Dark Harbor 2016: Mazes

Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA

Our Halloween season coverage keeps on trucking, and today, we head over to Long Beach for a look at another one of our favorite haunts, Dark Harbor, at the Queen Mary.  This festive and action packed haunted attraction is basically one big spooky carnival, with a cast that pours passion, heart, and soul into their work.  While Dark Harbor is not blessed with the budget and production values that Knott's Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights own, they make do with a very intimate and unique set-up that features three mazes on board the Queen Mary herself along with three on land.  For those who believe in the spirits of the ship, this brings an added dimension of fear to the experience.  Furthermore, unlike Knott's and Universal, Dark Harbor generally makes an attempt to space out groups so that guests are more isolated as they explore the nooks and crannies of each maze.  This allows the talent to hone in on select individuals at a time and reset before the next set of guests, and it is the one major haunted attraction where I get the most actual startle scares each year.

Westcoaster was once again on hand for Dark Harbor's opening night / media night.  This year, Dark Harbor debuted a brand new maze in Intrepid but also completely redesigned Circus and partially redesigned Deadrise and Soulmate.  These reconfigurations gave the returning mazes some novelty and definitely improved the enjoyability of the mazes.  Lullaby and B340 remained mostly the same, but were enjoyable in their own ways.  Lets jump right in, folks! 

Oh, and for the record, each maze will have a spoiler-free review int the text write-up, while spoilers may occur in the captions to the photos (so if you want to avoid spoilers, then skim through the photos without perusing their captions; the photos themselves might be visual spoilers, though, of course).  This will apply to all haunted attraction updates henceforth.  And of course, the images contain simulated gore, so they may not be safe for work viewing.


New for 2016, Intrepid tells the story of the Iron Master, who built the Queen Mary herself.  One dark night, a mysterious train appeared and whisked him away on a journey that brought him face to face with unmistakable horrors and apparently also granted him immortality.  What those horrors now are unclear, but he's back to reclaim the ship that he believe should be his!

Because it was new and figured to have the most amount of people curious for the unique offering, Jim and I tackled this maze first.  In total, we ended up going through it three times, with each run-through slowly improving.  The maze begins with a split sequence that splits groups into two courses--one "upstairs" and the other "downstairs."  These follow a generally similar footprint but offer different experience before converging at the back half and running through a single path.  It took us a couple of walks, but we eventually figured out that maze was taking guests back in time, with the ship becoming more and more deconstructed, to bring the journey back to the Queen Mary's origin. 

Unfortunately, overall, Intrepid proved to be a little disappointing compared to past new mazes.  This may be attributed to first night newness, because as the night wore on, the talent did seem to have better timing and actually succeeded in a few unexpected startles.  But the theming itself seemed less inspired than usual, with a plethora of chainlink fencing, scaffolding, and unfinished-looking partitions surrounding scattered heaps of theming.  There were moments that were visually impressive--a cauldron pouring molten metal, welding sparks flying off the ship's hull, and blind scares assisted by piercing spotlights, for example.  But overall, the maze did not seem quite as intricate and cohesive as the others.  Surprisingly, newcomer Intrepid proved to be our least favorite maze.


Fortunately, the remaining mazes were closer to par with what we expected.  Lullaby, last year's new maze, provided a lot of fun with its telling of the story of Scary Mary, the girl who drowned in the Queen Mary swimming pool but wasn't as innocent as she might have appeared.  Although 2016's Lullaby didn't quite live up to 2015's fluid, seamlessly transitional storytelling and character interaction, it still provided some amusing moments with each Mary acting adorably murderous toward guests.  There were a few instances where the Mary's bunched up and were seen more than one within a room--dislodging the cohesiveness of the story, but this might be attributed to opening night spacing concerns that will be worked out as the run progresses.

Overall, even though Lullaby was largely the same as last year, it provided some humorous and enjoyable moments, with some nice startle moments along the way from monsters lurking in the shadows of the ship.


Returning for another year is B340, featuring Samuel the Savage and his descent into murderous rage and madness.  Yes, the story is that one evening, Samuel, hearing voices in his head, attack and kills several passengers aboard the Queen Mary ship.  He is locked up until the ship reaches shore, but when he is checked upon, Samuel is found dead, having ripped himself to pieces.  Savagery indeed--and no protests on this maze so far.  We'll see how long that lasts...

