The Queen Mary has long provided one of our favorite Halloween events in Los Angeles (as you can see in our review from 2007). The Queen Mary Terrorfest (as it used to be known) obviously did not have the budget of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios or the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, but it had something neither of those could match: authenticity. Although the land-lubbing haunted mazes were not always out-standing, the shipboard treks through the dank bowells of the venerable floating hotel provided a claustrophibic scare experience with its own perculiar atmosphere, unlike any other. 2009 sees the haunt in the hands of a new company (The Gridlock Group, replacing Shipwreck Productions), and in an obvious cost-cutting move, professional actors have been replaced with students from Cal State Long Beach (working for credits rather than dollars). Although this sounds like a recipe for bloody disaster - or at least a seriously diminished Halloween haunt - we enjoyed the Haunted Queen Mary (as the October attraction is now named) as much as the old - and in some ways more so.
First the bad new: For a theme park Halloween attraction that was starting its third weekend on Friday night, the Haunted Queen Mary got off to a shaky launch. There was a last-minute rush to get actors in makeup and into the mazes, some of which were not ready to go when the park officially opened its doors at 7:00pm. Later, around 9:00pm we found ourselves waiting endlessly in line for a maze on board ship that had been shut down. When we finally decided to leave and come back later, one of the staff exlained to us that the power had gone out and the maze would not be back up until the wires were re-rigged, which could take some time. This was useful information that should have been given to everyone in line so that they could visit other mazes - or at least go outside for a breath of sea air - instead of waiting in a swelteringly stuffy room, without air conditioning of even fans to relieve the oppressive atmosphere.
Now the good news - which far outweighs the bad. The new Haunted Queen Mary is every bit as good as the old Queen Mary Terrorfest. There is no more Fright Mistress, but there are fortune tellers, plus a food court where you can purchase snack items and drinks (you have to purchase "food tickets" at a separate booth). And in the dome that once housed the Spruce Goose decades ago, is located Club Dead, where you can dance the midnight hours away after enjoying the frights on land and sea.
There are only five mazes this year, as opposed to six or seven in past years, but the addition of an outside scare zone on the way to the ship (a decorated Graveyard, loaded with fog, coffins, mechanical bodies, and live actors) is more than adequate compensation. On land, you can walk through two mazes, Vampire's Village and Psychedelic Krazy Klowns. Aboard the Queen Mary, there are three more: the Isolation Ward, House of Horrors, and Blackbeard's Revenge.
Vampire's Village is set in the old Fisherman's Village. The architecture here is perfectly suited for old-fashioned Gothic horror, and the Queen Mary crew make good use of it. There are many members of the undead lurking within these corridors, which seem to go on forever, supplying more than enough fright to satisfy eager Halloween fans. (You exit buildings and re-enter a few times, making you think it's over - and then there's more!) There were technical problems here: we were the first to go through; the music kept cutting out, and we could here voices of the cast complaining about this. We would expect this sort of thing opening weekend; by now, they should have these kinks worked out. Nevertheless, the actors, props, and setting combined for a great haunt experience.
The Psychedlic Krazy Klown Maze is another variation on the over-used theme. This one is colorful, as expected, and reasonably fun, but it mostly consists of walking down long corridors painted in day-glo colors and then making sharp u-turns to walk down other long corridors painted in the same colors, just in different patterns. There are a few places where the twist and turns are a bit different, or the maze widens out to allow several clowns room to attack at once (instead of just one jumping through a curtain). Not bad but not enough to make us change our minds about clown mazes.
Moving from land to see brings us to three more mazes. As in the past, these are the real highlight of the Queen Mary's Halloween haunt: they are long, dark and spooky - and filled with enthusiastic ghouls. (Keep you eyes peeled and you may recognize some props from Spooky House and its relatives, which were sold off after the death of Bob Koritzke in July.)
The Isolation Ward takes you up the deck at the back of ship and then down into the darkness, where the lunatics have overrun the asylum. Pretty crazy stuff, as you might imagine. Much use is made of darkness, but there are nice scenes, too.
House of Horrors is another maze that takes you deep into the ship, where the darkness hides numerous monsters. It is very effective; like Isolation Ward, it relies on the ship itself to provide an unbeatable atmosphere. It perhaps lacks a clear, memorable theme. (As often the case in years past, after departing the Queen Mary, we have trouble remembering which scares took place in which maze aboard ship.)
Blackbeard's Revenge is a bit different from the previous two ship mazes. This maze also benefits from its location, which is used as the Queen Mary Ghosts and Legends tour during the rest of the year; however, unlike Isolation Ward and House of Horrors, which offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the ship's inner workings, Blackbeard's Revenge takes you through passages that would have been accessible to paying customers when the Queen was used as a luxury liner, including a huge room with a swimming pool, which is supposed to be actually haunted. The ghosts and ghouls do a fine job here: even though pirates, like clowns, have become familiar Halloween characters, we haven't found them to be nearly so over-used; besides, they are so perfectly suited for a nautical Halloween haunt that it would be a shame not to use them.
With five mazes and one haunt zone, the Haunted Queen Mary does not offer the same quantity of Halloween Horror as Knotts Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights, but they do maintain a high quality (despite the occasional mis-steps), and we would recommend them over the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest.
We did miss some of the familiar scare-acters we had seen in past years, but the new cast of aspiring actors and theatre students acquitted themselves quite well, and of course the ship remains the true star. The Queen Mary's haunt may not feature the elaborate sets that Universal Studios can afford for their Halloween attraction, but you don't really need them when you have an authentic location with more than enough dark corridors to send shivers down the spines of those foolish enough to enter.
Get dates, times and tickets prices on our Haunted Queen Mary page.