The Queen Mary Shipwreck Terror Fest got off to a good start on opening night. In its tenth year, this Halloween attraction is a highly recommended one for fright fans. In some ways, it is not quite up to the level of Knott's Scary Farm's Halloween Haunt, but the Queen Mary has a special flavor all its own, so there's no reason why you can't enjoy both attractions this season.
In general, the Terror Fest was up to the level seen in 2003. Again, there is a disco dance party in the Exhibit Hall, and there is live music in the Boiler Room. And like last year, there are seven mazes in operation (some familiar, some new).
There were a few minor changes from last year. One point worth mentioning is tha you now pay for parking up front ($10). Not a big deal, but last year, if you could find a way to get your parking ticket validated, you could get out of the lot for free. Also, the doormen at the Queen Mary Hotel (which is a separate entrance from the Shipwreck attractions) were a bit more aggressive about keeping Terror Fest attendees from getting inside the hotel area, where the restaurants and bars are. (Last year, they politely asked, "Are you looking for the Shipwreck?" This year, they didn't want to let you in without a hotel key.) This is unfortunate, because being able to have a fine dinner on one of the ship's excellent restaurants is a perfect icing on the cake after a night of haunting.
As for opening night (one of three discounted "preview" nights this weekend), it went very well. The lines were mostly short for a Friday night, and there were only a few minor disappointments -- the sort that one might expect -- hardly worth complaining about when you consider the half-price admission.
The Fright Mistress's lair was not open (apparently, this year's mistress has not been crowned yet). There were only a few ghouls lurking around outside the ship to scare you before you got to the mazes (unlike Knott's Scary Farm, which is loaded with them). In some of the mazes, the cast hadn't fully gotten into character yet (in one case, we actually saw a quartet out of character standing around discussing some mistake that had been made). And in the case of one maze ( the Corridors of Carnage) the entrance was so well disguised that we would have missed it if we hadn't been actively searching for it.
As for the individual attractions, here's a rundown:
The Trail of Terror. This is located in the Marketplace, the first maze you pass before you get to the Queen Mary herself. Partly outside, this has a fairly traditional haunted house feel (.e.g., hearses, vampires, and monsters). Very nice but not outstanding.
Creatures of the Cove in 3D. This was the only maze with a long line; it took nearly an hour. The problem is that this maze is located in the "Dome of Doom" (i.e., the dome that used to house the Spruce Goose), and the line leads around behind the dome, out of sight; consequently, people don't see how long the line is, so they stand and wait, not realizing they could be checking out one of the other mazes witha much shorter line. After the wait, the maze is pretty decent. Despite the name, you won't see the Creature from the Black Lagoon or anything like that; the theme is pirates. At first the 3D decor is not that impressive. Wavy colorful lines, looking somewhat like seaweed, give a vaguely underwater feel, but as things progress, the paintings of pirate skeletons get better and more vivid, and the cast of characters gets more aggressive and spooky. Overall, a good maze.
House of Hallucinations in 3D. Located in the "Shipwreck Plaza," this is the third maze you can go on before getting to the sihp. The 3D decor is fantastic; the black-light, fluorescent artwork is even better than what's in Creatures of the Cove, and the feel is much more along the lines of a traditional haunt. Groups were sent through about a dozen at a time. In many haunts this can be a disadvantage if you're at the end of the line: the people at the front get the scare as they round a corner, and you just here it. Fortunately, that was not the case here. The cast made the extra effort to go after the last people in line, so they didn't miss out. This was probably the best maze of the evening, very well done, and very scary -- so many ghouls that you never knew when one was going to jump out at you. Just when you thought you were safe, another one snuck up from behind.
Haunted Hull of Horrors. This maze takes you deep down into the bowels of the ship -- into areas that look like they should be off-limits except to the crew. There are stairs, lots of dark corridors with hiding places, and plenty of actors in costume. It's hard to quantify the on-ship mazes, because they all share certain similarities, but this one is very good.
Factory of Fears. This maze begins at the very back of the ship and takes you immediately on a steep trip down a dangerous-looking stairway. Much of it uses the dank corridors of the ship to great spooky effect, but some areas are decorate in a more traditional Halloween fashion (berths that look like a crypt, stone idols with blinking red eyes, etc). There is also a ghoulish sense of humor, with some dismembered body parts suspended on wires while hammers and other blunt objects bash away at them, as if in a demented factory.
Corridors of Carnage. This maze begins in the Exhibit Hall, where the dance party takes place; unfortunately, with so much sound and flashy lighting, no one notices the entrance. When we went through, we were the only two people. As you can imagine, the cast was not exactly hyped up; with such a low turn-out, they were barely getting up to speed when we came through. Still, there were many good moments, and the maze does show off some advantages of the Queen Mary: those long narrow corridors make it easy for ghouls to lurk unseen and block your path, so that you have to squeeze uncomfortably close to get by.
Decks of the Doomed. This maze is new this year; it takes place on the area of the ship where the Ghosts & Legends tour takes place during regular hours (where you see the swimming pool that is supposed to really be haunted). There is not so much decoration in ths area; the maze relies more on the antique look of the corridors for its spooky effect, and it works.
Overall, the mazes maintain a consistently high quality, with only a few slight drawbacks. The mazes on the ship are very long with lots to see: sometimes the ship itself is enough to provide the appropriate atmosphere; in other cases, there are some excellent Halloween style sets and decorations, and even some good mechanical effects. (The best is the body in the upright coffin: the prop is so far back from the foot path that it appears to present no threat -- until the body shoots out at you.)
In some cases, the claustrophobic spaces are nerve-wracking; in other cases, larger empty space provide more places for ghouls to hide. In some instances, the mazes are so long that you can go quite awhile without a scare, but this has its advantages, allowing you to drop your guard and grow complacent before the next ghost leaps out from the dark to do his work.
The cast is good, but the best of the night were in the House of Hallucinations. Elsewhere, there was a bit of predictability to the performances: for the most part, you walk around a corner and someone jumps out at you. So far, the performers are not quite up to the level of those at Knott's Scary Farm, who know about to put more -- shall we say? -- personality into their roles.
As for the other attractions, the Dance Party and the Boiler Room, the former is decorated with some ghosts spinning overhead; otherwise, it has little to do with Hallween. Presumably the idea is to appeal to the target demographic of young kids who want a night out on the town, but it would be nice if the Dance Party could fit in better with the season. The Boiler Room, right next door, is considerably better, located in a wonderfully dank lower room that gives you the creeps just from looking at it. Also, the music here is live rather than canned. The band we saw was loud and furious -- not exactly "Halloween," but in they fit right into the location, and the overall effect was pretty cool.
No doubt the few kinks on opening night will be fixed as the season goes on, and hopefully the actors will get even better as they have more experience in their roles. Even with the reservations expressed here, this was an excellent evening's entertainment, and we'll definitely want to check out what the Queen Mary does next year.