Review: Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival

The Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival aboard the Queen Mary on Friday, December 14 was a major disappointment for fans expecting a festive visit to Halloween Town. Overcrowded and under-decorated, the event offered far more beer than Burton. Major redeeming feature was the Queen Mary herself, which is lit up brighter than a Christmas tree, evoking the spirit of the holiday season far better than the beer fest.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival Review: Dwarfing the Decor
Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Fest review
Photo op with Jack and Sally

Fans expecting an immersive experience inspired by their favorite film were disappointed by the thinly applied thematic elements. This may be a case in which an event's popularity was its own undoing. Originally, Rock Star Beer Festivals offered several Nightmare Before Christmas Brews Cruises in November, aboard the Catalina Classic Cruises, which launch near the Queen Mary. When those immediately sold out, they added a beer festival aboard the Queen Mary on November 30. When that sold out, they added another fest on December 14. When that sold out its allotment of 1,200 tickets, Rock Star Beer Festivals opted to expand the event, selling another 1,800 tickets. The result was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, with little room to relax and have fun.

Additionally, the size of the event dwarfed the decor. Perhaps the handful of decorations were enough to fill a cruise yacht, but the Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival failed to deliver on its promise to turn the Queen Mary's massive Grand Salon into Halloween Town. There was a banner or two, a Christmas tree with goofy snake (as in the film), and a photo-op with mechanical, moving figures of Jack and Sally. Other than that, if you had been kidnapped, blindfolded, and dropped into the middle of the crowd, you might not have realized the event was themed to Tim Burton's beloved Christmas classic.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival Review: Beer & Food
Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Fest review
Souvenir plastic beer mug

The variety of ales on tap was impressive - pale, dark, a red-tinged brew named Guns N' Roses - and the vendors were generous about filling our souvenir Nightmare Before Christmas plastic beer mug. Among the interesting blends were several with chocolate and - our personal favorite - a stout with a roasted coffee flavor from Modern Times Beer, called Black House. Most disappointing was a beer presented as "Christmas in a Glass," which had an undefinable seasonal flavor that was, unfortunately, undermined by excess bitterness. For those tired of beer, there were also mobile bars selling cocktails.

The food options were limited but flavorful: Mrs. Lovett's Pizza Pie (salami and olives); Vampire Blue Blood Dip (black bean dip and tortilla chips); Sax Player Snacks (bratwurst on a pretzel hoagie); Oggie (sic) Boogie Dip (artichoke and spinach dip with pita chips); and Mr. Hyde Soft Pretzel. We actually managed to assemble something resembling a meal from these affordable options ($5-8 each) - not that we had much appetite for food after all the beer.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival Review: Entertainment

Unfortunately, Broken Peach was not on hand to perform their cover of This is Halloween, but opening act Skeleton Sisters blasted their way through some similar-sounding arrangements of Danny Elfman's songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The hard-rock instrumentation was effectively performed, but the vocals did not always capture the magic of the originals.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Fest review
Live music in the main ballroom

After that, a duo consisting of "Oogie Boogie" and "Jack Skellington" ran through some generic dance tunes, performed on laptop and live drums. Take off the costumes, and they could have been performing anywhere.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival Review: Conclusion

Among other things, The Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival suffered from the complete absence of seating and tables. Those wanting to relax a moment to savor their food and brew were forced to cozy up to the thin ledge near the ship's portholes and hope nothing spilled. Those needing a rest spilled outside the Grand Salon and ended up sitting on the stairs in the corridor.

Eventually, the only decent option was to leave the fest behind and enjoy the sights on the rest of the ship. The Queen Mary is beautifully decked out for Christmas, with flashing lights, artificial trees, wrapped "presents," and even Santa Claus himself. The most dazzling sight was the "tunnel" of light on the elevated walkway outside the ship; the moving wave of colored illumination looked beautiful from outside; viewed from inside, it was almost enough to induce vertigo. The festive beauty helped ameliorate an otherwise unsatisfying experience.

Queen Mary Christmas tunnel of lights
Tunnel of lights

Rock Star Beer Festivals has another pair of Nightmare Before Christmas Brews Cruises scheduled, on December 21 and 22. Based on what we experienced at Friday's beer festival, we would not recommend booking passage. The events might be acceptable for those interested in a beer cruise with a seasonal overlay, but those seeking an imaginative excursion into the world of Tim Burton's beloved film will be disappointed.

Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival Review: Photo Gallery
Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Fest Rating
2

Bottom Line

The Nightmare Before Christmas Beer Festival was more beer than Burton – a major disappointment for fans hoping to visit Halloween Town. Fortunately, the Queen Mary herself, beautifully decorated for the season, provided a winter wonderland to uplift our spirits.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.