Planning to book passage aboard this year's Queen Mary Halloween voyage into the Dark Harbor? We outline the itinerary here...
The Queen Mary has once again dropped anchor in Dark Harbor, and...
Wait a minute - have I used that opening line before? Well, you can hardly blame me for recycling old material when that is pretty much what Queen Mary Dark Harbor has been doing the past few years. Fortunately, the well-known tourist destination retains its allure, in some cases squeezing new surprises into the ship's gloomy corridors.
Queen Mary Halloween 2019 Review: Overview
Halloween 2019 sees five returning mazes, with only one newcomer, supplemented with value-added attractions (live performers, the PANIC 4D Experience short film). The ship's crew is back on board: The Captain, Scary Mary, The Ring Master, Samuel the Savage, The Iron Master, Chef, The Voodoo Priestess, and Graceful Gale. The latter two no longer have mazes of their own, but they do lurk on the premises, along with numerous other free-roaming ghouls, turning the port around the Queen Mary into something like one big scare zone. The overall vibe remains circus-like, with some characters lapsing into tongue-in-cheek banter when the opportunity presents itself. Fortunately, the mazes remain mostly serious, although a touch of funhouse levity is inherent in the nature of The Circus.
There are numerous watering holes where squeamish land-lubbers can imbibe liquid courage to steel their nerves against Dark Harbor's frights. Myriad snack food options are also available to restore your blood sugar levels after the exhaustion of outrunning the oceanic terrors haunting the famous floating hotel. Many are overpriced, but some are worth the coin. Our favorite is Scary Mary's Old Tyme Ice Scream, for four reasons:
- Scary Mary is our favorite Halloween character at Dark Harbor.
- The facade is fabulous.
- The ice cream is delicious and cold, which is very refreshing after emerging from Queen Mary's corridors, which can be stuffy even during cold weather.
- Scary Mary's Old Tyme Ice Scream serves Nitro, a wonderful cold-brew coffee that will jolt you back to consciousness after carousing your way Dark Harbor's many bars.
One other note in case anyone is interested: the Dome that used to house the Spruce Goose is again vacant this Halloween.
Queen Mary Halloween 2019 Review: Rogue (New Maze)
Rogue, the new maze, is the highlight of the Queen Mary 2019 Halloween celebration. At first, it looks like a rebranding of the old DeadRise walk-through, using the same exterior to simulate the prow of a ship on the pavement beside the real ship docked nearby. However, Rogue is a clear improvement in several ways.
First, the premise lends an urgency that was lacking in DeadRise, which was about a ghost ship resurfacing but which did little with the idea except place ghoulish sailors in its corridors. Rogue plays like a prequel, with the vessel in the process of sinking, its frantic crew rushing in panic and urging passengers to abandon ship. This additional level of excitement pumps up the scares as passengers rush through, hoping to save themselves from the fate befalling the crew.
Second, Rogue far more convincingly simulates the interior of a ship. A dome has been built overhead to shut out surrounding light and sound, which undermined DeadRise. Also unlike DeadRise, which had you walking on the parking lot pavement, Rogue has its own floors, some canted at angles so that you feel as if you are really stumbling on the deck of a floundering vessel.
The best set piece is the bridge, where the captain desperately wrestles with the steering wheel, vainly attempting to avoid swelling tsunami waves (glimpsed through the windows), which threaten to capsize the ship. You almost want to volunteer to help him, but his crew insist that you keep moving.
Despite the similarity to its predecessor, Rogue qualifies as a new experience, and it gets bonus points for actually exploiting the briny depths as part of its theme - something which, strangely, most of the Queen Mary's Halloween mazes fail to do. If you're not a fan of Dark Harbor, this may not be enough to change your mind; for fans, however, this is a must-see.
Queen Mary Halloween 2019 Review: Returning Mazes
Dark Harbor's five returning mazes are Intrepid and the Circus (on land) and Lullaby, B350, and Feast (on board). All of them recreate elements seen during Halloween 2018, with some variations and streamlining. Over the course of the past few years, for example, the opening scenes that established the back stories of mazes' star characters have been retired one by one until none remain. In exchange, settings have been changed and pathways through the ship have been altered.
In the case of Feast, the walk-through extends deeper into the bowels of the Queen Mary, leading to a "hidden bar" on a wide platform atop a double staircase near the end. It's a nice surprise, but coming at the end, it's not exactly a thrilling climax to a maze that (despite its generic cannibalism theme) does perhaps the best job of exploiting the ship's iron corridors to unnerving effect.
