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Review: Shaqtoberfest boards the Queen Mary

The debut of Shaqtoberfest at the Queen Mary in Long Beach was one of our favorite experiences last Halloween – an excellent choice for adults and children. How does the sophomore outing hold up?

The short answer is: If you enjoyed Shaqtoberfest last year, you will enjoy it this year.

The slightly longer answer is: There have been enough adjustments and alterations to make Shaqtoberfest 2023 more than a replay, but not enough to change anyone’s mind about the event.

Details are filled in below. Read on…if you dare!

Shaqtoberfest 2023 Review: What’s New?

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What’s new on land is that the layout has been condensed to pack the mazes, popup bars, DJ dance music stage, and food options in closer proximity, which saves visitors some shoe-leather while trying to get to everything in one night (which can be done without undue exertion on slow nights or with a Fast Break ticket for expedited entry).

What’s new aboard the Queen Mary is that you can no go on board the Queen Mary, which has finally reopened after years of expensive repairs to make it…well, if not sea-worthy, then at least not likely to sink. There are two attractions on the ship: The first is Grey Ghost, a scary walkthrough available to general admission ticket holders. The second is the Engine Room Experience, which is reserved for VIP guests.

Shaqtoberfest 2023 review
The Grey Ghost walkthrough aboard the Queen Mary

The nickname Grey Ghost is a reference to the Queen Mary’s role as a troop transport ship during World War II, when its speed enabled it to easily outrun German U-boats. Along with the usual maritime ghouls, the journey through the dank corridors of the ship incorporates a militaristic theme. The first half seems to represent the pre-war Queen Mary; then you encounter a military control room haunted by the souls of sailors killed in the line of duty, along with a nice digital projection simulating the hull cracking as if from a torpedo strike. (Ironically, the ship actually escaped unscathed in real life.)

As is always true of haunted walkthroughs on the Queen Mary, The Grey Ghost benefits tremendously from the authenticity of its location, the real corridors providing a level of immersion that even the best sets would be hard pressed to duplicate. We also appreciated that there was no occasion to walk up or down stairs in the dark.

Our only major complaint is that the later half of the walkthrough used plywood sets, which misses the point of setting the attraction in a real ship. Other than that, Grey Ghost was decently scary, thought notably shorter than mazes seen in past Halloween events at the Queen Mary, such as Dark Harbor.

Shaqtoberfest 2023 Review: VIP Experiences

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In addition to expedited entry (also available with Fast Break tickets), VIP Slam Dunk tickets include unlimited carnival rides and access to the VIP Slam Dunk Bar (on the overhead walkway parallel to the Queen Mary), Captain Shaq’s Secret Bar (hidden in the Pirate’s Cove maze), and the the Engine Room Experience (on board the stern of the ship).

This sounds great, but it is not a must-have. With multiple themed bars available for the general admission price (Tiki Terror, Loony Libations, etc.), you do not absolutely need to visit the VIP bars (though to be fair, they do feature signature cocktails unavailable elsewhere). And if you want to avoid long waits in line, the Fast Break upgrade will do the trick.

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As for the Engine Room Experience, that is a major disappointment, consisting of a descent below deck to an atmospherically illuminated area completely devoid of scares – no actors, animatronics, or even decorations. It is beautiful to behold, but it is not enough to justify the extra ticket price. Hopefully, 13th Floor Entertainment will do something more with this space next year, which has served as the location for many memorable haunt experiences in the past.

Shaqtoberfest 2023 Review: Conclusion.
Animatronic Skeleton in Diesel’s Pumpkin Patch

Shaqtoberfest once again offers Halloween fun for the whole family – the event has a lovely upbeat vibe that makes it enjoyable rather than terrifying – but this year the emphasis has shifted toward catering to the adult crowd, with the kids Trick or Trick Party limited to a a few Sundays in October during early evening hours. Restricting the kid-safe daylight hours slightly diminishes the charm of what previously felt like a two-for-one event – delightful by day, frightful by night. Otherwise, last year’s winning formula remains largely intact.

Most of the land-based attractions are back (Lost City Boardwalk being the exception). The returning mazes may have been rebranded or reconfigured, but you can find them in approximately the same places with more or less the same themes (e.g., Deadman’s Wharf once again features maritime horrors, but this year it has been dressed up to look as if its location in the Fishing Village has battened down the hatches to ride out a fierce storm).

It is nice to see the Queen Mary looking ship-shape again, and opportunity to again climb aboard is a definite plus, even if the haunting potential of the ocean liner’s ominous corridors is not fully realized in the new walkthroughs. Included with the price of admission, The Grey Ghost is a good value-added item, but the Engine Room Experience barely qualifies as a haunted attraction, making it not much of an enticement for a VIP upgrade. General Admission – or perhaps a Fast Break Pass to avoid waiting in line – remains the recommended method of enjoying Shaqtoberfest.

Though this year’s alterations will not win any converts to Shaqtoberfest, they suggest that the event will continue to expand. In the future, Shaqtoberfest will to hopefully revive old – or invent new – signature characters to haunt the Queen Mary with a personal touch that will distinguish the haunt from its competitors.

Shaqtoberfest 2023
  • Shaqtoberfest
  • VIP Experience
  • Bonus Points

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Shaqtoberfest 2023 remains a favorite; even though the additions did not meet our expectations, we think of them as bonus features to an already worthy event. We are less sanguine about the VIP Experience; the cost-benefit ratio has dropped since 2022, so we are knocking a point off our three-star rating from last year. However, we do not want that to drag down the average score; therefore, we are adding bonus points to maintain Shaqtoberfest’s well-deserved four-star rating.

Shaqtoberfest continues at the Queen Mary on select nights through October 31. Hours are 8pm to midnight except for October 14, 21, and 28 when the park remains open until 1am. Also, There is a kids’ Trick or Treat Party on Sundays, October 15, 22 & 29, 6-8pm. Tickets start at $29.99 with higher prices for peak nights, Fast Break, and VIP. The address is 1126 Queens Highway in Long Beach. Get more information at shaqtoberfest.com.

Shaqtoberfest is produced by 13th Floor Entertainment Group, the company behind Delusion Interactive Theatre, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, and Magic of the Jack O’ Lanterns. Check out reviews of their other attractions below.

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.