It’s a beautiful, breezy night in Long Beach near the ocean where the Queen Mary is docked. Every once in a while giant columns of flames erupt from two black smoke stacks atop a spooky looking archway and chase the watery chill away, startling many with the loud hiss that accompanies the fiery bursts. Zombie sailors slide within a foot of you, making you almost drop your Kobe beef burger, and fire spinners and acrobats keep you entertained while you finish it. Yup, the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor has returned to delight and conjure up fright this Halloween season.
The Queen Mary has always been on my list of fun things not to be missed during the month of October, but it has always been in the shadow of Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios when it comes to mazes and monsters. This year, the Grey Ghost has bumped up their game and replaced most of the worn-looking props with new goodies, sometimes refurbishing things that were too cool to just toss away. The result of these changes sees this California institution more focused and more confident in delivering real cases of the heebie jeebies.
Aside from three or four scares zones and seven dark mazes, four of which are on the ship and three on the ground area, the haunt coordinators provide lots of strolling bloody eye candy, a hookah bar and about four bars serving cocktails and shots in souvenir shot glasses. Glow-in-the-dark jello shots anyone? If you want to spend a little extra you can visit the horror-themed side-show, spend some time on the ship in the haunted 4D theater or go for a ride on the giant swing that used to reside on Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
The mazes all make great use of darkness, agorophobia, and the inherent spookiness of the ship’s interior, but be forewarned — you must be in good health this year to get through most of them. On the ship you’ll have to walk across creaking metal bridges and walk several flights of metal stairs. Be prepared to step over imposed barricades and crawl through tight spaces. While struggling through a ball pit with my weak knees I asked for help from one of the cast member and the response I got was “Yeah? I can recommend a good shrink.” Sick burn.
Here is a list of the mazes you’ll encounter:
Feast this brand new maze, which is on the ship, focuses on a hulking cannibal chef and his minions who are dying to have you for dinner. Great use of darkness and great actors. You even get to tour the old cafeteria, which is the best maze of the lot. Prepare to crawl through a large and very warm oven environment.
Lullabye Based on the alleged ghost children residing on the Queen Mary, this was the second best maze, and the only one populated with mostly female actors. The core of the maze and its theme go back a few years, but it’s been intensified and boasts some very cool watery lighting effects and crazy laser rooms.
Circus This is the most disorientating maze of the bunch, a deep ball pit with all black plastic orbs making walking a sketchy thing, and tons of clowns that jump out every thirty seconds. There is a cool mirror maze inside in the final act, and we got lost twice before we found our way out. I liked this one very much despite the fact that it was pretty rough on the knees.
DeadRise This maze, with a sunken war ship theme, is basically the same as it has been in the past, but with added zombie crewmembers and more fire and water effects than in previous years. Good set decorations.
B340 Another maze aboard the ship that really pushes the actors to scare you in various ways while telling a loose story about the haunted stateroom. Very dark with wide-spaced lanes adding to a uneasy walk forward. Good job.
Intrepid This maze was a little mixed up. It starts with an express train to the netherworld with frequent and jump-inducing train whistles. I hate loud noises. Then we end up on a Scottish clipper ship with bagpipers, leprechauns and ghosties. Not that scary except for the noises, but very fun. The actors here thrive on interaction.
Soulmate This was the weakest link for me, but the setting of a masquerade ball on the ship circa 1930’s made it worthwhile.
You can still get discounts online for certain nights at Goldstar and Groupon, but the lines are very long, sometimes up to an hour, so if you can afford it, a front-of-the-line pass for a $45 upgrade fee is advisable. I had the best time I’ve had at Dark Harbor for many years, but I have one caveat to those considering a visit. Parking is a ridiculous $40.00 for the event. My advice is to find a reasonable lot a few blocks away and take a Lyft or Uber to the front of the Queen Mary parking lot [There are also $15 shuttles from the free parking lots at Shoreline Village/the Aquarium of the Pacific by boat, and the Long Beach Courthouse by bus – Ed.] Wear good shoes and prepare for a night of giddy startles.
Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor runs on select nights through Nov. 1st. 7:00 PM – 12:00 AM (1:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays). Tickets start at $24 ($34 on weekends) and max out at $229 for the full VIP experience. To see all of the upgrades, including a pre-fright Happy Hour you must first click on BUY TICKET on one of the GA admission nights. Get your tickets here!