With a pretty much identical layout to last year, B340 did not offer anything new.  Our trips through may have caught it on off times, but we didn't feel that the energy or scares here were as great as in most of the other mazes.  And like the other mazes aboard the ship (Lullaby and Soulmate), it was almost unbearably stuffy and humid throughout most of the layout.  It must have been pretty uncomfortable for the talent, and I hope they were able to keep hydrated.  Once a favorite, B340 ended up ranking in the lower tier of mazes for us, though it was by no means bad.  Just middling.


The last maze aboard the Queen Mary was Soulmate, which has actually been significantly redesigned this year.  For starters, the layout is somewhat reversed, with scenes at the beginning of last year's attraction near the end and vice versa.  Also gone are is the grand ballroom scene, much to the disappointment of some of the guests we overheard.  But overall, the redesigned seemed to breathe some life into the maze.  Our first trip in was full of great energy from the cast and lots of screams echoing through the course.  Our second trip was a little less thrilling, mostly because, for once, instead of guests isolated from each other in small groups, the maze turned into a walking haunted line, which made the usually-effective startle scares much less so. 

Of the three ship mazes, Soulmate also proved to be the stuffiest, which was definitely a little detracting from the scare experience.  Still, this story of Graceful Gale and her quest to find the perfect mate by killing, dismembering, and then putting together combinations of her suitors was an overall strong performer and one of the top mazes of the night.


Deadrise was originally introduced to serve as the backstory of The Captain, but lately, it has switched to feature the story of Half Hatch Henry, a shipsman who met his end in a grisly accident when the 13th hatch suddenly slammed closed on him as he was partially through it, working on ship maintenance.  Of course, as a spirit of the Queen Mary, he can't simply take that lying down, so his spirit haunts the ship and gathers additional undead warriors to support The Captain in his quest to conquer more than just the Queen Mary!

Last year, Deadrise was redesigned and repackaged into a tight, cohesive, and intensely scare-driven maze with plenty of action and a cast that clearly had the timing down.  This year is much of the same, with high energy and great, out-of-nowhere startles.  As a result, Deadrise was one of the top mazes of the night.


By far our favorite maze of the night was Circus, which has been completely redesigned.  Located inside the Spruce Goose Dome, Circus is basically one giant carnival clown maze.  But it's also the maze where the designers threw all the tricks and gadgets and misdirection into one insanely fun package.  If the lines were any evidence, this was the hit of the night for everyone as well, as lines for even just the Fast Fright front of line entrance reaced 20-30 minutes for most of the evening.

Last year, Circus surprised guests by making them go through a full on actual ball pit (coincidentally, The 17th Door also featured a ball pit last year; funny how these parallels seem to happen across haunts at the same time).  Well, the ball pit is back due to popular demand, but so are a host of other demented features that one might associate with a circus--clowns, a mirror maze (that actually works), puppets, and more.  The environment is twisted zaniness, and even if guests aren't afraid of circus performers, they'll have a blast just going through the absurdly playful and ridiculous maze.

Though I wasn't initially too excited by the maze line up going into Dark Harbor, the opening night experience certainly turned my thoughts toward the positive.  All of the mazes ranged from enjoyable to incredibly fun, and even the disappointing Intrepid made strides as the night went on. 

Dark Harbor will always have the advantage of an authentic creep level with its mazes aboard the ships, and its land mazes have shaped up to be pretty addictive as well.  But, as I've mentioned before, the maze lines do get pretty long, and I highly recommend purchasing a front of line pass to make the experience a lot more enjoyable.  This is similar to what guests encounter at Halloween Horror Nights, and having to wait in standby could definitely decrease guest satisfaction.  The difference is that a front of line pass at Dark Harbor is about 1/3 the cost of one for HHN, and it is unlimited use, so it's much more justifiable to obtain.  Guests can save even more money by purchasing a regular general admission ticket during one of Dark Harbor's many sales, then upgrading to a front of line pass on site.

That does it for today.  We'll look at everything else at Dark Harbor tomorrow.  In the meantime, haunt season is in full swing, and we have already covered quite a bit of content.  If you're looking for something to do around SoCal, check out our Southern California 2016 Haunted Attraction Guide!  It also serves as an index of all the haunts we visit and review this year!

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.