B340 feels somewhat different, having apparently rehired the nuns absent from last Halloween, whose presence ties in with the back story blaming the homicidal actions of Samuel the Savage on Satanic influences (something no longer spelled out by a voice-over narration, though clear enough from the crosses spinning upside down on the walls).
In other cases, such as The Circus and Intrepid, the mazes are essentially the same. Once again, Intrepid has little to do with its nominal theme (a foundry where the iron for the Queen Mary was forged); instead, most of the walk-through is set inside in the dusty hallways of Fisherman's Village - the perfect location for a traditional Halloween haunted house.
Most changed this Halloween is Lullaby, long our favorite Queen Mary Halloween maze. Unfortunately, the revised version suffers from relative absence of its signature character, Scary Mary, who doesn't appear until halfway through. Instead, almost immediately after entering, you find yourself stumbling into one of Dark Harbor's hidden bars, after which the corridors are haunted by other characters explaining that they are summoning one of the ship's most dangerous spirits.
When Scary Mary responds to the summons, her appearances consist mostly of sudden jump-scares, reducing her to the level of a malevolent jack-in-the-box. In the past, the strength of Lullaby resided in Scary Mary's eerie interactions with visitors, alternately plaintive and threatening - her temper switching at a mercurial rate that kept you off-guard.
Giving Scary Mary a chance to display personality kept her from becoming repetitious; in fact, it enhanced the mazes's creep factor by giving the impression that, no matter how quickly you left her behind, the ghostly little girl would always materialize in the next room ahead of you. Sadly, this element is seriously diminished this year, and Lullaby is a lesser experience because of it.
Queen Mary Halloween 2019 Review: Watering Holes
Following the course established over the past decade, the Queen Mary voyages farther in the direction of becoming a destination event, where people remain after the mazes to watch trapeze artists and fire jugglers from private cabanas or from one of the many bars situated throughout the grounds, with names such as The Last Drop and The Gallows.
Most of these serve traditional well drinks, but in the barrel room you can enjoy a whiskey flight, consisting of three half-ounce servings of your choice, poured out by bar maids with skeletal faces.
We sampled Bourbon Angel's Envy, Old Smokey Apple Pie Moonshine, and Old Smokey Mango Habanero. The first is a standard whiskey with a smooth, velvet texture. Apple Pie Moonshine tastes exactly as the name suggests; in fact, we could probably have guessed the flavor blind-folded.
The real treat of the trio was the Mango Habanero. The syrupy sweetness of the mango initially disguised the zing of the habanero, which revealed itself with a surprisingly potent burn starting at the tongue and extending deep into gullet. The contrast was remarkable if nothing else - definitely worth checking out for those with strong stomachs.
Queen Mary Halloween 2019 Review: Conclusion
The Queen Mary Halloween 2019 event holds to the same heading charted last year, adding one new maze, revising the returning mazes, and emphasizing opportunities to hang out and relax with spirits both liquid and ectoplasmic. The event remains enjoyable, and it has an advantage over comparable Halloween theme parks: by squeezing so much into a relatively small space, it creates a very favorable ratio of the distance walked to mazes and the distance walked within mazes; visitors exhausted by dragging themselves up and down Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest can easily saunter through Dark Harbor, enjoying all the attractions without breaking a sweat.
However, the Queen Mary's Halloween cruise could benefit from a course correction to explore new waters, preferably haunted by strange sea creatures and other aquatic terrors. For an event named "Dark Harbor," there is little darkness summoned from the ocean depths. The Ring Master, The Iron Master, Chef, and Samuel the Savage could easily fit into any haunted attraction. Scary Mary and Graceful Gale used to have back stories that tied them directly to the Queen Mary, but those have been virtually forgotten. Only Rogue delivers a raging storm's worth maritime horror unlike anything at competing Halloween theme parks. The Queen Mary should develop new mazes that emphasize this aspect in order to truly set itself apart from their rivals.
Queen Mary Dark Harbor 2019 Ratings
With only one new port of call, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor feels a bit like taking a return trip on an old cruise: it’s nice to revisit some favorite destinations and see overlooked details, but it’s time for a new itinerary.
Dark Harbor continues at The Queen Mary on select nights through November 2. The address is 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, CA 90802. Call 562-435-3511 for more information, or visit the website.