Last night Bloody Disgusting made the trek down to Long Beach to check out the re-jiggered Dark Harbor Halloween event that takes place in and around the historic (and some say haunted) Queen Mary.
Built in 1936, the ship itself made over 1,000 transatlantic voyages (impressive when compared to the Titanic’s, um… 0.5?) and is now permanently anchored in Long Beach. Most of the time it serves as a thriving hotel and restaurant destination all on its own. But every October for the past seventeen years, they’ve been building up their Halloween maze chops.
Originally titled Shipwreck, the event underwent an overhaul last year and re-emerged as Dark Harbor with more elaborate mazes and a significantly higher amount of performers than in past years.
After a few welcoming words from our gracious hosts we were taken in groups through our first two mazes of the evening and then were left to explore the rest of the park on our own. What followed was definitely a fun night, especially when you consider the price point is an unbeatable $20 (if you’re in a group, $24 if solo).
Hit the jump to follow us through the mazes. First of all it should be noted that Dark Harbor doesn’t operate on the same budget or scale of something like Halloween Horror Nights or Knott’s Scary Farm. But what they lack in gore and production value, they make up with inventiveness and actual scares. While Horror Nights offers plenty of eye-candy (and to be fair, Dark Harbor has some fairly elaborate stuff going on as well) it kind of skimps on actual scares. Let me put it this way, Horror Nights rarely turns out the lights and Dark Harbor isn’t afraid to plunge you into literal darkness.
I appreciated this.
The Barricades is a series of cargo containers that serve as an entrance into the park itself. This is actually cool enough to be an attraction on its own and it’s the first point at which you realize that the folks here aren’t afraid to pile on the smoke, strobes, darkness and the sound of clanging steel in an effort to disorient you.
Once out of The Barricades you spill into the fairgrounds portion of the park underneath the Hell’s Bell Tower.
From there it’s just a short jaunt to one of the parks’s two best mazes, The Cage.
The Cage has been built within the confines of the same dome that once housed Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. It’s not short on mirrors, smoke, creatures jumping out from the dark at you and hands protruding from the walls. It’s a long-ish maze and introduces another concept I really liked about a lot of the features at Dark Harbor – the mazes aren’t afraid to allow you to get a little bit lost. Sure, there’s a flow and you’ll never be truly out of hat – but there’s just a slightly stronger sense that you could make a wrong turn here and there, as opposed to being just led through the paces. The Cage also has a few cool warped mirror effects, in fact, some people in our party became disoriented and literally started to their own reflection for a few seconds before they realized it was just themselves.
Submerged is the first of the three mazes we visited that were on the actual ship. As the title indicates, the whole think takes place in the bowels of the vessel where the air is thick with the smell of (slightly sulfery) sea-water. It’s one of the shorter mazes and, to be honest, not my favorite of the bunch. But if you have the time (ie after The Cage and Hellfire) then it’s definitely worth a look. Especially if you have an interest in the Queen Mary itself. There’s a nice look at a fog-laden art deco pool that definitely gave me a bit of a “Bioshock” vibe.
Containment takes place in the Queen Mary’s old infirmary. It’s probably the least involving maze of the park simply because it’s environs aren’t as interesting as Submerged and its scares aren’t as palpable as The Cage or Hellfire. You might want to skip this one unless there’s a super short line or save it for last provided you make it through the other attractions.
While I think Mr. Disgusting favored The Cage our final maze of the night Hellfire was easily my favorite. It takes place in the ship’s boiler room and isn’t afraid to utterly disorientate you. It’s sort of a luxurious maze that doesn’t start out too frightening (initially I was kind of worried it would be a retread of Submerged).
I first noticed that I liked this maze more than the others when I got lost right off the bat, ensnared in some kind of mesh net I actually almost bruised my shin against a pipe a little bit getting out.
Then, due to a group of kids who were really freaking out, I got separated from Mr. And Mrs. Disgusting. I then found myself literally on my own amidst a series of corridors in the boiler room. One of them elevated and declined as I was walking on it. The lights were super low, and – for the first time in recent memory – I actually felt a bit of an adrenaline rush in one of these things. And that was before I had to walk down a seemingly endless pitch-black hallway. For the first time in my adult life I was experiencing some sustained fear that wasn’t directly related to financial or medical concerns. Success!
Unfortunately, our last scheduled maze of the evening Village Of The Damned was undergoing some technical difficulties and we were unable to get in.
Overall I can definitely recommend Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. It’s a fun night out if you pick and choose your mazes correctly (something you might have to do depending on the size of the lines) and at $20 it’s easy to have a good time without feeling gouged the moment you walk in. If you’re feeling splurgy and want to hit all the mazes, an extra $20 buys you a front-of-line pass that ensures you’re able to hit all of the attractions in due time. The air is rich with the smell of kettle-corn and food and drinks are available from multiple vendors onsite.
The attraction runs on October 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30 & 31. For more info hit them up HERE.
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