By Charly SHELTON
The Halloween season starts earlier each year and it’s already time for Halloween spooky-time fun at the local theme parks. Last week, CV Weekly looked at Knott’s Scary Farm in Buena Park, and the week before was Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights in L.A. This week, for the last official haunt, we are headed down to Long Beach for the annual Dark Harbor event at the Queen Mary.
As readers may remember from last year, I was not a huge fan of Dark Harbor due to safety concerns. Walkway panels that slide on ball bearings, set decorations jutting directly into walking paths that could catch an ankle, near-total darkness through portions of the maze that slowed traffic to a crawl because guests had no idea where the path was, and a launching ramp that catapulted me off the ground unexpectedly did not make for a fun experience. So when it came time for this year’s review, I was hesitant to return and I knew if I did I would probably be biased toward finding problems. I spent the entire evening expecting to be upset by the maze conditions, but I came out surprisingly not upset. The sliding panels were still in play but everything else was either fixed or scrapped for this year. With more attention to safety, the event was much more enjoyable.
Dark Harbor takes guests through six haunted walkthroughs in and around the historic luxury liner, the Queen Mary. The ship is reportedly one of the most haunted locations in the state and setting a haunted walkthrough in some of the hotspots, like the unused swimming pool, gives an overall creepy vibe to the whole experience. Trekking through the back passageways and service corridors of the ship is claustrophobic and spooky, which leaves little need for set decorations. The premises for the mazes are inventive, with each based on a spirit and their travels, but unfortunately that ends up being a bit of a problem. Each spirit’s backstory, which is the premise of the maze, is thoroughly explained through five placards placed along the queue line. But the maze is just a jumble of loosely connected decorations taped to the wall. For example, the new maze this year is “Intrepid,” which is set around the spirit Iron Master, who is loosely based on real-life shipbuilder John Brown.
Ivan was the original ship builder who sold his soul to the Iron Hell to ensure the Queen Mary’s safe passage and that she would be forever afloat. On one passage of the ship, a mysterious locomotive appeared and abducted Ivan into Iron Hell, rocketing down into darkness.
“By the end of the dark journey, he realized he had been transformed into a terrifying creature – part metal, part monster. Over the century, his corpse decaying, Ivan was forced to replace pieces of his rotted flesh with cast iron – the same from which he forged his beloved ship. A slave to his craft in life so too would he become in death. Cursed for eternity as protector of the Queen Mary, Ivan is now…Iron Master,” reads the official description from Dark Harbor.
How cool does that sound? The maze itself, though, is all chain link fences with clockwork gears taped to the wall. There is one place where sparks shoot off in a set piece, but the rest is just chain link and black curtains, and Iron Master isn’t even in the maze! After such a cool setup to get guests hyped, the maze itself is a little bit of a letdown.
This dissociation is found in many of the mazes – spirits Graceful Gale, the beautiful lovelorn woman who disappeared without a trace on the Atlantic crossing, Samuel the Savage, a violent killer who was sequestered in room B340 and found ripped apart when the journey was over, and Scary Mary, a little girl who drowned in the pool aboard ship, just to name a few. Their mazes, respectively, are Soulmate – a walk through the ship with various suitcases and an occasional stateroom, B340 – a walk through the ship with stateroom doors, a furnace and cannibals, and schoolhouse scenes with torturous nuns, and Lullaby – which was actually a little closer to where it should be – a tour of watery fixtures set in the hallways and recesses of the ship leading to a climax in the very pool where Mary drowned.
There are ups and downs to each maze and overall the plots are loosely constructed and aren’t understood without reading the placards for context. This is in contrast to the other parks, which have maze themes that are generally well understood, such as the Voodoo maze at Knott’s or the Walking Dead maze at HHN – voodoo in the Bayou or zombies, no backstory required.
Overall the event is fun, but not the best one out there. Dark Harbor consists of six mazes, a carnival swing ride and various other bars, eateries and sideshows. Tickets range from $20 to $30. It is definitely the more affordable choice without sacrificing the number of attractions. The mazes may not be as scary or well stocked as the other parks, but they are longer and the ship is the perfect venue.
For more info, visit QueenMary.com.
Photos by Charly SHELTON and Sabrina WALENTYNOWICZ