. Lights dance and undulate, inferring a watery grave. Mary stands at the opposite side of the pool calling out to passerby, asking if we want to play. Always impressive, the big reveal of the empty pool still feels lacking. A nice heavy haze in this area with some lighting would go a long way in giving this final room the punch it needs. As it is now it feels unfinished somehow. This is a brilliant new addition to the collection of ghost-based mazes on the ship. We now see Scary Mary, Graceful Gale, and Samuel the Savage all aboard the ship that they call home. This is truly a solid addition to the collection of mazes. Worth a wait.
Curse of Anubis Paintball Adventure
During the press event, our HorrorBuzz group went straight for the brand new Anubis Paintball Adventure. The attraction opened slightly late and ended up facing moonier technical problems until later in the evening. Despite that, we did try it and got a basic idea of what it was all about.
Curse of Anubis is paintball. No question. But you may ask, “How do they handle the paintball thing?” Simple. It is treated as a large shooting gallery.
Guests pay the additional $10 and are lined up at the shooting range. An announcement is made and it is explained just how to work the guns. The game begins and we are off. Live actors in mummy costumes dart back and forth in and among the mechanized props as guests shoot neon yellow, marble-sized paint balls at anything that moves.
Our one-word review? Hmmmm. The idea of a paintball attraction was one of great ambition and one that people will have a hard time grasping. Yes, you will shoot genuine, paint balls. This feels more like the Fronteirland Shooting Gallery at Disneyland. Nothing gets on you, but plenty gets on the set before you.
Because of technical issues we really don’t feel comfortable in writing a definitive review. What we did experience was a lot of fun although very confusing.
The Freakshow returns to Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. A $5 upcharge, this secluded oasis keeps thing light and breezy with a playful tone to the scares. Entering the Freakshow tunnels, we arrive to the center area known as the Freakshow Lounge. It is here that we discover another fully stoked bar and lounge areas to sit a spell. To the right and left of the lounge are two mini haunt experiences while there is a rotating act on the Freakshow main stage. If you are lucky, you might catch Mudd the Magnificent, Scott Sytten the magician, or a live performance by the Ringmaster herself. Yes, this is an upcharge area, but it is so so worth it.
Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is another prime example of how a haunt doesn’t have to be a theme park to be able to compete in the haunt industry in Southern California. Of course, a Halloween event that is produced on the site of one of the most haunted places in the world, is bound to be rewarding if by nothing else than by the virtue of its location. The good thing is that the creative forces behind Dark Harbor know exactly where its strengths are.
There is a very cohesive thread, and with such overall ensemble feeling throughout. It is an impressive feat to accomplish. Each maze here drives the overall narrative of the event in some way giving Dark Harbor a tapestry of plots to use in entertaining the audience. Congratulations Queen Mary.
The OC Death March Event – Sunday, October 18th Dark Harbor brings the true haunted tales of the Queen Mary to life, offering the most authentically frightening experience available. The annual event begins October 1 and continues to scare those who dare through November 1. Ticket prices start at just $20 online, with Fast Fright, VIP Passes, and lodging packages available. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.queenmary.com/dark-harbor. Here in southern California we enjoy a wealth of Halloween treasures. There are a total of 54 haunts in the area from Professional events like Knott’s Scary Farm to home haunts like Motel 6 Feet Under, to more professional, independent haunts like The Empty Grave. It can be an overwhelming task to pick and choose your activities in October. It can also be an expensive one. What is a Haunt fan to do? Go on a death march.
Introducing the first annual Orange County Death March.
The Empty Grave
The 17th Door
Sinister Pointe’s Trust Challenge
The ticket buys you priority access to all three haunted attractions for the small price of $50
If you are on the fence about what haunts to do and when, why not join us for three of the best haunts on Orange County? One price, three haunts, endless screams.
See you in the fog!