– by Steve Rowin, Co-published on www.Screamscape.com
Dark Harbor is a Halloween event that runs all month long at the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Years ago this event was only a maze on the ship but since then has grown to a full scale haunted attraction. With 8 mazes/tours, a complete midway of games, carnival rides, concessions and a stage show it is a full night of scares!
One thing that stood out on my visit was how exciting the carnival like atmosphere was in the harbor, DJ’s playing music, the sound of people on rides, the smell of hot dogs, popcorn and the sound of a 40 foot blast of fire above the Freakshow attraction every few minutes. I found this atmosphere different from some of the other large scale haunts where the whole area is scary all night. The midway was sort of a safe haven to relax your senses between mazes, grab a beer, go on a ride. Another remarkable element at Dark Harbor was the quality of makeup on the characters throughout the event, some of the best I’ve seen at any haunt.
One of the unique draws to Dark Harbor is the fact that the Queen Mary is rumored to be haunted and several ghosts have been reported by people visiting the ship over the years. That “real” energy is what I was after!
There are three mazes and a private tour onboard the ship, three of them new for this year along with 4 mazes off the ship in the harbor. One thing about all these mazes is that they are long!
Submerged – My favorite onboard the ship for two reasons. One, we walk past the infamous swimming pool where a little girl ghost is seen regularly. This pool is creepy year round by the way and you don’t ever feel alone in that room. Just so happened this little girl ghost appeared before us as we passed the pool. The second was that we explored actual passenger hallways and areas that you expect when you hear “haunted house on the Queen Mary.” Even though there was a flow issue and we got stuck in a cue of people, the spooky factor was there big time! The eeriness was so present that I looked past the line that formed inside which normally is a deal breaker. Production was good in this one with lots of dark spaces capturing the natural ambience of the ship and that is what made this one great.
B340 – New for this year, another onboard maze based on the hauntings reported by guests of room B340. Inside we encounter the workings of a mad man, a man named Samuel the Savage! Trapped in his own mind, we find him in his state room on the bed screaming “GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!!” “GET ME OUT OF HERE!!! PLEASE!!!” “GET MEEE OUT OF HERE!!” As we tour the ship we see evidence of his instanty, crazy writing on the walls and more. The production quality on this one stood out above some of the others and this one was a highlight of the night.
Soulmate – New for 2014, is a masquerade ball themed maze onboard the ship. In this one we are greeted at the concierge desk by a very dead bell man who directs us down the dark passages. Unlike Submerged which uses the actual ship as it’s scenery, Soulmate is based on theatrical sets. One of my favorite rooms was near the end when we see a ghost dancing in the ballroom and many masked men on platforms in a semicircle around the room that you must pass by to exit the room. I didn’t find this one too memorable but I’m sure there will be some tweaks to get it dialed in and I hope to see more characters in this one to crank up the fright!
And… of the onboard haunts… the granddaddy of them all!
Encounters – This is the Queen Mary’s answer to the “super scary, waiver required” haunt craze that is sweeping the nation. It is a private ghost tour down into the bottom of the ship and it is no joke. You’ll have to pay an additional fee to go on the tour and sign the waiver release but this is truly what you came for. What is great about “Encounters” is that it contextually fits perfectly with the haunted history of the ship. Nothing beats a really personal experience and with each tour limited to 10 people, none of the things that typically take the fright out of normal haunts get in the way here. Being in a small group leaves the everyone feeling vulnerable and that is a big part of a truly terrifying experience. Without giving away too much, there are some physical situations that hit 11 on the “oh my” scale. The trouble starts when our tour guide foolishly leads us in a seance like ritual summoning spirits on the otherside. Many things happen as a result. I was surprised at how far they took things on a group participation level. Production wise, the most sophisticated ghost effects of the whole night were in Encounters. Unlike the typical tent maze, Encounters is truly a unique ghost tour that only the Queen Mary can do. If you go to Dark Harbor you have to do this one!
Off the ship mazes:
Deadrise – Long Beach is a major west coast port. One of the things you see a lot of around here are big steel shipping containers. Deadrise was essentially a lot of shipping containers end to end. This was the first time I had seen these used to make a haunt and they worked really well! Lots of camo netting, fog and the really wide paths in the shipping containers allowed the creatures to have there way with us. Loud banging on the walls of the steel containers was great and scared the crap out of people. Man this maze was long! While it was not heavy on theatrics, it was really more like trying to surviving a medieval gauntlet. It’s strength was simplicity.
Freakshow – This is an extra $5 to go through. One of the best things about this attraction was that you get to go through it pretty much alone. This allows the things in there to focus all their attention on you! Like you would expect of any traveling freakshow there is a comedic element surrounding the authenticity of the freaks. Sorry but I did laugh more than scream. But that’s what made this fun. In addition to seeing a two headed women there are long maze elements where you will encounter some bizarre little things stocking you in the fog!!
Voodoo Village – Wow what a great haunt. I felt like we were left to roam around this village full of hoodoo cursed zombies. Not to be confused with today’s popular TV zombies but more like the kind that are cursed and buried alive, scratching on the inside of their casket to get out! The talent made this maze really good. I mean really really good. It was what they said and how they said it that felt real. So many times you can tell haunt operators toss some kids in their and say scare people. Many times they fail even if the sets are elaborate. In Voodoo Village, the cast played the most important part, giving the environmental elements purpose. At one point a woman approached us and whispered “Be careful they can smell you”, later some man frantically passed us by not even noticing us mumbling crazy things to himself and hitting his head. It was the furthest from cheesy and these people looked the part and talked the part. Impressive immersive experience!
Circus – Scary clowns, shifting floors, mirror mazes, walls that move to confuse you. Again, these mazes are long, plenty of time to get lost. I liked the fact that they had open maze areas and pretty much let you roam around at your own pace. I got separated from my guest many times in this one. It was a breath of fresh air to the single profile line that really has become a standard in haunts these days. There were plenty of old school tricks that worked well. Get some of this one!
After the night was done we looked at each other and said “that was a lot of fun!” Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of scares, creepiness, one of a kind ghost tours but over all Dark Harbor really hits the mark on a good balance of Halloween themed entertainment. Did I mention you can ride Michael Jackson’s swing ride from Neverland, now that’s creepy!