Mission Valley Center, San Diego, CA
Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to part two of our three-part installment of our San Diego “Big Three” haunting spree. Last Saturday, I took a trip down south—not to Tijuana—but to some locales that were scary nonetheless! If you missed the first stop at the Haunted Trail Balboa Park, click here to recap. Otherwise, keep reading!
After finishing up with the Trail, I headed back to my car and headed north-bound along Sixth Street until I merged straight into the 163 freeway, then hung a quick “right” onto the eastbound I-8, then took the first exit onto Mission Valley Road for stop number two: Disturbance, created by the Haunted Hotel.
Located outside of the Target in the Mission Valley Westfield Center, on the east side of Mission Valley Road, this new triple haunt is the Haunted Hotel’s first independent, multi-attraction offering after years of thrills and frights in the basement of an existing establishment in the Gaslight District in Downtown San Diego. In previous years, the Haunted Hotel and the Haunted Trail (both operated by the same ownership group) were a very convenient 1-2 combo located very near each other, and though this year, the Haunted Hotel’s establishment has moved north, the relocation is only 15 minutes away from the Trail, making this still a good combination.
The positive about Disturbance is that—being located in the parking lot of a shopping center—it has much more convenient (and free) parking compared to the original Haunted Hotel downtown. In addition, with three different mazes instead of just one, this haunt offers more to do than its predecessor! In short, the Haunted Hotel has been shaken up—disturbed, if you will—due to its move, and this is what’s been unleashed!
Because this is a temporary establishment built on existing parking, the set-up of the mazes is very straightforward, with very little outside theming or ambiance. The most atmospheric component of the facility is the ticket booth, which be described as “dapper.” But once through the entrance, one simply finds a series of maze walls painted black and unadorned. The vibe feels very much like a mall pumpkin patch—clearly not permanent, with minimal theming, and enough of an enclosure to suggest the spooky undertones.
Fortunately, there are a few street talent roaming around to liven things up. Made up like sadistic clowns, the trio prowls the queues and the general “midway” area in search of skittish guests or distracted patrons, scaring from behind or using sliding tactics to provoke a reaction. Their anxious energy and bizarre and sometimes awkward bravado evoke the spooky silliness found at the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor—an endearing trait that was reflected here.
Truthfully, though, other than the sliders, there isn’t much else to do outside of the mazes. Other than a photo op and some porta-potties, the remaining facilities are bare—no food establishments or drinks or other amenities. Just the area in the middle of all three mazes. So, without further ado, lets venture through the three haunted walk-through’s featured at Disturbance!
The Haunted Hotel
The first maze immediately to the left is The Haunted Hotel, patterned after the original long-running experience Downtown. With the benefit of added space, though, the maze version is stretched out along an overall elongated path from one end of Disturbance’s plot of land to other. The theme here reflects the legacy of the inspirational haunt: an outbreak ravages the guests and staff of a hotel, turning them into zombie-like creatures, or just murderous fiends. The maze starts with a lobby where guests can check in with a decided not-helpful corpse, and after hearing the safety spiel, they are shuttled into an “elevator” reminiscent of the beginning of last year’s maze.
The “elevator” is supposed to take guests to their floor, but there’s something wrong, and the evil forces that possess this establishment quickly make their presence known with a dramatic pop-out to set the tone for the rest of the hotel walk-through.
What follows is a series of scenes interacting with various blood-thirsty monsters with a penchant for human flesh. Roaming through a storage room, a kitchen, a restroom, and more, guests encounter deranged occupants more dangerous than the last. The maze culminates in the honeymoon suite, where a couple are having a decidedly not romantic evening, and the man is driven into murderous insanity. The chainsaw bit is certainly more than predictable, but it certainly sends a lot of guests screaming out.
The Haunted Hotel presents a commendable recreation of the experience guests might be expecting if they’re visiting last year’s attraction. The ambiance seems less than what the basement of an old building might provide, but the maze is still fun. The sets of this maze have an “old school Haunt” aesthetic—nothing too technologically advanced, but solid walls, theming, lighting, and props. Some of the spaces feel a little wide and empty, and the maze could probably benefit from more claustrophobic (but code compliant) moments in lieu of the open spaces in many of the scenes. However, ultimately, the Haunted Hotel maze makes for a fun and sinister experience.
3-D Freak Fest
Sort of diagonally across the way from the exit of Haunted Hotel is 3-D Freak Fest, a somewhat short but extremely colorful and much more light-hearted maze maze using Chromadepth painting paired with 3D glasses to produce a trippy and psychedelic effect. There’s not much in actual theming within this maze aside from the visuals, but the several clowns who bound around inside this actual labyrinth-type layout expound some great energy and unhinged tendencies to make the experience an interesting one. Short and sweet and kind of zany, 3-D Freak Fest makes for an appropriate interlude between the Haunted Hotel and the final maze of Disturbance…
The third and final and, in my opinion, best of the three mazes at Disturbance is Kill-Billy Chaos, which is expectedly themed to a family of blood-thirsty backwoods scavengers who have great hospitality—in that they want to have guests for dinner. This maze actually sort of intertwines with 3-D Freak Fest, with the exit of one located next to the entrance of the other, and comprises the opposite diagonal half of the Disturbance grounds, facing the Haunted Hotel maze.
The theming in Kill-Billy Chaos is messy and gory, in a similar aesthetic to the Haunted Hotel, and the scareactors are diabolical too! Guests enter the family home and make their way through a dense backyard woods area, then proceed into a medical facility of some sort that turns out to be the family torture lab. Throughout it all, the maze features a few more tighter spaces and more enveloping ambiance than Haunted Hotel, not to mention some very gory scenes.
Just as Haunted Hotel does, there is a chainsaw finale, but used sparingly, it’s a great, high energy way to cap off guests’ turbulent and thrilling experience. An applause also goes to the host of interactive scareactors who pace around and banter with guests, injecting more life and variety into the experience. There’s a twisted sense of enjoyment in this maze, which makes sense. The “killbillies” enjoy the fiendish actions they’re threatening to employ!
Disturbance is a solid undertaking from the Haunted Hotel in the wake of their exodus from their previous, recognizable site. With three mazes, it won’t take up an entire evening, and similar to the Haunted Trail, there are General Admission and VIP line options for guests coming on quieter vs busier nights.
Similar to the Haunted Trail, this triple haunt exudes a rougher, more homemade feel—the type of quality that Knott’s Scary Farm carried a decade or so ago, in contrast to the slicker, more visually vibrant and technologically sophisticated haunts that are starting to gain a greater spotlight these days. But that trait is also the key to its charm. This event is like a really good home haunt that decided to turn pro—and joint two other home haunts to offer three mazes in the same location. The variety in the themes provides a nice diversity to the evening, and a relatively convenient and prominent location means that this can hopefully start a new tradition in the new chapter of the Haunted Hotel!
Disturbance continues its run this weekend and operates through Saturday, November 2. Tickets can be purchased on site or in advance online. One pass accesses all three mazes. Go check out this “haunt collective” produced by the Haunted Hotel!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.