Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA
Hello, folks! #FlashbackFrightday is alive and well with another overview of a haunted attraction last year. This weekend, it's Dark Harbor at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. This haunt lacks the budget, finesse, and history of its bigger brothers Knott's Scary Farm and Halloween Horror Nights, but it more than makes up for it in heart and energy and fun. I've attended every iteration of Dark Harbor since the event rebranded from the previous Shipwreck identity, and I've enjoyed myself every time. This place is a bit like a haunted carnival, or a home haunt on steroids. There's an intimacy in the mazes and an infectious enthusiasm among the cast that I really enjoy, and though I have heard some people come away from this event disappointed, I can only say that my personal experiences have all been fantastic. The overarching storyline, the icons, and the sincerely eerie setting on board the Queen Mary herself (for half of the mazes) makes for a terrific environment.
That said, lets take a look at last year's six mazes--one new and five returning for 2015!
New for 2015 was a maze dedicated to Scary Mary, the little girl reputed to have drowned in the swimming pool of the ship and now haunts the vessel looking for someone to play with. Beware--Mary is a lot more sinister than she might first appear, and if you acquiesce to her wish, you might find yourself playing for all eternity! The Lullaby maze was light on scares when I went through, but the characters were absolutely fantastic. Winding through the ship, Lullaby is crawling with Scary Mary's, and they hand off each scene to the next Mary in seamless and highly entertaining fashion. The actresses play their roles perfectly with a delightful bit of unhinged nerve and innocent homicidal tendency, and they fed off each other's energy quite well. Lullaby will return for 2016, and it will be interesting to see if the maze designers take the maze to a different level.
2014's new maze about Samuel the Savage was a bloody mess--in a good way. Located on the back side of the ship, this maze carried a theme of psychotic mental illness and insanity, and it was also very, very bloody. The Dark Harbor story of Samuel the Savage revolves a sailor who was locked up aboard the Queen Mary during one journey for being too violent. The following day, he was found dead, having apparently clawed himself to death. It seemed that he had become possessed, but what supernatural madness could inspire a person to render himself apart with such ferocity? B340 dived into mental nightmare that was Samuel the Savage, and its sophomore featured a solid showing.
The third maze built aboard the Queen Mary featured Graceful Gale. One of the original Dark Harbor icons, her backstory wasn't really explored until the debut of this maze two years ago (along with B340). Graceful Gale had always been portrayed as a tragic Hollywood damsel who died mysteriously on board the ship. This maze re-imagined her story as a deranged serial killer looking to design the perfect husband out of the flesh and organs of her victims. Unlike most of the other Dark Harbor mazes, this one relied more on atmosphere than startle scares and crafted a haunting ambiance telling the horrific truth of Gale.
The maze that introduced the character of the Captain--the head of an undead armada of zombie sailors determined to retake the land into their watery grave--Deadrise was back last year for a fourth consecutive season. This ended up being my biggest surprise, because after three years, I had started considering it to be a little stale. However, the maze was retooled for 2015 and ended up providing the most startles I encountered out of any maze. And it retained that blinding, fog-filled finale through the shipping container that had made for such fantastic and entertaining scares in previous years. Though I didn't quite see as many epic frights in the finale this year, it was still good to see them making use of this design feature.
Located inside the Spruce Goose Dome, Circus served as the maze for Dark Harbor's effective Ambassador, The Ringmaster. The Spruce Goose mazes always seem to have unexpectedly amazing maze elements. I'll never forget legitimately getting lost with Wes and Dan for five minutes insidethe confusing laser-lit black felt sheet maze of The Cage in Dark Harbor's 2010 premiere. And last year, Circus delivered a haunted attraction first (as far as I'm aware) by incorporating a freaking BALL PIT into its maze! Yes, in the middle of the course, guests actually had to climb up several steps and jump into a monster-infested ball pit to wade through. This left me exceptionally giddy, and I was more than happy for repeat runs through this fun and quirky maze.
This maze returned for its second year in 2015. A modification of the original The Village maze with a voodoo and swamp creature overlay and the backstory behind a new Voodoo Priestess icon character, Voodoo Village was the sole maze that fell a little flat for me last season. I found the theming and sets uninspired, and the energy seemed to be lacking compared to previous years' mazes in this location. It seems that I wasn't the only one to feel this way, because this is currently the only maze not listed to return for Dark Harbor 2016. We should be hearing its replacement within the next two or three weeks.
That's all for today. Sunday will cover the scare zones and miscellaneous other features of Dark Harbor. We hope you Halloween fans are enjoying these fiendish flashbacks, especially as we lead up to the "formal" kick-off of Halloween Season with the Midsummer Scream and Scare L.A. Halloween conventions. We're already seeing news from Knott's, Universal, and Dark Harbor for this year's events. And frankly, for people like me, Halloween cannot come too soon.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.