Last night, Queen Mary opened its floodgates yet again to welcome everyone into Dark Harbor, their annual Halloween event. Building off of some of their strengths from last year, Dark Harbor returned with an intriguing cast of characters, the Evil 8, and a general carnival-like atmosphere. There were ups, there were downs, there are some changes, and some things stayed the same. Join us as we explore everything that Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor has to offer. There will be a few general thoughts below before we get into the nitty gritty of the mazes themselves.
Returning once again are the swings from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Yes, they are here year round and are used for the CHILL event during the holidays, but there is something decidedly creepy about them around Dark Harbor time. For whatever reason, I always forget how “intense” these are compared to others, as they don’t look like much from the ground. However, once you climb aboard, it twirls awfully fast, AND it is high up. Honestly, as silly as it seems, I always think it is worth the up-charge.
One of the things that changed this year was the placement of the “main stage.” Usually situated directly in front of the dome, this year, it is just off to the right, closer to the main entrance. This helps clear up some of the congestion that takes place during show times, and adds a bit more of a footprint to the stage itself. Honestly, these change was for the better, as it seems to be a much better location for the acts that take place there.
This is just one of MANY stages this year, as there are at least 7 by my count, so there is plenty of entertainment to see aside from just this main stage.
One of the things that Dark Harbor ALWAYS has going for it are its actors. This year is no different, as each and every one brings their A-game, from the folks portraying the Evil 8, all the way down to the ones in the mazes. I know that sometimes the working conditions on the ship aren’t the best, as it gets extremely hot and smelly at times, but every single person is committed to their roles, and make them shine.
Graceful Gail joins us again, looking for the perfect mate.
The Ring Master, in her newest form, also returns to Dark Harbor.
The Iron Master, the latest monster to come ashore, is an interesting character, played with gusto here.
And despite the Voodoo maze not returning this year, the theme still runs rampant through Dark Harbor, with plenty of the Priestess’ minions out to scare you.
This maze is brand new for 2016, and is the story of the Iron Master. He and his crew were the ones who built the Queen Mary, and have come to Long Beach to re-claim it for themselves. This year, the dome hosts not one, but two mazes, expanding the footprint, and making it a little easier to get around the outside area. The entrance, located where Circus’ used to be, makes it the first thing you see when you walk in, and entices you to come in.
The facade of the maze is fun, as it is a gigantic train. However, this one won’t take you to Hogwarts, but instead deeper into the Iron Master’s lair.
However, when we went through it, first thing of the evening, things seemed…off. Despite a stairway leading up to what looked like train cars, we were re-directed toward the handicap accessible route. While passing underneath said train cars, the sounds of hammers were heard. Whether they were part of the show, or buildings frantically working to finish the set pieces, I do not know. However, it was a disappointing start to this new maze.
Unfortunately, the rest of the experience was just OK. There were one or two good scares, but the entire area was open, and you could see actors from a mile away. Winding through a literal maze of chain link fences and small set pieces, it quickly became repetitive, and wasn’t nearly as much fun as we hoped. It also seemed somewhat sparse, and not as detailed as every thing else Dark Harbor has to offer.
We had planned on visiting this one again later in the night, but we weren’t able to make it back. Hopefully it was just a case of opening night jitters, and this one will improve as the weeks go on.
The Ring Master returns with Circus, getting a much needed, slight overhaul, and making it one of the best mazes that Dark Harbor has to offer.
Opening up with a bit of interactivity, with a pair of clowns making you “choose your path,” leading to hilarity, this one consistently serves up laughs and scares. Located in a different area of the dome, the paths have changed ever so slightly, making something new awaiting around each corner. The talent here is all top notch, making some wonderful moments befitting of a twisted circus. Kudos to this one for re-inventing itself slightly and coming away as one of the top mazes of the night.
There isn’t much more to say except that this one is fantastic, and a can’t miss.
Graceful Gail’s maze also got a bit of a make-over, and it while it does make the story stronger at points, it fails to do so in others.
Taking a page for Circus’ new beginning, when you first head into the maze, you will meet Gail in a very lively form; the gorgeous young lady about to embark on the Queen Mary for the first time. This is one of the mazes I actually walked through alone, so there was a great one-on-one moment here, as she made me kiss her hand, gleefully talked about her upcoming trip, and then quickly went into creep mode as she raved about my “haunting eyes.” Of course, we all know how Gail’s story goes, and what she becomes, so this was a really great way to begin the maze.
