When it comes to Halloween-themed park adventures, Disney and Universal Studios have reigned supreme with their Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights events, respectively. The two companies have tag-teamed this holiday for years and those experienced know that if you’re going to attend said events, you’re going to have to face some major crowds. Fortunately, it looks like a new alternative is rising that not only looks to eliminate insane lines, but also provide some content not found anywhere else. Enter: Dark Horizon – Point of No Return!
Thrill-seekers on the west coast are probably familiar with The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor; a seasonal haunt based around the legacy of the ship. With that event now 10 years in the running, Dark Horizon looks to bring similar scares over to the east coast, themed around local myths and legends.
Situated alongside the backlot of a Holiday Inn Resort, Dark Horizon contains three themed areas, each based around its featured maze. Upon entering, guests will find themselves in Port, face to face with the first maze, Ghost Ship. This area also contains one of the two stages in Dark Horizon, boasting exclusive and often varying shows. The Port area is home to the Siren Stage, where guests can enjoy themed aerial acrobatics which include a lyra and silks. Given the frequency of the shows, it’s hard not to catch one on your way throughout the event.
Moving through the Port will lead you into the Everglades, home to Dark Horizon‘s second maze, Murder Island. Beyond that you’ll find yourself in the Village, face to face with the Sacred Circle. This stage brings some serious heat in the form of various fire-performance acts. Fire-breathing is just the start of this lengthy show and is absolutely worth a look if you need to satiate the pyromaniac within you. The end of this area features the third and final maze, Vodou.
As your travel from region to region, you’ll run into actors and performers of all types, looking to converse or concern you (based upon their character). Taking the time to interact with them is HIGHLY recommended. They go a long way in adding character and lore to the immediate area. You’ll also spot bars and eateries themed appropriately to each land. I found the bars themselves to be quite charming, as they yield some nice detail and are rather intimate. Performers from the streets, even ones on stilts, may venture in to say, “hello,” from time to time! For those of you who enjoy a little mystery, there’s even talk of a secret bar that can only be accessed with a special coin that some of the performers possess…
Finally, Dark Horizon offers access into the Holiday Inn’s marketplace, which includes more traditional eateries, as well as the hotel bar (slightly themed) and a 4D theater experience for those looking to rest their feet. While not necessary, it’s a nice option if you need to step from the action for a few minutes before continuing your journey. Now that we’ve gone over the layout of the event, let’s venture into each maze and see what they have to offer!
This first maze finds you aboard a derelict ship, encountering a pirate crew who have gone sick (in every sense of the word). While the outside facade of the ship doesn’t exactly scream “genuine,” things pick up upon entering. Starting in the lower decks, you’ll work your way through caged, infected pirates in search of anything salvageable for yourself. As it turns out, the meat has expired and so has your time as you scurry past skeletons and drunkards. This leads to a rather open area where you will find yourself surrounded by a group of pirates, egging you on to meet the captain. You may find a find a prisoner up on the mess deck begging for help, but be hard-pressed to lend him a hand. For the final area, you’ll actually climb up to the deck of the ship and come face to face with the pirate Captain Killigrew. Words with her prove futile as she’ll command you to walk the plank (and her lackeys will be sure you do so). From there, you’ll take an actual slide down into some murky waters (read: foam blocks) in order to make your way to a safe haven and the exit of the maze. While the “scare factor” is debatable, I found myself having a lot of fun just hanging with this pirate crew and seeing what they would say or do next. A solid start to this haunt!
If I found the scares to be lacking in Ghost Ship, that was all made up come the second maze of Dark Horizon, Murder Island! The story involves that of a sugar cane harvester, Ed Watson, who’s rumored to kill his help after a harvest. Murder Island is home to more than just “Bloody Ed”, as you find the various rivers and shacks housing plenty of criminals and murderers. Some of the quarters here are VERY tight, and the characters won’t waste any time confronting you There’s a great sense of intimidation here and even as you escape the confines of one shack, thinking you might have a brief reprieve from the action, you’ll find yourself coming face to face with more murderers who have free roam to follow you and even block your path! Some of the locals will plead with you to help them take down Bloody Ed, but the odds definitely feel stacked against you. One of the larger areas features a dining table set for a family of skeletons, in a scene that feels ripped out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While a large gator puppet gets more laughs than it should, the final showdown with Bloody Ed is sure to unsettle, as he’s in the middle of carving up a helpless victim. I couldn’t help but grin ear-to-ear during this entire house, as it’s exactly the kind of scares you won’t find in the likes of Halloween Horror Nights!
The final maze, Vodou, will have you travel to the spirit island of Vilokan to see what darkness the priestess, Mambo Cecile, has awakened. Warnings from locals fall on deaf ears as you enter the first series of huts to find all sorts of dark worshipers. The huts eventually give way to catacombs where innocents have been trapped, their souls soon to be sacrificed to the Gods. It was around this point I found myself leading a small group down a very narrow path, only to be trapped by a boulder. The performer informed me I went the wrong way…and so I had! While I do appreciate the lack of attendants rushing me through the house, some of the pathways can be a little hard to see. That may add to the fun of it, if you’re the adventurous type! Eventually I made my way to the RIGHT path and found myself in front of a large demon puppet. What was most effective was a seemingly hidden scare lurking nearby. The maze continues on for a few more rooms, including what appeared to be a floating turkey (your guess is as good as mine) as well as some cult-like figures. Given that the previous two mazes had a big build-up to the final room, Vodou left me feeling a little wanting in terms of its endgame. Traveling down the wrong corridor, though? Priceless.
On the surface, it’s hard not to compare Dark Horizon to the likes of Halloween Horror Nights. In that arena, the set decoration just can’t compete. However, where this haunt really shines is in its performers. They are the beating and bleeding heart of Dark Horizon and completely make the event come alive. For example, upon my initial stroll through Murder Island, I found one of the locals off to the side, sitting on some steps, playing a guitar. Not seemingly for anyone, mind you, but she was in her own musical world. This may seem like such a throwaway moment but it added a rather nice layer to the area; a lived-in feel that made the maze come alive. Those kinds of moments are littered all around Dark Horizon, if you take the time to look. While some haunts are relegated to the performers jumping in and out of the same hole, I really enjoyed the freedom these actors had to explore. Following me, stopping me in my tracks, forcing me to talk with them…it all added to the experience. These performers are reveling in their roles and that kind of joy is infectious. On top of that, tickets start at $20 (for those who are able to arrive early). Disney and Universal can’t touch those prices.
It’s clear that Dark Horizon is aiming to be a budget haunt and in that arena it succeeds, but make no mistake: the actors and artists perform WELL beyond that expectation. That makes Dark Horizon: Point of No Return an easy recommendation for those looking to try something new and spooky this Halloween season!