Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the pleasure of attending The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor this year and figured I would offer up a few thoughts on the event for my fellow haunt enthusiasts. Just so everyone knows where I am coming from, I have never attended this event in the past, though it has been on my radar for quite some time. Like my other reviews, I will be putting the houses in the order that I saw them with some random thoughts on the other going ons thrown in for good measure.
From a narrative standpoint, there is not much context provided within the boundaries of the actual house. Reading the map helped to provide more background as to the proceedings so I suggest story focused people give that a look. Those who do not understand the plot will at least be treated to some pretty cool visuals that convey an asylum like atmosphere. There were a few good scares in here and some wonderful acting from the various asylum inmates. Even with all of this, my favorite moment was the high wire walk as it played to people’s fears of heights as well as showing off the Queen Mary herself. All in all, while I still do not really understand what was being portrayed here, this was a very entertaining experience.
This was probably my favorite houses actually on the Queen Mary as it offered lots of great views of the ship’s interior while also being quite disturbing. The main reason it proved unsettling is that we are journeying into the world of a dead child. Along the path we have constant encounters with the young girl, Mary, and her many toys. In general dead children are a bit creepy, but here it gets a nice shot in the arm as she has created her own sort of paradise made up of twisted versions of childhood objects. While that might make some uneasy, what really stood out to me is that Mary was constantly around every corner beckoning for us to join in her games forever. This also had one of my favorite finales of any of the houses that proved incredibly effective at getting a last jump from those walking through. All in all, the creep factor is high here with some nice visuals along the way.
This was the new haunted house on the block which promised to take us through some areas of the boat that have never been used for a haunt before. The set design here is probably the best of the houses on the ship as I felt just like I was walking through the kitchens and dining rooms of a luxury liner. While I absolutely adored this from a set design perspective, I have to admit that I honestly did not get scared that much in this house. There were some cool things along the way to throw guests off (crawlspace, heat lamps, etc.) and create better scares, but for the most part these moments were underutilized. All in all, I might not have found this very scary, but the design of this is easily the best out of the houses on the ship.
The circus is in town and we find ourselves venturing into a tent full of sideshow freaks, funhouse attractions, and clowns. Approaching this from an innovation standpoint, it is hard not to see this as the most creative of the haunts we experienced this evening. From the ball pit opening to the mirror maze that is actually a maze there were a lot of things within this attraction set to disorient guests. Portions of this have some amazing scare actors that are not only intense, but also using the various distractions to great result. While there were some notable slow sections, those moments were not nearly as memorable as the many different parts that were firing on all cylinders. All in all, this is a truly fun house with some innovative scares along the way.
Of all the houses on the ship, this was my most anticipated. To be honest, it did not end up being my favorite. While the story setup is one of the best at the entire event, the execution just felt kind of lacking. There were some good sets along the journey as well as many gory images, but I feel like the plot got lost a bit in the shuffle. The actors were good, but many scenes felt as if there could have been more actors. I have to say that the costume design in here was absolutely top notch from our lead actress Gale to the twisted doctors to the masquerade ball scenes. All in all, I wish there had been more actors in this house, but the ones who were there had some excellent character designs.
Honestly, this was my favorite house of the evening. While the sets suffered from a decent amount of chain link fences and shipping crates, there were plenty of set pieces along the way to catch the eye. Better yet, the house felt full of actors and the cast members were rocking their various roles creating the feeling that terror could be lurking around every corner. This house also did a wonderful job of having scares come from not only the sides, but also above and below so that it was hard to know from where an actor might appear. Of all the finales of the evening, this one was easily the best as that final room was nearly impossible to see in and the actors were well positioned to take advantage of that fact. All in all, this was the most entertaining house of the evening that had good set design and some top notch scares.
I was surprised to find that this house, which has a Scottish themed train, was one of the better haunts of the evening. The set design on this house was absolutely incredible as they had us journey from a train to Scottish catacombs. The Iron Master’s, train passengers, Scotsmen, and creatures we run into along our way were well designed and out for a scare. This also had the ever memorable wading through the fog room that is an incredibly effective way of keeping the cast members hidden. All in all, I was surprised that I liked this house as much as I did, but given the great sets and amazing cast it is hard not to consider this one a winner.
I did not go into it too much, but there were a few positive and negative things that I noticed about each house that seem worth pointing out.
On the plus side, the actors were highly interactive with guests and did not mind carrying on full conversations or following people through the hallways of the house. These same actors had the ability to pop up not only on the sides of guests, but also above and below to achieve their scares. The solidity of the cast extended beyond the mazes into the carnival like streets where each of the various members had a very set personality that could be better realized by those who watched or interacted with the cast.
One down side to the houses was the fact that the speakers for the audio soundtracks were always in plain sight. While I understand this from the perspective of the houses on the ship, those that are built outside could have been constructed in such a fashion as to hide these implements. If the speakers managed to be as well disguised as the actors jumping out to scare us, it would have made the houses feel that much more immersive.
The other major negative is that it seemed as if there were a lot of upcharges at the event. It was rather deceiving because the initial ticket prices are not terrible, but once the steep parking price is added in ($40? Really?!) and the food costs are considered, it becomes more pricey than people might imagine. There is a lot about this event that is very good, but these charges are something people should know about before they go. (Editors Note: Since the time of this review, the cost of parking has gone down from $40 to $20. There are also additional places to park such as Aquarium of the Pacific Parking Structure which is $16).
Outside of the houses and cost issues, I did really enjoy the carnival atmosphere they created on their property. The fact that they had three stages with rotating performances as well as actors roaming the grounds performing tricks helped create a more interactive experience. There was so much entertainment on offer outside of the haunts that one could have easily spent the evening just watching the shows or talking with the scare actors without even seeing everything on the boardwalk. It is an approach I enjoyed as it allows people to slow down a bit and truly take in the event.
All in all, this is a fun event that has some innovative scares and amazingly interactive actors. While some of the costs are a bit high, the production that they provide is top of the line. Being able to go through The Queen Mary mazes is a true treat as we get some different views upon the luxury liner. The houses and carnival grounds outside the tent provide so much entertainment that they could easily hold a person’s attention for a few evenings.
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