Three years ago Queen Mary reinvented itself as a major force in the seasonal haunted attraction market. Nobody suspected that this struggling venue would ever be able to compete alongside Knott’s and Universal, but they did. Stunning critics and fans, the event dubbed, Dark Harbor, became a haunt must-do.
During its sophomore effort, the team behind Dark Harbor’s original success capitalized on the good buzz they had going. But little new was added to the event. While wonderfully produced, it played as an encore performance for those that caught it the first year.
Luckily, 2012 brings new scares to Queen Mary Dark Harbor. Event planners were wise to consider what worked in the past and alter what needed adjusting, all to positive effect. The event has also been expanded by 60,000 square feet with 10,000 of that set aside for a brand new maze, “Deadrise”. A new backstory has been developed that capitalizes on the actual ghosts presumed to haunt the Queen Mary itself. Crowd flow has been reworked and more food locations, bars and lounge areas have been added. Back again is director David Wally to wrangle the hordes of monsters that will terrify guests. This year, a new creative force has joined the team, Production Designer and Art Director JJ Wickham.
JJ came to Dark Harbor last year just as the event was opening, so she had little to do with the creative development of the 2011 season. Still, she was able to experience the event first hand and see the challenges that Dark Harbor faced, such as capacity and repeatability. She was asked to return and was even charged with creating the brand new maze for the event.
They immediately jettisoned the previous overarching storyline of the demon witch, Bundara, who wrecked havoc on the world of the living. Instead, the creative team decided to capitalize on the already existing lore of ghost sitings and hauntings aboard the famed Queen Mary itself. Based on actual apparitions, the team developed 5 new characters to torment guests. ·
The Captain – Captain of the Grey Ghost during WWII, he’s still protecting his undead troops.
Samuel the Savage – Locked in room B340 after a violent outburst, Samuel was later found ripped apart in his room and is now locked forever in Containment – or is he?
Graceful Gale – This classic beauty boarded the ship in 1939 and then disappeared without a trace. Now Gale haunts the dance floor looking for a new partner – for eternity.
Half Hatch Henry – A young firefighter who was crushed by hatch #13, Henry roams the ship’s mazes looking for action.
Scary Mary – The ship’s youngest soul has haunted the ship since her drowning in the pool. Mary’s always looking for a new playmate.
But how is it? In short, the 2012 season is a vast improvement on 2011, but with one painful sour note. Let’s begin with the mazes. As stated before, all of the mazes have been drastically altered this year (mostly for the better). While having the same themes and key elements, they play out like an updated remix of a good song.
Dark Harbor has also started a fun new tradition. At the beginning of each night they now do a running of the monsters. It is sort of like the football teams taking to the field. Fun stuff.
A trademark of the Dark Harbor event is how you are immediately thrust into a maze the moment you enter. Just after handing your ticket over at the Turnstiles, guests must now choose one of three paths by which to enter. The entrance mazes are tunnels built out of huge, metal cargo containers. Each of the three have their own unique theme or style. Make it through one of these paths and you will find yourself in the center of the event.
Originally created as one large tunnel, it was decided that the experience took up too much square footage in an already tight space. They have compressed the experience and increased capacity. While it doesn’t have the wandering feel of the previous two years, the change does allow for a better overall experience once inside.
DEAD RISE – NEW
Deadrise is the new maze this year. Based on the fictional story of a lost ship that assisted the Queen Mary through wartime oceans during World War II, the crew and their ship have returned. The impressive entry depicts the rusted bow of a weathered warship. Fire spouts from one of the smoke stacks 20 feet above guests heads as they enter the gallows of the ghost filled ship.
At every turn, the talent in this maze really seems to work hard for the scare. One thing confused us however. As trespassers into this maze were we supposed to feel threatened by these dutiful apparitions? Certainly a monster jumping from a hiding spot would startle anyone. But in the context of the storyline, we had no real idea of why these ghosts were a threat. Despite this ambiguity the maze is still very entertaining. It even ends on a rather eloquent note and an effective scare too.
The set design and layout are inventive and worth note. But they could use a little more dressing to fill in the larger spaces. The music written specifically for the maze is remarkable. Filled with the clangs and creaks of a war-torn vessel, the soundtrack is assured in its sense of mood. Deadrise is a solid walk-through, but it needs a bit of a story tweak to be truly spectacular.
THE CAGE – Returning
Located in the old Spruce Goose Dome, The Cage gained a reputation as being a netherworld of sensory confusion. Previous versions pitted guests against sensory deprivations that included fog-filled strobe rooms, painfully loud music, chain link fences, spiraling lights, squishy wet tunnels, mirror mazes, breakaway walls and light tunnels.