Traveling deeper into the ship, Gail’s story unfolds, as she continues to look for her perfect match, to find her soulmate. We walk past many of her workshops, as her and her minions toil away, cutting up men and trying to make the best mate for her. Perhaps this was there last year, but I don’t recall, but some dark corners of the ship had gigantic organs, simulating what each room was looking for; the heart, the brain, and so on. It was a nice touch.
However, halfway through the maze, the story becomes a bit muddled, and the strong ending for years past, of the ballroom full of potential suitors, is now lost. While fun, the maze just seems to end, as we are kicked back outside. The maze still works, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a stronger, punchier ending.
The tale of Samuel the Savage is always a fun one, and is consistently one of the goriest mazes at Dark Harbor. Diving into the mind of Samuel, we see his upbringing, and what made him what he is today.
There are some new twists and turns within this one, but for the most part, it is the same maze we’ve seen before. What works continues to work, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. There did seem to be a lack of actors in this one for some reason, as there were long stretches where we didn’t see any scare actors. Though the sets were great to look it, it would definitely benefit from a few more scares.
As a suggestion to you, this one DOES get hot as the night goes on, so it may be a good idea to hit this one first, before you get stuck in a crowded, warm room with other guests.
Scary Mary is back, and she just wants to play with you.
This one remains relatively unchanged from last year, but there wasn’t much to improve upon. This maze is damn near perfect, and is effectively creepy. Plenty of Marys abound to scare the hell out of you, while also telling her story. Each of the actresses portraying her were creepy as hell, especially when appearing from dark corners of the ship.
There was also one incredibly actress, toward the end of the maze, sitting in a hallway as we approached, that NONE of us thought was real. However, the reveal was powerful, and had us all screaming. I will never look at Teddy Bears the same way again, I will tell you that.
This still remains one of the best mazes on board the ship, and a lot of fun. But, just like B340, it is suggested to do this one early, before the crowds heat it up more.
Deadrise is the ONLY maze in the main area this year, and it is in a different location. Despite the change, I couldn’t tell of any real difference in the layout. While it is just a bunch of shipping containers laid out, it works, and works well. The dead seamen arise again, trying to get you to join their crew.
There are plenty of dark corners and wonderful scares here. They also have a few new tricks up their sleeve, with some maze-like qualities to certain areas that are sure to confuse some guests, and give them some good scares.
It DID seem a little longer than in the past, but that only adds to the fun.
The sideshow was one of the stand-outs for me last year, and here, it is no different. Lots of kooky and fun things abound, with plenty of “freaks” to see, and acts that perform.
The only downside to this, in my opinion, is the $5 up-charge. While it may not seem like much, if you have already purchased admission into Dark Harbor, this should really be included. It’s almost a whole other maze unto itself, and should be something that all guests should see. I hope they consider including it in the general admission next year, as it is a lot of fun.
HEX Paintball Gallery
The paintball game, while in a new location and with a new theme, is basically more of the same as last year. It’s just okay, and quite honestly not worth it unless you REALLY enjoy paintball.
An all-new, 4D experience awaits on-board the ship, featuring the usual “get wet, get poked, get bugs on you” tricks that have been used in these types of things for decades. While it is cute and mostly enjoyable, it is also a $5 upcharge. Mileage may vary on this, but if you have young ones (but really, why would you at Dark Harbor?), it may be worth your time.
Overall, Dark Harbor remains an enjoyable event, with more of an adult-crowd vibe than others. There are plenty of bars, plenty of food stands, and plenty to do and see aside from just the mazes themselves. Last year’s Dark Harbor, I felt was one of their strongest to date. While this years did seem to have a misstep here or there, I still feel as if this is worth your time in checking out.
Dark Harbor is open between now and October 31st, with tickets starting at $20 (though some nights get up to $39 for general admission).
For more information, and to buy tickets, visit: www.queenmary.com/events/dark-harbor
If you are looking for something more to do for Halloween, Join the HorrorBuzz crew at the Winchester Mystery House on October 14th!