One event that we were looking forward to the most this year was the return of Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. This season, a lot of the fan's favorite haunts would be returning, along with their beloved spirits - Scary Mary, Graceful Gale, and Samuel the Savage; however, a new icon was introduced to mix things up, the commanding Iron Master, along with a new maze, INTREPID, that would give guests a glimpse into the world of their new master. As with last year, Dark Harbor impressed us with their characters, their attractions, their immersive elements, and some of their scares. They know their fans love them and it's apparent that they love their fans. This is a place that has passion and drive in not only their designs but in wanting to please and impress their guests as much as possible. So without further ado, lets take a closer look at their haunted mazes this season!
Synopsis: 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, fiercly guarding it from the antics of the freaks and ghouls. Follow his maddening journey... if you dare step aboard.
Thoughts: I really wanted to love this maze, I really did. However, this was probably the most disappointing out of all of them. I think that the creators of Dark Harbor were onto something with this maze but the execution of it came off wrong. Some of the set pieces throughout the maze were incredible, we even got to see the forging of the anchor of what is presumbly the Queen Mary and I found myself marveling at how the designers were able to put together such intricate set pieces. What was lacking in this maze though was the ability to scare those who were coming through. The use of steel caging throughout made the experience disappointing as it wasn't a good tactic for hiding the scare actors. Speaking of scare actors, I'll give credit to these individuals who made sure to interact with everyone that passed by. Overall, this maze fell short but hopefully, if they decide to do it again next year, they will make better use of the space in terms of hiding their actors so that we may experience better quality scares.
CIRCUS - BIG TOP TERROR
Synopsis: 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, manical magic acts, and a cadre of sideshow freaks are certain to shock, stun, and startle even the bravest of souls.
Synopsis: Last year, I had major issues with this maze and it ended up being my least favorite, but this year, I absolutely loved it and couldn't get enough. The set design was superb and they made use of the space to their advantage. The actors were incredibly interactive, especially upon entry, where we met a Spanish-speaking clown who used his tricks to persuade us to go through multiple doorways that lead to nowhere. Of course we go through the infamous ball pit of doom, which looks easy but rest assured is not. I had a hell of a good time going through this maze and enjoyed every aspect of it from start to finish. I'm not sure if there was a lot that was different from last year, or if my experience was just more enjoyable this year, but whatever the case, this is definitely a maze not to be missed.
DEADRISE - THE DEPTHS OF DARKNESS
Synopsis: 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 armadad of ghosts and monsters into a battle against the living to reclaim Dark Harbor.
Thoughts: Though the footprint of this maze has changed since last year, the story and overall design remains the same. However, this maze was the only other maze that was lackluster for me. Though the set design is impressive and the scare actors interactive, my biggest gripe was with the lack of scares and seeing the actors change shifts during the experience. DEADRISE is a fun haunt to go through design wise, I will always think that, and with such a flawless set I expected there to be better use of the actors, especially in terms of hiding. Another thing that was notably absent this year in the maze was The Captain. I remember leaving DEADRISE last year and walking through the fog towards the exit and out of the shadows The Captain appeared. It was terrifying and sudden and one of my favorite parts of the haunt. This year, The Captain was nowhere in sight, and as I exited I felt disappointed that I didn't come face to face with his commanding presence. As for the shift change, though it wasn't as bad as SOULMATE's, it was still annoying to see the actors changing out and getting in position as you were about to pass by. Instances like that really take away from the experience and hopefully next year it won't be so apparent.
LULLABY - HUSH HUSH DON'T CRY
Synopsis: 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 younger's pranks and tricks, or will you escape with your soul intact?
Thoughts: Now we are at that part of the review where we get to experience the mazes aboard The Queen Mary. Last year, I was blown away by LULLABY, and this year is no different. Though the storyline is similiar, I'm still amazed by the use of the ship's underbelly as not only a place for the actors to interact but as a part of the scenery. The Queen Mary can be scary in and of itself, so having the supposed spirit of a child running amok is downright terrifying. This maze has one of the more interactive actors who will follow you throughout the ship and even after you exit. This is definitely a maze that is unique, with a chilling story, and plenty of scares that keeps me wanting to come back over and over again.
SOULMATE - TILL DEATH DO US PART
Synopsis: 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 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!
Thoughts: This was my favorite maze by far at Queen Mary's Dark Harbor but ironically one of the mazes I had major problems with. What I loved about this maze was the actors, the set design, the story telling, the use of space, and the quality scares. We got to see Graceful Gale's story come to life and even have some one on one time with her in a very unsettling fashion. Out of all the mazes, I feel like this one has the potential to be even more immersive than it was. I enjoyed the interaction with the actors throughout and I liked that creators and designers were focused more on the guests experience rather than a congo line through the haunt. My only problem with this maze was the transitioning of the actors. Too many times I saw actors changing out to let new actors in and it completely took me out of the experience. A few times even the actors looked confused to see us coming around the corner as they were in mid-change out. I completely understand that this is something that needs to happen, I just think it needs to be better organized so that patrons don't run into this. Regardless, I still absolutely loved my experience at SOULMATE and I look forward to seeing the continued story of Graceful Gale for years to come.
B340 - A DESCENT INTO INSANITY
Synopsis: What would drive a man to madness and murder? That's 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!
Thoughts: I loved this maze last year and I loved it again this year. To me, this is one of the "darker" mazes and I don't mean in terms of lighting. It's just downright creepy and unsettling and surprisingly quiet. Things move about in the peripheral and it makes you wonder if you are seeing the spirits that inhabit this haunted ship or if they are just actors ready to pounce. Regardless, I got one of the best scares that I've had in awhile during my time in B340 - I won't say where it was in hopes that you readers will be able to experience it but it definitely scared the shit out of me. This is definitely a great maze to go through and one that I highly recommend. Though the story and design are the same as last year, don't let that deter you from going. The actors do a great job of making sure to scare you and chill you to the bone.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at Queen Mary's Dark Harbor. Though their newest maze, INTREPID, left a lot to be desired, it's clear that they are trying new things to keep up with the ever popular big name haunts such Halloween Horror Nights and Knott's Scary Farm. One of Dark Harbor's greatest strengths is their actors as well as their set design and makeup/costume department. They are on the brink of being one of the best haunted attractions in Southern California and it makes me happy to see how much they've grown since last year.
Along with their 6 haunted mazes, they also have a freak show as well as side show performers doing tricks throughout the area and a 4D experience if you need a place to rest your weary bones. Tickets to Dark Harbor are relatively inexpensive, starting at $20 and going up to $99 for VIP admission (which includes (1) VIP entrance, (1) Fast Fright Pass, (1) admission to the RIP Lounge and (2) drink tickets located above Dark Harbor).
All in all, Queen Mary's Dark Harbor is an impressive feat and we can't wait to see their continued growth. Definitely make sure to go this Halloween season as it's a fun departure from a lot of the more crowded haunts out there. For more information about Queen Mary's Dark Harbor and to purchase tickets, visit their website at www.thequeenmary.com.