Fans of this maze will be painfully disappointed in this years incarnation of The Cage as it seems little attempt was made at confusing the guests this year. Upon entering the dome, the path leads directly into the light tunnel from last year. But as guests approach the tunnel, the rest of the dome is clearly visible, allowing visitors to gain a sense of location and place. Passing through the tunnel, we transition into the only good portion of the maze, the black sheet labyrinth. After that, we are then tossed into the same tired chain link fence maze. This time, it is all very brightly lit, without the slightest hint of fog. The mystery is fully revealed and then, essentially, there is no danger. The actors here are all veterans to the location. They know what it should be and they try to recreate the no holds barred feel with their spastic movements and invasion of personal space. But it just comes off as a bland scare if guests can clearly see the actors and already know the scare by watching the groups far ahead of them. The maze then ends with a strobe room, again, without a hint of fog and then it is all over.
JJ, PLEASE fix the Cage. This was probably one of the best mazes from the past two years and it is now bland and boring. A quick fix would be to lower the lighting level and fill the maze with fog. A real fix, which we hope comes next year, would be to build a new set of ways through the maze and utterly confuse the guests and disorient them. There is plenty of space in that dome, and this could really be something special it if were given enough attention.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED – Returning
Another maze which has been completely reworked is the Village of the Damned. It is still the longest maze of the bunch, but it has been given a far more sinister edge. Along with the expansion of the event, the old Village shopping center has been opened up and a portion of it is now used as another bar location.
The entrance to the maze is now in the center of the buildings and the flow has been reversed. Guests are immediately confronted with mutant hillbilly types and cursed people that inhabit the tortured burg. This year a new Mayor has moved into town and he has plans for every single person in the town, including you. As stated, the maze has been given an edge, and that comes in the form of a brutal new ending that caused audible gasps from those near us. We have to admit, that it made our stomach turn just a little and put a big smile on our face. Nicely done. This is probably the strongest maze here this year. A big change and a big improvement.
CONTAINMENT – Returning
Containment is located inside the Queen Mary itself and is nearly identical to previous incarnations. It is about as good as it was in 2010 and features some wonderful actors in a few particular scenes. The girl in the wheelchair is creepy as all heck and has some wonderful energy. There is a real sense of danger and urgency, since you are walking through the medical ward on the ship, disease and dismemberment are around every corner. Tight, enclosed spaces enhance the claustrophobic feel. Nicely done.
HELLFIRE – Returning
The second maze on the ship is Hellfire. This maze is particularly dark and utilizes the cramped passageways that burrow in and around the ship, culminating in a view of the haunted boiler room. Once again, the experience is solid, if a little too dark at times (there’s a big creepy real life boiler room, a bit more light would show it off). The experience is creepy enough and filled with surprises that make it worth the wait.
SUBMERGED – Returning
Perhaps the most moody and atmospheric of all the mazes at Dark Harbor is the watery “Submerged.” Another maze located on the ship, guests are invited to explore the murky depths of a watery shipwreck before ending up in another of the most haunted places on the Queen Mary, the Pool. Water effects and musty smells are highlights of this maze along with some truly inspired casting. The actress playing Graceful Gale is at once classy and terrifying. While Scary Mary, the resident ghost in the pool room, beckons guests to come play with her, it’s Graceful Gale who will haunt you. The path has been reworked this year and there are new characters which help keep this maze fresh.
Outside the ship and mazes is a walk around space that is expanded upon from last year. Food vendors line the outer rim of the pathway. and in the center lay the merchandise booth, more seating, and a nice space for scares. Talent Director, David Wally, has worked carefully to build a haunt family from just 141 actors in 2010 to a growing team of 225 this year. One thing that the new Dark Harbor has in spades is a passion for the scare, along with a bit of a snarky, off the cuff, attitude that works in its favor. He has done a fine job in nurturing this family of monsters and that ensemble feeling is palpable.
$99 RIP LOUNGE
New this year is the RIP lounge. Built on the dock of the Queen Mary, the lounge overlooks the entire Dark Harbor event. Access to the lounge includes 4 drink tickets (Alcohol included) and unlimited access to the Street Taco bar. With a comfortable private lounge, drinks, food and front of line access to the mazes all included, this price is a good option for those who want a special evening without a lot of lines.
Also, if you want to show up between 7pm and 8pm on Thursdays and Fridays, there is something they are calling the Happy Haunting hours, which will get you into the event for just $20.00. Otherwise general admission tickets are $39.00.
We find the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor to be a great value with enough solid scares to entertain newbies and veterans alike. Although there are many returning mazes, there have been enough changes to keep everything feeling fresh and fun. There’s just something special about a haunt event taking place in and around an actual haunted ship. Happy Haunting everyone!